Building the Perfect Program

Keep it Simple

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Most of us are not collegiate or professional athletes, so googling the new trend in weight lifting most likely will not benefit us, especially if we don’t know how to do it correctly.  Focus on perfecting the basic lifts first before you venture out and experiment with single leg pendular Romanian dead lifts.  Think you know how to bench press? Do you tighten your transversus abdominus? Straighten your wrists? Drive through your heels? Lifting is much more complex than just moving the weight from point A to point B, and it might seem unnecessary to focus on such menial things but you will regret it when you cause yourself pain down the line from overcompensating with your lower back or shoulders due to improper form. 

Harder, Earlier

Any and all physical activity should be preceded by some sort of a warm up.  Typically try to aim for a three stage warm-up consisting of an initial, to increase heart rate and body temperature, an intermediate, focused on stretching and joint mobility, and a sport specific stage, or for weight lifting lighter weights of the attempted lift.  The warm up concept does not apply to the organization of lifts, however, smaller muscle groups and typically simpler lifts should be reserved for the end.  More complex and dynamic movements like squats, cleans, jumps and sprints should be completed first because these are driven primarily by the nervous system and when fatigue sets in, injury risk increases.  These types of exercises are best completed with a supervisor or lifting partner to critique form and cut you off whenever you cannot maintain proper form anymore in order to preserve your health.

Quality over Quantity

When creating a plan try not to have a set number of reps for every set, instead set a range i.e. 5-8, 8-10, 10-12 etc.  By presenting ourselves a certain number to hit, we subconsciously set limits on our maximal output and will move the weight as quickly and by any means necessary to hit that number.  Instead, focus on each and every rep as if it is the last.  It often helps to have a set tempo for lifts, whether the focus is on the eccentric, eccentric-iso, concentric or concentric-iso is dependent upon your fitness goals, but that does not mean to completely abandon explosive movement.  Tempo and explosion can be utilized simultaneously, say in a bench press you control the weight to your chest for three seconds to promote hypertrophy but explode up as quickly as possible also increasing power output.  If you can only get 6 reps or have to drop weight then so be it, because 6 perfect reps are better than 10 mediocre reps.

Consistency

Consistency is key.  Train hard but see no results? It might be due to a lack of consistency in your exercise schedule, rep consistency or nutrition.  Sticking to a regular exercise schedule regardless of how sore or tired you are is vital to optimizing results.  The first week in the gym, whether it’s your first time ever or a professional lifter’s return from a year long hiatus, is absolutely brutal to the body but more so the mind.  The “pain” you are feeling is progression and it can only be overcome by being strong mentally and forcing yourself to roll out of bed and to the gym one more time and even if you feel like there is no end in sight, it only gets easier the more you stick to it.  I get it, the thought of committing 4-5 days of the week to exercise seems like a lot but if you wake up an hour earlier than you would for work and make it a necessary part of your day, you will find that it is easier to stick to a schedule and another added benefit is that it will wake you up for your daily activities, which will also help you kick your need for caffeine.

I’m Going 5 Days a Week, Eating Right and Getting Proper Rest but I’m not Seeing any More Progress........

Contradictory to the above section, this is the one area that consistency is actually detrimental to gains.  If you feel you have hit a wall or plateau or simply have lost motivation, try to switch up your workout routine whether you change reps, exercises, tempo or rest time.  Ideally, a change should be made every three to four weeks to avoid any plateau effects but if even this does not work, then try to find a lifting partner or personal trainer that can properly motivate you and aligns with your fitness goals.