By Lee Boyce (@CoachLeeBoyce)
If you know me, then you know that I’m not exactly the archetypal role model when it comes to resolute program structure. With my clients, I view the training experience as a two-way street. Simply put, it takes effort from both sides. A number of gyms around my city will gloat about the fact that every member of its training staff follows each client around with a clipboard and pencil, fervently recording weight, reps, and sets of each exercise their client is doing to “track their progress.” What they don’t gloat about is the fact that they only see each client once — maybe twice — a week.
In my books, that’s a huge waste of time for both trainer and trainee. There are too many exercises that need to be taught and instilled in a typical novice client’s routine that basically can’t be accomplished in just two weekly workouts — at least not effectively. Things get even worse if business meetings, vacation time, or other excuses get in the way of making those appointments.
This makes for a good segue into the meat and potatoes of the matter. See, the number-one thing that will dictate a beginner’s level of success in the gym is consistency. That means getting to the gym and training on a regular basis — not just a couple of times per week. The older you are when you decide to get started, the more important consistency becomes. But the irony of this is that people often lack consistency because of their programming — something I like to call “analysis paralysis.” Overwhelming people with an influx of scientific jargon, nitpicking at every last one of their muscle imbalances, and recommending an elixir of supplements can easily discourage a new lifter from thinking they can take the simple steps toward gains. In other words, over-programming, whether you’re consulting scholarly journals or smart strength coaches, can actually end up doing more harm than good. To paraphrase Liam Neeson, it takes a very particular set of skills to get the job done. Encouraging people toward the proper thinking patterns can be the single most important thing to set them up for long-term success.
All that said, though, having programming and creating a routine is still extremely important — so long as it’s not overcomplicated. To avoid that, there are four general ground rules that I like to follow. Stick to them, and your routine will be marked for success.
Focus On Primal Movement Patterns
Squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, pull-ups, lunges, and rows should be included in your program. These lifts create loaded examples of basic movements that benefit from improved strength. They are the very foundation of a strong, healthy body.
Train With More Pulling Than Pushing
The load-bearing joints of the body (especially the knees, hips, and shoulders) get plenty of support and stability through pulling movements like chin-ups, deadlifts, and rows, which can bolster their strength. In general, most people have postural issues and relative weakness on the rear side of the body, which these movement patterns can definitely address when done with proper technique.
Train For Strength And Muscular Endurance
Many coaches swear by only training for lower rep ranges. This is quite important and must be part of a program structure, but it doesn’t mean a lifter should forsake the value of training for higher reps, too. There’s nothing wrong with reducing the load and lifting for multiple sets of 10 to 12 reps.
Create Split Routines Wisely
If you’re at the point where you’re training frequently and have entered body-part splits for hypertrophy or even just as a change to your conditioning program, I recommend a five-day program that targets one main body part a day: back, chest, legs, shoulders, and arms.
Back day should lead things off to add tightness to your shoulder joints and reduce instability before challenging them with the pushing exercises that will come in the following days. It’s also a muscle group that requires the least “prep” work and is a suitable one to start off with at the beginning of the cycle. It will lead to a very effective chest workout the next day. You’ll feel strong and stable with a set of sore scapular muscles. Using leg day as an interlude between chest and shoulders can give the rotator-cuff muscles the rest they need before incurring additional stress from the upcoming press workouts. It also gives the shoulders a chance to regain any lost mobility from tight pecs after chest day. Your biceps and triceps should be in good shape for an arm blitz on the final day.
This is merely an example, and by no means a mandate. Feel free to create your own routine based off of what you’ve learned here. Just remember: training more frequently in any capacity is far more suitable than sticking to one or two days a week. While you won’t have a guy and a clipboard noting your every move, you’ll likely be more encouraged, determined, and fit than ever before. Keeping things simple and seeing gains? Well, I’d call that a win-win.