The Five Phase System For Building Your Most Effective Training Program

Ever feel lost in the gym... just kinda hoping what you're doing in will work?

I've been there. Years guessing in the gym, with no progress to show for my time.

The truth is -  a well designed training program is KEY to getting the results you want.

From personal experience, I can guarantee that hoping/guessing in the gym won't lead to your goal body. If you're chasing the leanest, strongest body you've ever had, your training needs to be specific to your goals.

From training hundreds of clients in-person and online, as well as my own experience, I've developed FIVE KEY PRINCIPLES to help you maximize your time in the gym and build a lean, strong body.

The Training Principles

First - every program I write is individualized to the client. Each of my online clients has a very different training history, lifestyles, and goals. To get optimal results, their programs have to be designed to fit their needs.

That said, there are FIVE PRINCIPLES I design all my clients training programs around. These principles allow you tons of customization with your training, while also ensuring that your program is based on a solid foundation that WILL get you results.

The principles can each be seen as distinct phases. Each phase has a very specific goal. When combined into the five-phase system, I believe this is the most effective way to train for anyone who wants to look better, feel better, and move better.

The Five Phases:

1. Mobilize

2. Prime

3. Strength

4. Density

5. Metabolic Work

Phase One: Mobilize

Goal - Prep the joints and muscles you'll be training for movement through their full ranges of motion.

If you’ve been sitting at your desk all day, your body isn't ready to get under a barbell for an ass-to-grass squats. You need to prep your joints and muscles for movement before adding load.

If you skip this phase, you're SIGNIFICANTLY increasing the odds you'll get injured.

Now, even though it's "just the warm-up", this still needs individualized. Every new online client records a movement assessment that I analyze for any potential imbalances, mobility issues, or weaknesses.

^Right away in Phase One of your training, we start addressing these, to help you reduce pain and move better, while also getting leaner and stronger.

Prescription

You’ll be doing at least one dynamic mobility movement to address the joint(s) and muscles you’ll using for your first strength movement of the day (more on this later).

Sample movement options

(Choose an option corresponding to your first strength movement of the day. E.g. if deadlifting, choose a hinge pattern.)

Upper Body Push:

Scapular Wall Slide

Banded Forearm Wall Slide

Shoulder Dislocates

Choose 1-2. 2-3 sets of 5-10 reps. No rest between exercises.

Optionally, add 1-2 more movements addressing specific weaknesses relevant to today’s training. (E.g. if your ankle mobility is an issue, and you’re squatting today, choose an ankle mobility movement to pair with the bear squat.)

The most common areas new online clients have movement restrictions:

1. Ankles

Dorsiflexion PAILs/RAILs

2. Hips

Shin Box Switch

Frogger Stretch

Split Stance Kneeling Adductor Stretch

3. Thoracic spine

T-Spine Extension

Quadruped T-Spine Rotation

4. Shoulders

Scapular Wall Slide

Banded Forearm Wall Slide

Shoulder Dislocates

T-Spine Extension

Quadruped T-Spine Rotation

Choose 1-2. 2-3 sets of 5-10 reps. No rest between exercises.

If you don't have any movement restrictions, you're welcome to do the prescribed movement pattern for your first strength movement and move on.

Phase Two: Prime

Goal - Activate the necessary muscles to fire optimally, and prep the central nervous system for explosive movement.

The priming phase allows you to fully recruit the necessary muscles when called upon. It also primes your CNS to be explosive, improving performance. in the strength portion of your training session.

Again, this is dependent on your first  strength movement of the day.

Prescription

1. Posterior chain exercise(s) - The muscles on the back side of the body play a key role in stabilizing the most injury prone joints - the knees, shoulders, and spine.

These are also the muscles we have the hardest time feeling/recruiting, so activating the posterior is a must for both muscle growth and injury prevention.

*Upper back - The upper back muscles stabilize the (very unstable) shoulder joint. Upper back activation work before a heavy push movement means less stress on the shoulders and lower odds of injury.

The upper back also plays a key role in movements like the deadlift (lats keep the spine rigid) and front squats (upper back keeps the bar in place), so always include at least one upper back exercise in the priming phase.

Sample movement options:

Band Face Pull

Band Pull Aparts

Straight-Arm Band Pulldown

Y-T-W’s

Banded Forearm Wall Slide

Choose 1. 10-15 reps.

*Hamstrings & glutes - The hamstrings are key to stabilizing the knees. The glutes are key to protecting the spine.

 Again, these muscles are typically under-active. If you go into a heavy deadlift without first activating your glutes and hamstrings, the work will be distributed somewhere else (usually your lower back).

Sample movement options:

Swiss Ball Leg Curl

Banded Glute Bridge

Feet Elevated Glute Bridge

Clamshells

Single Leg Glute Bridge

Choose 1-2 (if training lower body). 10-15 reps.

2. Core Activation - The core stabilizes the spine. Being able to activate and brace the core when under a heavy load with movements like squats and deadlifts is crucial. You're mimicking what your core will be doing during the workout.

Sample movement options:

Side Plank

LLPT Plank

Pallof Press Hold

Swiss Ball Stir-The-Pot

Dead Bug

Band Resisted Dead Bug

Choose 1. 10 reps OR 20-30 sec hold.

3. Explosive movement - Here, you're preparing your central nervous system to lift explosively when we start the training portion of the workout. Pick a movement pattern that corresponds with your first strength movement of the day.

Squat pattern:

Squat Jump

Box Jump

Seated Box Jump

Hinge pattern:

Broad Jump

Kettlebell Swing

Upper Body Push:

Bent Over Chest Throw

Pylo Push-Up

Tall Kneeling Slam

Choose 1. 3-5 reps.

Perform your 3-4 selected movements as a circuit. 2-3 total rounds, 30-60 seconds rest between.

Phase Three: Strength

Goal - Stimulate maximal strength and muscle gain by pushing heavy weight on the compound lifts.

Now that your body is fully mobilized and primed, you're going to start the most challenging part of the workout right out of the gate.

 You're lifting heavy weight (while maintaining quality form), and pushing for frequent weight increases. The objective here is applying the principle of progressive overload.

Progressive overload: The gradual increase of stress placed on the body during training.

Basically, you need to find a way to do a bit more in the gym over time to keep changing your body. Here, you're focused on either adding weight or adding reps to 1-2 compound movements.

Compound movements are exercises that get multiple joints and muscle groups working at once. You know... Squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, chin-ups... the hard stuff.

You're focusing on these first because:

a.) You're working many different muscle groups simultaneously. This makes the compound movements, GREAT for building muscle and strength, but also very fatiguing - so they should start off your workout.

b.) Mechanical tension.

Muscle growth 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.

Compound movements allow you to lift much more weight than isolation movements. This means you create a lot more tension with compound movements, and therefore build more muscle.

I often refer to this portion as your "metric based lift(s)", because here, you need to be tracking the numbers, sets, and reps you hit super consistently, and constantly working to improve.

This is almost aways a barbell lift, as the barbell allows us to load the movement patterns the heaviest.

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. You get the idea.)

You won't switch this movement pattern 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.

Sample movement options:

Hinge/Deadlift Variations:

Barbell Deadlift

Sumo Deadlift

Trap Bar Deadlift

Elevated Deadlift

Landmine Deadlift

Squat Variations:

Barbell Back Squat

Barbell Front Squat

Zercher Squat

Bulgarian Split Squat

Landmine Squat

Upper Body Push Variations:

Barbell Bench Press

Barbell Low Incline Press

Barbell Incline Press

Barbell Seated Shoulder Press

Barbell Overhead Press

Choose 1. 4-10 reps, for 3-5 sets. 2-3 minutes rest between sets.

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.)

You'll also add more variety here with movement patterns and equipment, adding "upper body pulls" and dumbbells.

This movement pattern is likely to be switched up more frequently than the first.

Sample movement options:

Hinge variations:

Barbell Romanian Deadlift

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

Deficit Romanian Deadlift

Landmine Romanian Deadlift

Barbell Hip Thrust

Barbell Glute Bridge

Glute Ham Raise

Sumo Deadlift

Trap Bar Deadlift

Elevated Deadlift

Landmine Deadlift

Squat variations:

Barbell Back Squat

Zercher Squat

Goblet squat

Front Squat

 Lunge variations:

Front Foot Elevated Split Squat

Bulgarian Split Squat

Reverse Lunge

Deficit Reverse Lunge

Walking Lunge

Step-Up

Upper body push variations:

Barbell/Dumbbell Bench Press

Barbell/Dumbbell Low Incline Press

Barbell/Dumbell Incline Press

Barbell/Dumbell Seated Shoulder Press

Barbell/Dumbbell Overhead Press

Upper body pull variations:

Pendlay Row

T-Bar Row

Barbell Row

Dumbbell Row

Kroc Row

Chin-up

Pull-up

Lat Pulldown

To help apply progressive overload here, I always build in some kind of progression to my online clients training programs. You want to see a performance increase here as often as possible.

Sample progressions:

1. Linear weight increase

Example:

Trap Bar Deadlift

3 sets of 5

Work to increase weight weekly.

This is a classic progression that works well for beginners. Simply adding 2.5-10 lbs each time you do the lift. Over the course of a few months, this adds up to BIG changes.

2. Linear Rep Increase

Example:

Barbell Bench Press

Week 1: 3x6

Week 2: 3x7-8

Week 3: 3x8-9

Week 4: 3x9-10

Work to use the same/add weight weekly as reps increase.

Here, even if you haven't increased the weight lifted, you've added reps to the movement. If you could bench 185x6 Week 1, and 185x10 Week 4, you've gotten significantly stronger.

3. Double progression

Example:

Barbell Overhead Press

Week 1: 3x6 @ 135

Week 2: 3x7 @ 135

Week 3: 3x9 @ 135

Week 4: 3x10 @ 135

Week 5: 3x6 @ 145

Here, you'll be assigned a rep range (e.g. 6-10). You'll start Week 1 with  a weight you can barely hit for 6 reps. Every week, your goal is to add a rep or two, until you hit the top end of the rep range (10). Add 5-10lbs to the bar, and start the process over at 6 reps.

4. Wave Loading

Example:

Barbell Front Squat
Week 1: 4x10 @ 225
Week 2: 4x8 @ 235
Week 3: 4x6 @ 245
Week 4: 2x7 @ 225 (deload)
Week 5: 4x10 @ 235

Over 3 weeks you decrease volume (volume = sets X reps X weight) weekly, while upping intensity (weight used) by 10 lbs per week.

Week 4, you'll take a deload week. Here, volume is dropped to roughly 2/3rds of the previous week. This allows full recovery.

Week 5, you start the process over, but ~10-lbs heavier than before.

Wave loading works super well for more intermediate to advanced clients who can't just add 5lbs to the bar (for the same reps) every week. It allows you to increase volume big-time in every 4-week block, with the built-in deload preventing overtraining.

5. Contrast Loading

Example:

Barbell Incline Bench

3 sets of: 1 rep @ 225, rest 2-minutes, 6 reps at 185.

Work to increase total weight lifted weekly.

A contrast “series” is composed of two sets:
* A heavy set of 1-rep (@~90% of your 1-rep max)
⠀• 2-minutes rest
⠀• 6 reps at a lighter weight.
⠀*3-minutes rest. Typically repeated for 3 sets.
The heavy set activates your nervous system, making the second set feel lighter than it would normally.
This means you can stimulate more growth with the second set of 6, as you body is primed and more easily able to handle the weight.

The goal here is to increase the total weight used as often as possible. This is another scheme that works well for more intermediate lifters

There are TONS of different progression schemes you can use here. This is straight up one of the most fun parts of programming for online clients - implementing different schemes to keep YOUR training fun, while also keeping you progressing.

Choose 1-2 compound movements to train in the 4-10 rep range, for 3-5 sets. Rest 2-3 minutes between sets. Focus on progressive overload.

Phase Four: Density

Goal - Send a strong hypertrophy signal to the body to stimulate dense muscle growth.

This phase is all about sparking new muscle growth (a.k.a hypertrophy).

Similar to the strength phase, you're going to be utilizing compound movements here. That said, your mindset with this phase is much different:

First, you'll be training in more moderate rep ranges (typically 6-15). While we can muscle growth can hop in a broad rep range, 6-15 tends to be the most efficient.

Second, while you still want to apply progressive overload, equally important is here is connecting to the muscles working. Slow the tempo down a bit, especially on the negatives (~3 sec).

Weight is important, but if you can’t feel the desired muscle working at all, you probably need to drop. This phase is all about being intentional with all of your movements - purposefully creating maximum tension in the targeted muscle group on every rep.

 Finally, you'll be implementing lots of different equipment -  Dumbbells, landmines, kettlebells, machines... you get the idea.

These get switched up often, and you can implement a ton of variety here. Just be sure to focus on working all the Foundational Movement Patterns 1-2 times per week between these and your Strength Phase lifts:

1. Squat

2. Hinge

3. Lunge

4. Push

5. Pull

6. Carry/anti-movement

(For more on applying the Foundational Movement Patterns to your training, and tons of different movement options, check out THIS BLOG.)

 Choose 2-4 movements to train primarily in the 8-15 rep range, for 2-4 sets. Rest 1-2 minutes between sets. Focus on control and creating tons of tension in the desired muscle, while also increasing weight when possible.

Phase Five: Metabolic Work

Here, the goal depends on your goal.

If you're focusing on building lean muscle - we're going to really ramp up metabolic stress. Really focusing on the mind-muscle connection and feeling the desired muscles burn. This is where you implement crazy techniques like dropsets, giant sets, and EDT's to get a massive pump.

If your goal is fat loss, we’re likely focusing on metabolic conditioning - basically, jacking up your heart rate and burning maximal calories with a ton of different modalities including dumbbells and barbells, bodyweight exercises, sleds, battle ropes, assault bikes, and much more. (Obviously, this is scaled to the individual. Depending on your experience, metabolic conditioning could be simply walking at an incline.)

I won't go too in depth here, as I've already broken down EXACTLY how to program your metabolic work/finisher in How To Design The Perfect Workout Finisher.

You’ll choose 2-4 accessory exercises to train in the higher rep range (10-25). The goal here is to really feel the mind-muscle connection with the desired muscles, and feel everything pumping and burning. Short rest periods work well here.

And that's the Five Phase approach that'll help you get leaner and stronger, faster.



About The Author

Jeremiah Bair is the biggest Taylor Swift Fan in Lincoln, NE. He's also a certified nutrition coach, strength coach, and owner of the Online Coaching Business Bairfit. His Instagram is noticeably missing any calf pictures.


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