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What does good programming look like?


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I'd like to get something of a round table discussion going with some of the stronger members here about what good programming typically looks like. The internet is littered with training templates written by strong dudes that have made lots of other dudes pretty strong along with at least ten times as many ad-hoc piles of dogshit written by pencil neck skinny bastards. On top of that you have coaches and trainers writing both amazing and atrocious programs for individual trainees. What works for one guy may not work for another. What works for a man may or may not work best for a woman. At it's core however, good programming seems to have a few overarching themes as long as those programs have a real goal in mind, whether a specialization program like Smolov Jr, a dedicated powerlifting program like the Texas Method or Cube, or more general strength and conditioning program like 5/3/1.

 

Contrast those templates with more nebulous programming like a bodybuilder's push/pull/legs or bro-split and they usually couldn't look more different. That said however, there are high school gym rats with a bigger bench than mine and I doubt it is totally by a lucky mistake. There are also people who have been hitting the gym for years without any appreciable gains following a similar template. What makes one successful and one an utter failure?

 

Besides squatting, pressing, and deadlifting, what makes good programming good and what makes mediocre or bad programming bad?

My training log

Spoiler

 

2016

Hudson Valley Strongman presents Lift for Autism (USS), April 16th Contest report

2015

Hudson Valley Strongman presents Lift for Autism (NAS), April 18th Contest report

Eighth Annual Vis Vires Outdoor Strongman Competition (Unsanctioned), August 1st Contest report

 

"What's the difference between an injury that you train around and an injury that you train through?"

"A trip to the hospital"

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Even though I'm not one of the strong folks, I DO have some thoughts on programming.

 

Programming NEEDS to be tailored to the individual.  For instance, MOST basic "diets" are designed for middle-aged suburban housewives who think grocery shopping constitutes a workout.  Most basic strength programs are designed for young men.  If you're not IN that category there needs to be some adaptation to make it work for you over the long term.

 

There are also THREE aspects to programming:  Working out (however you wish to define it), recovery and nutrition, and the three have to work together.  Personally, I tried Stronglifts last year, and found I wasn't taking enough time for recovery.  I'm 52 years old, so a Monday/Wednesday/Friday Stronglifts 5x5 schedule wasn't sustainable when the weights got heavy, but I tried and wound up hating life.  Likewise, if a young woman is doing heavy barbell training, she shouldn't be eating like the suburban housewife on Weight Watchers, she NEEDS more nutrition to cope with the stress she's putting on her body.

 

Just my two cents worth....

 

 

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Well I have a bunch of thoughts on this subject.

 

I'm a fan of sustainable training.  That is programs you could feasibly do for years, with little tweaks/course corrections here and there.

 

- Every muscle group should be hit hard 2x per week.  Higher frequency is either for beginners or unsustainable.

- Focus on core compound movements with accessories for weak spots; your core movement list is missing one El Ex: Squat, Dead, Press, Pull (rowing or pullups).

- Set to set recovery time is defined; this is every bit as important as the intensity and volume.

- It helps to understand the RPE concept, knowing when to say when for the most part, but also when a 10 set is warranted, but its hard to write this into a plan without a lot of complexity.

- Simplicity.  KISS.  The simpler something is, the easier it is to sustain.

- There needs to be a form of progression, generally load or reps+load, but there can also be RPE or form progression (more important in BW where small increment loading isn't possible).

- Multiple rep ranges should be utilized.

- Volume and intensity should be appropriate for diet; low volume/high intensity when cutting for example.

 

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currently maintaning

battle log challenges: 16,15,14,13,12,11,10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1
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Simply? It depends. For noobs, anything is good. For an experienced lifter like I guess I now am, a good program needs to be tailored to the person and take into account their personal situation. We talk a lot about end goals and doing whatever it takes to get there, but I've been learning more and more that a truly good program needs to also take into account the person's personal life and schedule so it's still enjoyable and doesn't drive them into the ground trying to do it.

 

You talk about the internet being filled with programs made by guys who have made people strong, but they typically suck for people who aren't single and have the time to dedicate themselves to them. For those people, many times those guys basically say "screw them, they're not dedicated enough".

 

So yeah, I feel like working the programming around the person's life is extremely unrated and where it is used, typically under-prioritized. I understand the internet guys not wanting to do it, as it doesn't lend itself to the cookie cutter programs, but I feel like each cookie cutter program should have a few pages written on the best ways to tailor it to the individual, instead of the writer pulling the Mark Rippetoe bullshit of "do the fucking program".

 

Besides squatting, deadlifting, and pressing, so many of these programs ignore or under train the back. Past beginner gains, I've recently been finding the biggest bang for your buck beyond those 3 is accessories for your back. Your back is part the bedrock for all 3 powerlifting movements, but it's only actually trained secondarily during them. I've ended up with shoulder issues movement wise and looking weaker than I am aesthetically because I have ignored my back for the first 4 years of lifting. Every program should have a good amount of back accessories. I think SS had a rule of thumb of twice the reps of your pressing movements, and that's probably a good place to begin. My shoulders and back health has been so much better since adding in pulldowns a few times a week.

 

Direct bicep work has the same issues to a lesser degree. Mine feel so much better now that I'm doing some direct work on them instead of them constantly being pulled around by my much stronger triceps due to all the pressing I do. They have the benefit of bigger arms, but the main reason is health of those joints. Shoulders and biceps have been feeling so much better now, and I look forward to lifting more again because I'm not sore and feeling crappy from it.

 

But yeah, a good starting list for good programming for me is:

  1. squatting, pressing, deadlifting (obviously)
  2. tailor to the individual's goals (obviously)
  3. tailored to the individuals recovery needs
  4. tailored to the individuals life schedule/situation
  5. accessory lifts on muscles not directly worked by the main lifts to prevent imbalances and injuries
  6. training tailored to the person's preferences (frequency of lifts, what lifts, what variants, etc)

Boils down to once you get beyond noob gains, start figuring out what works best for you instead of following cookie cutter programs. Read about programming. Program hop every 3 months. or when thing stop working, to experiment. I now know I love squatting 5 days a week, high intensity, low volume, slow progression. It's contrary to almost everything everyone writes about, but it is what is working for me and what I enjoy, so I'm doing it. Would have never figured that out without experimenting.

 

 

Even though I'm not one of the strong folks, I DO have some thoughts on programming.

 

Programming NEEDS to be tailored to the individual.  For instance, MOST basic "diets" are designed for middle-aged suburban housewives who think grocery shopping constitutes a workout.  Most basic strength programs are designed for young men.  If you're not IN that category there needs to be some adaptation to make it work for you over the long term.

 

There are also THREE aspects to programming:  Working out (however you wish to define it), recovery and nutrition, and the three have to work together.  Personally, I tried Stronglifts last year, and found I wasn't taking enough time for recovery.  I'm 52 years old, so a Monday/Wednesday/Friday Stronglifts 5x5 schedule wasn't sustainable when the weights got heavy, but I tried and wound up hating life.  Likewise, if a young woman is doing heavy barbell training, she shouldn't be eating like the suburban housewife on Weight Watchers, she NEEDS more nutrition to cope with the stress she's putting on her body.

 

Just my two cents worth....

 

 

 

You're the one I recommended Texas method to, right? I find older people (older being older than the 20 year old male programs tend to be written for) have greater recovery needs, and going straight to intermediate programming should help a lot with that.

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Massrandir, Barkûn, Swolórin, The Whey Pilgrim
500 / 330 / 625
Challenges: 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 31 32 34 35 36 39 41 42 45 46 47 48 49 Current Challenge
"No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. What a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable. " ~ Socrates
"Friends don't let friends squat high." ~ Chad Wesley Smith
"It's a dangerous business, Brodo, squatting to the floor. You step into the rack, and if you don't keep your form, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." ~ Gainsdalf

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Besides squatting, deadlifting, and pressing, so many of these programs ignore or under train the back. Past beginner gains, I've recently been finding the biggest bang for your buck beyond those 3 is accessories for your back. Your back is part the bedrock for all 3 powerlifting movements, but it's only actually trained secondarily during them. I've ended up with shoulder issues movement wise and looking weaker than I am aesthetically because I have ignored my back for the first 4 years of lifting. Every program should have a good amount of back accessories. I think SS had a rule of thumb of twice the reps of your pressing movements, and that's probably a good place to begin. My shoulders and back health has been so much better since adding in pulldowns a few times a week.

 

Well its helpful not to think of upper body pulling movements as an accessory at all.  It should be a primary movement along with squatting, deadlifting, and pressing.  Just because it doesn't mesh real good with a particular barbell exercise (and barbell competitions) doesn't make it any less important.  All primates are designed to be pull dominant; humans evolved much stronger legs than others, but our shoulders are still designed to climb and swing through the trees first and foremost.  As you indicate, upper body pulling tends to respond best to high volume (I tend to ignore reps/sets progression-wise, and instead progress via total volume and form)

currently maintaning

battle log challenges: 16,15,14,13,12,11,10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1
follow me: myfitnesspal
don't panic!

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Well its helpful not to think of upper body pulling movements as an accessory at all.  It should be a primary movement along with squatting, deadlifting, and pressing.  Just because it doesn't mesh real good with a particular barbell exercise (and barbell competitions) doesn't make it any less important.  All primates are designed to be pull dominant; humans evolved much stronger legs than others, but our shoulders are still designed to climb and swing through the trees first and foremost.  As you indicate, upper body pulling tends to respond best to high volume (I tend to ignore reps/sets progression-wise, and instead progress via total volume and form)

 

Agreed, and I meant to post about this and I forgot. The way I think about it when programming is that there needs to be at least 1 push and pull for each the upper and lower body. I think that last part is why it gets dropped so much in the barbell world, it doesn't really feel the same or progress the same as far as intensity goes. A max pull down for me feels so off because there's not a real lockout. Maybe that's because I'm so weak at that point in the movement? For example, I can pull 190 for 8-10 reps or something like that on the lat pulldown, but I can't hold the bar against my chest until something like 115. Thinking of vertical pulling as a main lift would go a long way to fixing a lot of the issues I have with the basic beginner strength programs.

Massrandir, Barkûn, Swolórin, The Whey Pilgrim
500 / 330 / 625
Challenges: 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 31 32 34 35 36 39 41 42 45 46 47 48 49 Current Challenge
"No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. What a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable. " ~ Socrates
"Friends don't let friends squat high." ~ Chad Wesley Smith
"It's a dangerous business, Brodo, squatting to the floor. You step into the rack, and if you don't keep your form, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." ~ Gainsdalf

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A lat pulldown like that is very similar to a high pullup, at the very end of the ROM the muscles involved change a good bit, the rhomboids pull the shoulders together, and and the lats are very mechancially disadvantaged.  Many people can bang out a dozen chin over bar pullups without the ability to do even one chest to bar pullup; training chin over bar pullups does next to nothing to train that ROM unless you're training to explosively pull into it.

 

There is a place for training both ROMs.  I train that extreme ROM when doing pullups (I focus on height, depth be damned), on the lat pulldown I load that sucker up and don't worry so much hitting my chest, I pull it as far as I can.  Super heavy lat pulls really hit my lats good, it fatigues them in a way only some front lever variations do (fatigues the lower lats, never get that from pullup/chinup training).

currently maintaning

battle log challenges: 16,15,14,13,12,11,10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1
follow me: myfitnesspal
don't panic!

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