Thursday 28 February 2013

Common Program Design Errors Part 1

Each semester, I give my weight training classes a very important assignment - design your own training program based on your individual needs, goals and training level. Over the years, I have noticed common mistakes that students and trainers make when writing programs. Whether you are a fitness professional, you write your own training programs or you want to follow someone else's program but are not sure if it is good, here are some common program design errors to watch for. Learn from the mistakes of myself and others and fast-track your success.

No "real" goals
As a trainer, I always ask a new client/athlete what his/her goals are. Often you get some vague phrase such as:
  • Tone up
  • Improve performance
  • Get stronger
  • Get big
  • Get in shape
  • Get fit (what does that mean?) 
The problem with these "goals" is that they are not goals at all. How do you know when you have reached them? How can you evaluate whether your training program is even working to get you to that goal? These general objectives are a fine starting spot, but they need to be be moved to specific goals. Here are some examples:
  • Decrease 1" off my waist in 6 weeks
  • Increase 1" on my vertical jump in 6 weeks
  • Increase my deadlift by 20lbs in 6 weeks
  • Increase 1" on my chest, shoulders and thighs and 1/2" on my arms in 6 weeks
  • Gain 5lbs in 6ks
  • Run X distance in X amount of time
  • Fit into an old pair of pants that seem to have shrunk last year
Now, you can do the relevant assessments, implement the program and re-test. If you achieved your goal and stayed healthy, then regardless of what the program felt like, it worked. On the flip side, if you got a great burn and had sore abs everyday during the program but failed to lose the inch off your waist you were trying to, the program (or your nutrition) failed. 

Failing to focus one one main goal
Many people want to be good at a variety of things instead of being a specialist at one thing. A certain level of balance is good. However, trying to gain muscle, burn fat, increase vertical jump, train for a marathon and specialize in the squat all at the same time will burn out and confuse the body. Each block (e.g. 1-2 months) of training should have a primary goal that gets more attention than anything else. Then give some attention (for at least maintain) to the other fitness/performance components that are important to you.

Lack of movement on non-training days
The sad reality of today is that most people get almost no physical activity. Even athletes and fitness buffs rarely do anything physical outside their sport or training. I teach my students that everyone healthy enough to move should do so for at least 30 minutes each day. If you are coming to the gym 3-4 times a week, that is great, but what are you doing on those non-training days? Play sports, cut your grass, go dancing, go for a walk - just do something to move your body on non-training days. Note: low-intensity movement is great for recovery from high-intensity training! 

Inappropriate training split
Is this your goal?
Back in the 90's and 2000's split routines were especially popular in gyms. Are they bad? Of course not. However they are best for advanced individuals with bodybuilding goals. However, many of the people I talk with who are doing body part splits are not advanced or a bodybuilder. Everyone should start with a basic whole body routine and from there athletes and non-bodybuilders can move to variations of whole body or upper lower splits.

Advanced programming for non-advanced trainees
Almost everyone thinks they are more advanced than they really are. I believe this is due in part to a lack of proper perspective, but also a misunderstanding of what advanced training programs are for. Advanced programs are not for making faster gains. They are for helping individuals who have already gotten all they can out of beginner and intermediate programs and are still striving for more. They are not about making fast progress but slowly moving forward when gains would normally stop. 

Training is about a very simple cycle: stress-recover-adapt-repeat. The faster you can run that cycle, the faster your results will be. In their excellent book Practical Programming for Strength Training, 2nd edition Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore explain that a beginner can run this cycle from Monday to Wednesday while an advanced trainee may need a month or more to do the same thing. If you can make progress using a simple beginner routine, please do so! Milk it for all it it worth. Once beginner programming fails to work for you, move to intermediate programming and again get everything you can out of this. Then, after you have truly gotten to the level where you need it, implement advanced methods and programming.

Stay tuned for more common training mistakes in part 2 of this post...

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