Get With The Program
Following a program is one of the most important things you can do to achieve a desired result at the gym. It helps you minimize the potential for muscle imbalance and lowers your risk of injury. It also enables you to gear your training directly to your personal goals in order to maximize results. In order to develop a successful program, you must take into consideration the steps below.
Goal-Specific and Needs Assessment
Developing a goal enables you to have a clear and defined purpose to the program. It might be as specific as “I want larger arm muscles” or as general as “I want to improve my overall health.” Next, you must conduct a needs assessment and evaluate current training status and to look for any injuries or muscular imbalances. Designing a program to first help correct any problems is paramount.
Keeping in mind your goal and needs assessment, utilize a variety of appropriate core and/or assistance exercises. Core exercises recruit one or more large muscle groups and involve multi-joint movements. These exercises are good for building multiple areas of the body at once (e.g. back squats). Assistance exercises target smaller muscle groups and generally are single-joint exercises. Assistance exercises are typically used for isolation movement (e.g. preacher curls) and/or injury prevention or rehabilitation (e.g. external rotator cuff exercises).
A combination of these types of exercises should be in all programs and can help any type of goal. Make sure when selecting exercises to consider maintaining muscle balance. To achieve this, it is best to assign exercises for both the agonist (muscle causing the movement) and antagonist (muscle group on the opposite side of limb). It is also important to remember that exercise variation is very important for any program no matter what the goal.
When determining exercise order, a general rule to follow is how one exercise affects another exercise with respect to effort and quality. Exercises should be arranged so that a person’s maximum effort is available while maintaining proper form. 4 different ways to order exercises are: 1) Power exercises, core exercises, followed by assistance exercises; 2) alternating between upper and lower body exercises; 3) push and pull exercises; or 4) supersets and compound sets.
How often we train is also something to consider. For example, novice exercisers need more recovery time between sessions while a seasoned athlete can recover more quickly. A general rule to follow is one day of rest but no more than three days for sessions that stress the same muscle group. If someone is training at maximum effort it will also require more recovery time. One common way to adhere to this is to prescribe a maximum load day followed by a lighter load day.
Load and Repetition
Depending on the goal, training load and repetitions are determined by four categories: strength, power, hypertrophy and muscular endurance. Training load can be determined by a percentage of a person’s 1 rep maximum weight (1RM)-a baseline should be determined at the beginning of the program-of a particular exercise. Strength can be achieved by using 85% or greater of 1RM for a repetition of 6 or less. Power can be achieved from 75-90% of 1RM for repetitions of 1-5. Hypertrophy is achieved by 67-85% of 1RM for repetitions of 6-12. Muscular endurance is achieved by loads of less than 67% of 1RM for reps of 12 or more. It is important to know that an effective program must use overload and progression to maintain quality long-term training. Overload refers to training at a greater intensity than one is used and progression refers to the intensity of training becoming gradually greater.
Track Your Progress
Tracking progress is an important part of any exercise program. Keeping a journal or exercise log can help determine when it is time to increase load, volume or change exercises. To improve performance, it is important to evaluate your progress and needs assessment periodically and adjust your program accordingly. Using periodization can help with this; this is the breakdown of a program into cycles. This is important because it can give a program structure as opposed to randomly monitoring progress. A macrocycle is typically the overall time set to achieve a desired goal. This is further broken down into mesocycles (typically a few weeks to a few months) and microcycles (typically 1 week up to 4 weeks). Mesocycles would re-evaluate the four categories noted above in “load and repetition” versus your baseline. Microcycles would focus on weekly changes to exercises and loads.
A personal fitness plan is the best way to find success in reaching your fitness goals. Take some time to research for yourself or reach out to a professional to design a fitness plan just for you.