If you asked me if I thought people should follow a training program a year ago I would of said, “absolutely.”
If you asked me five years ago, I would have asked, “What do you mean?”
In order to best explain my own current opinions about whether or not you should follow a strength training program it’s crucial to know a little bit more about my background with exercise.
At the ripe age of two years-old I began eating exercise in the form of gymnastics practice a few times a week.
Flash forward eight years and I was spending 22 hours a week doing gymnastics.
Later, after being freed from the jail of gymnastics I was clueless as to how to stay fit on my own.
While I participated in cheerleading and pole vaulting in high school, I was on a mission to lose weight for college cheerleading and was unsure exactly how to do this besides simply adding in cardio.
It was just before college when I became obsessed with working out.
For several years workouts were a necessary evil to “not get fat” and large meals were chased by more workouts. There was no rhyme or reason to any of my workouts besides long runs, short runs, cycling shot and long distances or intervals.
The cycle began to dissipate after college when I trained at a kettlebell gym and got my workouts via lifting heavy.
I did kettlebell training three times a week and although the workouts were always different, there were reoccurring themes with mobility or certain movements wherein I could see progress being made month after month.
It wasn’t until a little over a year and a half ago I began to follow a linear strength training program.
At first I didn’t get it…
Why did I have to do the SAME exercises every Monday?
When could I do back squats and heavier deadlifts?
How come I wasn’t I allowed to do more pull-ups?
I wanted to try the back squat I wanted to try front squats… I wanted to do ALLLLL the exercises!!!!
However, over a year’s time I learned the value of being patient and following a program.
Following five week cycles benefited me in several ways which I will get to later.
The takeaway was this: my training was no longer “working out” to burn calories out of feeling guilty, but it was strategic training that was enjoyable, empowering and measurable.
I got results.
I got stronger.
On a program I felt a bigger sense of accomplishment knowing that each rep of each set of each training session counted– they all accrued to one overarching goal.
Today I will tell you more about why training programs can benefit you, but also why sometimes following a program may not be in your best interest.
Strength training programs are not for everyone.
Training programs can be entirely beneficial for people based on their experience with lifting specific goals, lifestyle and motivation.
Read on to find out if following a strength training program is in your best interest.
Pros of following a strength training program:
What is a strength training program?
For this article’s purposes we will consider a linear strength program which is when you have a one, two or maybe three day program that you follow every week for several weeks depending on the goal. Every Monday you do the same exercises, every Tuesday you do the same exercises etc. The goal is to make an improvement each time you go to the gym, whether it is by doing one more set, achieving one more rep, doing more reps with more weight etc.
- Programs are strategic
Let’s say you want a bigger booty: by working towards increasing your squat, your hip thrust, etc you will see gains made in your glutes.
However, in order to do this and measure the progress, you have to follow a program that takes steps to affect change.
Programs are set up over time, typically four to five weeks for beginners. Some programs can be 9-week programs. The bottom line is that you know each day of each week of the program what the mini-goals are and why you are doing said exercise(s).
Programs are purposeful.
Week-to-week you can look at your performance based on the plan and see how you are excelling.
There is a lot of strategy that goes into the program and the program is tailored to the individual. In example, before starting a program the coach will have a rough understanding of your strength, via a one repetition maximum. Then they will tell you what percentage of the weight you should be lifting each day of the program (in some cases), and how many sets and reps to complete.
- Goal oriented
Without being too redundant, programs are set up to help people make measurable changes. If someone wants a bigger deadlift, they will put that as the focus of their program.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results, right?
If you are constantly doing random workouts, lots of cardio or plyometric work and secretly hoping that every third day when you deadlift that you can lift more weight, it will most likely never happen.
However, if you are on a strategic program that has you deadlifting heavy once per week, maybe doing lighter speed work with deadlifts another day, working on back and glute strength and still maintaining upper body strength it will happen over time.
You have to put in the planned work to get to the goal.
There is little guess work in following a training program. You keep a training log and you write everything down.
Let’s say that you never tire, never miss a training day and hit all of your numbers each time you workout– you will see your strength increase and you can see it right in front of your eyes.
You can see your muscles grow as you get stronger and feel your own strength increase as week after week you pick up more and more weight.
- Requires time
Some may see this as a con, but the benefit of a program taking time is that you learn patience.
You also make changes in a sustainable way and can perhaps avoid injury this way.
I am like the tasmanian devil and if I am not working with a coach or holding myself accountable to a program I wrote, I will literally run around the gym and do ALL the exercises, pick up ALL the weights and go 100 miles a minute.
Strength training programs are like recipes for building a really decadent cake: you have to take your time follow the explicit directions, use the right ingredients and be patient while it bakes.
- Requires commitment
On a program you really can’t take a week off (unless it is a planned week off).
If your goal is set, your timeline set and your program written, you must commit to do the work in the said amount of time.
Most programs, (when done consistently), work.
Hell, a lot of things work when done repeatedly over time with your best effort–and that is the positive.
When you commit you get results if you work hard.
- Requires focusing in on specifics–can’t have too many variables
In my opinion this is more of a con but for the benefit of focusing on specifics, you can really see yourself make great strides.
For instance I was working really hard for a while on pressing the 24 kg kettlebell and doing a pull-up with the 24 kg kettlebell.
For at least eight weeks I wasn’t doing much else at the gym besides these two movements.
I did some other things but they were background noise in comparison to these kettlebell lifts.
If you focus on too many things at once you will not get results. Following a program helps you keep your eyes on the prize.
- Weight is lifted off of your shoulders
Unless you are like me and write your own programs, following a program is a HUGE weight lifted off of your shoulders because you no longer have to chase the best workout or hardest sweat.
You have a coach you trust and you are now following their recipe for success. All you have to do is show up and put in the work.
And I’ll be honest, I’ve never said this before but even when writing my own programs I feel the same way! I love having a plan to follow over time. I love going to the gym with a plan (or at least a rough draft) so that I don’t run around touching all the machines and weights like the tasmanian devil. (more on how I program for myself below).
Cons of following a strength training program:
- Less freedom
In college, my cheerleading squad had to go to the Gross Center at Miami University once per week to meet with a trainer. Because I was obsessed with working out I was actually stoked about this– even though it was at 5:45 a.m. (I love early morning workouts).
However, I was seriously bummed when I showed up for week two of training to discover that we were doing the SAME “workout” again.
I was such an angry elf!
I didn’t get it for several reasons. One, it barely made me sweat so I didn’t think it was hard. Two, I hated the inverted rows and overhead squats because I wasn’t good at them. Three, I was upset because we didn’t get to use all of the equipment.
My point is, when you follow a program is is like a paper with a good these: it is concise, narrow but broad enough to be compelling and it works; you do not have time for other superfluous exercises.
You have to focus on one or a few things at once, not all the body parts and all the strength goals.
Some people may find following a program a bit monotonous if they are not crazy as hell about the overarching goal of the program.
- It takes a little bit of the “listening to your body” part out of the equation
I learned this during my bikini prep. When eating less calories than I would have liked in order to ensure fat loss there were times when I got to the gym and feel like loading the bar was making me sweat.
When you are on a program you have challenging marks to hit each time you walk into the gym and therefore if you are sick, tired or under-eating, it can be hard to stay the course.
During my bikini prep I changed my training week to week subtly for all intensive purposes. This way I wouldn’t skip lifts I changed the drill to albeit easier or harder, or added reps with a lighter load to get a pump. On a program you do not have the freedom to do this.
- Other movements may suffer. You can’t do ALL the exercises
When I worked on pressing and pulling the 24 kg bell I was not back squatting.
My coach kept deadlifts in at the time because he knew I had an odd obsession with them. I needed to keep benching in because it helped with my press. However, there is only so much time a week on a three-day program and at that point in my training the back squat fell by the wayside.
My best advice to anyone writing their own program or coaches– make sure you ask the athlete what their favorite exercises are.
Let them know that their goal should quasi-align with what they like to do or they will resent their program.
For example, the athlete might say they want a bigger bench, but if they will be more upset about not deadlifting, squatting or doing clean and jerks as they will be happy about increasing their bench, maybe they need to reconsider their goal.
- It means less “fun stuff”
Again, going back to the aspect of having less freedom when following a program, you don’t have time to mess around in the gym.
Even more, if you are on a program to prep for a powerlifting meet for example, you really shouldn’t be doing anything else in order to stay healthy and rested.
However, I for one cannot NOT go into the gym and have fun. Therefore as my own coach I program a fourth, “fun” day.
In that day I pick one-two exercises I didn’t get to that week, (if I missed anything), I pick two exercises that are not being done that cycle and make sure I do them (during bikini prep it was front squats and push presses) and then find creative ways to do pump work and bodyweight exercises.
Some of my favorite “fun” exercises int he past 16 weeks included:
-handstand walking between front squats and push presses
-narrow grip chin ups
-chin-up to candle stick
-unweighted high box step ups
-1.5 push-ups or paused push-ups
-windmills from 1/2 kneel
- You must trust your coach
Are you one of those people who hates the way the hair dresser drys your hair after a cut? Are you someone that hates when other people do your makeup? Well, if that’s the case, you may not want another coach to write your training program. Just saying’…..
- Feeling like you can’t miss a day
This part sucks. If you are really passionate about our goal and program but have a family vacation or a personal matter arise it really stinks because you feel like you are ruining your program and missing days. Programs take huge commitment and they require a lot of dedication.
- Not all programs work for everyone; I learned more doing it on my own.
I like to listen to my body to figure out how many reps and sets to do. I have found in the past that following reps and sets from another coach is usually not enough for me.
I watched my glutes grow 1.5 inches in 16 weeks while training myself and I think it was largely due to really waiting for the muscle to burn and feel stressed before stopping.
No, I did not go to failure but I worked my ass off and I made sure to introduce a slight new stressor each week via adding one more rep each week, capping another set, increasing weight etc. From that I gained a booty.
In the past I didn’t alway feel as challenged as I would have liked fell. When you are on a program you feel obligated to follow the sets and reps dictated by the coach, and the coach does not always know what you are capable of.
It almost makes you listen to your body less– similar to calorie counting stories of people who eat more because they have more calories programmed to eat en lieu of eating because they are hungry.
- Doing it on your own takes lot of self discipline
The con of following a program, be it from a coach or yourself, is that oftentimes you must train alone.
Unless you have a friend who also follows a program and meets at the gym around the same time, following a program can be more isolated than say, a group fitness class.
I began going to Barry’s once per week towards the end of my bikini prep because knowing I would have friends to hang with motivated me to workout despite low energy.
If you are a Class Pass fanatic you are constantly surrounded by friends in class; whereas on a program your head is buried in your journal and your mind focused on the numbers– it can be less social in some cases.
So who should follow a program?
People who ave very specific goals should follow a program.
Want to learn how to do ten pull-ups? Follow a program.
Also, if there is a specific coach from whom you really want to learn, follow their program.
If you have time on your hands and a timeline to achieve said goal, follow a program.
If you enjoy doing measurable, linear things, follow a program.
If you want to improve your health– say you have cranky shoulders or overuse injuries– you should consider following a program in order to abstain from running around the gym touching everything, or running around the city doing ALL the workouts.
If you are someone who likes to switch things up a lot and wants to focus on general health and fitness a program may not be best for you.
If you have any questions bout my #Daretoemove programs send me an email email@example.com