When people ask me what I do (I hate that question) and I tell them I'm a fitness coach, their response is usually full of questions they've wanted answers to for such a long time. Some of the most common questions are:
"What is the best diet for fat loss?"
"What should I eat to build more muscle?"
"What supplements should I be taking?"
The list goes on and on.
Although I get questions regarding nearly every aspect of health and fitness, there is one area of fitness that I feel is extremely overlooked, and that area is training programs, or programming. There is a lot of thought that goes into nutrition, diets, and supplements, but not nearly enough when it comes to programming.
What I'd like to do today is go through three signs that you're sabotaging your training in order to give you an opportunity to reflect on your training program and figure out what you need to change.
Let's do this.
SIGN #1: NOT ENOUGH FREQUENCY
Adding frequency to your training routine is hands down one of the best things you can do to increase your strength, build muscle, and lose fat.
The reason we lift weights is to increase protein synthesis. Increased protein synthesis puts our body in an anabolic state, creating an environment where building muscle and losing body fat is much easier.
A majority of the natural population (people that don't use performance enhancing drugs) have protein synthesis that stays elevated for about 48-72 hours after a resistance training session. Once protein synthesis drops it goes all the way back down to baseline, if not, lower. Because of this, it is best for most of us to train muscle groups more than once per week.
Those that are using performance enhancing drugs can have their protein synthesis stay elevated for far longer. Therefore, they can only train each muscle group once per week without having to worry about protein synthesis dropping.
Since most of these people are jacked and lean, we often go to them for training ideas. And that's where things go wrong.
Just because something works for someone else, that doesn't mean it works for you.
If you are a natural that wants to build muscle and/or burn fat, it is best for you to train body parts multiple times per week. It will be far more beneficial for you to have 3 full body workouts per week, than to train chest on Monday and wait a whole week to come back to it. Not only does this allow you to keep your protein synthesis elevated longer, but it also allows you to spread your volume out throughout the week, which has been shown to improve results. Whatever you're doing, take your volume and spread it out throughout the week.
Let's say you normally have 20 sets when you train your chest. Studies have shown that you will see more results from spreading those 2o sets throughout the week, than to do it all in one day. This obviously changes a lot based on how advanced you are, but here's the takeaway: Increase your training frequency by taking your current volume and spreading it throughout the week.
And with that, we move to number two.
SIGN #2: NO PROGRESSION IN TRAINING VOLUME
Based on all the studies we have available to us, we know that increases to training volume cause our bodies to change and improve.
Training volume is total poundage based on this simple equation: weights x sets x reps = total volume.
Therefore, there are many ways you can increase your training volume. You can increase the amount of weight you lift, the amount of sets you do, the amount of reps you do, or all of the above.
When thinking of how your body changes and adapts, think of a really steep and tall staircase. Imagine a staircase of walls, so to speak. Climbing up the wall in order to get to the flat platform represents your body changing and being challenged by a new stimulus (more volume). When you finally reach the top of the wall and get to the flat platform, your body has adapted, and it's ready for a new change. You can introduce a new change by adding weight, sets, or reps, whatever is best based on what you've been doing. When I say "best", what I mean is finding the sweet spot between having a challenging amount of volume and frequency in your routine, but still having the time and ability to recover for the next workout.
The easiest way to add volume and create an environment where your body must change is by adding sets or reps. If you're challenging yourself properly, changing reps and sets should cause you to naturally adjust your weight properly. Most studies tell us that our bodies take 2-4 weeks to adapt to a new stimulus. Therefore, adding sets, reps, or both every 4 weeks or so would be extremely beneficial.
I'll give you a quick example.
Right now, I'm currently performing 3-5 sets of 3-6 reps on my strength days, and 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps on my muscle building days. The next time I need to add volume to my training routine, I'll add a set to my strength days, and bump my rep range to 10-12 reps on muscle building days. Both of those additions will increase my overall weekly volume, causing my body to change in a positive way.
At this point, you know that training frequency and volume are two of the most important things to manipulate in order to see results. Increasing your training volume and spreading that increase in volume throughout the week will spark a great change, but what if you don't even know what you're currently doing?
SIGN #3: YOU'RE NOT TRACKING
Everyone knows about tracking food intake, but no one seems to care about tracking a training program. Tracking your weights, sets, and reps is just as important as tracking your protein, carbs, and fats.
Based on what you've read up to this point, you know that increasing your training volume and spreading it out throughout the week with more frequency is one of the best things you can do for your goals. But, how good is that information if you don't know what you're currently doing?
Just like most things in health and fitness, figuring out the best way to track your programming and make proper adjustments will take some trial and error.
There are a few pieces of advice I can give when it comes to tracking your training.
First off, start somewhere. I'm guessing you have some sort of usual rhythm or routine you're in. Start with what you know, and take notes. Whether it's on your phone, in your notebook, or through your online coach, record your usual workouts. Write down your exercises, how may sets you do, how many reps you do in each set, and how much weight you use for those reps. From there, figure out where you'd like to add volume based on your goals.
Second, identify your weak points. Weak points can be areas of your body that are underdeveloped, as well as movements that are not utilized enough. Let's say you have shoulders that are rolled forward from your desk job. Adding volume to your back muscles can help you improve your posture by awakening and strengthening those muscle fibers. Maybe you have a strong squat but your bench is weak. Increase your volume and frequency by practicing your bench press three times per week as opposed to once per week. There are so many things you can do to change your body, and identifying weak points is a great start.
Third, have a vision. Does your dream body need more bicep and tricep work in order to make your arms stand out? Do you dream of having a 400-pound squat? Well, it's time to create a path for that to happen by adding volume and increasing frequency in your training routine. Tracking and adjusting your training program is great, but it's potential isn't fully utilized until you have a vision of what you want to achieve.
Whatever changes you make to your routine, track them. Take notes and make observations on how your body changes. You'll learn more about your body than you ever have before, and you'll save yourself years of fooling around because you took some time to figure out what causes your body to make the change you desire.
There are three signs that will tell you you're sabotaging your training, and three solutions to make sure you're headed in the right direction.
Sign #1: Not Enough Frequency - You're training everything once per week.
Solution #1: Improve your results by training body parts and movements multiple times per week.
Sign #2: No Progression in Training Volume - You've been doing the same amount of volume for over 4 weeks
Solution #2: Once you begin to see your body adapt to the routine you've been doing, add some volume by increasing weights, sets, and reps. Switch up some exercises if you'd like.
Sign#3: No Tracking - You're not tracking your workouts
Solution #3: Track your workouts, and identify what changes lead to the best results. Learn more about your body and what's best for you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adam is a fitness professional, baseball fan, and cookie fanatic based in Fort Collins, Colorado. After hanging up the cleats, he found a strong interest in the human body and how it performs. Since then, Adam has been transforming lives through fitness in a fun and encouraging atmosphere. As an ACE CPT and Fitness Nutrition Specialist, he is constantly moved to help people improve in all walks of life. If you’re interested in hiring Adam as your coach, fill out an application here.