I have finally completed my first book -- Overcoming Gravity: A Systematic Approach to Gymnastics and Bodyweight Strength.
If you are interested in this topic, you can buy it on Amazon
You can also check out the table of contents if you want to know more about the topics covered in the book.
The article below is a semi-preview into a generalized how to for constructing a routine.
If you are interested in a more bodyweight focused strength training article, check out The Fundamentals of Bodyweight Strength Training
Before we go any further I want to emphasize that training itself is *NOT* the main “method" to put on any muscle mass or burn off fat. A good diet coupled with training is the ONLY way to lose fat, gain muscle mass, or any of the other body composition options. Here is a post detailing the relationship between diet and exercise.
Regarding diet, here's little more on one rule to remember for diet composition. Here's a more detailed post by one of my friends if you're curious beyond the above rule. Anyway, moving on.....
I've recently been asked by a lot of people advice on how to build their own workouts according to their specific goals. It's not a hard process, so I feel that this article will be helpful to everyone on how to construct a routine to focus on your goals. Anyway, let's get started.
Table of Contents
I. Goal setting
II. The terms of exercise
III. A slightly more in-depth look at body physiology
IV. Exercise selection
V. Hierarchy of a routine
VI. Routines for power and strength
VII. Routines for endurance & metabolic conditioning
VIII. Specific programs
IX. Q&A to specific questions
Note 1: Blue links are active. You can click on them to navigate around. Leave comments and suggestions if you want something changed.
Note 2: Many people have asked me specifically about bodyweight exercise programming. I will be including an additional section detailing my preferences for how to do this; however, this will be in the next edition (v1.3). So I guess you could bug me if you really wanted me to do this sooner. Again, eave comments and suggestions if you want something changed.
I've decided to rewrite and add to some of the guide as apparently some people still don't get it. This will be an even more comprehensive version including new sections on explosiveness/power work as well as further elaboration into my recommendations for newer trainees. I am going to be providing a Q&A at the end to reasonably common questions such as soreness, overtraining, and other things of this nature so hopefully this will expand as more common questions are asked as I will probably not discuss a lot of these within the article itself.
Please note I will include links if I feel I need to. As I am writing from primarily memory there may be a few mistakes so call me out of it if you know of any. If there's a few concepts you want some elaboration on then feel free to Google them first before you post to try to ask me. Since this is not a paper or anything that is getting published I don't feel compelled to source any or all of my information as this thing is already 15 pages long at the time I am writing this introduction.
v1.1 – 2008/04/16
~Added sections for III. (indepth look at muscles/CNS), V. (hierarchy of a routine), IX. (Q&A)
~Elaborated more on goals section as people were having problems
~40-50% completion of hierarchy of a routine
~25-33% completion of muscle/CNS
~Added parts on warmup in hierarchy
~Added Power to the strength category; 0% complete
v1.2 – 2008/12/18
~Added more on goal setting specifically on aligning goals with an overarching “aim"
~Breaking up CNS/muscles topic into two topics... CNS/muscle interaction & energy pathways.
~Finished energy pathways section – brought in previous material to complete it rather quickly
~Finished hierarchy of a routine although will probably add in more later. It's bare bones at the moment IMO.
~Minor editing to be more concise in some sections though still long winded, sorry!
~Added overtraining & soreness to the Q&A.. probably the most common two, heh
~Revamped a bit of the strength and power section. Did not add any power yet though.
I. Goal Setting
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As you may know, I am moving over to eatmoveimprove.
This section is now updated and rewritten by Chris Salvato.
Thanks for your patience as I move.
II. The terms of exercise
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Now, let's define some terms so that you are familiar with what I will be talking about. These will be VERY important and are critical to understand (1) how to construct a routine, (2) understand how your body works, and (3) how other routines work even if you are using another template or programming methodology.
~The repetition continuum has strength at one end and endurance at the other. At one end, we have strength which is gained at low repetitions and heavier weight where a 1 repetition max (1 RM) elicits the most strength. On the other hand, endurance occurs with less weight and more repetitions where being able to do hundreds of pushups would be an example of extreme endurance. There are three VERY important point to take away from the repetition continuum:
1. Strength and endurance cannot OPTIMALLY be developed at the same time since they are opposite of each other. This is why if you can do 50 dips and you start working weighted dips, your 50 dips will probably be a lower 30 or so the next time you try.
Developing maximal strength increases the potential for maximum endurance. This is why cyclists often work maximum strength work in their off season. However, the potential for endurance must be realized by actually doing endurance work after strength is developed.
Strength takes longer to develop than endurance/conditioning.
More details here. Here is th eupdated (current) one since Mark Rippetoe took the other one down.
~Intensity (how 'intense' an exercise is) is how tough an exercise is for you. This is generally defined in RM such that 1 RM is the highest intensity while 20 RM will be at a lower intensity.
~Volume or Load can be defined as the total amount of weight lifted in a workout. 10 dips and 10 handstand pushups at the bodyweight of 100 would exert 10*100+10*100 = 2000 lbs on your triceps for the whole workout.
~Frequency is how often you train or workout. Pretty simple.
~Failure is when you cannot complete an exercise with good form. I feel this is necessary to define mainly because much of optimal training especially strength requires that you stop short of failure most of the time. Although failure can, at times, be used effectively, it should be the exception not the rule.
~The Central Nervous System (CNS) stimulates muscle contractions. Initial gains in strength for the first 2-3 weeks that beginners often see are based upon increasing neural connections and efficiency of the CNS to stimulate muscles to contract. CNS fatigue from going to failure early in workouts often leads to a decreased capacity to lift heavy weights later which results in less stress being placed on the muscle to force it to adapt to become stronger.
~The Energy pathway systems power your muscles and are composed of the phosphagen pathway, glycolytic and aerobic pathway. The phosphagen pathway encompasses the ATP-creatine phosphate (phosphocreatine) pathway which is used to rapidly supply ATP from used ADP. This system is one of the initial ones your body uses especially for short term energy needs like sets in weightlifting. The glycolytic pathway is the biological catabolism of glucose to pyruvate/Acetyl-CoA. This system is used to produce energy when the phosphagen pathway is depleted. If the demands for energy from the muscles are too much for the glycolytic system to provide, the oxidative phosphorylation system takes over which utilizes the citric acid cycle, mitochondria and oxygen to produce ATP. These pathways, like the repetition continuum, do not switch on and off when one is exhausted. They are all always running at the same time, but one is emphasized over the other at certain times. I will be providing significant more information in the physiology section. Here's a simple illustration of the process in two different activities (it's a bit off scale...).
~Metabolic conditioning (metcon) is a form of workout which exhausts the body's muscles as well as energy pathways. Generally, metcon exercises are performed in a row one right after the other to exhaust the body fairly quickly. A workout done for time to push the participant to go through it as quickly as possible with as little breaks as possible can be considered metcon. Circuit training is a form of metcon. The CrossFit program utilizes many metcon exercises in its WOD.
~Programming will both be encountered as you become stronger. Generally I wouldn't worry too much about these terms and what they mean for you now as you will come to understand that the complexity of training needs to increase as your strength increases to near its max potential. More on this will be forthcoming in sections VI and VII.
III. A slightly more in-depth look at body physiology
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This section is actually going to be very brief look at (1) how muscles and the central nervous system interact on a macroscopic level, and (2) how the energy systems of the muscles work. Obviously, I cannot be in-depth as needed as chapters are written in anatomy books on these topics; however, I can provide a decent background beyond the terms discussed above.
The CNS, muscles and their interactions
The physiology of the body's energy pathways
The CNS, muscles and their interactions
Here is a very short summary of how muscles are organized. This will be elaborated more later, but this knowledge is imperative to know as we will go from the CNS where everything begins to the innervation of muscles and how they respond.
Muscles are organized down to a cellular level. A muscle is made up of many fascicles. These fascicles are made up of muscle fibers. Then the muscle fibers are organized from structures called myofibrils. Myofibrils are composed of long chains of the smallest type unit of the muscle that can provide a contractile force called a sarcomere. In short:
Muscle -> fascicles -> muscle fibers -> myofibrils -> sarcomere
The central nervous system (CNS) is composed of the brain and spinal cord and is primarily responsible for handling sensory input, information processing and decision making and the primary thing in training which is obviously motor output. Once the brain makes a decision, it stimulates the primary motor cortex in the brain to send action potentials down to motor neurons which innervate specific muscles.
Along these lines, the motor neurons innervate specific muscle fibers. Each motor neuron has approximately three to thousands or so muscle fibers it innervates. The less fibers that a motor unit has, the more precise and fine movements you can get. Therefore, the dexterity of your hands comes from many motor units with fewer numbers of muscle fibers in each unit as opposed to the quadriceps which have few motor units with many more muscle fibers because its movements are on a larger scale. A motor unit innervates RANDOM fibers without each muscle (so they can be on different fascicles).
These motor units are grouped according from high to low depending on the force production needed. If the force production needed is low, the first motor units recruited are “low threshold" which are primarily composed of slow twitch (type I oxidative) fibers. This is primarily because slow twitch fibers have very strong endurance qualities and can sustain contractions because of the energy produced by oxidative phosphorylation for hours. Secondly, we have our “medium threshold" motor units which are composed mainly of fast twitch (type IIa oxidative-glycolytic) fibers which contract with a higher force (and speed) than the slow twitch fibers. These derive energy from glycogen and then through oxidative phosphorylation as the energy need exceeds the muscle's glycogen stores. Lastly, we have fast twitch (type IIb glycolytic) fibers which contract the fastest out of all of the fibers. These fibers use energy from glycogen only and therefore tire very quickly as their glycogen stores run out.
In progress still, sorry! A little more on the CNS.
If you are interested in learning more about muscles and how they operate, this is the best book I've found on the subject that is exceedingly comprehensive. Unfortunately, it is expensive BUT check out the chapter summary for it because it is extensive covering application as well.
Essay(s) on the physiology of the body's energy pathways.
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Physiology of energy pathways (posts 1,2,3,14,15).
SUMMARY of the thread provided below (more than enough for average layperson):
1. At the current moment, the aerobic system is your main source of energy. This is why we breathe. Oxidative phosphorylation produces something like 34 net ATP compared to glycolysis' 2. This is EFFICIENT (however not as quick as glyco/phosphocreatine (PCR)). Phosphocreatine/Creatine phosphate system is a temporary storage requiring as much ATP to produce as it can use for energy making the net production 0.
2. The key to recruiting the other energy systems (fully) is mainly based upon INTENSITY. This is important, and most of the other points I will be making come back to this.
3. When you start to do something like a high intensity (max effort) sprint, the body recruits first PCR because it is an easy energy store to use. After this has run out, glycolysis is able to produces ATP faster than the oxidative system (although inefficient compared to oxidative system) and is recruited. After this is "burned out" (aka intramuscular glycogen stores), the body switches mainly into aerobic/oxidative energy generation. This is why at max effort we have PCR -> glycolysis -> oxidative/aerobic.
4. Now let's say we're running a 10k for example. Obviously, we can't run ALL OUT because we'd use up our PCR and glycogen stores. Thus, we run at a sustainable pace (depends on the person.. probably about 75-85% sprinting intensity is sustainable for 10k) for the body to move glycogen from the blood/liver into the muscles for limited glycolysis and most of the energy is coming from the aerobic/oxidative system. When most of these runners hit the last lap, they start to run fast (to win obviously) and that's when most of their glycogen stores are going to be burned up.
5. As you can see from 3 and 4, recruitment of glycolysis for the MAJORITY of the energy is only during unsustainable paces for the oxidative system to deliver the required energy. ALL of these systems are ALWAYS working at the same time regardless; just the majority of the energy depends on intensity.
6. At 100% intensity, PCR tends to burn out in less than 10 seconds. Glycogen stores and glycolysis can last about 100 minutes at sustainable aerobic levels or they can burn out at approximately ***30*** seconds at the least. I know a lot of you are confused by this most likely because of reading BS in textbooks or online. I will explain it all:
1. Marathoners run at a sustainable aerobic/oxidative pace so they can run the full 26.2 miles obviously. However, at approximately mile 20-22 they hit a wall where there is total depletion of ALL glycogen reserves.This is approximately at 100 minutes of the highest intensity of sustainable aerobic activity.
2. Run a 400m you burn out approximately 300m into the race. Why is this? And the answer is.. you just ran out of INTRAMUSCULAR glycogen reserves and your body is struggling to power your body mostly with the oxidative system.This is approximately 300m or 30s at max intensity.
7. See this study -- 400m ends up being about 40/60 aerobic/anaerobic (45/55 for women). This indicates that the aerobic pathway is running all the time. Since we run out of glycogen at ~300m we would expect that the last ~100m or so would contribute about 25% of the energy. Since this is not the case, an we are breathing the whole time during the 400m, we can logically conclude that the aerobic pathway is on from the start of the race contributing energy. One such study is here.
I know this may be a departure from what you previous thought, and I admit it does sound a little weird. I've seen values of 50/50 anaerobic/aerobic for MILE runs. My only question is.. did they have TRAINED track athletes running the distances as FULL speed. Anyone who has run a 400m race knows your anaerobic system dies at approximately 300m and the last 100m are aerobically painful (until you train up your resistance to that). Heck, here's another example. Our 1500m world record holder Hicham El Guerrouj is also runs 5000m. MOST of his work is based on distance. If the "mile" (well, 1500m and mile are close enough for now) was 50/50 then why would El Guerrouj spend most of his time working aerobic pathways... and then we could ask but why is he also soo good at 5000m (he won double gold in 1500m and 5000m in Athens).
Logically, if you think about it the numbers must always add up compared to PERFORMANCE in real life. This is something a lot of science fails.
8. HIIT, tabata protocol and metabolic conditioning or circuits have the tendency to overload PCR and intramuscular glycogen fast because they are performed at unsustainable intensities. THUS, this puts significant stress on both anaerobic and aerobic pathways. Hence, why it's used for great GPP work.
9. Fat stores. I have not talked about this before but FAT comes in as glycerol and acetyl-CoA to metabolism. Glycerol goes in approximately halfway into glycolysis and acetyl-CoA goes into kreb's cycle which is fully oxidative in nature (derives most energy from NADH and FADH2 electron transport in mitochondria).
As we know, glycolysis is running all the time (from stores in the liver and intramuscular glycogen IF intensity is high enough), and so is oxidative (because we are breathing). The sympathetic nervous system stimulates the body to produce catecholamines (adrenaline, noradrenaline from adrenals) during high intensity exercise. These stimulate both glycogenolysis in the liver AND lipolysis in adipose tissue. Both of these materials are CONSTANTLY being uptaken by muscles during exercise to provide fuel for energy.
If the pace is sustainable aerobic (think of our 10k example again), then the body can run primarily on these energy sources. If we are unsustainable such as during sprints, our body MUST start burning up our intramuscular glycogen stores for energy. After that, these sources are what is fueling the remnants of glycolysis with the majority of that energy coming from oxidative (each glucose provides 2 ATP anaerobic, 34 aerobic plus the contribution of acetyl-Coa from fatty acids = huge majority oxidative energy).
10. Last but not least, these systems are separate from each other, but work together in conjunction. For example, someone with the ability to run a world class 10k speed will not have the anaerobic capacity (or muscle fiber type) to run a world class 100m. They both utilize different enzymes to function, fiber types and aerobic has the tendency to increase mitochondria while anaerobic tends to increase intramuscular glycogen stores. This is pretty obvious.. but needs to be said.
IV. Exercise selection
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This is not a hard concept, but it can be difficult if you want to do more types of bodyweight exercises. These will mainly be dependent on what type of goals you choose.
Generally, full body training is the most effective way to gain both strength and endurance especially for beginners, and this guide will mainly be focused on such. Therefore, compound movements like squats, deadlifts, bench press and others will for the most part be emphasized much more than isolation exercises like triceps extensions and biceps curls. This is not to say that biceps curls are useless especially if your goal is to gain 18" biceps. However, they are not usually particularly useful when you can work multiple muscles at the same time instead of just one.
Let's say our goals were to hold a straddle planche (strength), 100 pushups (endurance), run 3 miles in 18 minutes (cardiovascular endurance), and to increase our broad jump from 6' to 8' (power). Choosing exercises to fit your needs should have two basic things in common which are (#1) exercises that work the movement of the exercise you want and (#2) exercises that work the muscle groups or capacity that you need to develop.
For planche, we would have isometric strength holds like tuck planche holds and advanced tuck planche holds. These would fall under working the specific movement. There are other exercises that work the same muscle groups (deltoids, chest, biceps) required for planche as well such as pseudo planche pushups or tuck planche pushups. Exercises that work the deltoids hard as well like handstand pushups are also viable.
For 100 pushups it is critical to work the movement a lot. This is where #1 would be emphasized a lot. Doing a lot of work with the triceps is critical to develop both the CNS and energy system pathways to allow for proper muscle contraction to do all 100 pushups. Corollary exercises like handstand pushups (HSPUs) which also work the triceps are needed less because HSPUs are more strength based as they are more intense, and therefore one would be able to do less of them (working energy systems less). The CNS is also not worked on the pushup movement while doing HSPUs obviously.
For cardiovascular endurance basically you just need to run a lot. Start by working up to running 3 miles and then start shaving off time by pacing yourself for each ¼ mile and such. Mixing up aerobic runs with high intensity interval training (HIIT) is particularly effective at working the cardiovascular component needed. Fartlek is also another viable option.
For increasing the broad jump, practicing broad jumps are needed. Technique is definitely one thing that many people (including myself) need to work on to optimize the distance gained. However, beyond that strength and power need to be developed which is often the most important part. Power, which is the most critical component, can be developed through explosive movements like Olympic lifts. Strength can be developed from exercises like deadlifts, squats and other leg exercises. Plyometrics can then be used, if necessary, to turn the strength developed into explosiveness.
As you can see, a certain blend of actual movements and related movements or training can be used to work towards goals depending on the situation. Strength or power goals like improving jumps or speed often will focus on explosive training with only a little emphasis on actual movements. Endurance goals often focus on doing the actual movement a lot to get the CNS and energy pathways up to par to complete them. And last but not least, isometric strength holds benefit most from doing the movement itself and related movements.
Here's some pictures/links to exercises:
Coach Sommer's planche/front lever
HIIT from mindandmuscle
HIIT from musclemedia
HIIT from powerrunning
Broad jump and posterior chain analysis
ExRx exercise resource
V. Hierarchy of a Routine
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Building a routine should follow a few simple rules namely to maximize the amount of training 'ability' you have in a single workout. For example, if I had to do a 2 mile run, do a 1 RM of squats, test my vertical leap and hold a handstand as long as I can which order would I do it in to maximize my results? This is precisely what this section aims to accomplish. Mainly, I am going to outline the general structure and then explain. Here is the structure:
2. Skill or technique work (handstands, flips, L-sits, gymnastics tumbling, breakdancing work, etc.).
3. Power, isometrics, eccentrics, concentric strength work.
4. Endurance, metabolic conditioning, tabata method, interval training, gauntlets, circuits, etc.
5. Static flexibility work, prehabilitation, & cool down.
Warmup is first. This should be quite obvious and if you do not agree you should just stop reading. Basically to get in optimal mode to do work a couple things need to happen. The core temperature needs to be higher which means that the chemical reactions in the muscles will take place faster leading to better contractile function of the muscles. Also, heart rate and blood flow should be elevated to provide oxygen and nutrients to the muscles and to export the waste generated by said muscles. A fairly light sweat is a good sign that you are warmed up enough to start working out.
Here's a couple of examples: CF warmup and APK warmup.
Skill and technique work should ALWAYS be second. There is very little fatigue as just the warmup has been performed as well. Once your muscles and body is warmed up and primed to go, this is the optimal time for the body to learn new skills or movement patterns.
Good skill and technique practice should be emphasized here. If you are practicing poorly such as sloppy form handstands with loose legs that are flopping all over the place, the body memorizes such patterns and will remember them. Therefore, when you go to practice them right it will be that much harder to change your ways. If you're too fatigued to practice just stop. Do not give a half effort to practice. This is the easiest way to get hurt and just learn poor movements.
Power work, isometrics, eccentrics and other concentric strength work are solidly in third place. The reason I would put these here is because they all require a very large stimulus from the central nervous system (CNS) to operate effectively. With this because we are recruiting maximal or near maximal numbers of muscle fibers it is important to perform these at the beginning to get the full benefit out of them. For example, if you did your strength work at the end after your conditioning, you'd probably would not be able to lift the same amount of weight as you could have in the beginning because of fatigue.
Endurance and everything else with it is next. These exercises are mainly aimed at taking advantage of the energy systems of the muscles. Most of these exercises, unless done at extremely high intensity, are not as rough on the nervous system and muscular structure as the power, strength, eccentrics, etc. This means that you can still have a fairly good conditioning after strength work whereas it is not the case doing more endurance related activities before power and strength. For instance, most athletic tests for various physical attributes such as vertical leap, 1 RM squat, 100m sprint, mile run, etc. will be done EXACTLY in that order because the more tired the body (nervous system mostly) the less it can express the power and strength.
Finally, the static flexibility, prehabilitation work and cooldown are at the end. I would do these at the end of every routine. They are important to help the body relax after an intense workout and work other aspects of physical ability or injury prevention. Basically, the body is already warmed up and with pliable muscles you can get more work done with flexibility. My personal preference for flexibility is at least 30s on each movement done in 3 sets of 10s each – relax the first 10s then push further, relax another 10, push further and then hold for the last 10s. Do this 3-5 times. It is often effective to rotate through a couple of movements doing this. So for the right leg forward, left leg forward and center/straddle splits will all be done in order and then the sequence is done 3 times. This takes a total of 4 minutes and 30 seconds which is barely any time and you will see great flexibility gains in your lower body. No one can say they don't have time for flexibility work especially if you are very inflexible.
Prehabilitation refers to basically any work that is focused on injury prevention. Rehabilitation work can be done here as well although it depends how much the body part itself it hurting. If you are not using the body part in your workout it might be a good idea here otherwise do it in the beginning. In any case, the example here would be if your shoulders need to be stabilized it's a good idea to do specific rotator work or other exercises such as turkish get-ups here. Fatiguing our shoulder stablizers before our power and strength work is not such a great idea as if they are tired doing exercises it is much easier for them to just fail and you to get injured more. Thus, do them here.
Notes – Attention beginners!
To be straight out frank here, for beginner lifters I recommend Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe (discussed later in specific programs – BUY THE BOOK!). This program is famed for its success in adding strength and mass in the core lifts and is imperative for ANY person wanting to be in ANY way athletic. This goes for any sport or recreational activity. After this if you're looking to get stronger in the weightlifting game I would strongly suggest a 5x5 intermediate linear routine such as Bill Starr's 5x5 intermediate (information available in specific programs as well).
Of course, you didn't come here to hear me lecture about trying other programs. My specific preference is a *FULL BODY* routine which incorporates approximately 1-3 exercises for legs, 1-3 for pushing and 1-3 for pulling per session. Quite a few of the examples of routines I will go over are variations off this. Do not be fooled. It is generally best for beginning lifters to follow a full body routine for each workout because this will be THE most bang for your buck especially if you have time constraints on working out. Initially, a M,W,F setup will be effective and it is imperative that you are improving EVERY workout because your body will adapt very quickly as you are new to exercise.
Beyond this, my experience is that adding frequency is the most important factor to getting stronger. Over the past year or two I have had multiple examples where this is the case. Let me discuss a few:
One arm chinup. I worked this skill 5x a week Mon-Fri with low reps per day (5-15) depending on how I was feeling. I tested my weighted pullup max on Friday. Over the course of 6 weeks I went from 1RM 55 lbs to a 3x90 lbs weighted pullup. I also achieved my first OAC a couple weeks after this period was over. Another example is with my OAC that I recently (Aug-Sept '08) took from 1 rep up to 4 full ROM within about 3-4 weeks worth of work.
Multiple times I have raised my 1 RM dip up significantly. The most recent was during a 3 week period where I took it from 155 lbs to 170 lbs. However, I was detrained earlier and my 5 RM was about 80 lbs when I started (estimated 1 RM of about 115 lbs). Strength comes back very quickly, but working it very frequently took it up very quickly past my personal best fairly easily.
VI. Routines for power and strength
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I am mainly grouping this together because they are very similar in how they are trained as opposed to endurance. Power and strength are not one in the same. Strength is clearly the amount of force you can exert while power is the amount of force you can exert over time. Power is interesting because working it gives some benefits towards strength while the vice versa (strength to power) is not always the case. For example, olympic weightlifters who use power for clean and jerk and snatch often have very strong deadlifts and squats while, on the other hand, powerlifters often have very poor power output.
Power is in progress... this is mostly just previous strength stuff from before!
As you may know from part II, constructing routines on strength relies on working out with low repetitions per set and heavy weight or tough progressive strength bodyweight exercises. Generally for people that are newer and even intermediate in weightlifting 5 repetitions works pretty well to build strength with some endurance (credit to Starting Strength). 2-3 RM are much like 1 RM and can be used with training albeit the sets need to be pretty high to get enough volume in the workout the stimulate muscle growth. With that said let me say a couple general rules on certain exercises you are putting in your routine:
1. NEVER go to failure. Always stop 1-2 repetitions short of failure or a couple of seconds with isometrics. Failure puts a lot of stress on the CNS and will therefore prolong recovery time both during the workout and possibly for days afterwards. This does not allow you to adequately put enough stress on your muscles to grow stronger which limits the effectiveness of your workouts.
2. Always rest at least 2-3 minutes between sets. Sometimes with strength you want to rest up to 5-7 minutes between sets. Resting a lot gives the muscle enough time to recuperate so that you will be working muscular strength. If you do not allow them enough time to recover then you are going to start working the energy pathways in your muscle cells rather than the contractile strength of the muscle. The shorter the rest time, the more the exercises become like metabolic conditioning and endurance. So keep your rest times at least above 2 minutes if not more.
I think the first concept with a strength routine that should be learned is how to manipulate volume correctly. Since I post on a bodybuilding board as well as many others, tons of people are concerned with overtraining and soreness and what they all means. Managing volume with a strength routine is one of the most important aspects to keep you progressing but to not do too much or too little. I like alternating day strength routines like m,w,f so I'll go over the general concept for that, and then I'll discuss multiple day in a row routines such as m,tu,th,f and other variations.
So with a simple alternating day routine such as a m,w,f or 3x a week routine the volume should be somewhere around 25-50 total repetitions per muscle group. What I mean per muscle group with compound movements is for the upper body push/pull exercises. For example, handstand pushups and dips both work chest, triceps and anterior deltoids. Pullups and rows both work biceps, lats and back. If you are well conditioned to handle a large amount of work, the numbers may be even higher to somewhere around 50-75 repetitions or maybe even more. Isometrics are interesting in particular because how long you do them influences how many “repetitions" they could count as. If you were doing Coach Sommer's 60s planche and front lever progressions, then I'd count it as anywhere from 15-25 reps depending on how many sets you did it in. For example, if you were able to do the 60s in <= 3 sets, the exercise itself is not that intense for you and therefore will count as probably about 15 repetitions. If you were between 4-7 sets then it will probably count about 20 repetitions, and anything more than 8 sets would probably count as 25 repetitions or even more. The more sets, the more intense the exercise is for you so the above is just a general guideline/suggestion, but it gives you an idea of how to equate isometrics to total repetitions to construct your own routine. Going on the previous paragraphs, an overview of constructing a routine would be something like this:
1. If we are doing 5 repetitions per set then it could be 3 sets of exercises for 3x5 or 2 exercises for 4x5 or 5x5. You can even mix it up with one 3x5 and one 5x5 or whatever you want to do depending if you need more repetitions for a particular exercise (for CNS adaptation), on how you are feeling or if you're short on time.
2. Another option is Pavel's 3-5 rule which is 3-5 exercises for 3-5 sets of 3-5 repetitions. It works particularly well here. If you are newer, you probably want to be doing 3ish exercises for 5x3, 4x4 or 3x5. If more advanced add in another exercise or two.
Now that you have an idea of how to construct one let me go over a sample routine. This will give you an idea of how to put one together if the above was not clear or if you just want an example. Let's say our goals were to obtain a planche, front lever, increase broad jump 12" and deadlift 2x bodyweight.
The exercises you might have chosen could look something like: cleans (broad jump), snatches (broad jump), deadlifts (deadlift), squats (deadlift), planche isometrics and progression pushups (planche), front lever isometrics and progression pullups (front lever), weighted dips (planche) and weighted pullups (front lever) and/or rows and HSPUs. For simplicity since we have 2 isometric moves we are working towards, we will break our routine into 2 different workouts.
Workout A would be done Mon, then Workout B on Wed, Workout A on Fri, Workout B Mon, etc. Instead of two rest days on the weekend you could continue alternating days if you want. A sample routine would look somewhat like:
Workout A – do not forget to warm up for each exercise
1. 60s of appropriate planche isometric
2. 3x5 power cleans (DLs and cleans are too similar so we separate them)
3. 3x5 appropriate front lever progression pullup
4. 3x5 weighted dips
5. 3x5 weighted pullups
6. 1x5 deadlifts***
Workout B – do not forget to warm up for each exercise
1. 60s of appropriate front lever isometric
2. 3x5 cleans (big power movements before heavy compound)
3. 3x5 squats (can be DLs again if DL is really being emphasized)
4. 3x5 appropriate planche progression pushup
5. 3x5 weighted pullups (could also be rows if you want)
6. 3x5 weighted dips (could also be HSPUs if you want)
*** One important exception here is deadlifts. This exercise is one of the most intensive exercises and will be extremely fatiguing and should generally always be placed last in a routine (unless you're specifically working deadlifting). Since the quality of work degrades and deadlift is extremely taxing, placing it near the beginning of a routine will tend to have a negative effect on the rest of your workout even moreso than squats or the Olympic lifts.
If you feel like your strength is progressing really slowly with 3x5, perhaps add more weight or increase the volume by adding more sets. This is just one setup of how to implement a routine with tangible strength goals. As we can see the legs are getting two 4x5 which is 40 repetitions and the push & pull muscles of the upper body are getting two 3x5 each which is 30 repetitions. One final note is that if you are going to add in conditioning afterwards, you will probably want to drop exercises 5 and 6. For routines that go consecutive days such as m,tu,th,f, there are a number of ways to set up this. One of the most common is push-pull days or light-heavy days.
1. With push-pull, all of the exercises would be categorized into push and pull. So Workout A would contain say deadlifts, power cleans, planche isometrics, dips and HSPUs. Workout B would contain cleans, squats, front lever isometrics, weighted pullups and rows.
2. With light-heavy you could keep the same setup as the sample workout above, but on Mon you would do a light day where you used light weights and did 3x5 or even higher repetitions such as 3x8 or 3x10. On Tues you would go heavy which would be what is posted above. On Thurs you would go light with the workout you did on Tues. On Fri you would go heavy with the workout you did on Mon. If you only have one workout and not two like the example above, you can modify it so you go light with 3x8 or 3x10 the first day and then 5x5 the second day. The general theory behind light-heavy days close together is that the light day will hit slow twitch fibers because they are geared towards endurance (higher repetitions) while the heavy day will hit the faster twitch fibers because they can exert more maximal force (low repetitions, heavy weight).
The possibilities with push-pull and light-heavy days are pretty much endless. You could even combine light-heavy with push-pull. The great part about consecutive day workouts is that they generally allow you to hit the muscles with a lot more frequency during the week which, if you manage your fatigue correctly, you will be able to make faster strength gains. Optimally strength is gained by training with high frequency, not-to-failure with heavy weight and low repetitions. A lot of what you do will depend on your conditioning level. If you make the routine and it is too hard for you, then scale back the amount of repetitions or add in an extra rest day. You will inevitably have to work up to the capacity to perform a lot of these routines especially if you are new. If you are advanced and have tons of free time, you can be working out 4-6 times a week and even twice a day if you manage fatigue correctly. For example, two sets of 3x4 in the morning and then the same in the evening for a muscle group. High frequency stimulates very rapid CNS and muscular adaptation, so if you do not burn yourself out you can make very quick strength gains. This example is, of course, at the extreme end of the spectrum.
A few questions were posed to me as to how to program multiple workouts into a week. One question was based on integrating 6 total workouts into a week. The other was about 6 total workouts 4 of which were 2 heavy push and 2 heavy pull while the other two were 1 light push and 1 light pull. Let's take a look at some specific examples (the ones above) to give you an idea on how to program these right.
1. Let's say you are trying to integrate 6 workouts with low-medium volume into a week. Putting one everyday of the week such as Mon-Sat would be pretty rough on the body because it is indeed 6 weeks in a row. It can be worked up to (like elite gymnasts and olympic weightlifters do); however, it generally takes a while to do this because a higher conditioning level is needed. On the other hand, we can integrate them easily if we do 2 in a day. In this case, the question was posed to be as to which would be better for a Mon-Fri workout – A) 2/0/2/02 or B) 2/1/0/2/1 to which I responded that C) 1/2/0/1/2 would be best. C would be best due to the fact that from a fatigue management standpoint we want to plan our routines such that the days with the heaviest amount of work are before a day off to give the body ample time to recover. The gains you would get from each would probably be similar, BUT you would be able to sustain C longer without overreaching/overtraining which would lend itself to increased frequency over a couple of weeks and thus better strength gains.
2. Alright, so let's look at the example of 4 heavy (2 heavy push, 2 heavy pull) and 2 light (1 light push, 1 light pull). In my opinion, this is actually very sustainable routine, and, due to its high frequency, you will make strength gains very rapidly on this type of routine as light days will help out a TON if not just for CNS efficiency and motor coordination. The question originally posed to me was whether a routine of Mon-Sat (Sun off) of heavy push/heavy pull/heavy push/heavy pull/light push/light pull would work. Well, it could since you are working opposing muscle groups you technically have 48 hours between each workout. However, constant repetitive stress as a whole on the body isn't that great from a fatigue management standpoint. A better option would be to combine light push with heavy pull and heavy push with light pull. This would cut down the workouts to 4x a week with more rest days. An example of how this would look is:
Mon - heavy pull
Tues - heavy push
Wed – Rest
Thurs - Heavy pull, light push
Fri - Heavy push, light pull
Sat – Rest
Sun – Rest
Light should generally go before heavy because lighter days don't fatigue muscles & CNS as much (and hence less chance for burnout the next day), but in this case it is not possible so we alternate them instead. Consecutive days of light-heavy/heavy-light is not a big of factor for fatigue as 4 consecutive heavy days in a row is, *and* there is ample time to recover from fatigue on Sat and Sun instead of going straight into more workouts like the 6 consecutive workouts had. Adding in light days on Mon-Tues is also not as of a big deal as well because of the rest day on Wed, but that type of volume would probably have to be worked up to by increasing your conditioning level.
Here is another good example of how to do this (page 46 is main post but read the others for a good background). Another example with two more constructions.
At 85-90% of 1 RM *all* muscle fibers in the large muscles are being recruited which means approximately 3 RM will recruit pretty much all of the muscle. Therefore, 3 RM is probably the lowest amount of repetitions in a set you want to go. Add to that the fact that it is hard to get enough volume to successfully continue strength gains (as 15x2 to get 30 total reps is wayyy too many sets) and 3 RM is appealing for near optimal strength gains. In this sense, 5x3 is the same volume as 3x5 and 8x3 is nearly the same volume as 5x5. The trade off comes in the fact that even though with 3 repetitions you can use more weight, it will take more overall time because you have more sets and have to rest between sets. Still, the lower RM will elicit better strength gains. Keep this in mind if you are working on particular difficult exercises especially bodyweight ones because sometimes those 3 RM will help out quicker than subbing an easier 5 RM. Also, switching between 3 RM and 5 RM like in the light-heavy days (like switching from 5 RM to 10 RM) is a good way to change your program if you are plateauing. This is another example of programming incorporated into a routine. Here's some information if you're interested in some more in-depth material (with studies) on muscle fiber recruitment and rate coding (rate of muscle fiber firing).
Thus, for beginners and intermediates 3 RM is the highest you should go generally speaking:
1. It recruits all available motor units which is the one thing you're aiming to do with lifting heavy.
2. Your motor patterns aren't solid enough where you won't see significant breakdown in form which is dangerous.
3. Your CNS is not efficient enough to get much out of maxing out a couple times at 1 RM. It's very likely, especially in women, that your 1 RM is only barely above your 3 RM. With the lowered volume that you do when you max out you won't see much adaptation to the load which is going to give you that extra strength/power and muscle mass.
VII. Routines for endurance and metabolic conditioning
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I grouped endurance and metabolic conditioning into the same category because they work similarly on the biological level. High repetitions that work endurance require a high amount of CNS adaptation as well as energy pathway efficiency to constantly produce ATP. Metabolic conditioning requires the exact same adaptations, but is a bit heavier on the energy pathway efficiency since you are going to be doing more exercises and somewhat lighter on the CNS. So, in summary, endurance work requires very high CNS adaptation and high energy pathway efficiency while metabolic conditioning medium CNS adaptation and very high energy pathway efficiency. One of the most important attributes of these workouts besides reaching your goals is that they both work towards increasing your work capacity. This means that if you suddenly decided to start strength training (or even if you're combining strength training and endurance/metcon) your muscles and CNS should be able to handle more work during a workout which allows you stress them more for increased growth without overtraining.
Building a routine is pretty much exactly like strength training except without the exceptions. The only general thing to note with both of these is that failure is fine to go to some of the time and in some cases most of the time. The biggest instance of where failure is fine most of the time is metabolic conditioning which has such a high energy requirement because of the different exercises done that it does not put as much stress on the CNS as it does on the energy systems. Therefore, it will not burn out the CNS that much while it will stimulate your muscle cells to make their energy producing more efficient thus increasing your work capacity for the next workout. Doing this “through the burn" is akin to pushing your lactic acid threshold (glycolytic pathway). On the other hand though not going to failure can also be utilized well with endurance and metabolic conditioning. Again, with metabolic conditioning, if one stops short of failure, their work capacity for the workout will be increased and therefore allow them to complete it sooner. This increases the amount of work per the amount of time (e.g. total power output is higher). This is akin to a higher intensity because although it is not like a 1 RM exercise, the total intensity is distributed throughout the body more by different exercises instead. This is one difference where metabolic conditioning is more like strength than endurance.
Metabolic conditioning workouts are not that hard to make. Basically you want to pick anywhere from 2-5 exercises that you normally do more than 10+ repetitions of them. Then you can arrange them however you want and set an arbitrary number of repetitions for each exercise to do usually somewhere between 25-75% of your max ability. Then pick a number of rounds you will do each one like 3-5 and then go through all of the exercises as fast as you can. That's just a simple form of a metabolic conditioning workout. There are also other various forms of metabolic conditioning with different protocols. I'm just going to outline two of them, but you will see the point:
1. High intensity interval training. We've gone this before with picking exercises but HIIT (along with fartlek) are good ways to work all of the energy systems in your body because it depletes them very fast. These are generally composed of full all out sprints for a short period of time like 15-30 seconds followed by jogging (or walking if not conditioned) for the rest of the 45-30 seconds. This will build up both the aerobic and anaerobic pathways in the body very quickly which lends towards good metabolic conditioning as well as cardiovascular health. The links are still above if you want to go check them out now.
2. Tabata protocol is very similar to HIIT except it is done with exercises instead of running in jogging. For instance, let's take a look at bodyweight squats. Basically with the tabata method utilizes a period of on and off activity. Generally cycles run on 30 or 60 second intervals where you go all out and then rest. So with bodyweight squats in a 30s interval you would do as many squats as you can in 20s and then rest for 10s. After that time is up, repeat the process for multiple rounds usually 5 or more. The 60s protocol works on the scale of 45s on and 15s off. Again, pretty much a different type of metabolic conditioning workout that works all of the energy systems in the body very rapidly. Go to here for some more information.
CrossFit has a whole host of different types in their FAQ where most of them are based on completing them in the least time possible. I would suggest looking at them to see what you can do if you want to create your own. If not, you can just use CrossFit workouts for metabolic conditioniong. Examples of metabolic conditioning workouts from CrossFit.
Now, endurance is pretty simple and has one added benefit when transferred to strength training. Since endurance promotes a large amount of CNS adaptation this carries over as strength to *the specific exercise*. So if you were working endurance dips for 50 repetitions, this will also help your weighted dips should you decide to do them. It will NOT, however, lend strength to other triceps, deltoid and chest exercises like pushups or handstand pushups at all. I refer to this phenomena as “specific strength" which is pretty much strength related to that exercise from doing it a lot. Usually there's a couple of exercises that people want to improve to high repetitions like pushups or pullups or dips. These are fairly easy exercises to accomplish without weight given you come in with a good base of strength. Increasing endurance can be completed in a couple of ways:
1. One of the general ways to do endurance exercises is to go to your max obviously. Failure is optional as it can help, but failure on the first set is often not encouraged as it decreases the maxes for subsequent sets. The total amount of repetitions for the whole workout will usually be higher if failure is not hit on the first few sets. So, for example, if I could do 20 dips and want to increase my numbers up to 50, then one workout for endurance could be 3x18. If I only did 15 then a 5x15 would probably be possible. The higher number you pick, the less sets you will probably be able to do so be wary. Generally, the best workout is one that maximizes the amount of repetitions per workout so 5x15 would be better than 3x18 since it is 75 repetitions versus 54. Some people are more naturally inclined to endurance exercises than others (e.g. more type I slow twitch fibers), so they might be able to do closer to their endurance RM for more sets than others. Find out what your body can do, and go with that.
2. Grease the groove (GTG) method is basically a way to increase your endurance and specific strength in an exercise very fast. Basically what you want to do like 5 times interspersed throughout the day (say, before breakfast, brunch-ish, after lunch, right before dinner and right before you sleep) is to do submaximal sets of pullups and dips. So, for example, you do 8 pullups and 4 dips. 5 times during the day you would want to do 5-6 pullups and 2-3 dips for one set each and then just stop and go about the rest of your day. Here is some more information on GTG.
3. Ladders are a fairly simple concept. Basically, you start a timer and do 1 repetition of the exercise then wait until the minute is up. Next, you do 2 of the exercise and rest until the minute is up. Continue this progression until you cannot complete the ladder any longer. A minute is an arbitrary amount of time so if you want it to be 30 seconds instead or 2 minutes you can make it as short or long as you want. Also, if you want you can increase the amount of repetitions you do by twos or threes or whatever you want.
4. Pyramids as basically the same thing as ladders except without a time requirement. After you “climb up the ladder" you also climb back down. For example, if you got up to 7 repetitions with pullups and failed on the set with 8, then you could do 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 to finish. Like with ladders you can also do it by twos, threes or whatever.
There's tons of other methods to increase endurance; however, I have just outlined 4 of them. Creating a workout isn't that hard as generally you are probably only going to have one exercise per the muscle group you are working. For instance, if you are working up endurance dips, it is probably not a good idea to try to do endurance pushups or handstand pushups as well because your triceps will be pretty much burnt out afterwards. You can generally do about 4-5 types of exercises in a totally endurance workout – legs (squats, pistols, jumping squats, etc.), core (abs and back), a pull exercise (inverted pullups, rows, pullups, etc.) and a push exercise (dips, HSPUs, pushups, etc.). This general rule applies back to if you are trying to combine strength and endurance/metcon at the same time.
I wrote this for a couple of fitness boards, so I feel I must comment on this specific topic since Parkour has skills and techniques like gymnastics or any other sport. Parkour and its techniques are generally considered skill training and/or in the endurance/metcon category. For example, quadrupedal movement is an excellent technique for body awareness and coordination, and I would consider it more as a skill technique unless you are walking more than probably 200-400m with it. Vaults and wall climbs are all considered considered techniques/skills rather than under endurance unless you are doing absurd amounts of them and getting exhausted. Demon's skill training and conditioning gauntlets, WHEN you use them, are considered endurance because you are exhausted your body performing different skills. Therefore, plan your workouts with these things in mind accordingly.
VIII. Specific programs
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This part has been rewritten and is now located here.
IX. Q&A to specific questions
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Q&A Table of Contents
How do I know if I'm overtraining (or undertraining for that matter)?
Overtraining is actually a prolonged state of “underrecovery" in which the body does not have the ability to repair itself. Generally, it takes weeks or even months to recover from. However, this state can ONLY be reached through chronic overworking. This means that unless you've done months upon months of training in a row or years for that matter, you will NEVER hit an overtraining state. Depending on the relative intensity of the exercise you are doing, you may never even hit an overtraining state even IF you are training for years on end.
Here is a list of symptoms and a fairly decent article. Read it.
Basically, before an “overtraining" state is reached there is a period called “overreaching" in which body performance is decreased as body tissues are injured with training with simultaneous increases in fitness (google “dual factor theory" or any of the other training models). If the body is allowed sufficient time to rest, the body undergoes a supercompensatory effect whereby the abilities of the individual are increased in the next training session. This is synonymous with progress or the ability to lifting increasingly more, have more endurance, etc.
That said, here's my “mantra" on this subject:
1. If your abilities are increasing each workout, you're not overtraining/overreaching. You could be doing more OR less than your body can handle though so experimenting with the volume, intensity or frequency of workouts to increase the gains or recovery is possible, but if you don't know much about programming yourself I would say don't mess with it.
2a. If you're plateauing or regressing and you have not taken a break from working out in a while (see generally 3-5 days off or even 5-7 days off if it's been more than a couple months) then I would advise taking a break.
2b. Similarly, examine your sleep schedule, diet and stressors in your life and make sure they are consistent. These all effect recovery so it might not be that the training is too much but the simple fact that your body's ability to recover from that training normally is blunted.
3. Look specifically for the symptoms listed in the above article. If you are experiencing some of those it may be due to overworking yourself or underrecovery such as in 2b. Don't be afraid to take an extra rest day or two if you need to. Missing one workout won't kill you... wasting your time in a chronic plateau or regression from an overreaching/overtrained state will. When in doubt take a couple rest days.
Basically, overreaching and overtraining aren't something that you should be worrying about too much. As long as you have your goals and are progressing towards your goals you are fine. If you are not, then you need to evaluate your training, sleep, diet, or other factors to see if you're doing too much work or blunting your recovery. If you need advice from plateauing or regression, don't hesitate to ask someone with experience on how to break through that. Also, don't be afraid to take a couple days here and there for rest.
I personally plan 3-7 day rest breaks every ~4-8 weeks of training depending on how intense it is. Generally, that will come out to approximately ~8 or so breaks per year. If you're training very intensely (with heavy weights or very hard bodyweight strength progressions) I would strongly suggest that you format your training along this line with planned rest to let your body recuperate fully. This will also help stave off overuse injuries, and the rest time can be used to do prehabilitation or rehabilitation work if you're close to injury.
What does soreness mean?
Soreness is a common topic because everyone who has and ever will exercise has experienced this phenomena. Delayed onset muscle soreness generally occurs approximately 24 hours after exercise and is the most intense about 48-72 hours. It can also last up for a week or a bit more if you put a lot more strain on your body than it was previously used to.
Generally, you only get it when you (1) try new exercises, (2) do increased volume or frequency, or (3) excessive amounts of eccentric exercises.
However, when examining soreness and its relation to progress, it is simply not necessary. The body is able to progress both in strength and hypertrophy or any other aspect without having to go through the pain (or pleasure if you like it) of soreness. As long as you are increasing your strength or gaining muscle mass or meeting any of your goals do not worry about soreness. If, however, you are not progressing, then maybe it is time to modify your routine, take a break from working out or something along those lines. Soreness need not be involved with any of these events as it is not a good indicator a good workout.
As far as training with soreness, my "mantra" on the subject is:
1. If you're too sore to move you should at least exercise lightly to get blood flowing = faster healing. You should also be hydrating, self massaging, foam rolling, or whatever else you can do to alleviate it anyway.
2. If you're not too sore to workout.. go for it. But DO NOT overdo it.
3. Otherwise, don't worry about soreness. If you're training ENOUGH it should start to go away as you become more conditioned.
4. If you ALWAYS get sore then you're not doing enough (such as 1-2x a week bodypart splits). In these cases, it's probably hindering your workouts. Those who increase frequency to say 3x a week full body have the tendency to see their body adapt to the stressors and soreness starts to go away. All in all, soreness is not something to worry about. Generally, it will be more of a hindrance to training than anything so if you plan to do a workout that is higher in volume than you usually do or has a lot of eccentric movements, plan on being sore. But don't make it a priority. Stay in line with your goals and aiming for progress. Progress can and always will be made without soreness.
In progress... although submit some Qs to me if you want
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