How to Identify the Weak Link in Your Training Program
Jason Tremblay, PFT Certificate
The ability to analyze a program and give appropriate recommendations is a very overlooked skill in the fitness industry. There are literally thousands of programs that have been published in fitness magazines, or on the Internet. How can you tell which programs are the most appropriate for your goals? It is not easy, and I will be the first to say that I have never created a perfect program. In fact I don’t think anybody has ever created a perfect program. There are too many variables to account for to create a perfect program for someone. Although fitness professionals should constantly strive to create the perfect program, equal attention should be placed to identifying weak links in their own program. For this article I created a case study and a faulty training program. I then took to social media to see how people with various amounts of knowledge analyze a program. The results were quite thought provoking and I thoroughly enjoyed the input. See the case study and program below.
Case Study: Joe is an ectomorph who has been training for 1 year. He has made good strength gains for his first 5 months of training. However for the last 7 months his gains have been very limited. Joe has come to you to design a program that will get his strength gains back on track.
- Age: 20
- Height: 5’9
- Weight: 140 lbs.
- Body fat: 12%
- Injuries: No
- Availability for Training: 7 days a week
- Occupation: Full-Time Student
- Bench Press Max: 155 lbs.
- Deadlift Max: 215 lbs.
- Squat Max: 185 lbs.
- Pull-Up Max: 6 reps
Postural Analysis Summary
- Pelvis: Significant anterior tilt
- Lumbar Spine: Lordosis
- Thoracic Spine: Kyphosis
- Cervical Spine: Lordosis (forward head)
- Shoulders: Significant internal rotation
When I sent this program out I told the people analyzing it to identify three major flaws. Now this program has more than three major flaws, but let us take a look at what people identified as the three major mistakes.
What People Said…
Austin via Twitter
“I think the rest time after the more intense exercises should be increased. I also think as the exercises get lighter the sets should decrease and the reps should increase. Finally I think for a strength workout you should do more reps and less sets. Third I think it would help to spread out major muscle group exercises and not do things like leg press and squats together and instead mix up the muscle groups and for example do bench and leg press on the same day”
Austin, you hit the nail right on the head with the rest times. Although lifters with intermediate experience can get good gains with 2-3 minutes of rest in between sets. When lifting to 1 rep max more rest time is required to allow for CNS recovery and CP repletion. However I do not agree with your second point about performing more reps and fewer sets. When training for maximum strength I am a firm believer in staying above 85% of 1RM for the majority of the program. Since depleting the Central Nervous System provides a good stimulus for supercompensation, the goal of this program was to deplete the subject’s CNS. As for your third point, I agree that this training split is somewhat flawed for strength training. This training split was actually adopted from Fred Koch of the Tudor Bompa Institute. It is a great split for hypertrophy, but for strength not so much.
Anthony via Facebook
“Nice shitty program bro”
Thanks man! I really tried to make this one extra shitty!
Bao via Facebook
“I don’t understand why he’s only training 3 days on and 1 day off instead of 4-6. All my programs were 4; you’re going high weight, low rep, for strength”
Great point you made here Bao, a 4 – 5 day training week may be better suited here for this program.
Server via Twitter
“First thing I noticed was “Maximum Strength 3 – 5 minutes for ATP-PC repletion and CNS recovery”. Another thing I noticed was no warm up and no accessory work. This is more of a question, on day 1 it goes chest/shoulders/chest/shoulders, does this order make a difference in strength training?”
Server, you are completely correct in regards to the rest times. Furthermore you actually identified one of the major flaws I purposely implemented into this program. There is no warm up or any accessory work. Warm ups are important for just that, warming up the body. Increasing body temperature increases the rate of O2 dissociation from myoglobin, decreases viscosity of synovial fluid and increases temperature of deep muscle fibers. To answer your question, to an extent it does. I created day 1 with the premise of moving from exercises that required most neural coordination to exercises that required least neural coordination.
Austin via Twitter
“1. More rest on intense set so you don’t destroy the CNS
2. The secondary exercise should be 4,5×5 not 6×5 etc.
3. Chest and legs on same day because chest and shoulders is too much stress on rotator cuff. “
Austin, in regards to your first point you are completely right. However on the secondary exercises, the reps are still being performed ~85% 1RM which is good for stimulating strength gains. As for your third point, with this subject chest and legs on the same day would be more appropriate due to his severe internal rotation at the shoulder joint.
Steve via Facebook
“Well first thing I notice is the first day has 75 min just in breaks. If he has internal shoulder rotation I would do some rear delt/bent over rows to strengthen upper back. Plus I would do way more accessory work for his glutes. No anterior abs is asking for an injury to. I think your day 1 would destroy my rotator cuff. Plus if someone has internal shoulder rotation I think even keeping there back straight with a regular deadlift would be tough. Snatch grip form would be so terrible.”
Great points made here Steve; this program is not addressing the postural issues that our subject has. These workouts should take the subject ~1.5 to 2 hours to complete.
As you can see from above there is a lot of issues with this program. Now I am going to walk you through my thought process and the steps I take at breaking down any training program.
Step #1: “What’s the stim?”
Before I look at anything else, I try to figure out which training phase this program is designed for. I do this by looking at how high or how low the reps are, # of sets and set structure, rest times, tempos, choices of exercise and session duration.
Step #2: Identify training split and determine total sets per body part.
Day 1 – Chest/Shoulders/Triceps:
15 sets of chest dominant movements
10 sets of shoulders
Day 2 – Legs
16 sets of quadriceps dominant movements
4 sets of hamstring curls
Day 3 – Back/Glute Max/Biceps
11 sets of lat dominant movements
5 sets of glute and low back dominant movements
5 sets of biceps
Now remember from the case study that Joe has significant anterior pelvic tilt, as well as significant internal rotation at the shoulders as well as cervical spine lordosis. This could be due to the fact that Joe is a full-time student and is sitting in an anterior dominant position for long periods of time. What do I mean by an anterior dominant position? When sitting at a desk students are placed in a position of hip flexion, t-spine flexion, c-spine extension and the shoulder blades are protracted leading to internal rotation of the shoulder. Face it, we are an anterior dominant society. I would argue that Joe shouldn’t even be doing a strength program with his current postural issues. Instead he should be doing corrective exercises on an extensification phase of training to prepare him for the volume of maximum strength training.
Step #3: Is corrective exercise present? Is it necessary?
In this case, corrective exercise is not present, and it is necessary. In this case I would recommend the following ratios for Joe:
3:1 ratio of posterior upper body exercises to anterior upper body exercises.
Why? Joe has weak spinal erectors, low/mid traps and his external rotation strength is lacking compared to internal rotation strength. Rows are in my opinion the greatest corrective movement ever invented.
2:1 ratio of glute/hamstring exercises to quadriceps exercises.
Why? Injury prevention (ACL tears), and compensating for his anterior dominant posture by including more hip extension work.
Step #4: Is there any soft tissue work? Warm ups? Cool downs?
Another major flaw in the program above is the lack of soft tissue work and absence of any sort of warm up or cool down. The great thing about foam rolling is that it allows for us to kill 2 birds with 1 stone. If more people included foam rolling into there warm up the world would be a much more injury free and higher performance place. Here is why:
Soft Tissue Work
- Based off principle known as autogenic inhibition.
- Golgi Tendon Organ is a mechanoreceptor found at the muscle tendon junction.
- The GTO senses changes in tension of the muscle.
- When tension increases in the muscle the GTO stimulates muscle spindles to relax.
- This reflex reaction is known as autogenic inhibition.
- SMR simulates muscle tension, causing the GTO to relax the muscle providing more range of motion.
- Therefore it is important for injury prevention, enhancing ROM.
Step #5: Do the Training Variables Reflect the Goal of the Program?
I have gone on and on and on about how I believe everyone should understand training variables better. By now I would assume that my readers know them and that I do not have to post them in every single article I write. However if you do need a refresher please visit my article “Understanding Periodization” only changes necessary in terms of training variables is that rest times when lifting above 95% of 1RM should be increased to at least 4 minutes.
My last important point is that there is no plan for incorporating progressive overload into this program! Of course our subjects strength will go up. However I am a firm believer that program volume should increase with each passing week. This can be done in a number of ways, however in this program simply adding 1 or 2 sets per week would suffice and allow for consistent overload throughout the duration of the program.
Did you like the article? Did you hate the article? If you would like to contact me you can reach me at TheStrengthGuys@gmail.com or you can follow me on Twitter @TheStrengthGuys
The 5 Biggest Mistakes Made in The Gym
Jason Tremblay, PFT Certificate
Mistake #1 – Failure to Understand the Acute Training Variables
This is one of the most crucial errors made in gyms across the country. So much so that even the so-called “Personal Trainers” at your gym probably don’t understand these variables well enough. If you don’t understand how changing rep ranges from 3 reps per set to 10 reps per set will give a different training effect, you are just wasting your time! If you can’t understand the absolute basics of training, how can you create your own training programs? You need to understand these variables so that you can start making better programs and get more out of your time in the gym.
To learn more about the acute training variables please re-visit my article from last week “Understanding Periodization”
Mistake #2 – How to Elicit Overload
To make gains in any training phase, you will need to use enough load to stimulate adaptations. Many trainees get too caught up in the concept of progressive overload in the form of increasing weight used. Yes progressively adding more weight will often provide enough of a stimulus to continue making gains, but it is not the only way to provide overload and enhance the training effect.
6 Methods of Eliciting Overload
- Increasing load
- Increasing reps
- Increasing sets
- Increase number of training sessions per week
- Decreasing rest
- Increasing number of exercises
Mistake #3 – Assuming That You Are Injury Free
- 82% of athletes have disc bulges or herniations at one level.
- 38% at more than one level.
- 27% of athletes with verterbral fractures.
- 34% of athletes with rotator cuff tears.
- 79% of overhead throwing athletes with labral tears.
- 26% of jumpers with patellar tendinopathy.
If you train, make the assumption that you have some form of injury. Why aren’t more people performing Soft Tissue Work? Just because you don’t have any pain does not mean that you are injury free. Injuries can be symptomatic or asymptomatic. Yes, this means that you can have an injury without experiencing pain. Don’t make the mistake of waiting until you experience pain to start with soft tissue work. If symptoms are present, you do not have to address all of the issues causing pain. Addressing one or two areas may be enough to return injury to below the pain threshold. Would you rather spend 5 minutes before a workout with the foam roller, or would you rather have your training limited by pain for weeks? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
Mistake #4 – Failure to Perform a Proper Warm-Up
- Increases heart rate
- Psychologically prepares athlete for training session
- Increases perspiration
- Increased deep muscle temperature
- Increases mobility
- Decreases viscosity of synovial fluid
Warming up is essential for maximizing performance. The majority of the benefits from warm ups are based on how increases in temperature can affect physiological processes. Elevation in body temperature increases the dissociation of oxygen from hemoglobin and myoglobin, increases muscle blood flow, increases sensitivity of nerve receptors and increases the speed of nervous impulses. So by now I would hope that you are seriously considering doing more then two or three warm up sets before your next training session. But how do you design an effective warm up?
- Start the warm up with some foam rolling or med ball rolling.
- Start with simple movements, progress to complicated movements. Finish the warm up with whole body movements.
- Generally works best to start at the ankles and work from the ground up.
- Select mobility drills that will work each joint in its planes of motion.
- Dynamic stretching or static stretching? Go with dynamic stretching during warm up. For more info on stretching check out this article on the Hunt Fitness database “Functional Benefits of Flexibility and Stretching”
Mistake #5 – Not Using the Correct Range of Motion
What is the correct range of motion you ask? The correct range of motion is a pain free range of motion. If there is no pain throughout the entire range of motion then you should perform the full range of motion of the exercise. When I hear somebody grunting like they are about to pass a kidney stone from across the gym I know exactly where to look. It’s the leg press of course! Far too many trainees load the leg press up with plate after plate and move the sled about a foot, how disappointing. At one point I was one of these guys that would load the leg press up with ridiculous amounts of weight. I simply didn’t know any better. I am using the leg press as an example because leg training is where I observe most trainees using a partial range of motion. What are these partials actually doing though and what is the benefit to full range of motion?
Lets pretend that my leg press 1RM throughout a full range of motion (sled to bottom stop) is 600 lbs. That 600 lbs. is now 100% of my 1 rep max, as intensity increases the CNS is taxed harder and harder. So say I loaded the leg press up with 1000 lbs. and did 1 rep. I would have just performed 1 rep with 167% of my 1RM, is depleting the CNS with an insane supra-maximal load really necessary to stimulate growth or add strength? NO ITS NOT! Not only do partials increase risk for injury, due to the fact that they heavily deplete (fatigue) the CNS, strength may suffer in the following workouts until sufficient recovery allows for biological homeostasis to be attained. What else is bad about partials as compared to full range of motion?
If you are training for hypertrophy, the eccentric phase and concentric phases of a rep are important for triggering physiological processes that will initiate protein synthesis. When doing full range of motion you can get more eccentric and concentric range of motion then partials. Not only is this less taxing on the CNS, it is more beneficial for making gains in hypertrophy.
I have listed above what I believe are the 5 most prevalent training errors made in gyms everyday. My hope is that bringing your attention to these errors will help you achieve your goals in a quicker and more effective manner. If you would like to contact me you can reach me at TheStrengthGuys@gmail.com or you can follow me on Twitter @TheStrengthGuys
1. MacNeil LG, Melov S, Hubbard AE, Baker SK, Tarnopolsky MA. (2010) Eccentric exercise activates novel transcriptional regulation of hypertrophic signaling pathways not affected by hormone changes. Retrieved February 18th, 2012 from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20502695
2. Maureen C. Jensen, Michael N. Brant-Zawadzki, Nancy Obuchowski, Michael T. Modic, Dennis Malkasian, and Jeffrey S. Ross (1994) Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Lumbar Spine in People without Back Pain. Retrieved February 18th, 2012 from: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199407143310201
3. Shellock FG, Prentice WE. (1985) Warming-up and stretching for improved physical performance and prevention of sports-related injuries. Retrieved February 18th, 2012 from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3849057
One Year Later…..Where have the blog articles been???
As many of you know Hunt Fitness started right here on the Blog and eventually transitioned into what it is today. The first time the name came about was when I created a Word press account under the name “Hunt Fitness”, that was a little over 14 months ago. Here we are on the last day of July and I realized we are coming up on another milestone. August 28th will mark 1 year since the official Hunt Fitness website went live. I am proud to say the website as a whole has grown quite a bit over the last year. There is still a long way to go and hopefully it never becomes stagnate and always keeps improving. That’s something I think we all should think about for a moment. In life and especially in health and fitness, it’s not where you start but where you finish. Let that be a constant reminder to work harder everyday in every aspect of your life, it is rewarding to look back at how far you have come.
It has been a long time since I have written a blog article. There are two plausible explanations for this: For one, I just plain forget about it. It’s true with all that I have going on in conjunction with the website the blog sometime gets overshadowed. That is a shame because I really enjoy writing and keeping up to date articles available. Secondly, my time gets divided differently now than when I first started Hunt Fitness. In the beginning most of my time was spent writing articles and posting on the facebook page and trying to get the name out there. Don’t get me wrong, I still spend a great deal of energy and focus on marketing but now my time is better spent focusing on my clients. I love it! Team Hunt Fitness is growing every day.
I woke up on this Sunday with a focus. I want to get back to writing more articles. I want to build the Hunt Fitness Blog into a place where people can go to get quality information that will help them reach their goals. And in the end that’s what it is all about, helping people reach their goals! I am going to be incorporating scientifically backed information (no B.S) along with my opinions and views on a number of topics. You can go anywhere to get information but you can only come here to get my personal perspective. (For the most part anyway, I can be found on other pages throughout the web). So look forward to more articles on training, nutrition, supplementation, and more.
This quick blog post was just to let everyone know the blog is still here and can be found right on the website (www.hunt-fitness.com) at the top under “Blog”.
In conclusion I just want to thank everyone who has supported Hunt Fitness over that last year! I greatly appreciate it. I want us all to come together and strive for more success in years to come.
As always I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org