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A Quick Overview of the Basics of Strength Training Programming

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A Quick Overview of the Basics of Strength Training Programming

As laid out in the book "Practical Programming for Strength Training" by Mark Rippetoe

This post is just a taste of what's in the book. The book is much more comprehensive and clear, so I highly suggest you get it, it'll be a good investment, for now and later. Most of this is drafted up from memory, so I may not be 100% correct every time. Please point out any mistakes you may find. Enjoy! :)

Adaptive Stimuli

To get stronger, you have to tell your body to get stronger. To tell your body to get stronger, you have to do stuff that requires your body to get stronger. There is one thing you can do: get your muscles to work on moving a load. This can either be done with external weight (barbells, sandbags, dumbbells...) or your bodyweight (because of leverage). "Intensity" is how heavy the load is. Lifting 400 pounds off the floor is high intensity, lifting a cup of coffee is low intensity.

The next thing is volume. Intensity alone isn't enough to make the body adapt. You have to make clear that this moving heavy loads isn't a one-time thing, you're going to move the heavy load a few more times. This is referred to as "volume". Volume in general means reps times sets. High volume would be 5 sets of 10, but also 10 sets of 5. Low volume would be 5 sets of 1, but also 1 set of 5.

Novice Phase

You start here. You are in the novice phase if you have the ability to progress every workout, provided your recovery factors (food, sleep, stress) are in order.

The novice is de-conditioned and thus, everything needs work. That's why it's important to focus on compound exercises like squats and deadlifts, because they work everything. This is also why isolation isn't as useful, because isolation only works one muscle group, while working everything will also strengthen that one muscle group.

In general, 3x5 or 5x5 per exercise is good volume for a novice, because it's right on the line between neural strength and functional hypertrophy (it's also possible to pump your muscles full of water, but that won't make you much stronger): a bit of everything. You then progress by adding weight. For bodyweight training, you add reps until you hit 3x8-10 and then move on to a harder variation.

A 3x a week full-body routine works best, since the novice has good ability to recover from workout to workout, with an extra rest day to recover some more if needed.

Good programs are Starting Strength and StrongLifts. Bodyweight programs tend to be a bit more variable because bodyweight training is also largely skill based.

Intermediate Phase

This is the next phase. Progress doesn't occur from workout to workout, but every other workout or every other two workouts. This is also the point where further specialisation comes into play. At this point, the programs of a bodybuilder and an athlete will begin to differ substantially.

This is also the point where volume and intensity can be manipulated in something called "weekly periodisation". As the intermediate trainee is a lot stronger, he is able to put more stress on his body, which leads to longer recovery times. The idea is to introduce an adaptive stimulus in the beginning of the week and then perform lighter workouts to retain your old skills while your body recovers from the stimulus.

New exercises will be introduced, but compounds remain the mainstay, with additional isolation as needed. The key here is not to go overboard and focus on isolation over compounds. Compounds are what will tell your body to get stronger. Isolations help you by telling an certain muscle group to get stronger, which in turn helps you to get better at the compounds, so the other muscle groups can get told to get stronger as well.

Volume is determined by the goal, intensity by the volume (you have to make an effort). For strength, 3x5 still works great.

The Texas Method is an intermediate program.

Advanced Phase

At this point, the ability to put stress on your body has become so large that it will take a long time to recover. This is where periodisation over longer periods (month) will be introduced. The basic idea is to have stimulus weeks and deload weeks. During the deload weeks, work is performed aimed at maintaing performance while allowing the body to recover. Weak links are identified and can be targeted with isolation.

At this point you really should know your stuff, so that's all I'm going to say about that.

5/3/1 is a program that falls in this category.

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Good overview. Been reading the book at length and am trying the DE exercises outlined in the intermediate section.

I highly recommend the book too - I understand my training better now.

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While I think that starting strength is a fantastic program for wholly untrained individuals, if you're like me, once you start getting close to maxing out the program, it becomes burdensome. The thought of grinding out 3 sets of 5 and repeating the weight next session even if you fail is demoralizing.

I found that the Greyskull LP (Strengthvillain.com) was really a welcome change. Basically it focuses on doing AMRAP (as many reps as possible) on the third set, rather than stopping at 5. The first time you can't hit 5 reps, deload 10% next workout and do it again. It'll keep you either doing Rep or Weight PRs a lot longer and delays that feeling of being run down by the program.

It's really worth the few dollars to buy his ebook and use the programming in there to supplement the form information in Starting Strength.

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