Making a Plan pt. 5 - Exercise Selection

Exercise selection might just be the most confusing thing you could ever come across. There are at least a gazillion different exercises you can do. So how do you pick the one best for you?

There are several different criteria pertinent for choosing the right exercises.

  1. Injury history - If you have an injury somewhere, you may be best served selecting exercises that won't exacerbate the injury. This doesn't mean you'll never be able to do these exercises again, it might just mean to take a hiatus from certain exercises for a bit.
  2. Training Experience - The more you've trained the more you'll know what exercises or types of exercises may work for you. Those of you brand new to training may want to choose exercises easier for you to do safely and give yourselves room to progress.
  3. Goals - Your goals are going to vastly impact the exercises you choose. However it's also important to understand where you are at not just where you want to be.

For our intents and purposes we are going to break exercises down into two categories. Isolated exercises and Compound exercises. Think of isolated exercises where you're really only allowing one joint to move. Like a biceps curl or tricep extension. The only joint that should be moving during these exercises is the elbow. Compound exercises are exercises where multiple joints are moving like a squat or bench press. 

The biggest mistake I see people make is going straight to isolated exercises. While they have some value their effectiveness, regardless of your goal, is minimal without compound exercises. The reason being is compound exercises produce a greater stimulus to the rest of your body. They force your body to have to work harder, and create greater adaptations. Arnold did not just get as big as he was doing bicep curls all day, rather he squatted and benched as well. On the other side of the coin think of those lean athletes simply ripped and shredded not necessarily bulky. They too got there by using compound exercises.

This is not to say isolated exercises don't have their time and place. There is nothing wrong with curls, but you need to choose exercises that will build strength and then isolated exercises become more effective the stronger you get. 

There are 6 categories to use when selecting compound movements.

  1. Hinge (Butt bends, shins stay vertical)
  2. Squat (Butt bends, shins move forward)
  3. Upper Body Push (You push the weight away from your body)
  4. Upper Body Pull (You pull the weight closer to you)
  5. Single Leg (You lunge, step-up, or do something on one leg)
  6. Core/Carry (You plank, side plank, or pick up a heavy weight and walk with it)

It is important when going through a program that you use all 6 of these at least once in some shape or form. This will help ensure your program is  well rounded, and will help you really start to move closer to your goals. .  

I am keeping this basic because quite frankly it shouldn't be complicated. If you can ensure you are getting all 6 of these movements then have fun throwing in isolation work as well. The key with exercise selection is to keep it simple. 

Next post I will kick the complexity up a notch and start to discuss sets and reps. Get Ready!

-Dave

 

 

Making a Plan pt. 4 - The Training Week

To continue to figure out what the best plan to follow for you this post will discuss the training week as whole. Looking closer at some of the common ways people set their training up.

Before I continue, It is important to note the crucial aspect of having a goal in place. Setting a goal will help you better figure out what split will be best for you.

Once you have your goals figured out it will be easier to understand how you may want to divide your training to achieve your goals in the most efficient manner. Hence the importance of understanding different ways to set the week up.

Often times a training week is divided into different days called splits. These splits can be designed in such a way to be specifically more advantageous for one goal compared to others. Granted, it is not all cut and dry. When I write programs I'll often use a combination of different splits, or mix match the advantages of one to the other. However, I have also spent a few years writing programs. For our intents and purposes it is important to understand what is on the inside of the box before we get concerned thinking outside of the box. 

In regards to the training week the 5 most common splits you'll see are;

  1. Upper/Lower
  2. Push/Pull
  3. Conjugate
  4. Undulating
  5. Exercise based

Upper/Lower Split  - The upper lower split might be the most common split used in commercial gyms, or at least the most recognizable. The general idea is the trainee will workout roughly 4x/week. 2 days will be devoted to upper body exercises and 2 days will be devoted to lower body exercises. For the bros out there it is imperative you don't skip leg day.

The major advantage of this kind of split is you will be working out a group of muscles twice in a week. When it comes to building muscle, frequency is the name of the game. Thereby, strategically working out your muscles like this twice a week can help catalyze your gains.

The major disadvantage of this kind of split is the risk of overuse injuries such as tendinitis. If you don't pick your exercises carefully and provide enough variety you may accidentally cause these types of injuries to occur. 

Push/Pull  - This is another very common split, similar to upper lower. However instead of doing solely upper body exercises and solely lower body exercises you will do two days focused on "pulling" exercises, and two days focused on "pushing" exercise. In other words, two days will be focused on the posterior chain (i.e anywhere from the back of the legs to upper back) and two days focused on anterior chain (i.e anywhere from the fronts of the legs to pectorals).

 

The advantage with this type of split is the ability to train the total body each day. Many would argue this is best, because you never use your body in isolation. The other benefit is you will still get the frequency of an upper/lower split that is require for muscle growth.

However the disadvantage is the toll this type of split takes on recovery. Due to the nature of training the total body it can really affect our central nervous system. A lot of people will perform the split slightly differently by having a push day, pull day, lower body day, and upper body day. Where the latter two days will be focused on lighter exercises with more reps. Providing the body more time to recover. 

Conjugate  - This method of dividing the week is often advocated for athletic performance and strength. The reason is because two days will be focused on max strength (max effort days) and two days will be focused on power work (dynamic effort days). Sometimes plans will have max effort days back to back and then dynamic effort days back to back. Although typically this kind of split will look more like the one of the following:

  •  Max Effort, Dynamic Effort, Max Effort, Dynamic Effort or
  •  Max Effort, Dynamic Effort, Dynamic Effort, Max Effort

Aside from the lay out it is essentially a different way to do an upper and lower body split. Where a max effort day and dynamic effort day will be devoted to lower body, and the other two will be devoted to upper body.

The advantages is this method can be very good for building athletic performance and strength as there will be at least two concentrated days focused on building power as well as two days focused on strength. When smartly programmed it can also enhance the recovery process between max effort days by using the dynamic effort days to recharge the central nervous system.

The disadvantage of this method is it can be very difficult to use with beginning trainees. I find conjugate training works best with athletes and trainee's who are well established in the weight room and are looking for a way to bring their weight room strength over to performance. Many young athletes still need to focus on the basics and simply build the foundation of strength. 

Undulating - This method is based on dividing the week based on exercises and volume. This method is effective in gaining both strength and muscle as it will deal a lot in frequency. The only caveat I will make is if you are using deadlifting as one of your main exercises I would typically only deadlift twice. As this exercise may really fry your recovery capabilities.

Typically with undulating the week will be divided into three days. Where the foundation of the program is centered around three main lifts. This is a popular method for powerlifters as they can choose the squat, bench, and deadlift for their main exercises. Aside from the three main lifts it's up to the trainee to throw in whatever else they want to do. 

Each lift will then be programmed like this: one day devoted towards power, the next day for strength, and a third day for muscle (the third day is where I recommend skipping the deadlift). However you will alternate these three qualities for each exercise. 

  • Monday
    • Deadlift = Power
    • Squat = Strength
    • Bench = Hypertrophy
  • Wednesday
    • Bench = Power
    • Deadlift = Strength
    • Squat = Hypertrophy
  • Friday
    • Squat = Power
    • Bench = Strength
    • Deadlift = N/A

Usually on the last day I will substitute the deadlift with an exercise like the hip bridge.

The major advantage with this type of training is the frequency of each exercise. This plays a role in both building muscle and strength as it creates better motor learning which enhances strength, and with high frequency also comes high amounts of volume which will increase the potential for the muscles to grow. The frequency of lifting is also helpful for beginner lifters to really learn the movement.

The major disadvantage of this type of split is the risk of overuse injury. If you are doing the same exercise over and over again, three days a week, there is definitely a risk of developing inflammation. And to that same extent this type of training can hurt the ability to recover if done too much. 

The other major disadvantage is the lack of variety. Variety is important especially when a trainee comes upon a plateau.

Exercise Based - This type of split is really common among powerlifters and olympic weight lifters. Each day is devoted to a different competition exercise. For example, a power lifter will have a deadlift day, a bench day, and a squat day. All the exercises after the main lift of the day will be aimed to improve the main exercise.

The major advantage for this type of training revolves around the SAID principle, or specific adaptation to imposed demands. Basically, by training their competitive lift powerlifters will get better at performing their competitive lift. I also think there can be some value in this type of training for those looking to get stronger. As there is a lot of real world carry over from the main power lifts and olympic lifts.

The major disadvantage of this type of training tends to be the lack of variety. If you get bored easily this type of split might not be the kind of training that will work for you.

There you have it, 5 common splits to help you better understand what you can do to help you move closer to your goals. Not one split is inherently better than the others. They all can be useful, the key is to know your goal, and from there know what will work best for you. I've done all of them and have seen them to be effective. The most fun is simply experimenting with each one. 

After figuring out what you want the year to look like, then the month, and now each week the next important part of creating your program is deciding upon what exercises to use.

- Dave 

 

Making a Plan pt. 3 - The Importance of Journaling

In part 1 of this series we discussed progressive overload. It is the key principle towards attaining your goals. In part two we discussed periodization, and the importance of keeping yourself organized. In part three we will discuss the importance keeping a journal. Keep in mind, I am not talking about “dear diary” type stuff, but rather keeping track of what you do day in and day out.

 

I personally feel regardless of your goals periodization is important. However, in all honesty periodization is arbitrary if you are not actually keeping track of what you are doing. Without a journal you may as well be a dog chasing its tail. Don’t go me wrong periodization can be extremely helpful, and if you are competing in a sport like powerlifting, olympic lifting or even strong man it is almost essential.

If you are a field or court athlete, it is equally important to keep track of something even in the absence of an organized plan (periodization). If you don’t you will struggle to progress, and when you do hit a plateau you will have nothing to look back upon to see what variables you may be able to change to overcome it.

This is why one of the best things you can do for yourself is go to your local office supply store and buy a notebook of some sort. In this note book create several columns; for the exercise, the reps, the sets, and the weight lifted.

Another thing you can do at the end of each session is write how the session felt, you might notice trends. If you consistently feel drained after several sessions in a row it may be time to consider performing a deload, if each session feels really good maybe it’s time to set a new personal record.

As you can see the largest benefit of having a journal in some shape or manner is it will help you better keep track of where you are headed by detailing where you are at and looking back at where you came from. A journal can even be motivational to objectively see how much you actually have improved.

Keeping track of what you are doing is essential in the persistent quest of reaching your goals.

-Dave

Making a Plan pt. 2 - Demystifying Periodization

In part 1 of this series we discussed progressive overload. It is one of the key principles towards attaining your goals. To make the most of progressive overload it is important to understand periodization. However, right now that word probably makes as much sense to you as all those creepy clowns walking around.

Clowns.jpg

 

Periodization is simply a method or variety of methods we may use to organize our training. Whether you are planning for the year, the month, or even the week you are using some form of this. 

One common method of periodization is the block method. This method will organize training according to qualities trying to achieve. An example would be where you spend 4 weeks focusing on hypertrophy, the next 4 weeks focusing on strength, and the final 4 weeks focusing on power.

Another common method is linear where you may do a 12 week program, and in week 1 you do 12 reps, week 2 you do 11 reps and so on and so forth until you get to week 12 where you’d maybe do 1 rep.

Suffice to say, I won't go into much more detail, unless you're looking for that mid afternoon nap. While these two methods are the most common, it really doesn’t matter what method you use for periodization. Rather it’s more crucial to understand why periodization is important and in further posts we will discuss how to use it.

As we learned in the first installment, progressive overload is crucial for our bodies to change and grow. However, our bodies are smarter than we may realize. They adapt. Simply pushing our body the same way all the time, every time is not going to work.

Honestly, there is no formulaic way to know when our bodies will plateau and how long the plateau may last. Everyone is different. The thing is we want to make sure we are proactive as opposed to reactive. This is where periodization enters the equation. It helps us formulate our training in a manner to make sure our bodies don’t reach a point of plateau for a long time.

Through manipulating variables in an organized manner like; deloads, rest, volume, frequency, intensity and etc, we can constantly seek to improve through our training.

More on all this later.

-Dave

Making a Plan pt. 1 - Understanding Progressive Overload

Pertaining to health and fitness, figuring out what we're supposed to do can be one of the most daunting ventures of our lives.

Take a look at nutrition. Depending on where we go for advice we'll see an expert say carbohydrates are the devil. Next thing you know a study gets released that tells us we need carbohydrates. Pretty soon someone will probably say; the only way to optimize your digestion is by eating while doing a hand stand.

All this to say; I'm not even going to touch the nutrition aspect. Rather, we will spend some time exploring programming design. I simply can't state the importance of having a program in place. As the old adage goes, "Failing to plan, is planning to fail".

The first thing we will discuss is the cornerstone principle of progressive overload.

Progressive overload simply states something needs to change so that our body can keep growing. Many of us do this intuitively without even realizing it. For example, when weight feels easy we make it heavier.

Progressive overload, as a principle, should be one of our key focal points for our training. However, because it is a principle, there are also a variety of methods we can use to implement it. This is important because we do not want to stick to only one method of implementation, otherwise our training will stagnate and we will cease to adapt.

Below are three of the more popular methods for implementing progressive overload.

1.    Increase the weight

2.    Increase the range of motion (think of doing a step-up on a higher box)

3.    Decrease the amount of rest between exercises

There are way more methods than just these three. Renowned trainer, Bret Contreras has a book dedicated to 10 methods of progressive overload. This vast sum of methods is why having a solid understanding of programming is crucial. If we can understand the basics of programming and how it revolves around the principle of progressive overload, we can figure out how we can manipulate our training to ensure we are always improving, and for lack of a better word, progressing.

Throughout this series we will talk about: periodization, weekly layouts, volume/intensity/frequency, progressions/regressions, and even how deloads and recovery come into play. All with the purpose of helping us achieve our goals and using progressive overload to work for us.

- Dave