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Constructing Workouts For Success!

This has been done in the past, however, this time I want to provide not only my theories, but also science so that your programs have a solid foundation to lean upon.

NOTE: This is part one. Click here for part two.

Most of the emails I receive are questions about nutrition and training. So, with that in mind I thought it would be nice to provide information on how to put together a program that can lead you down to the road of achieving your goals. This has been done in the past, however, this time I want to provide not only my theories, but also science so that your programs have a solid foundation to lean upon.

The most important place to start is defining strength training terms. This not only helps the upcoming articles make more sense, but also gives you the ability to decide whether new or old theories make sense. The reason the bodybuilding and fitness field makes so much money is not because there are so many great coaches and scientists, but the general public is so lost on how to make sense with all the information that is thrown at them. So, be patient, this may not be the most exciting article, but it is EXTREMELY important to putting your successful programs together.

Volume: The sum of total weight lifted over a specified period, unit of time, training session, week, month (Hartmann and Tunnenmann, 2000).

This is much different than what most people believe. I have read a lot of articles by bodybuilders and coaches that define volume as total number of sets. To demonstrate the significant difference between these two definitions let's take a look at the example below.

Our assumption will be a lifter squatting that has a 1RM (1 rep max) of 300:

Volume: sum of weight lifted period of time
5 sets of 5 with 255 (approx. 85% of max)
Total weight lifted is 6375. Number of sets is 5.

Volume: number of sets
3 sets of 10 with 225 (approx. 75% of max)
Total weight lifted is 6750. Number of sets is 3.

So, from the above example we would see that if we followed the number of sets definition we are saying that the 5 sets of 5 has more volume because it contains more sets. However, if we look at the total weight lifted for the two examples we see a HUGE difference between the two groups. It is clear that the 3 sets of 10 group would have experienced much more weight on their body than the first group. That is why it is important to look carefully at your definitions. The 3 sets of 10 group is obviously experiencing higher volume.

Intensity: From Zatsiorsky's text, Science and Practice of Strength Training, there are 3 main ways to measure intensity.

1. Magnitude of Resistance: Expressed as a percentage of the best maximal effort.
2. Number of Repetitions with maximal resistance.
3. Workout Density: The number of sets that are achieved per period of time.

I hope it is clear from the above definitions of intensity that this term has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with effort. Many trainees and coaches will say they had an intense workout simply because they achieved concentric failure (were not able to raise the weight once more), or because they felt they worked really hard. Either case that use of the term is incorrect. Concentric failure would only be considered intense if the repetitions used were very low, i.e. 1-5 and as I said earlier intensity does not reflect one's effort. An exhausting set of 10 repetitions is low intensity no matter how fatiguing it may be. Hopefully most people realize that you can not achieve significant results without training with a lot of effort, so lets drop the point of saying one must train "intensely."

Higher intensity training is usually associated with more of a benefit to the central nervous system and produces more of an increased strength effect with minimal hypertrophy gains. So, for athletes or individuals that may be concerned with weight classes or want to avoid "putting on too much mass", most of their training should be done in this zone. However, some individuals will find more intense workouts will stimulate some muscle growth, this is usually due to having a high percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers.

The two above definitions are very important because they are related to each other and will have a great deal to do with how you start putting together your workout. Most professionals will say that volume and intensity are inversely related. Meaning, when volume is high, intensity would be low. However, this is an extremely simplistic understanding of the relationship. Leading biomechanics and exercise physiology expert, Dr. Mel Siff, has outlined the following considerations and recommendations in his must have text, Supertraining. These recommendations are made for athletes competing in speed-strength sports, but we can interpret some of the same ideas into bodybuilding and fitness.

1. Medium volume, medium intensity loading is used most frequently (about 12-15 weeks per year)
2. Medium or high volume, low intensity is used next most frequently (9-10 weeks per year)
3. Low volume, medium intensity loading is then most common (6-7 weeks per year)
4. Large volume, medium intensity (3-4 weeks)
5. Large volume, high intensity (2-3 weeks)
6. Low volume, high intensity (3-4 weeks)
7. Low volume, low intensity (1-2 weeks)

When selecting intensities for various exercises it is important to realize how the set and repetition schemes reflect this goal. Higher intensity goals should use anywhere from 3-15 sets per exercise. This is a very broad recommendation, but to narrow this down beginners should use 3-5, while more advanced can use 5-10 sets per exercise. Lower intensities use anywhere from 1-5 sets, again beginners being able to use less and more advanced using more. (note: the more sets used for an exercise usually the fewer number of exercises employed, this will be discussed further in later installments). Repetitions for higher intensity routines should be approximately 1-5, while lower intensities use 6-20.

Since this will be an extensive series of articles I will try to provide a workout in every chapter so readers can get a sense of how to incorporate these methods.

Sample Workout

Quad Dominant Leg Session with Obliques.

Goal: Overall hypertrophy (muscle growth) with some strength endurance.
Frequency: Once a week
Level: Intermediate-Advanced

B1. and B2. refer to a superset as do C1. and C2. A superset is where you perform the first set, then immediately perform the second set without any rest period in between.


Back Squat - Bottom and Top

A1. 1 1/4 Back Squat: 3-4 sets of 5-7 repetitions with 90 second rest in between sets. Go down to your bottom position up a quarter of the way, back down, then come all the way up for one repetition. Go down slowly and accelerate to top position.

Dumbbell Split Squats - Bottom and Top

B1. Dumbbell Split Squat: 2-3 sets of 8-10 repetitions rest 0 seconds (immediately proceed to B2). Go down slowly and accelerate up.

B2. Leg Press: 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions rest 120 seconds Go down slowly and accelerate up.


Woodchop Using Cables

C1. Woodchop: 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions per side rest 60 seconds. Use a controlled movement throughout.

C2. Swiss Ball: Oblique Crunch 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions rest 60 seconds. Use a controlled movement throughout.

That is the end of the workout. Check back very soon for more articles in this series.

NOTE: This is part one. Click here for part two.