Before you conceptualize your program you must understand
your own goal sets.
In the gym, goals sets can range from improving strength,
increasing muscle mass, decreasing fat mass, improving certain physical
abilities, among other things.
Know what exactly you want to work towards. This is key-
providing the intentions before you step foot in the gym will better align
yourself with your desired self.
This works from any experience level- beginner to expert.
All the experts have over beginners is the experience and knowledge implemented
over a longer period of time. But, everyone started as a beginner. Remember
I implore you to write down your goal. Make it something
tangible. Make it something relatable. “Gaining 25lbs of muscle in 3
months” is lofty even for the most experienced lifters. Honestly, natural
lifters at a high experience level know the minimal increases over a long
period of time are how sustainable results occur. Take this to heart when
creating your goal/intention.
I also would further whittle down that goal. Let’s get away
from a quantity of weight loss or weight gain. Let’s go beyond that- you
deserve more from yourself. Let’s take a “qualitative approach” and figure
out the feeling you’re searching for underneath it all.
Is it strength? Is it confidence? Or is it something else?
That is for you to decide, and once you have, you have found
your true goal for the program.
Now for specifics.
There are many techniques for improving strength. And there
are many individuals who believe what they are doing are the absolute correct
way. I have found some specifics through my own experience and the knowledge I
have culminated to hold merit for improving strength overall.
But first, a couple things to break down.
Firstly, training for strength is completely different from
training for muscle mass (hypertrophy) and weight loss. These things get
blended in many programs, but there are clear differences.
Secondly, there are two main aspects to strength training-
training your muscles and training your CNS (Central Nervous System).
Imagine your muscles as a valve and on the valve there is a
wheel. The wheel opens and closes the valve to varying degrees. This wheel is
We have a built in system within our bodies to monitor and
control how much muscle mass can be utilized towards a certain purpose. Without
this system in place, we truly do have the ability to push past our
capabilities that our body can support. And in strength training, you’re
looking to do exactly that- regimentally improve your ability to move heavier
and heavier loads.
To make this wheel spin, and thusly opening the valve wider,
takes time. Your CNS will not give it up easily. After all, it wants to protect
itself. Your body is not adapted to the concept of strenuous movements
regularly, and it will try to preserve itself throughout the process.
To better work with our modulator friend, we need to provide
it with reassurance and restraint. The reassurance that this amount of stress inductive
work is temporary and the restraint that, with the valve open, we will not do irreversible
damage to ourselves. To provide these things, we need to create a system that
pushes the envelope, but only minimally. If we go too far, we’ll teach our
bodies a negative feedback loop (ie- this amount of weight causes damage to
ourselves), and that does not benefit us.
How we generally do this is a heavier load, weight, for a
shorter period of time, but increased quantity. That translates to a high set
count (8-10) with a low rep count (1-3) with a heavy weight (80-85% 1RM).
Many strength training modalities function within those
realms, but also venture outside them. I prefer to utilize this system on my
main complex lifts (Deadlift, back squat, bench, snatch, clean and jerk, push
press) that require immense effort to stay at a high intensity. That leaves a
long list of complimentary exercises that can be completed afterwards at a high
rep/low set/lower weight range.
A program I would create for my own goal set would consist
of these set/weight/rep ranges:
- 10 sets x 3 reps x 85% RM main lift (complex
- 4 sets x 5-8 reps x 65-75% RM complimentary
And they would be arranged thusly:
- 1A- 10×3 Main lift
- 2A- 4×8 Complimentary lift
- 2B- 4×8 Complimentary lift
I have the most energy at the beginning of my sessions, and
because of that, I put my most intense work then. Afterwards, I work into
Also, the high set/low rep scheme may not work for you, but
it is a resourceful way to build strength.
Decrease Fat Mass
Conditioning. Next section.
Kidding, but seriously, there are a couple different methods
to develop a program with the goal of decreasing body fat.
But they all revolve around one concept- intensity.
Intensity is dictated by a couple factors- rest time, weight
used, cardiovascular output, and heart rate achieved. To make something more
“intense” in a lifting sense, decreasing rest time between sets,
using higher rep ranges with moderate weights, and done consistently for a
generally uncomfortable period of time.
An example of a programming format for increasing intensity
is an AMRAP or As Many Rounds As Possible. AMRAPs also have a time associated
with them (ie- 5mins) for which you complete as many rounds of exercises within
that time limit.
With this, the rest time is decreased. Rest time decreasing
inversely increases the amount of time exercising during the time limit. This
format dictates speed. It is not just about completing the exercises, but also
pushing our abilities to complete them quickly. Remember, the goal is “as
many rounds as possible”.
AMRAP is just one example of a conditioning format that can
be focused on reduction of fat mass.
When relating to weight lifting, the main focal points to
develop a program for fat reduction are- increasing intensity, reduce rest
time, increase rep ranges, increase “time spent working”, and
increase cardiovascular output.
Yes, technically, anaerobic properties actually utilized
more fat mass as fuel than their aerobic counterparts. But that does not take
away from highlighting the importance of intensity and conditioning for fat
Now we’ve landed on what most consider
This combines many premises I have set earlier in this
article. We’ll begin to culminate work.
Because muscle size is different than muscle density; they
can be confused, but function very differently.
When training purely for muscle size, it’s all about
utilization of “work done”. Work, defined in physics terms, equals
force (in newtons) multiplied by distance traveled.
W= F *d
For muscle size, we want to optimize our ability to produce
“work” at the highest level that is sustainable. Our
“force” is the amount of force we need to produce muscularly to move
the weight. The “distance” is the physical distance traveled by a
weight. For example, in a back squat, the weight travels both down till you
reach a 900 angle of your knees and up to the starting position. To
make that weight move, we need to produce a couple different types of muscular
forces derived from contractions. Optimizing that system can provided the size
benefits we are looking for within this style.
More work done, and sustained, the more muscle fibers
recruited, and with these muscle fibers being recruited for work, we can
potentially obtain larger muscle mass.
These programs generally function at a moderate set range
(3-5) with a larger rep range (10-15). With these ranges, we can also infer a
general increase in intensity throughout. Also, a lot of these sets are done in
a “superset” fashion (multiple exercises back to back without rest in
between). Additionally, a program can function for hypertrophy, but can also be
combined with strength training.
An example of a hypertrophy style super set is:
- 1A- 5 sets x 12 reps
- 1B- 5 sets x 12 reps
With these, we’ve increased our work by increasing the
distance traveled (by combining all movement across all reps within the set)
while attempting to keep the force constant throughout (not increasing or
changing the weight used).
A Final Note
All these things can be combined. They do not need to
function alone, and a program customized to your goals should reflect
individual components of each of these styles.
Also, try new things. Be open to trying new formats of
exercising because you may love strength training, but not know it yet.
These are examples are designed to help you design your own
program, or further develop your current one. There are many different things
to add to each of these subjects, and individuals spend their entire lives
improving techniques to optimize each of these styles.
I create programs for clients that reflect their needs and goal sets, and truly everyone is different. Programs fluctuate from person to person; keep that in mind as you look at your own.
Contact me here when you want to step up your program.
Otherwise, until next time.