Monday, February 15, 2010

5 Practical Suggestions For Effective Programming

By Charles Staley, B.Sc, MSS
Director, Staley Training Systems


1 - Don't Use "Bodypart Splits"

Here are two big problems with bodypart splits:

1) You limit yourself to relatively ineffective exercises. For example, if you have a "hamstring day," you can't really do squats of any kind, or deadlifts of any kind (The most effective hamstring exercises), because both involve not only hams, but also quads, low back, and core stability, among other things. On a "chest day" you can't do any form of bench (The most effective "chest" exercise), because it involves delts and triceps as well as pecs.

So if you go on the assumption that each "bodypart" needs to be trained at least twice a week (an assumption I happen to ascribe to), you'd need a schedule like this:

Monday: Chest & Back
Tuesday: Hams & Shoulders
Wednesday: Biceps & Triceps
Thursday: Abs & Calves
Friday: Chest & Back
Saturday: Hams & Shoulders
Sunday: Biceps & Triceps, Abs & Calves

2) Which leads to the fact that: of course you can arrange things differently, but anyway you slice it, you're training 6-7 days a week, using inefficient exercises.

A somewhat better "compromise" might be to have 2 "upper body" days and two "lower body" days. Now your weekly split looks something like this:

Monday: Lower body
Tuesday: OFF
Wednesday: Upper body
Thursday: Lower body
Friday: Off
Saturday: Upper body
Sunday: OFF

A schedule I prefer even more is to involve as much of your body as possible on every workout. This requires a bit more creativity in order to avoid redundancy (see point # 3 below), so here's an example to get your started:

Monday: Back Squat, Bench Press, Low Cable Row
Tuesday: OFF
Wednesday: Step-Ups, Dumbbell Overhead Press, Chins
Thursday: Front Squat, Dumbbell Bench Press, Suitcase Row
Friday: OFF
Saturday: Lunges, Barbell Military Press, Pullups
Sunday: OFF

With these last two examples, you have 3 days off, plus you can do the best exercises: squats, pulls, Olympic lifts, rows, lunges, presses, etc.

2- Use A Weekly Cycle

By a "cycle" I simply mean a recurring or repeating unit of time into which you place every exercise you think you must or should do. Using my last example, you obviously wouldn't (or actually couldn't) try to back squat, front squat, lunge, step-up, chin, row, bench press, etc., etc., all in one day. You've gotta spread them out into a cycle.

If your cycle is too small (compressed) you won't be able to recover from all the work you've placed into it. On the other hand, if the cycle is too large (expanded), you'll get too much recovery, meaning, you'll be starting from scratch on each new cycle. The trick is to make your cycles just long enough to be able to achieve a full recovery, but not so long that your fitness levels recede back to the starting point with each new repeat.

The smalles possible cycle (in my opinion) is about 4 days. This would assume that you accomplish all desired work in two training sessions. The upper body-lower body split described earlier is one example. Using this, here's what your 4 day split would look like:

Monday: Upper Body
Tuesday: OFF
Wednesday: Lower Body
Thursday: OFF

Or, the 2 sessions could be distributed toward the front of the cycle, and the rest days placed at the rear:

Monday: Upper Body
Tuesday: Lower Body
Wednesday: OFF
Thursday: OFF

Either of these two cycles could be repeated over and over with a good degree of success, for an indeterminate length of time. The problem I have with this split however, is that modern Western civilization is based on a 7-day week. It only makes sense therefore, to align your training cycle with your work/life schedule, which happens to be a 7-day cycle. For this reason, I think you're best off using a weekly split. Using the last example, it might look something like this:

Monday: Upper Body
Tuesday: Lower Body
Wednesday: OFF
Thursday: Upper Body
Friday: Lower Body
Saturday: OFF
Sunday: OFF

3 - Seek Maximum Diversity And Minimum Redundancy

If you look back at the earlier example of a "whole body" split, you'll notice that although there is a repetition of fundamental movement patterns, there is minimal redundancy of specific movements. Here's that split again so you don't have to scroll back up to find it:

Monday: Back Squat, Bench Press, Low Cable Row
Tuesday: OFF
Wednesday: Step-Ups, Dumbbell Overhead Press, Chins
Thursday: Front Squat, Dumbbell Bench Press, Suitcase Row
Friday: OFF
Saturday: Lunges, Barbell Military Press, Pullups
Sunday: OFF

So again, you'll notice that we've covered pretty much every major movement pattern: vertical and horizontal pressing, vertical and horizontal pulling, squatting, lunging, etc.

4 - If A Movement Pattern Hurts, DO SOMETHING About It

Typically, if a lifter has a particular movement scheduled for a workout, and then the initial warm-up sets for that movement cause pain, the typical response is to simply skip the movement and hope it feels better the next time around. Bad idea. The solution is beyond the scope of this article, but let me suggest getting some medical advice for anything that hurts more than a week or so (as opposed to a year or so). Until you get a diagnosis, you don't know what you're dealing with. And you can't fix a problem if you can't define the problem.

5- Stay Flexible With Loading Patterns

Anyone who's followed by work for any length of time knows that I'm not a periodization fan. It's just simply impossible to predict how you're going to respond to a specific stimulus weeks in advance. So on each workout, go in with a plan, but also don't be afraid to modify the plan if things aren't panning out the way you hoped. If you were planning on 3 sets of 8, and on the first set it becomes obvious that you could probably hit a new PR for a single, I'd take that PR. Conversely, if you're planning on maxing out and it quickly becomes apparent that a new PR isn't in the cards, take the opportunity to get some volume in instead.

If you don't plan on being flexible, you're likely to fall apart and lose motivation when your workout fails to go your way. So prepare for the unexpected, and have a back-up plan in place before you go in. This way, you'll almost always have great training sessions, your motivation will stay high, and that leads to intense and consistent training. And that leads to great results.

About The Author

Charles Staley...world-class strength/performance coach...his colleagues call him an iconoclast, a visionary, a rule-breaker. His clients call him “The Secret Weapon” for his ability to see what other coaches miss. Charles calls himself a “geek” who struggled in Phys Ed throughout school. Whatever you call him, Charles’ methods are ahead of their time and quickly produce serious results.
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