Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Tailoring Workouts -- C.S. Sloan (2018)

Skin Suit Too? 

Some of the workouts referred to in this article:   

We are going to look at ways you can tailor programs so that you can accommodate such things as age, training experience, body type, and goals. I will be using my approach to training, and show ways of individualizing it.

Note: Familiarize yourself with the author's approach first. 

If you are new to training, then make sure that you don't skip ahead to these more advanced programs until you're ready for them. The first thing you need to do is spend time, a lot of time, with the basics and build a strong foundation.

After you have done that, you should have an understanding of how your body works. Some exercises probably make you grow faster than others. 

For instance, you may have discovered that sumo deadlifts really cause the muscles of your back and hamstrings to grow, while conventional deads just don't do that much for you. 

Or you may have discovered that incline bench presses, dumbbell benches, and dips do wonders for making your chest grow in size and strength, while flat barbell benching seem to do little other than give you big shoulders and arms. 

You should know by now, that is, before starting more advanced individualized training, whether or not you respond best to full-body programs or to two-way split training. You should also know whether you do best on a program that only uses a few basic exercises, or whether you do best by routinely rotating exercises and rep ranges. 

Keep in mind, too, that once you reach a more advanced level, all programs should only be considered as OUTLINES.  

Let's take a look at four key components of all good general strength programs: 

Core Exercises
Sets and Reps
Weight Progression

(1) Core Exercises

There are plenty of lifters -- especially competitive powerlifters and Olympi lifters -- who are perfectly satisfied with doing essentially the same core exercises year round. Other lifters need constant change to either

1) stay interested in the workouts they are doing
2) continue to make progress.

For the most part, I would put myself in the former category. I'm happy training the squat and deadlift year round without rotating much to other exercises. I enjoy both of them more than just about any other exercises, and I can increase both of them by just, well, training both of them.

The difference for myself is the bench press. In order to make progress in this exercise -- and other upper body pressing movements -- I need to rotate exercises on a fairly consistent basis in order to progress. If I don't rotate bench exercises, then my progress will soon start to stagnate on the lift.

For a vast majority of you reading this (assuming you are now beyond the beginner and then intermediate stages), you will need to change routines every 5 to 6 weeks, and exercises every 1 to 2 weeks in order to not grow stale and hit sticking points.

Let's now take a look at the kind of training I typically utilize in order to keep my lifts moving upward in terms of raw strength and power. Remember, I need to rotate bench exercises regularly, and I can just train the squat and deadlift in order to keep those lifts moving. Keep in mind, as well, that this is the kind of training that I need to do. But it should give you a good example of the kind of variety you need in order to continue to make gains.

First, I would typically begin a training cycle by performing 4 weeks of advanced style full body training. After that, I would switch over to 4-6 weeks of Russian style two-way split training. At this point, while my squat and deadlift should be consistently gaining in strength, my bench would start to stagnate (keep in mind that variety is built into the above two programs but my bench needs even more than what those two programs offer). Now, it's time for me to utilize 8 to 10 weeks of Power Volume training. 

With the power volume training variety is already built into the system -- how much variety is up to the individual lifter. 

For myself, I will rotate bench exercises on a weekly basis, in addition to rotating assistance exercises for the bench at least every two weeks. 

For my squats and deadlifts, however, I have to do little more than just squat and deadlift. In fact, all I really need to do is rotate two weeks of squatting with two weeks of deadlifting. Throw in some bottom position squats and some deficit deadlifts on occasion, and my squats and deadlifts -- for the most part -- will continue to gain.

Now, the biggest problem I run into when lifters change exercises is that they pick easier lifts instead of hard ones. The new exercise has to be at least as demanding as the one you're trading out for. Also, if you're using Power Volume training, or a Westside style of program, not only do you need to rotate exercises on a regular basis, but you also need a large number of exercises to rotate from. The more advanced you are, the more exercises you need in your arsenal. The important thing is that you must trade a heavy exercise for a heavy exercise, a medium exercise for a medium exercise, and so on and so forth. 

(2) Sets and Reps

While strength training is an art in addition to being a science, let's keep in mind that it is a science, as sell, and there are optimum numbers of sets and reps to use.

When deciding on which program to use, or how you might need to alter the number of sets and reps in a program you're already performed for a certain length of time, you need to take into account your goals. If you are solely interested in building strength, then there is no reason to do a lot of sets, or as much "extra" work in a session. This means, for instance, that if your following a power volume style of training, and you're just trying to gain strength, there is no need for as many progressively heavier sets until you reach your max weight (more on this in a bit), and there is also no need for as many sets of "assistance" work.

If you're trying to gain strength and muscle mass, then the opposite is true. You need the additional work. The more you train, and the harder you train, then the better your body gets at adapting to the stress. (For the most part, at least; some lifters do better with lower volume while gaining mass, than other lifters). 

As with core exercises, you need some variety built into your programs. Just how much variety will -- once again -- depend on your body type. Here's an interesting thing to keep in mind when tailoring any programs you come across that you want to try: 

When training for strength, rotating exercises is more important than rotating different set and rep schemes. 

When training for muscle growth, rotating different set and rep schemes is more important than rotating exercises. 

For strength and power, you need to stick with sets of very low reps (5 reps would be considered high if strength is your goal). However, since a certain amount of variety has to  be built into your program, you must rotate to different exercises. The variety for strength, then, entails rotational exercises. 

Muscle growth is different. Of course, you already know that I'm a big fan of heavy weight. low rep training for muscle growth, but you can certainly have weeks where you rotate to higher-rep workouts. In fact, I believe that kind of training is paramount for advanced lifters to continue gaining muscle mass. When it comes to hypertrophy, you can really do the same exercises almost year round and get good results. However, rep ranges must be altered. 

To explain how you might choose to rotate sets and reps, let's use a more advanced program -- as an example of what a month of training might look like for a more advanced lifter. For this, I will use myself -- and my body type -- as an example. If I was trying to gain muscle, while also keeping my core lifts increasing, the following is what I would do during four weeks of training. 


Heavy Day
 - Squat, 7 x 5 reps
 - Bench, 7 x 5
 - Deadlift, 7 x 5
 - Wide grip dip alt with wide grip chin, 4 x 5
 - Barbell curl alt with Pullover and Press, 4 x 5
 - Incline situp, 3 x 30.

Light Day

 - Oly squat, paused, 5 x 5
 - One arm DB bench press, 5 x 5
 - Round back good morning, 5 x 8
 - DB curl alt with Lying DB extension, 5 x 5
 - Crunch, 3 x 60.

Medium Day

 - Bottom position squat, 7 x 5
 - Incline bench press, 7 x 5
 - Deadlift off a box, 7 x 5
 - Reverse grip chin, 5 x 5
 - Lying French press, 5 x 5
 - Hanging leg raise, 3 x 20.


Heavy Day

 - Squat, 4 x 8
 - Flat bench, 4 x 8
 - Deadlift, 4 x 8
 - Wide grip dip alt with wide grip chin, 2 x 10
 - Barbell curl alt with Pullover and press, 2 x 10
 - Incline situp, 3 x 30

Light Day

 - Oly squat, paused, 3 x 8
 - Incline DB bench press, 3 x 8
 - Round back good morning, 3 x 12
 - DB curl alt with lying DB extension, 5 x 12
 - Crunch, 3 x 60

Medium Day

 - Bottom position squat, 4 x 8
 - Weighted dip, 4 x 8
 - Deadlift off box, 4 x 8
 - Reverse grip chin, 4 x 8
 - Lying French press, 4 x 8
 - Hanging leg raise, 3 x 20.


Heavy Day

 - Squat, 8 x 3 reps
 - Bench, 8 x 3
 - Deadlift, 8 x 3
 - Barbell curl alt with Pullover and Press, 10 x 3
 - Incline situp, 3 x 30

Light Day

 - Front squat, 8 x 3
 - Incline bench press, 8 x 3
 - Sumo deadlift, 8 x 3
 - Reverse grip chin, 8 x 3
 - Lying French press, 8 x 3 
 - Hanging leg raise, 3 x 20.


Heavy Day

 - Squat, 3 x 12
 - DB bench press, 3 x 12
 - Deadlift, 4 x 8
 - Wide grip dip alt with Wide grip chin, 2 x 20
 - Barbell curl alt with Pullover and press, 2 x 20
 - Incline situp, 3 x 30

Light Day

 - Oly squat, paused, 3 x 12
 - Incline DB press, 3 x 12
 - Round back good morning, 3 x 12
 - Crunch, 3 x 60.

Medium Day

 - Bottom position squat, 3 x 12
 - Dips, 4 x AMRAP with bodyweight only
 - Deadlift off a box, 3 x 12
 - Reverse grip chin, 3 x AMRAP with bodyweight only
 - Close grip bench press, 3 x 12
 - Hanging leg raise, 3 x 20.

(3) Weight Progression

One of the most important -- yet often neglected -- components of strength training is weight progression. The kind of weight progression you utilize should be based on your goals, body type and the number of repetitions being used on an exercise. 

When beginners start on a heavy/light/medium, 5 x 5 program, for instance, one of the first things they fail to understand is how to progress in weight over the course of the 5 sets. 

For most lifters, the 5 sets should be evenly spaced apart as far as weight goes. The 4th set, however, is often the "tricky" set for lifters. A lot of lifters, myself included, like to take a 4th set that is very close in weight to what will be used on the 5th set. When I do this is actually makes my 5th set stronger.

Using squats as an example, here is what 5 x 5 ramped would look like for me. 


To be honest, I would use more than 5 sets on this exercise. The amount of weight that I use -- and my age -- entails that I do so. Otherwise, I would be risking injury. 

Here is an even more "realistic" version of what my squat would look like if I were using 5 rep ramped  sets.

405x5 and finally

Other lifters, who are just as strong as I am, prefer to take a 4th set that is not so close to their 5 rep maximum. Assuming one of these lifters was using 5x5 ramped, this is what his weight progression might look like.


Another factor here is the number of reps that are going to be used. Generally speaking, the higher the number of reps in a set, the fewer the number of sets that will need to be performed. Let's assume that a program calls for sets of 10 reps in the squat (we'll stick with squats as our example exercise). The number of sets for 10 reps will depend on the level of strength-fitness of the lifter. Generally speaking, for sets of 10-12 reps, there is no need for more than 3 or 4 sets. Possibly more for an advanced lifters who are both well-conditioned and have a high level of endurance-strength. And it would possibly be less for rank beginners who reach their 10-rep maximum on the second set.

If I was doing sets of 10 reps in the squat, my progression would look something like this.


Obviously this is a pretty good squat session, even though only four sets are performed. 

Okay, now let's say that I am going to do sets of 3 reps for my squat. Here, my weight progression would be different. For me, not only would I be using a lot more sets, I would also begin with a few sets of 5 in order to warm up properly. Here is an example of my weight progression for 3's.


Now, keep in mind that not all programs incorporate progressively heavier sets (ramped) as in our examples above. Several of the programs entail "straight" sets where you use the same weight on all your "work" sets.

Let's say that I am going to use a squat workout that requires 5 sets of 5 reps using the same weight on all set s. Here is what my hypothetical weight progression would look like.


(4) Workload

Another component that you need to have an understanding of (and keep up with, until you grasp its concept) is "workload." When a program of mine calls for 3 days a week of heavy/light/medium workouts, what makes a workout "light" or "heavy" in its workload . . . workload being amount of weight lifted x number of sets x number of reps. 

I have had lifters write me or talk to me requesting that I outline a program for them. If they're at the beginner or intermediate level with regards to their goal (strength, muscle growth, a combination of both), then I always have them perform a heavy/light/medium, full body workout. 

Invariably, several of these lifters will call me or write back wondering why they are not making enough progress. When I have them write down what they're doing in order to assess the problem (although I've already usually guessed what the problem is), they're usually surprised to hear that they're simply doing TOO MUCH WORK ON THEIR LIGHT AND MEDIUM DAYS. 

The extra work is usually because they don't feel they've had enough of a workout on the light days, so they do a bunch of sets of curls and such. Because they're doing these assistance lifts with such light weights, they assume it makes them perfect for the "light" training day. But when we look at their total workload throughout the week, it's clear that their "light" day is actually heavier (more total workload) than their "heavy" day. 

While training with such workload is fine for a week or two (in fact I require it from some lifters I work with) -- it can lead to overtraining if done persistently over the course of several weeks.

Let's take a look at two of the hypothetical squat workouts I used in our "weight progression" discussion to further understand just how workload affects your training. If you look at the workout I used for 10 rep sets of squats (135x10, 185x10, 225x10, 275x10), and the workout I used for 3 rep sets of squats (135x5, 225x5, 275x5, 315x3, 405x3, 450x3, 465x3, 495x3), you would probably assume that the 3-rep workout was the "heavier" session, using more total workload. But is this the case/ 

Well, actually, it is, but not by much. Despite the fact that much heavier weights were used and twice as many sets, the workload for the 3-rep workout is 9,565 pounds, and the workload for the 10-rep workout is 8,200 pounds. If I had performed 5 sets of 10 reps instead of just 4 sets of 10 reps, then the 10-rep workout would actually have been heavier

In case you haven't already figured it out, this is also what makes "straight sets" so particularly demanding on your muscles and your nervous system. Sticking with the squats and using my straight-set "5 sets of 5 workout" above (135x5, 225x5, 275x5, 315 for 5 sets of 5), the total workload for that workout is 11,000 pounds, more than either of the two previous squat workouts.

One more thing about workload: As you get more advanced, your total workload should consistently go up. The more workload you can tolerate (up to a point), then the bigger and stronger you're going to be. 

Enjoy Your Lifting! 


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