There are hundreds of different types of exercises you have available to you no matter your skill level. From a walk around your neighborhood to Olympic weight lifting, the possibilities to make a change are endless. However, there should be a few keys you need to consider in your approach. Whether you are just starting with a trainer, signing up for a class or looking to increase your activity level on your own, there are three items that can absolutely not be ignored if you are looking for results. No program will be successful if these items are not checked off.
- Adherence: This is first on the list for a reason. Even the most well thought out and structured plan of action will not be effective if you don’t stick with it. This does not only apply to exercise, but really any type of behavior or lifestyle change. If you are able to ignore the short-term results, then the long-term achievements will generally be greater. Consistency beats intensity every single time.
- Progressive Overload: This is the act of increasing the stimulus input little by little over time. This can be workout to workout or week to week. The main thing is that it is consistent and measured. The measuring is an aspect I see overlooked all the time. Someone will come in to the gym and have no record of what they lifted the previous time. Attention to this detail will provide huge dividends.
There are countless ways to achieve progressive overload, but it will vary based on your exercise selection and end goal. Progressive overload can come in the form of increased weight/sets/reps, decreased tempo/rest period or change in frequency of training.
An easy example of this would be for a muscle endurance training program with the desire to increase max number of pushups, an ideal goal for anyone participating in Murph (1-mile run, 100 pull ups, 200 pushups, 300 air squats and another 1-mile run.). Week 1 you would set a baseline and maybe you hit 30 unbroken reps. You may start the following week with 3 sets of 10. The week after you could move to 3 sets of 12. The following week 3 sets of 15. Maybe you notice form issues set in around 15 reps, but you still want to follow progressive overload. A simple solution is to drop the reps and add a set moving to 4 sets of 12. You went from 45 reps (3x15) to 48 reps (4x12) and have still achieved progressive overload by performing 3 more reps than the week before, but in a way the limits your fatigue/injury risk.
It is important to consider your recovery rate and make smart adjustments each time. If I got to 4x12 and on my last set I was only able to hit 9 pushups (unlikely), the next week I would not jump to 4x15. I would attempt the 4x12 again to see if I was able to achieve this. If so, then I would make that jump. Conversely, if I was on that 4th set and decided to push myself and hit 20 pushups then I may make a bigger jump than the week prior. There are many factors of recovery and readiness that come into play so it really should be assessed on a workout by workout basis.
- Individualization: Having a program that is specific to the client’s needs and goals. Some of the factors that come into play with this are: age, gender, skill level and goals/timeline.
If I have a client that wants to increase their overall strength I will not have them doing full body HIIT circuits 5 days a week. Along the same lines, if that client has a background in resistance training from a college sport then I would feel confident starting them with a 1 or 3 rep max test based on their skill level from prior training. Every person is different so why wouldn’t their training plans reflect that?
The only 2 slight exceptions I might make to this would be group training and those that are strictly looking to increase activity level. The major benefit of group training is having a shared experience of working out with others and it is also much less intimidating than walking into a gym by yourself and trying to figure things out. With group classes it is still important that you are working towards a goal that will benefit you. Also, if you are fairly inactive and just hoping to do more physical activity than the simple rule of “something is better than nothing” applies and the specificity of training is not as important.
Overall, individualization can be a time-consuming task, but in terms of achieving the best results from a program, it is a necessary step to take. Optimal performance requires optimal planning.
- Appropriate Target: The target of a training program goes hand in hand with individualization. You want to make sure that you have a clear goal and the exercise selection, frequency, etc. will help you achieve that goal. We can go back to the example of someone participating in Murph. If this person has upper body strength superior to their lower body strength then a program including upper body on 3 of 4 training days in a week would not be appropriate. I would want to design a program that focuses on developing lower body muscle endurance with lower weight, higher rep work. It is important that they maintain our upper body performance and do not overtrain our lower body, but this would all be considered when forming the plan. Having a clear goal and area of focus will ensure that a training plan is successful.
If you are in the gym or going through a workout plan then you do not have a goal of getting worse. You have decided and are putting in the effort to get better, stronger, faster, or any number of things. Obtaining the knowledge of what the non-negotiables are and how to implement them will ensure that your program will have a higher likelihood of success. These are 4 keys that I am adamant about incorporating into all programs for myself and my clients.
In the case that you are unsure of how to appropriately apply these tactics to your program then lucky for you, I am here to help. Reach out to me via Instagram or schedule a free intro session with me.