Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Tailoring the Workouts -- C.S. Sloan

Tailoring the Workouts to Suit Your Needs and Body Type

We are now going to look at ways you can tailor the programs discussed, so that you can accommodate such things as age, training experience, body type, and goals.

If you are new to training, make sure you haven't skipped ahead to the advanced approaches without laying a solid foundation first, thinking you need to better understand your body type when at the early stages of training. 

You Don't! The first thing you need to do is perform progressive workouts in a systematic fashion to establish that foundation. 

You will have noticed how some exercises make you grow faster than others. For example, you may have discovered that sumo deadlifts really cause the muscles of your back and hamstrings to grow, while conventional deadlifts just don't do that much for you. Or you may have discovered that incline bench presses, dumbbell bench presses, and dips do wonders for making your chest grow, while flat benches seem to do little other than give you big shoulders and arms. 

Everyone who has used the earlier routines should know two things: First, you should know whether you respond best to full body programs or to two-way split training. Second, you should know whether you do best on a program that uses only a few basic exercises, or whether you do best by routinely rotating exercises and repetition ranges. 

Keep in mind, too, that once you reach a more advanced level, all of the programs should only be considered as outlines. After I write these programs and you start using them, I'm not there to make changes based on how your body responds -- or doesn't respond -- to the workouts.  

Here we will take a look at four key components in all good strength programs in general. they are: 

 - core exercises
 - sets and reps
 - weight progression, and
 - workload at each workout. 

Core Exercises 

There are plenty of lifters -- especially competitive powerlifters and Olympic lifters -- who are perfectly satisficed with doing essentially the same core exercises year-round. Other lifters need constant change in order to either 1) stay interested in the workouts they're doing, or 2) to continue to make progress. 

For the most part, I would put myself, for example, in the former category. I'm happy training the squat and deadlift year-round without rotating much to other exercises. I enjoy both of these exercises more than just about any other, 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 that are reading this (assuming you have built your foundation over time), you will need to change routines every 5-6 weeks, and exercises every 1-2 weeks in order to not grow stale and hit sticking points. 

Now let's take a look at the kind of training I typically utilize in order to keep my lifts continually 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 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 build 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 8-10 weeks of Power Volume Training. With the PVT, 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 other 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 strength. 

The biggest problem I run into when lifters change exercises is that they pick easy lifts instead of hard ones. The new exercise has to be as demanding as the one you're trading it out for. Also, if you're using Power Volume Training or the Westside-style program [comin' up], 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, etc. 

Sets and Reps 

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

When deciding which program to use, or how you might need to alter the number of sets and reps in one of the programs you've 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 you're following Power Volume 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 later), and there is no need for as many sets of "assistance" work. 

If you're trying to gain strength and muscle mass 
more on this from Anthony DitIllo here: 
then the opposite is true. You need additional work. The more you train, the harder you train, then the better your body gets at adapting to stress. For the most part, at least; some lifters do better with lower volume when aiming to gain muscle mass than other lifters. 

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

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

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

This is because for strength and power, you need to stick with sets of really low reps (5 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 I'm a big fan of heavy weight, low rep training for muscle growth, but you can certainly have weeks where you rotate to more high-rep workouts. In fact, I believe that kind of training is paramount for advanced lifters to continue gaining muscle mess, er, 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 the Program 2 from here . . . 

. . . the 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 press, same
 Deadlift, same

 Wide grip dip alternate with 
 Wide grip chin, 4 x 5 each

 BB curl alt with
 Pullover and press, 4 x 5 each

Incline situp, 3 x 30.

Light Day

Oly style pause squat, 5 x 5

One arm DB bench press, 5 x 5

Round back good morning, 5 x 8

DB curl superset with
Lying DB extension, 5 x 8 each

Crunch, 3 x 60

Medium Day 

Bottom position squat, 7 x 5 reps

Incline bench with pursed lips, 7 x 5

Deadlift off box, 7 x 5

Reverse grip chin, 5 x 5

Lying BB extension, 5 x 5

Hanging leg raise, 3 x 20


Heavy Day

Squat, 2 x 4, 2 x 6, 4 x 8 no wait that's the lumber I need
Squat, 4 x 8

Bench, 4 x 8

Deadlift, 4 x 8

Wide grip dip alt with
Wide grip chin, 2 x 10 each 

BB curl alt with 
Pullover and press, 2 x 10

Incline situp, 3 x 30

Light Day

Oly style pause squat, 3 x 8

Incline one arm DB bench press, 3 x 8 each arm

Round back good morning, 3 x 12

DB curl superset 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 a box, 4 x 8

Reverse grip chin, 4 x 8

Lying barbell extension, 4 x 8

Hanging leg raise, 3 x 20


Heavy Day

Squat, 8 x 3

Bench, 8 x 3

Deadlift, 8 x 3

BB curl superset with 
Pullover and press, 10 x 3 

Incline situp, 3 x 30

Light Day

Front squat, 8 x 3

Incline one arm bench press, 8 x 3 each arm

Round back good morning, 5 x 8

Crunch, 3 x 60

Medium Day

Bottom position squat, 8 x 3

Three board bench press, 8 x 3

Sumo deadlift, 8 x 3

Reverse grip chin, or, what a barber does when shaving your neck, 8 x 3

Lying BB extension, 8 x 3

Hanging leg raise (when people get strung up they superset these with 
running on the spot), 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

BB curl atl with 
Pullover and Press, 2 x 20

Incline situp, 3 x 30

Light Day

Oly style pause squat, 3 x 12

Incline one are DB bench 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, ahem, 3 x 12 

Reverse grip chin, 3 x AMRAP bodyweight only

Close grip bench, 3 x 12

Hanging leg raise, 3 x 20

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, your body type, and the number of repetitions being used on an exercise.

When beginners start on a heavy/light/medium, 5 sets of five program [note: my error there, that should read five sets of 5], for instance, one of the first things they need to understand is how to program in weight over the course of the 5 sets. For most lifters the 5 sets should be evenly spaced apart in poundage steps. 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 it actually makes my 5th set stronger.

Using squats as an example, here is what 5 sets of 5 would look like for myself: 

135x5 | 225x5 | 315x5 | 405x5 | 425x5. 

To be honest, I would use more than 5 sets on squats. The amount that I use, and my age, entails that I do 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 reps: 

135x5 | 225x5 | 315x5 | 350x5 | 405x5 | 425x5.

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 max. Assuming one of these lifters was using 5x5, this is what his weight progression might look like: 

135x5 | 225x5 | 315x5 | 350x5 | 425x5.

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

135x10 | 185x10 | 225x10 | 275x10.

Obviously this is a pretty good squat session, even though only 4 sets are involved. 

Okay, now let's say that I am going to do sets of 3 reps for my squats. Here, my weight progression would be different. For one, 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: 

135x5 | 225x5 | 275x5 | 315x3 | 405x3 | 450x3 | 465x3 | 495x3.

Now, keep in mind that all human thought processes are disturbingly inefficient endeavors based on protecting mental ruts and end in short circuits. Don't believe me? Yes! See how well those ruts hold. No! -- that all of the programs incorporate progressively heavier sets, as in the examples above. Several of the programs entail "straight" sets where you use the same weight on all of your work sets. 

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

135x5 | 225x5 | 275x5 | 315 x 5x5.


Another component that you need to have an understanding of is workload. When a program here calls for 3 days a week of heavy/light/medium workouts, what makes a workout "light" or "heavy" is its workload, workload being the amount of weight lifted x number of sets x number of reps.  

I have had lifters write me or talk with 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, or 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 aren't making enough progress. When I have them write down what they're doing in order to assess the problem (even though I've already 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 as if they've had enough of a "workout" on the light days, so they do a bunch of sets of curls, or chins, or, well, you name it. 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 a 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 reps of squats:
135x10 | 185x10 | 225x10 | 275x10
and the workout I used for 3 rep sets of squats: 
135x5 | 225x5 | 275x5 | 314x3 | 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 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, then the 10 rep workout would have been heavier. 
In case you haven't already figured it out, this is what makes "straight sets" so particularly demanding on your muscles and nervous system. Sticking with the squats and using my straight-set "5 sets of 5 workout" above:
135x5 | 225x5 | 275x5 | 315 x 5x5
the total workload for that workout is 11,000 pounds, more than either of the previous squat workouts. 
One more thing about workload: AS you become more advanced, your total workload should consistently go up. The more workload you can tolerate (up to a point, obviously), then the bigger and stronger you are going to be. 
Enjoy Your Lifting!    

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