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Default How to recognize a good program
by Johan 11-03-2011, 04:16 PM

How to recognize a good program
By Johan


My body is ready for some heavy ass lifting, how about yours?

The web is littered with training programs, add all the programs from Flex, Muscle and Fiction (see what I did there, ehh ehh?), Ironman and a host of other magazines and confusion is inevitable. Often the "programs" are just a random bunch of exercises making up a random training session of some big bastard, Hollywood actor or strongman. Calling such a thing for a program is a disgrace and it has made countless beginners waste months or years jumping from one routine to the other. Never progressing to any decent level. We all know people like that, going to the gym several times a week, always talking about the newest gun blaster routine form Muscle and Fiction, always looking the same. Hell many of us have been just that guy at some point!

What is needed is a set of guidelines to sort out the gems from the bullshit. I will try to provide just that in this article.

Guideline 1. What exercises are the bread and butter of the program?


Heavy shoulder presses is never a bad idea

For the vast majority of people there is no need for a trillion different exercises. Most simply shouldn't do 10 different exercises for the biceps, 4 for the side delt and 10 for the trapz. A solid program is often recognized by its simplicity when it comes to exercise selection. If the workouts in the program start with deadlifts, squats, bench press, olympic lifts, overhead presses of any kind or other heavy compound movement then it can't be to bad. If it however starts with cable curls, triceps kickbacks, leg extensions or lateral raises its best to burn the paper the program is written on, or wipe your ass with it.

After the compound movements there shouldn't be all that much else there either. If you do squats, power cleans, heavy chins and dips why do you think there is a need for 10 sets of biceps or leg curls after that? Some assistance exercises are good to add, but those exercises are assistance. Majority of work should be done on the biggest bang for the buck exercises. If you can do chins with 100ibs of added weight, don't you think you will have an impressive set of biceps and awesome lats? How much do you really think 3-4 sets of concentration curls will add to that? Have you ever seen someone squat 4 plates for 10 ass to grass reps while sporting skinny legs? A program should only included the compound lifts and the assistance exercises that clearly aids the compound lifts! Any exercise that doesn't aid the main lifts is simply a drain on your recovery ability and contributes nothing to your muscularity or strength levels.

Guideline 2. There has to be a clear way to progress


Liao Hui didn't achieve this level of jackedness by randomly following programs from Flex

All too often one just see a bunch of exercises throw together in a "leg day", "back day" etc. Do 10 sets of this and 8 sets of that. Never once is there any guideline on how you are supposed to follow that program for long. Its great to know that you should do 8 sets of 3 reps of Zane's super secret curl to twist to build amazing gunz. But what do you do after the first workout, should you add reps, sets, weight, decrease time between sets or what? How do you progress?

There are a few different ways one can progress.
  1. Add weight keeping the same number of sets and reps.
  2. Add more reps with the same weight and number of sets.
  3. Add more sets with the same weight and number of reps.
  4. Add weight while decreasing sets and reps.
  5. Decrease time between sets while keeping sets, reps and weight the same.

The first three ways all add total volume to your training, volume is simply weight lifted times number of reps times number of sets. So if you lift 100 ibs for 5 sets of 10 reps your training volume is 5000 ibs. You can clearly increase that by increasing any one of the three factors, weight, sets or reps.

The fourth way is a bit more ambiguous since training volume can actually decrease even though weight on the bar increases, 3 singles on 200 is much less volume than 3 sets of 10 with 100. It's a good method for peaking strength if one wants to test a rep max. But long term increasing training volume is usually goal number 1. I might add that that is the case even for HIT programs, even if you only ever do one set per exercise your training volume still increase because of the weight increase.

The last way to progress is called escalating density training, you are doing the same volume of training in lesser time. This increases your work capacity and adds to how hard work your muscles have to work to complete the same volume, by pushing them before they have recovered fully. There is of course a limit to this kind of progression before weight, sets or reps have to increase as well.

A programs progression can be based on any of those things or a combination. What is important is that there is a progression scheme built into the program. Take Doggcrapp's method of training as an example. He clearly specifies a rep range for the exercise, he clearly states you should add weight while keeping reps about the same each time you do the exercise or keep the weight the same and add reps until you are outside of the rep range window and then you should add weight. If you can no longer add either reps or weight on an exercise he clearly states you should replace it with another exercise working the same muscle groups. There is no ambiguity there, its crystal clear.

Another great example is Rippetoe's starting strength program. You know you are supposed to do 3 sets of 5 reps and every time you do the exercise you add about 5 ibs to the bar. If you can't do that anymore then you have milked the program to its end and its time to look for a more advanced program.


Guideline 3. It should be clear for who the program is written

Guy to the right obviously have way different programming needs than the guy to the left

Every training program isn't made for every person. A beginner bodybuilder needs a vastly different program compared to Ronnie Coleman. A beginner weightlifter would die if put on the program of the Chinese national weightlifting team. Reading what Levrone or Cutler does for their arms and shoulders might be interesting, but most people simply don't belong to the group of people that finish top ten at Mr Olympia or injecting half a pharmacy every night.

If a program doesn't clearly state under which circumstances and for what level of trainee it is targeted then it is junk. A beginner can do perfectly well for many months just doing squats, bench, deadlift and military press for 3 sets of 5 a couple of times a week while increasing weight every workout. A more advanced lifter needs different things and an elite lifter needs programs completely custom made for the individual. Not to mention the needs of a strongman is different form the needs of a powerlifter which is different from the needs of a bodybuilder etc. Remember that when reading what the pro's or elite in any strength sport are doing, chances are you are NOT a pro and the pros did something completely different when they where at your level! Just because a strongman is jacked as hell doesn't mean his program is what you should do if your main goal is getting jacked and not competing as a strongman. Just because a bodybuilder happens to have a big bench, it still doesn't mean his program is fit for a powerlifter with a weak bench.

If the author of a program can't even say what group he is targeting, is he really then the kind of person you want to follow?

Those are 3 simple ways you can measure a program and hopefully help you pic one that works!
Attached Thumbnails
mybody.jpg   pudzian_shoulder.jpg   Liao_Hui_1.jpg   needs.jpg  

Last edited by Johan; 11-04-2011 at 07:06 AM.
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  #2  
Old 11-03-2011
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Bump wanna read this when I get home
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Excellent!.
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I realised No. 1 a couple weeks ago. So very true. great article.
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Old 11-04-2011
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Thanks
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Nicely done!
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Old 11-25-2011
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Solid read JOhan!
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Old 11-25-2011
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Old 11-28-2011
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Bumping this again. Great read.
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Hahaha I love this thread. Thank you!
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