Writing your own training program is one of the most satisfying things you can write.
Outside of, of course, writing an eventual FB top comment.
But many don’t do it. Instead, they follow a generic routine by their favorite influencer.
Squat 4 sets of 10 superset with the hunt for the perfect gym lighting.
Hip Thrusts 3 sets of 15 superset with 10 minutes of picture attempts to get the perfect butt angle.
Curtsy Lunges 4 sets of 24 reps superset with picture editing, caption brainstorming and hashtag copy pasting.
We want to look like our idols, I understand.
But could they be the reason we fail?
Failure: The inability to follow through an exercise program long enough to achieve desired results.
Why do we forfeit our quest to achieve a very important goal midway through?
Why do we give up on fitness regimes less than a month in, until January (insert next year:_____) comes along?
I have a theory.
You’re not meant for each other.
Personal trainers, fitness influencers and fitness models, we live in a tiny bubble of 1 rep maxes, ketogenic diet, protein powders, waist high leggings, and more importantly, scheduling freedom. Our training program does not work for everyone.
The onus of designing your training program should go to someone who knows you best.
As a certified fitness trainer, I believe we should distance ourselves from telling clients what to do, and lean more towards having an ongoing dialogue with them on what they can do.
Over the past few years of coaching, this approach has proven superior in delivering successful results.
- Goal oriented
The program must lead you to your desired end goal. If your aim is to build muscle and lose fat, then what you do has to reflect that goal.
Example: A resistance training program is more “goal oriented” than yoga for the purpose of muscle building.
The program is designed with adherence in mind. You must be able to repeat this training program without fail, after taking into consideration potential interruptions from work, life and whatever that may come up.
Example: if you have to run a company, keep your family intact, take late night business calls, you’re more likely to see success with a 3/ week than a 5/ week program.
Training Program Design
“Personal incongruency is what causes so much of our pain.
Not being you will destroy you”
– Tim Denning
The following are questions that can guide your training approach for years to come. The dialogue I use as an example illustrates the most common fitness goal requests I get from male clients.
Client and Me.
Q1. What do you wish to achieve with training? (Be specific)
“To look good…”
“Understood. But could you elaborate on that? What do you think you are lacking now?”
“I think I have a weak looking physique, I want to look stronger.”
“What would you say a “look stronger” look is?”
“Ummm, broader shoulders, bigger pecs, and bigger arms I guess.”
“Okay, how big though? Do you have an ideal physique in mind?”
“Hmmm, think Brad Pitt in fight club.”
“Alright, that’s not too far-fetched. You don’t carry too much body fat now so it’s just a matter of setting up muscle building program, with a heavier emphasis on upper body growth. What do you think?”
“Sounds like a plan!”
Q2. How many days can you train in a week? (Be realistic)
“Okay, I’ve given a lot of thought to this. I am going to train 6 days a week, but I can only train in the morning, so I’ll start waking up at 6am instead of my usual 8am to lift…”
“Hey, hold on…”
“…I usually go to bed around 1am but going forward, I’ll start going to bed at 10pm…”
“I think we shouldn’t get too far ahead of…”
“…but hmmm, come to think of it, somedays I have client calls from Europe at 11, but I guess it’s fine to not slee…”
“SHUT UP AND LET ME SPEAK”
“Hey, I think 6 days a week might be pushing it a little bit.”
“But I want to achieve my goal as fast as possible…”
“I totally understand, and trust me, I am as desperate as you are in achieving your goal. But this desperation has to be tempered with patience. But I also believe that the best training program is the one that you can stick to.
I’ve tried the balls to wall approach only to be set back by burnout or injury. Going all out for 3 weeks, and be sidelined for a month is a bad strategy. A successful training program is as much consistency as it is goal oriented.”
“Okay… if you put it that way, I can realistically train 3 times a week…”
“Sweet. 3 times a week sounds good. Let’s work with that.”
Q3. What do you think is the best program for your goal? (Work within limitations)
“Okay, since I can only train 3 days a week, should I do like… Monday Chest, Wednesday Back, Friday Shoulder?”
“To be fair, that split can work. But consider this, muscle damage from most training takes 2 to 3 days to recover from. If you have trained your chest on Monday, it would have recovered and ready to go again on Wednesday.
A typical bro split that hits chest, legs, biceps, back once per week is an inefficient use of your training capacity. Why train a muscle group just once a week when it can be trained 2-3 times a week?”
“So, you’re saying, Chest, Back, Arms, Legs on all days that I train?”
“Yes, pretty much! However, a caveat to this, consider capping most of your body parts to 10-12 sets per week.
Thus, if you’re training 3 days a week, with a focus on upper body muscle gain, your routine should look roughly like this:-
There are, of course, more nuances to designing a training program, but this is a good start if you’re new to a structured approach to training.”
Check this video out for a more in detailed explanation on exercise selection, personal modification and progression:
Q4. Why do you want to achieve this goal? (Be authentic)
“Oh, you know, to look good and to be healthy.”
“Totally cool, I think everyone starts off with that goal in mind. But most people, as they warm up after training with me, will open up about deeper, more personal desires they wish having a better physique would provide… You can be honest with me.”
“… my desperation is that obvious huh? Okay… to lose some fat… build muscles… look good… so… I can be confident enough to ask Anna from HR out.”
“Cool. Thank you. To open up like that was very brave of you. I appreciate it.”
“Okay, so how is this information going to help?”
“After this week of training, you should go ask her out.”
“Are you mad?!”
“Hear me out. The confidence, readiness, or whatever it is you think you’ll achieve by looking better will never come. In fact, once you start seeing a modicum of success with training, it can become a dangerous source for procrastination.
I’ve heard it all. I will only post my progress picture once I hit 74kgs, I will only wear sleeveless once my arms are bigger, I won’t wear a bikini unless I lose this flab, I’ll only sign up for a marathon once I can hit a 5k/30 min on the treadmill.
I, for one, believed that having a better body would help me gain confidence, so I can have my voice heard and gain respect among peers. It never came through a better body.”
“So what are you suggesting?”
“Here’s the cheat code to fitness, whatever you think can only begin at the end of this journey can, and totally should begin right now. I applaud you for having come this far to changing your body, but it will not directly change other domains of your life.
Better confidence with people won’t come through repetitions of push ups, but through repetitions of going up to them and striking a conversation.
A better life won’t come through reps of bicep curls and tricep extensions, but through asking yourself, like how you asked yourself what “look good” means, what a “better life” means to you, and going out to achieving that.”
“This was really more than what I signed up for. Thank you.”
“No problem. Training begins Monday morning, see you here at 730…”
“And oh, don’t forget…
…ask Anna out.”
Some details to iron out:-
- This is efficient, not complete. Anything beyond a 3 day a week, full body routine still works, but diminshing returns in terms of muscle gain should be expected. Training 6 days a week doesn’t mean twice the results of a 3 day a week program.That said, if you want to train more, train more. I have enjoyed periods of higher frequency training, exercising more often makes me feel mentally sharper, and I highly encourage it among clients, too.
Experiment with alternatives to your usual regime, yoga, cardio, sports, dance if you find a traditional bodybuilding routine mundane.
- A not-exhaustive list of exercise substitutes for the 3 categories of compound movements:-a. Lower Body: Deadlifts, Back Squats, Front Squats, Leg Press, Barbell Hip Thrusts, Romanian Deadlifts, Sumo Deadlits.
b. Upper Body Push: Bench Press, Incline Bench Press, Dumbbell Bench Press, Incline Dumbbell Bench Press, Military Press, Dips, Hammer Strength Machine Press, Smith Machine Bench Press.
c. Upper Body Pull: Pull Up, Chin Up, Lat Pulldown, Seated Row, Dumbbell Row, Bentover Row, Inverted Row, Seal Row.
- When should you consider adding movements/ being “fancy”?I’ve received trainess who, prior to working together, spent session long doing box jumps, medicine ball tosses, burpees, battle rope drills, jumping lunges, kettle bell swings, being gased out with no progress (muscle gain) to show.
I’m not saying these “fancy” exercises don’t have their place, but they should take back seat compared to the compound/ hypertrophy inducing resistance exercises.
A modified program would be a Monday program + 3 sets of 45 seconds kettlebell swing (45 seconds rest). Do what’s important first, and don’t sweat trying to progress these “filler” exercises near the end.