Program design. It's more than just a bunch of exercises thrown into a spreadsheet or PDF.
Building you the perfect training program is an art form.
A well-designed training program affects so many different areas of your life...
→ Whether you increase movement quality, and get rid of nagging aches and pains... or burn out on training, and building your best self altogether after a few painful years.
→ Whether you experience life as the leanest, strongest, most confident version of yourself... or spend the rest of your life wondering what you're doing wrong in the gym.
→ Whether you fall in love with training and progressing your body each month, creating a lifelong habit... or dread the gym, managing a painful session every few months.
You get it.
A smart training program can make or break your results, longevity, and enjoyment in the gym, and dramatically affect your life outside of the gym.
My online clients get amazing results, because they follow smart, individualized training programs.
(Everyone needs to understand how good their results can be when following a smart, science-based program. That's why I wrote you LEAN: A 12 Week Training Program For Functional Strength & Lean Muscle. CLICK HERE to be notified when it releases on Black Friday.)
I'm passionate about designing amazing programs, because truly it can make a massive difference in your life.
Regardless of if you're programming for yourself or a client, here 7 training tactics that will skyrocket your results.
Periodization is defined as "The strategic implementation of specific training phases. These training phases are based upon increasing and decreasing both volume and intensity when designing a training program." (1)
Periodization means that you're not just doing the same reps, weight, and exercises over and over again (common mistake)... but also that you're not just doing things at random, and hoping for good results.
A smart approach to training progresses or regresses volume and intensity by manipulating sets, load, and reps across a training phase.
On a larger scale, a periodized program implements multiple phases with different focuses, but all driving you towards the same outcomes.
This is exactly what LEAN does. Each 4 week phase has a different focus, but weekly progressions are also built into each phase, with the overarching goal of getting you closer to your leanest, strongest body every week.
2. Unilateral Work
Bilateral movements (movements where you use both limbs simultaneously) like barbell squats and deadlifts are great...
But I'd argue for functional strength, unilateral movements (movements where you're only training one limb) are just as important.
When you only train bilaterally, one side inevitably works harder than the other. This leads to imbalances, pain, and sometimes injury.
Unilateral work remedies this.
Plus, the ability to do things with one arm or leg (and keep your core strong and stable in the process) is crucial to feeling lean, strong, and athletic.
Finally, unilateral work is just straight up fun. The way a front rack kettlebell split squat, or 1-arm dumbbell push press challenges your entire body is par none.
Programming a mixture of both unilateral and bilateral movements is key to creating fun, balanced, and pain-free programs.
3. Metric-Based Lifts
One of the biggest things most people are missing in the gym?
Not that you should always be focused on lifting the heaviest weight possible - but with a smart approach, it'll make a world of difference for your results.
See muscle growth (an essential part of getting lean and strong for both men and women) comes from three primary mechanisms:
1. Mechanical tension - Created by lifting heavy-ass weight. By progressively increasing the amount of tension you put on a muscle, you force growth.
2. Metabolic stress - The burning feeling you get when you do a high-rep set of curls. Metabolites are accumulating in your muscle cells, leading to cell swelling, hormonal changes, and a variety of other factors that are thought to influence muscle growth.
3. Muscle damage - Adequate training stress -> muscle damage (often experienced as soreness) → recovery → growth
Out of these three factors, mechanical tension is thought to be the most important.
Lifting challenging weight → more mechanical tension → more results.
This is why I always start an online client's training day with 1-2 "metric based lifts". "Metric based: because here, you need to be tracking the numbers, sets, and reps you hit super consistently, and constantly working to improve.
If you're training 4 times per week or less (95% of people can get the body they want training 4 days or less), the first movement of the day will always be some variation of a squat, deadlift, bench press, or overhead press. (Again, this needs to be individualized to you - e.g. if you have shoulder issues, you'll be doing an incline bench. Back issues? Try elevated deadlifts. One of my favorite things about LEAN is it allows you to individualize your metric based lifts to you.)
You won't switch these movement patterns up much month-to-month. At the most, just a slight variation of she same pattern. The goal here is to get stronger at the same movement for months on end.
The second movement will typically work an opposing muscle group to the first. You will always want to alternate between push and pull movements with the first and second movements. (E.g. if your first move was a bench press, your second move could be a row. If training full body - if your first move was a deadlift, your second move could be a bench press.)
4. (Well Programmed) Cardio
There's an old stigma...
"Cardio kills your gains."
This doesn't have to be true.
In fact, smart cardio programming should actually allow you to make faster progress in the gym.
Your energy for different activities in the gym comes from three main energy systems:
1. Anaerobic-Alactic System
2. Anaerobic-Alactic System
3. Aerobic System
When you’re lifting, you’re primarily using the anaerobic energy systems... but this doesn't mean you can neglect your aerobic system.
Your aerobic system is what helps you recover from anaerobic efforts (lifting). So better aerobic fitness will allow you to recover and progress faster in the gym.
A stronger aerobic system also allows you to get into a parasympathetic or "rest and digest" state quicker. This creates better resiliency to and recovery from all forms of stress - training and life.
A smart training program trains both the anaerobic and aerobic energy systems in the proper doses.
In LEAN, this is a blend of conditioning circuits to end training sessions, as well as days devoted specifically to aerobic or anaerobic training.
5. Effective Reps
LEAN has you closely track reps in reserve (RIR) - the number of reps you have left "in the tank" at the end of a set. Here's why.
The closer you take a set to failure, the more muscle fibers it recruits and fatigues. Thus, the closer a set is to failure, the more effective it is at stimulating muscle growth (because it recruits and works more fibers.)
But, only the last ~4 reps before failure recruit and fatigue enough muscle fibers to stimulate growth. These are effective reps.
This is a big missing component of most training programs, that severely limits your results.
Now, it's also not smart to take every rep all the way to failure - we need to manage fatigue properly to help you build your leanest, strongest body.
Ending your sets with 1-3 reps in reserve is a good rule of thumb.
As you get more advanced, focusing on properly managing fatigue gets more and more important.
A deload is a period of recovery (typically a week), where we reduce training stress. This allows your body, mind, and motivation to fully recover, and come back stronger in subsequent weeks.
Without proper deloading, many intermediate-advanced trainees will find progress and motivation in the gym decreasing, despite their best efforts.
Now, if you're periodizing your training properly, deloads should already be a part of your program. (You'll take one every 4th week while following LEAN.)
As individuals get more advanced, every 4-8 weeks is pretty typical for a deload.
General deload guidelines:
- Increase RIR by 2 on all movements
- Reduce Weight by 15-25% on all movements
- Decrease volume by 1 set on all movements
7. Make It Fun
The MOST underrated aspect of building the a plan that will get you and your online client great results...
It should actually be something you look forward to.⠀
A training program that gets you excited to hit the gym is one you’ll go hard at, and one you’ll stick to. More than anything else, that is how we create a lifelong habit - by turning this into something you want to do, instead of something you need to do.
If you didn't notice, I mentioned my new training program ebook LEAN a lot in this blog. Needless to say, I'm pretty damn excited to get it in your hands. I KNOW this will be a gamechanger for your results and enjoyment in the gym - so stay tuned for it to drop Black Friday. (Click here to get on the presale list.)
About The Author
Jeremiah Bair is a certified nutrition coach, strength coach, and owner of the Online Coaching Business Bairfit. His Instagram is noticeably missing any calf pictures.