There is a modern phenomena of information overload that leads people to believe it’s difficult or impossible to find a solution. Programming has very much started to fall into this category, with 100s of programs online and 1000s of coaches offering programs.
Do you need a program?
No. Not at all. Many would argue it’s the shortest path to success (ie, muscular growth or strength) and many say ‘I have enough stress in my life without another set of rules’.
Members of the team here have functioned well under programs, but openly admit to being overwhelmed by programs when they have other stress in their lives.
Unless you have a comp coming up, there is no necessity for timelines, deadlines and pressure.
Programs for beginners and advanced
How to program each workout
Beginners can hugely gain on straight linear progression. Patient beginners can flourish on beginner linear progression for years.
Always train at 9RPE or less (ie, if you really had to, you could do one extra rep).
Your only goal on the top set is to do one extra rep than last time, and when you get to 10 reps, add 2.5kg (or less if you have change plates on the bench).
If you can squat 80kg for 6 – and add 4 reps per month (basically a rep per week) that’s 110kg for 6 at the end of one year. 30kg on a lift is HUGE.
This is also entirely realistic, doesn’t require you to rearrange your life and isn’t going to smash your CNS so hard you die. If you choose to deload (more below) you would still be in the range of 20kg per year.
Set 1 – is your 9RPE progressive set, set 2 – X is your back out sets – you do 60-70% of the reps of the first set until you deem you’re done. Do at least 2 more sets, do 10 more if you want. If you are still over 60% of the reps from the first set, it’s good work.
You get a lot of rest days here. When you are at the gym or your home setup, its time to put in work. Get off your phone, get focussed, write down how many reps you are going to do on your top set and execute.
Why simple progressive linear works
We’ve said this so many times. Only two factors. Sufficient stimulus, sufficient recovery. This applies to everyone, from beginner to Olympian. In the above case, for beginners (and really intermediate if they have an honest work rate), this is sufficient stimulus.
Why is it different for beginners?
Beginners get three aspects. Skill acquisition, increase muscular strength and also increased muscular recruitment.
As you progress, you really are only getting increased muscular strength.
This is the prime reason nothing is going to failure, back out sets are moderate and the overall load is dictated by the trainer. Its enough.
We are very against beginner programs that don’t have a high level of repeated exercises.
You may think you can learn how to squat by doing it mixed in with leg press or smith squats, we think you are wrong. It’s a grind. It’s a skill. It’s a mental game (for the strong-minded). If you want to get strong, you need to learn to show up every week and put in work.
Why programs fail
How to program a comeback
Training is addictive and you need to be aware of dopamine loops, your expectations, and your results. Dopamine is sometimes simplified as the ‘reward’ molecule but it could be better described as the ‘seeking’ molecule.
Your body remembers stuff it likes, and in incredibly simplified terms, your brain is trained to seek it.
Many of the people reading this have been in a feedback loop of lifting for a long time. Train, PR, feel pumped, train more, PR again, feel pumped.
We are entering the most bizarre time ever. With home setups becoming more common, gyms reopening with weird rules and most of us with months of detraining our lifts, but retraining our minds to enjoy food, Netflix and buying things more than lifting.
You need to understand this (and give yourself a break) returning to lifting with a home gym or back at a facility will be difficult to maintain and will take a solid mental effort.
Strength training is hard. Being resilient enough to get close to your genetic ability is very hard.
We STRONGLY recommend that you reset your goals away from PR’s and move them back to basics. We have been suggesting the below
Step 1 – Train 4 times a week – even if its curls for 15 minutes
Step 2 – Train 4 times a week – at least for 45 minutes
Step 3 – Train 4 times a week – including bench, squat and deadlift
Step 4 – Train 4 times a week – and work up to a 7 rep ‘max/9rpe’ on bench, squat, dead
Step 5 – Run a program to increase those maxes over 6-10 weeks
Take as long as you want for each step. The idea is just to set goals you can hit, and get back in the swing of things in a fun and progressive measure. We use 7 reps, because nobody has a current 7 rep max, so you can’t compare yourself to earlier marks.
how to Deload
How to program for intermediates and those that like spreadsheets
We would highly recommend you start from a great resource like Candito. He has spreadsheets for free, and understand the relationship between volume and intensity.
In the broadest terms, intermediates use blocks where the focus moves from volume to intensity, based on a peak of strength / max out. To start to program these blocks yourself, you need to measure total tonnage of working sets in contrast to intensity (ie, how close you are to max weight).
If you want to program for yourself, the best way to do it is to start on one of these free programs, and take detailed notes where you think it succeeds and fails, and start to modify for yourself.
If you take myself for example
- I am far more responsive to many sets of low reps for deadlifts. In my own programming, I’ll use 10 sets of 4, 3 or 2 reps
- My bench needs a lot of stimulus, and I’m most successful with two bench days, one rep, one low rep
- I gain more from a lower intensity squat, for 5-6 than higher intensity
That knowledge is 15 years in the making, from programs in pads since I was 14. Its your responsibility to know what works, and some people just need a lot of volume (to the extent it almost seems unfair) to put on muscle. These people are generally ectomorphs, and require years (like, 5-10 years) of constant work for their body to become accustomed to size. As unfair as it sounds, many ectomorphs will lose progress so fast that a month off leaves them almost at square one.
The endomorph got the short end of the stick body fat wise, but in general will add muscle more easily, and hold that strength for a long time.
Mesomorphs just got lucky.