How to write your own training programme (Part 4: The Finer Details)

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So if you have been following my blog recently then you will know that we have been talking about how to write a training programme. So far we have looked at, choosing a goal and training specifically for that goal, how hard you need to train to reach those, how frequently you should be training and how often you need to be taking time off hard training to recover. Now if you follow those previous rules of training then you are off to a great start and will be able to make very good progress however there are some finer details that can help you make the best gains possible. This week we will be discussing variation in training and how this can help you make better long term progress.

There are many ways to vary training: we can vary volume, intensity, frequency and exercise selection. The main reasons for variation is to prevent staleness, reduce the risk of injury and to potentiate future progress. If you continue doing the same thing over and over again you will soon come up against adaptive resistance. This mean that your rate of progress will slow down unless you change one or more of the training variables. Also, by doing the same exercise, you can increase your risk of injury as continuous exposure to the same exercise can lead to wear and tear in the joints and tissues involved in the movement. The final idea is that the variation (whether it’s a change in exercise selection, volume or intensity) will allow future training to be even more effective. This means that training can and should be split into different phases where you are working on different qualities in each one. For example, a strength athlete may spend some time doing hypertrophy work because by making his or her muscles bigger, they will have more potential for future strength gains.

One thing that you must consider when varying training is that you do not violate any of the previous principles. We know that training should be specific for a particular goal and so if you are varying intensities week on week then you are violating this because you may be training for too many things at once. For example, if you are doing heavy sets of 3 on squats, running a half marathon in the next session and then doing sets of 10 on squats all in one week then this will not be effective. Remember, our bodies respond best to training when we train for one goal at a time. A more appropriate use of variation might be to do sets of 6 on squats one day, sets of 8 on squats on another and then on the last session of the week doing sets of 10 on leg press. You are still varying the rep range but the reps are all in the hypertrophy rep range and so does not violate the principle of specificity. Another consideration you must make is that you do not violate the SAID principle. Hopefully if you have read the previous articles then you will understand what the SAID principle is but the basic idea is that if you keep swapping exercises each week then your body never fully adapts to the previous stimulus and therefore do not make progress. Another way to over do variation is to choose exercises that do not allow you to train hard. We know that to gain strength, you must lift heavy weights so swapping your barbell squats for squats on a bosu ball is probably a bad idea as you will not be able to train the movement heavy enough to see any gains in strength.

A simple way to introduce variation into your training is to choose a few exercises for each body part you want to train and spread them throughout the week. This means if you choose bench press, incline dumbbell and dumbbell flyes for chest you might do bench press and incline dumbbell press on a Monday and then bench press and dumbbell flyes on a Thursday. You would vary the rep range in each session but make sure they are within the range you want to be training. So on Mondays you might do sets of 6-8 and then on Thursdays you go lighter and do sets of 10-12. You would train in this way for a few weeks, adding weight and sets each week, until you reach your MRV and then you deload. After your deload you can then change the exercises because the previous exercises may have lost some of their effectiveness. You might then choose dumbbell bench press, weighted press ups and incline flyes. That is a basic example of how I might use variation in a hypertrophy plan but you can apply these principles whether you want to gain strength or endurance.

So finally, I think it is a good idea to summarise the main points from the previous articles. First of all, we must pick our goal. We may have multiple goals (for example wanting to get bigger and stronger) but we should train for one of these goals primarily at a time. You need to then train specifically for that goal. If you want to improve your strength then you must be training in the 3-6 rep range with heavy weights; if you want to gain muscle then you must be training in the 6-12 rep range for most of your training and if you want to improve your aerobic endurance then you need to keep your heart rate elevated for extended periods of time. You then need to make sure you are training hard enough to elicit a training response, making sure you vary the intensity/ rep range/ exercises to prevent staleness whilst still adhering to the principle of specificity. This training needs to then get harder over time until you reach the point where you can no longer effectively recover from training. At this point you can take a deload week. Then you can choose to vary some more exercises and start the process again. That right there is how to plan an effective training programme. I hope this has helped and if you have any further questions then please get in touch.

Speak to you guys again soon.


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