Design Your Own Program!
Today we will be covering a topic that many new lifters struggle with, how to design your own workout program! I remember my first time as a newbie lifter like it was yesterday. I was able to increase the weight on my lifts almost daily until one day… the gains just stopped. It was as if the weightlifting gods just decided to steal my greatness. Since I hit a plateau and couldn’t progress any further it affected my motivation to workout. I developed an on-again-off-again relationship with fitness. I learned later that the reasoning behind those newbie gains was that my body was creating new neurological connections to my muscle cells. In comparison to building muscle, this is a relatively quick and efficient process.
Building muscle is the process that gets more difficult and involves more intricacies. It’s during this phase in a person’s training experience that they often hit a plateau. After plateauing, many people join the on-again-off-again fitness club like I did, because if you’re not progressing then what’s the point, right?
That is why today I come bearing gifts – the secrets that will allow you to overcome fitness plateaus and achieve the progress for which you’ve been longing. The two keys that will grant you passage into the land of gains are: 1) progressive overload and 2) linear periodization. These two concepts are used by strength and conditioning coaches to allow their athletes to see results even after the newbie plateau hits. Both concepts have stood the test of time. They’ve been utilized for as long as competitive sports and athleticism have existed.
The concept of progressive overload dates back to Milo of Croton who was a renowned athlete and wrestler. In order to grow stronger and devastate his opponents he conducted an experiment on himself. He decided that he would lift a baby calf over his head every day until the calf was full grown. Making him strong enough to lift an adult cow over his head, which weighed anywhere from 1,500 to 2,400 pounds. Completion of this trial is what made him a legend.
Truth be told, this story denies some basic scientific facts and principles about progressive overload. Unfortunately, the human body can not be pushed daily in order to meet maximal results. The human body can actually only be as pushed as far as it can recover, and this story lacks any mention of that component. Remember that workouts actually create micro trauma for your muscles, and it is the healing from the micro trauma that causes muscle growth and strength. However, that same stimuli can’t consistently create the same amount of micro trauma because your body will adapt to it. This is how and when plateaus occur. That is why it is often recommended to switch up your workouts occasionally, in order to prevent your body from adapting to a stimulus. Thankfully, the second concept in this discussion coupled with progressive overload can prevent a plateau.
Linear periodization is one of the major keys that you’ve been missing from your workout. It builds off of the concept of progressive overload but takes more science into consideration. When linear periodization is implemented into a workout program it keeps in mind that an individual or athlete can’t just keep pushing their physical limits consistently and indefinitely. There needs to be a recovery period at some point. So when designing a program that involves linear periodization, science and experience recommend that a person pushes to improve themselves for 3-5 weeks. After those 3-5 hard weeks of incremental pushing of your limits, the athlete or individual receives what is known as a deload week. A deload week is a week where the adaptive stimuli that you’ve been exposed to (often in the form of volume and intensity) is lessened for an entire week.
This week of reduced volume and intensity allows an individual recover. Their muscles recover and their body is able to build more neurological connections. After a deload week the human body is able to handle physical stress at a slightly higher intensity than what it experienced previously. This process is repeated over time in order to create a stronger and more fit human. When depicted on a graph it looks like a line trending upward with little to no downward curve. This is why it is called linear periodization.
In addition to the implementation of a deload week, linear periodization also uses a phase system. These phases allow people to target an area of weakness, enabling them to perform better in the long run. For example, If your goal is to improve your overhead pressing strength but you lack shoulder stability, you won’t see much success. Sure, you could just train shoulder strength, but strong shoulders that lack stability will put you at risk for injury. However, if you spend one phase focusing on shoulder stability, deload for a week, then spend the next phase focusing on strength, you’ll experience improvement of your overhead press! The phases of linear periodization are stability, endurance, hypertrophy, strength, and power.
Putting it All Together
Now that you understand both progressive overload and linear periodization, it is time to combine both concepts together to create a workout routine.
2.) Now that you know which phase you’ll be working on, step 2 is to design your workout routine for the next 4-6 weeks. Remember that the goal is repeated exposure so you’ll want to repeat the workouts.
3.) Step 3 is to progressively overload yourself over the length of your program, so you’ll either go up in weight, time under tension, or range of motion.
4.) Step 4 is to plan out your deload week (should be much needed) and to determine what phase you’ll move on to next which we’ll say is strength for simplicity’s sake.
Following the aforementioned steps will help you to see continual gains and avoid irksome fitness plateaus.
Jon Brown, owner and trainer at Empirical Fitness
MORE TRAINING TIPS: