Note from MR: Chris Merritt is one of my favorite coaches when it comes to program design, and finding ways to be creative about your programs.
That’s why when he asked to write a guest post for the site on different loading types, I was all ears!
Needless to say, there’s some cool stuff in this article – and hopefully, something with a little “Monday Morning” value for you as well.
As a coach that’s responsible for the program design of hundreds of people from all walks of life — 9-5ers, MMA fighters, elite tactical law enforcement, other coaches and personal trainers all over the world, young, old and everything in between — I’ve done my share of screaming in privacy over the stress of trying to put people in the best positions to be successful month in and month out.
I’ve found myself staring at a computer screen (on numerous occasions) attempting to write a new training phase for a member that’s been with me for 5+ years, thinking:
What else can I possibly throw at this person?!
Sure, I could mix things up and introduce new exercises, again, but is that what’s best?
New exercises likely means learning new skills, and time spent learning is time NOT spent training with appropriate intensities to elicit the specific responses that we’re after.
But what if there was a way we could train with appropriate sets, reps, and loads, AND, when appropriate, still add sensible variety to the process?
Taking this a step further, what if we made menus of readily available ways to accomplish this based around different training intentions like power, strength, hypertrophy, and conditioning?
If the intro didn’t make it obvious enough already, I’ll argue that we can.
I have, and I’d like to help you do the same.
And here’s the thing: You’re already using these things. I’m certain of that much.
But I’m willing to bet that you could be more organized in your approach, and that you might only be just scratching the surface when it comes to applying them. They just seem to be one of those often-forgotten training variables.
So let’s change that!
Now, what are these things?
How do I know you’re already using them?
Because they’re in every single program, like, ever.
Ever program a goblet squat for 3 x 8? We call those straight sets.
Want to control the tempo of those squats? Maybe something like (3XX2)—a 3-second eccentric, no pause at the bottom, up fast, and then a 2-second pause at the top before another 3-second eccentric? You’ve just used tempo sets.
How many other ways can you think of to manipulate types of sets while minimally changing exercises?
Here’s what I’ve come up with:
While it’s not the end-all-be-all list, it’s a damn good start.
And for this post I figured we could introduce three of the lesser-known types:
- Ratchet Sets
- Count-Down Sets
- Breath Ladders
Ratchet sets are useful in situations where you hate your client.
(Okay, I’m kidding – maybe just dislike).
They’re great for building time under tension beyond just slowing the tempo. Take an exercise and break it into as many parts as you’d like, and then ratchet through them—full eccentric, partial concentric, full eccentric, further on the concentric, full eccentric, etc., for as many parts as you desire to get back to the beginning:
Can you imagine doing these with get-ups?!
Roll to forearm, back down.
Roll to forearm, up to high bridge, back down.
Roll to forearm, up to high bridge, sweep to ½ kneeling, back down.
Roll to forearm, up to high bridge, sweep to ½ kneeling, stand, and finally all the way back down.
Up for more??
Most often used in combination with another exercise done for straight sets, count-down sets are a great way to build some challenge into your conditioning.
Start with a given number of reps and do one less each subsequent round. Record your time to completion and aim to beat it in future sessions:
Another great tool for building time under tension, breath ladders can be applied in several ways.
They involve an increasing number of breaths after whatever they’re paired with.
Goblet squat, then one breath.
Another goblet squat, two breaths.
Another, three breaths.
Another, four breaths, … to whatever number you prescribe.
Personally, I like to throw these into complexes, chains, and rep ladders.
Holding the kettlebell rack position for extended periods of time can be challenging, right? So how about double kettlebell cleans in a rep + breath ladder:
Time and Place
There’s a time and place for applying different loading types, and arguably multiple for each type. Regardless of which one you’re looking to use in a given situation, make sure that it fits the “Why” of the overall goal.
Early on in your clients training age?
Straight sets and tempo can take them a long way. Don’t overwhelm them with variety in loading types for the sake of making a flashy program.
Is the goal to add power?
Straight sets, tempo, and complexes seem to work well.
Looking to increase strength?
Straight sets, tempo, clusters, + sets, partial reps, and weight ladders can work wonders.
Straight sets, tempo, density, + sets, 1.5’s, ratchet sets, rep ladders, breath ladders, complexes, and chains could add sensible variety for years on end.
Straight sets, density, completion, count-down/count-up sets, fixed-fixed, variable-fixed, fixed-variable, variable-variable, ladders, complexes, chains, and circuits will give you plenty to work with.
I’m sure you’ve got your own ideas coming to mind as you read this, so I’ll leave you with this:
Write them all down—names, descriptions, applications—and have them readily available for when you find yourself staring at a computer screen attempting to write a new training phase for a member that’s been with you for a while.
It will definitely help you the next time you’re thinking, what else can I possibly throw at this person?!
Want to learn about all the loading types mentioned above?
Grab a FREE copy of my e-book, “You Can’t Get Bored: Adding Variety to the Basics of Program Design,” here.