Monday, June 17, 2019

Designing Your Own Training Program - John Christy

Originally Published in This Issue 
Back Issues Available Here

If you have been a reader of HARDgainer for a while, and have studied the material, you should have no problem designing your own training program. I average five calls a week from readers wanting me to take them on as consultation trainees. Some of these people can benefit from my personal instruction, but many don't need it. If yu want my intstruction - or any other author's - instruction, just study the articles in the magazine. 

In this article I am going to cover all the considerations of designing an effective training program. Keep in mind that these recommendations are based on 23 years of lifting experience and 11 years of professional strength coaching. There are, however, very good coaches who have different but effective approaches. 

Keep Things Simple

An effective training program doesn't have to be, and shouldn't be, complicated. So don't try to find or develop some super secret program that is more effective than anything ever used before. As a matter of fact, let me let you in on the biggest secret in all of weight training - there are no secret programs.  

The Two Most Important Factors

The most important design considerations of any program are that it can be performed consistently and progressively. If you don't train consistently, your body won't get the stimulation it needs to get stronger and bigger. So, for any program to be effective, it has to allow you to train as consistently as possible, and to add weight to the bar on a planned basis.

The frequency, volume, and intensity of a training program are determined based on maintaining consistency and progression. You need to be able to recover from workouts so that you don't over-train and end up getting hurt or sick. If either of these occur, you'll miss workouts.

If your workouts are too frequent, your joints will take a beating and you'll likely end up with some form of long term joint inflammation, and you'll miss workouts. If your workouts are too frequent, your immune system won't be able to recover and you'll wind up getting sick all the time and, once again, you'll miss workouts. And if you are not training consistently, you can't add weight to the bar, so then you are not being progressive. 

I hope you're getting the point. 


The frequency of workouts has to be based on several factors the most important being the ability to recover between workouts. Your ability to recover between workouts is influenced by a number of factors, including the type of job you have (if you're young enough, or rich enough), family responsibilities, how much rest you get every night, how well you eat, and if you're involved in any strenuous sports.

For someone who has a job and family, I have found that two workouts per week works great. I've had others who handle three times per week and make progress, although these workouts have to be specially limited in the number of exercises. 

For the trainee who is in high school or college, three workouts per week works well, although two per week may still be more effective over the long haul. The two weight training workouts per week also allow for 2-3 bouts of aerobic work and/or sports activities each week.

It still amazes me that some people still can't believe that at 5' 10" and a weight of 235 lbs. I still only train two times a week. This allows me to do aerobics two times per week as well as wind sprints and baseball skill work (I still play semi-professional baseball during the summer). 

I also should mention that I don't believe in training someone to become just big and strong. I believe people should become big and strong athletes. What I mean by this is that they should be able to run and jump and move in different directions. In essence, I believe that your strength and size should be functional.

Weight training two times per week will allow you the physical time, as well as the recovery time, to do aerobic work. It also gives you the flexibility to move a workout if you have to miss for family or work, or if you simply haven't recovered from the previous workout. For instance, if you usually work out on Tuesday and Friday, and you can't make Friday's workout, you can easily move it to Saturday and stay on track. This way you get Sunday and Monday to rest, and can still be recovered by Tuesday's workout.

The goal of training is not to see how much torture the body can stand, but 
to stimulate the body and then let it recover.      

So why tolerate training three times per week and make gains, just because you think more is better? If you can train two times per week and continually get as strong (or stronger) as you would training three times per week, with less chance of injury, and hence maintaining consistency over the long haul, what benefit does three times per week weight training offer? 


How much training should you do? Well, this is based on the number of exercises you do, the number of sets, and the rest interval between sets.

You should be keeping a good pace throughout the workout, and even though you are resting 4-5 minutes between the live (work) sets, you should be able to complete a workout in about one hour, or inside 90 minutes without question. This time does not include initial warmup time or stretching. The clock starts at the beginning of your first exercise and stops at the conclusion of your last live set. When I say a good pace, I mean that you're not sitting around shooting the breeze between exercises. But you need to take the proper rest interval between work sets.

When a trainee is at the point where he is training hard, I don't feel that any more than 2 work sets of any exercise are necessary to stimulate growth.

As far as the number and type of exercises is concerned, I feel that a compound leg movement (squat, deadlift, leg press), a compound upper-body pressing movement (bench press, overhead press, dip), a pulling movement (row, pulldown, high pull), a crunch (for the abs), and and some grip work should cover it. You also need to include calf work and some direct biceps work once a week. That does it. 

Designing a program is not hard.
Maintaining the effort and consistency is! 

I think what happens is that many of you are under the illusion that you will find a better way. Well let me tell you - THERE ISN'T ONE. 


How hard should you train? This subject has been battered around for eons. So, I'm going to give you my opinion. I've had tremendous success with putting this opinion into practice. My definition of training hard is training to the point where there is possibly one more rep left in you. In other works, I feel you should train right up to the edge of momentary muscular failure, but not over the edge. 

The goal of weight training is to lift progressively more weight each session,
not to go to failure. 

After 23 years of training (reaching a maximum weight of 252 lbs. at 5' 10") combined with 11 years of training over 600 people, I know for an absolute fact that you can get progressively stronger and hence bigger without going to failure. But - 

You have to get to the point where the last rep in a set THREATENS to make you fail.   

Another way to say this is that you need to challenge yourself to make your prescribed reps and beat failure. And then the real challenge is to train at this level for many months by adding a small dose of iron to the bar every workout. 

Okay. I cant stand it any more.

Look at this stuff! 


Check out that trap bar designed with a built in bar jack - 
and other cool features too! 

And the Transformer Bar, with 48 different positional variations - 

You gotta watch the videos to really see what you can do with this one. 

Outstanding equipment innovations over there. 

Okay . . . I'm better now. 

Starting Weights and Rate of Progression

At the start of a program you should use a weight that allows you to complete 5 reps more than the goal of the set. For instance, if you want to perform 2 work sets of an exercise at 5 reps each, you start with a weight that allows you to do 10 reps if you went to failure, but stop at just 5 reps. Then, over the next 6-8 weeks, you need to build up the weight slowly until you could complete about 6 or 7 reps if you went to failure, but stop at 5. At this point you should slow the rate of progression to what I feel is the maximum that the body can compensate for on all of your exercises. 

2.5 pounds on squats, deadlifts, leg presses.
1 pound on benches, dips, presses, chins, rows, pulldowns, curls, crunches. 

The curls will eventually have to go down to .5 pounds per workout. By the 16th week you should be at the point where there is only one more rep left in you after you have made your fifth rep.

There are instances I have seen where someone who is eating and recovering to their utmost ability will be at the 16th week and still have 2 or 3 reps left in them beyond their goal number. This is fantastic and shows that their body is recovering from this rate of progression. At this time I would suggest a bigger load increase over the next several workouts so that they are training with just one rep left in them beyond their goal number for the set. Then I would have them go back to adding the small doses of iron to the bar.

You don't have to use 5 reps as your goal number for a set. Use any rep count that you think will bring results for you, or that you enjoy. Just start out with reserve reps left in your and slowly build to the point where you are training with just one rep left in you. Then, settle in for a long and very productive training period.

But . . . 

Don't start looking for other ways to train.

Look for ways to recover better between your workouts, so that you can stay consistent. 

Look for ways to concentrate more strongly during your workouts, so that you can train harder and with better form.

You would be surprised at the number of trainees who surpass all their previous training records simply by following what I have outlined in those three lines. 

The Template

What follows is a twice a week training template. I know for a fact that I can get anyone strong and big with this program. So, if you have the guts to follow the rules that I have outlined in this article, and do not get distracted by the glut of information that is out there, you can get yourself very big and strong with this program.

Only work sets are listed. 

Do 2 or 3 progressive warmup sets prior to each of the big exercises (add 1 if you are an 'older' trainee), and just one for each of the smaller exercises. For multiple warmup sets for an exercise, take 2-3 minutes between them. 

Always take the full 4-5 minutes rest prior to the first work set, and between work sets. 

Day One

1) Crunch - 1 x 15
2) Squat - 2 x 6
3) Stiff Legged Deadlift -  1 x 10
4) Bench Press - 2 x 6
5) Pulldown - 2 x 6
6) Static Grip -  60 seconds

Day Two

1) Side Bend - 1 x 15
2) Regular Deadlift - 2 x 6
3) Overhead Press - 2 x 6
4) Curl - 2 x 6
5) Calf Raise - 1 x 10

I've never had a trainee experience any problem recovering from stiff legged deadlifts on day one, and regular deadlifts on day two, along with squats on day one. But the critical proviso is that thee total number of sets per exercise must be limited. For instance, on day one, two work sets of squats are performed and only one set of stiff legged deadlifts. On day two, only or or two work sets of deadlifts are performed. Keep the total volume or work for the lower back very limited, to avoid over-training that area. 

Exercise Technique

You must perform all of your exercises with good technique. To do this subject justice I would have to write a whole book. There's not enough space in a single article to do a good job. I strongly suggest you buy Stuart McRobert's book on technique, and study it. It contains all you need to know for now on the subject. 

Final Thoughts

Being consistent and putting out the effort necessary for many workouts over a long period of time is a hard part of weight training success. Getting the proper amount of rest and food consistently  is also a hard part. Staying focused on every set you do so that you can concentrate on combining all the effort that you can muster while maintaining perfect form is a hard part. Having blind faith in what I am saying (until it proves itself to you) so hat you are not constantly jumping from one program to another, is a hard part. 

Designing a training program is the easy part. 

You can do this yourself. You don't need any help. All you need is knowledge. This article can provide that. 

Now get to work . . . 

not on designing your program but on putting out the effort to stay consistent and train progressively. 

The strongest of all warriors are these two: Time and Patience
  - Leo Tolstoy 


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