Are you following the right program?

Today, I’ve got a hypothetical question I want to ask you.

Are you following the right program?

And before you blindly answer “Yes” or “Of Course,” really step back and think about that for a moment.

Far too often, people get caught up in finding the trendy new workout program.

That is, of course, until the next hot, trendy, thing comes out, and then they’re following that!

As I see it, there are two key issues that we need to address if we want to not only achieve long-term success, but really reap maximal rewards from our training programs in general.

1. Find a Training Program That is Suitable For Us NOW.

Imagine the following scenario: Little Johnny (all 140 pounds of him, dripping wet) decides he wants to start powerlifting.  Now he’s never really trained hard before (let alone squat below parallel), but he just knows powerlifting is going to be his thing.

He reads everything on the Interwebz, and determines that the Westside method is what he’s going to use (or block periodization, or anything that’s rather advanced).

The question becomes, is this really necessary?

Is this conducive to Little Johnny getting the best results?

I would argue no.

It’s not that those methods or systems are ineffective – but I would argue they are inappropriate at this stage in his development.

Instead, Little Johnny needs to pay his dues and focus on the basics tenets of quality programming:

  • Progressive overload, adding a bit of weight to the bar each week.
  • Consistently finding time to train 3-4 days per week.
  • Focusing on developing proper technique, and lifting in a manner that will get his lifts passed at powerlifting meets.

For all intents and purposes, Johnny doesn’t need an advanced program when he’s a beginner.  Now when he’s squatting 500 pounds, or bench pressing 300, it’s definitely time to find something a little bit more exotic or sexy.

But the real key here is to use a program that’s in-line with your current level of development. If you’re a beginner, that’s fine! We were all there at one point in time.

But don’t try and convince yourself that you’re an intermediate or advanced level lifter when you’re not. Following the program of Elite guys when you’re a total newb isn’t going to get you anywhere.

2. Stick with Said Training Program For an Extended Period of Time.

The other issue we see with newer lifters is their inherent ADD.

Little Johnny is serious about powerlifting.  He’s following a basic routine, and making steady gains in all of his lifts.  This is awesome, right?

But wait! It’s the new year – he’s got 1 pound of extra fat on him, and he’s really dying to see his abz again.

So what does he do?

Time to jump programs!

I see it all the time. One month people want to get strong.  The next, they want to put on size. The month after that, they want to lean out.

If you can’t pick a training program and stick to it, it’s no wonder you aren’t getting the results that you’d expect.

I firmly believe one of the reasons people get such great results on program’s like Eric Cressey’s Show and Go is because they stay focused on one goal, and follow one program, for an extended period of time.

This isn’t rocket science guys – I know that! But if you worked with enough people, you’d know how serious of a problem this really is.

So at the end of the day, ask yourself these two questions:

1 – Is the program I’m on good for me right now, at this stage of my development?

2 – Am I serious about this goal? Can I dedicate the next 3, 4, 6, or even 12 months to achieving this goal?

If the answers to both are “Yes,” I can’t wait to hear about the results you achieve in the future.

All the best

Mike

BTW – If you’d like to contribute, I’d love to hear what your personal goals are (as well as the programs you’re following to achieve them) in the “Comments” section below.

15 Comments

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  1. AT is trying to pull 500 and to a lesser degree bench 300, probably sooner than is realistic, but that’s what makes it fun. After we get there it’s all prowler sprints and farmers walks to undo the fatness.

  2. On point 2, I assume by program you actually mean stick to a single goal for an extended period?

    I.e. you still rotate your exercise selection and modify your workout (while still focusing on the same goal e.g. max strength) every 4-6 weeks.

  3. Hi,
    I am a beginner who did dozens of different workout programs in the last 2 years (p90x, circuit training, high rep lifting, running etc), most of them to lose body fat.
    Not much of a success – probably lack of consistency.
    I am a 30 year old male, 25% bf, 5’11, 95 kg body weight with a poor strength and joint mobility.
    My primary focus is on losing body fat down to 15% within next 3 months and secondary 10% by next summer.
    I would like to gain strength or at least not to loose it while cutting on fat.
    A month ago I started to:
    – follow basic “Precision nutrition” rules
    – lift weights on my own 3 times per week, alternate:
    A) 3×5 squat
    3×5 bench press
    3×15 inverted rows
    B) 3×5 squat
    3×5 overhead press
    1×5 deadlift
    – foam roll and mobility drills before every workout
    – stretch after every workout
    – on off days mobility drills and one extra stretch
    – trying to sleep 8h a night (unfortunately not all the time, I work early, late and night shifts)
    My poor lifts as of today:
    – squat 3×5 82,5 kg (not a perfect form)
    – bench 3×5 55 kg (ok form)
    – overhead press 3×5 42,5 kg (ok form)
    – deadlift 1×5 100 kg (not a perfect form)
    – inverted rows with bent legs 1st set 15 reps, 2nd set 13 reps, 3rd set 7 reps (ok form)
    3 month goal:
    – squat 3×5 100kg
    – bench 3×5 80kg
    – overhead press 3×5 60kg
    – deadlift 1×5 130 kg
    6 month goal:
    – squat 120kg
    – bench 100kg
    – overhead press 70kg
    – deadlift 160kg
    Diet:
    – training day 170g protein, 90 fats, 120 carbs = 2000kcal
    no training day 150g protein, 90g fats, 100g carbs = 1800kcal
    – “Precision nutrition”
    Summary:
    I have not lost any weight in the last month but can see little improvements in the mirror (bigger triceps, flatter stomach).
    I study everything I can find on keeping my posture right, my joints healthy and my core strong as hell and learn from it.
    The only problem I have got is that I need to find someone who can lift properly and learn from him.
    I train in one of the gyms in London where some top UFC fighters train for their bouts.
    Believe me I am the only one who does foam rolling, activation, mobility work, squats and deadlifts.
    They all look at me like if I was some kind of a freak :-))
    Please give me some feedback. I hope I am doing everything properly.
    P.s. Sorry for the length of the comment

  4. 3 thoughts:

    1. When I started my current workout program (wendler’s 5/3/1) I created a word document writing down all my reasoning and motivation why this is the program that I need to be doing. I wrote down the things that were going through my mind at the time that make me choose 5/3/1 over other programs or training styles, and reasons for not picking those. I intend to read the document when I get tempted to switch to a new program.

    2. I think it is also important to identify long term goals, and always ask yourself if switching to a new program will help reach those goals or not. I like the simple (nearly guaranteed) progression in the 5/3/1 program. This gives me a good indication of what I should be able to accomplish in a year from now (of course taking into account some contingencies along the way).

    3. You describe Little Johnny, and of course I understand that he is figurative. But I think an important thing to mention that the is that everyone makes this mistake at the start, it is part of the process. Time is relative, and as you age you become less aware of the passing of time since you’ve experienced things more often (for example, remember how taking really long drives with the family as a kid was absolute hell and never seemed to end? How does it feel now?) I think the same goes for a training program. At a young age, doing a program that is outlined for 12 weeks seems like an eternity, and as an adult it passes by a lot quicker and is easier to stick to.

  5. @ Michael
    Mate, you’re most definitely on the right track! Basic compound lifts, regular training, regular poundage progression, realistic targets, simple but effective nutrition and recovery….as a novice this exactly what you need to be doing. Stick with this for as long as you can. Seriously, a year or two doing what you’re doing will build a great foundation. You’re only young, don’t rush.
    And keep up the mobility stuff……I get a real buzz off watching the troglodytes in the globo gyms when I’m deadlifting or power cleaning, it’s like watching monkeys that have just discovered tools!
    Great work, mate.

  6. I’m really shocked that “beginners” and the trainers who train’em don’t focus on body weight programs. IMHO, a beginner will see improvements much faster with body weigh than lifting weights. And the beginner will have better performance cross-over with body weight training. I’m willing to even say I guarantee faster results and better performance. I will also say it doesn’t even matter what your “goal” your wanting to achieve, body weight training for beginners is the first step you should take when wanting to build your body. With this said I in no means deter from the fact that the other “programs” mentioned are wrong or bad. These programs should just only be attempted after body weight has been mastered. And just further prove my point look at any of Robertson, Cook, Boyle, core performance and military beginning program and the focus is learning and mastering your body. Sorry for the length of this rant but my frustration has hit it’s breaking point and I’m hoping beginners will read this and take it to heart because like I said I guarantee best results from body weight training and DIETING.

  7. Umm, please excuse my poor writing and typing errors, I was snapping the keys at a feverish pace and didn’t proof read.

  8. I started lifting consistently about 3 years ago, at which time my search for “how to get a ripped six pack” led me to sixpacknow.com, where I embarked on my journey of body-part splits and LOTS of cervical and lumbar flexion. Due to an injury after about 1 year of this training (who knew?) I was forced to sit out for about 6 months, at which time I discovered the likes of Chad Waterbury and Jason Ferruggia.

    I started following one of Chad’s workouts from “huge in a hurry”, but after about a month, switched over to Jason’s max muscle plan, and the beat when on from program to program.

    Finally, three months ago I started Cressey’s Max strength and haven’t looked back. It will be the first program that I complete from start to finish without any modifications, and I’ve made more progress in the past three months that i have in the previous three years. Definitely something to sticking with a program (and it doesn’t hurt when a guy like Cressey writes it).

    Great post Mike!

  9. @ Graeme
    Cheers mate,
    It is good to hear that I am on the right track:-)
    I am going to milk the detailed program and go through linear and flexible progression until I decide to change to a different program. I recently bought Jason Ferruggia’s “Minimalist Training for Massive Gains” so I am sorted for the next couple of years:-)
    I feel pretty tired after 8-10 weeks of training, should I take a week off for recovery?
    Thanks again
    Michal

  10. Mike,

    Oddly in distance running, you often have to jostle people to change their programs even in the slightest instead of training ADD. Much of this is rooted in the belief that a “base” period is necessary, which I agree with, but as they advance in training age the idea of simply using progressive overload of volume by 10% from last year isn’t going to make it happen as best we could if we changed. Unfortunately, though, this tradition is hard to get athletes to change.

    Regards,
    Carson Boddicker

  11. Mike,
    I enjoyed reading the article. I play hockey competitively and while I am not new to training, I am new to training with barbell lifts. For the past two years I have trained extensively off the rink. First with plyometrics and body weight circuits and lots of sideboard work. From their I moved to dumbbell lifts and routines and just recently started doing the big barbell lifts, so where do I stand? Beginner? I have heard a lot about Show and Go and have been looking at maybe doing it over the off season, or would you say that more for advanced lifters?

  12. In week 5 of Show & Go – I am 44 and have lifted weights (off & on) since high school and I also run. I have never – really done a program and I guess what exercise activities I have done combined with the desk jockey job I have has pretty much cemented my mobilization and stability. Unfortunately, that cementation wasn’t for the good. I have had chronic lower back pain since I was in my mid-30s. This pain has caused me to be inconsistent with my workouts because my back hurt all the time.

    Well I just finished up week 5 of Show & Go and I have really focused on the soft tissue work and doing the mobilization work correctly. After about week 2 I noticed my back pain was reduced. By week 3 – it was only present some of the time. Today I noticed when I got out of bed my back wasn’t sore – it felt the best it has felt in years. That little fact alone has really energized me to stay focused on the program. I may not become a power lifter – but at least I can move around with chronic back pain.

  13. Eric–
    Why did you not stick with the Waterbury or Ferruggia plans? Was it a problem with the programs or just your own “program ADHD”? I ask because I am looking for a program that I will stick with, and these are two I am looking into programs by both of these guys. Thanks.
    Jim

  14. Hi Mike,

    Great article. Such simple concepts but it’s amazing how many people change their goals frequently. I think it’s the case where we are constantly analyzing ourselves and the hyperanalysis gets in the way of reality. People can delude themselves into thinking a short lifting cycle got them strong when in reality there’s little lasting change. If someone really wants to get big and strong, they need a good 4 or 5 years of dedication to eating and lifting. Instead, people will do 2 month strength cycles, get slightly stronger, then lose most of it when they lean out for the summer. Spinning wheels.

    If I had to define my training now, I suppose I’m using concepts from Wendler’s 5-3-1 but doing my work sets in a reverse pyramid style. I train every other day (4 training days every 8 days), focusing on squat, horizontal press, vertical press, and pulling on the respective days.

    I cycle 3 and 5 rep work sets every other week and go for PR top sets in each main exercise every day. When things get a little stale, sometimes I do a week of 8RM PR’s for my top set. Then I add in assistance work and light conditioning based on how I feel.

    A 3 rep squat day would involve warm ups at low reps (1-2) up to within 10% of the work set PR. Then I’ll try to hit the 3 rep PR on the first set and then back off by about 10% for two more sets of 3. Then I’ll drop down to about 50%-55% and do 4 sets of 8-10 on a low box. Then alternate GHR’s and ab rollouts and a short, heavy circuit of kettlebell swings and weighted carries.

    For vertical pressing, I’ll usually do power curls as an assist to press/push press and possibly weighted dips or close grip bench. On pull days, I’ll do 7 sets of 3 or 10 sets of 2 of power cleans or weighted pullups followed by RDL’s or shrugs. Deadlifting smokes me if I do it to often, so I only do it once every two or three weeks.

    I modulate the assistance and volume based on how strong I feel for my top sets every week and whether or not the weight on the bar is going up. Been doing this type of training for about 4-5 months now and really enjoying it.

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