What to Look for (and What to Avoid) In a Strength Program
In the strength game, appropriate programming is key to seeing progress in your numbers. However, many look for the quick fix. They turn to generalized programming provided by the elite and look to see the same improvements for themselves.
Beginners fall into the trap of following a certain program they found on the Internet purported to be highly effective in increasing numbers in a certain lift. But does the program really suit you? Here are some points to consider and a few mistakes to avoid.
Things to Consider:
Keep Your Mobility and Motor Control in Check
Being able to move properly reduces the risk of injury and improves your performance. If you are not moving properly, the strength you gain is placed upon poor mechanics. This is like a time bomb waiting to go off.
The joints are not going through the appropriate range of motion and you are using the incorrect muscle groups or activation patterns to perform the movement. The risk of injury is growing each day. Eventually, it will all come down upon you and result in you crashing from the strength program instead of benefitting from it.
Be Critical of Your Technique
If you are moving with the correct patterns, then the way you perform your prescribed exercises should be to your benefit. Ensuring you are performing movements correctly goes back to how we load the joint, tendons, and ligaments involved, and even involving the correct neural pattern.
"A slight deviation in form may be acceptable, but trying to kid yourself through bad form just so you can hit the loads prescribed within the program can be detrimental or even disastrous."
More importantly, when the principle of overload is added within the periodization of a program, it is important to maintain the same technique. A slight deviation in form may be acceptable, but trying to kid yourself through bad form just so you can hit the loads prescribed within the program can be detrimental or even disastrous.
Understand the Length of Your Motivation
Some programs span over twelve weeks. Some programs span over three or four weeks. Training adaptations can occur as soon as a couple of weeks, while some can take a longer period of time.
In regards to strength, being consistent with the frequency of training can easily elicit improvements in strength within two to three weeks. Longer programs are good for ensuring that weaknesses can be properly addressed and different phases can be implemented to improve movement and technique.
But motivation is critical to keep you adhering to all twelve weeks (or more) of a training plan, as you will not be able to determine these improvements till the completion of the entire strength program.
Build Strength at the Start and Then Over Time
When embarking on a strength program, understand there is a change in stimulus when it comes to the variables you alter within a program. Because of this, strength adaptations can possibly be tremendous at the start.
It’s good to embrace such massive increases in strength and they should be celebrated. But understand this curve of strength gains is exponential, meaning there can be a rapid addition of newfound strength but what follows could go in two directions:
- You take the path of properly manipulating training variables and see these adaptations continue but in a less rapid rate.
- You look for that magic potion that will continue to give you the same increases (which seldom exists, especially as you get more seasoned in training).
Things to Avoid:
Expecting Too Much From the Program
You did a previous program and it gave you gains of 20kg on your lifts. But when you repeat the program, you don’t see the same adaptations and instead see yourself going nowhere. Garnering another 20kg (or even 10kg) may not be possible unless there is careful organization of all factors affecting your training. If you do not consider these other factors, there is a high chance you are not doing what you should to make your program effective.
"Be open to any sort of progress, rather than being fixed on seeing what you want to see change."
Also, improvement should not just be measured by an increase in your 1RM, but also within other aspects of your lifting. More repetitions at a certain weight can deomonstrate an improvement even if your 1RM remains the same after twelve weeks. Be open to any sort of progress, rather than being fixed on seeing what you want to see change.
Prioritizing What You Want, Not What You Need
Everyone is looking for a quick edge. They want results in the shortest period of time hoping that enough work is done. Many pick out a program hoping to improve their numbers, but these programs do not specifically address the weaknesses with their movements.
Sometimes people try to do both - get stronger and fix a weakness at the same time. But you can only effectively work on one thing, so pick the highest priority. If you collapse at the bottom of a squat, or round your back as you deadlift, a generalised squat program won’t help you. It is the exercise equivalent of trying to walk through a brick wall. A much better choice is to first follow a program that utilises some assistance work to improve those weaknesses.
Figure out what exactly is stopping you from getting better - be it mobility, motor control, or technique - and tailor your program towards it, rather than being too hard up on just getting numbers up.
Not Focusing Enough on Recovery
You can probably relate to this if you are constantly trying to do everything within your week to gain any form of numerical improvement in your lifts. You follow squat programs to the tee and even stack program atop of program.
"Push the body just enough and don’t be blinded by the rush and constant need to do something for improvement."
When you add all the training hours together, you end up realizing that you have no rest days. But you think it’s all right to follow the mantra of “rest days are for the weak.” I dare say that anyone with that mentality either has to take weeks or months off to nest an injury or has not seen improvement (regardless of quality of movement or weight being moved) in a long time. Plan specific rest days for yourself and understand that sometimes doing less is actually achieving more.
Overtraining Instead of Overreaching
If you are guilty of the previous point, then you probably are guilty of this one as well. When we follow a program, the purpose is to push our bodies to overreach enough (fatigue past our fitness levels) to prompt us to adapt and reach a higher level of fitness (in this case, strength). However, if you constantly keep piling fatigue onto your body without giving it a chance to adapt and get better, this wears your body down and soon you step into the abyss of overtraining.
Yes, the body is capable of a lot more. But this “a lot more” can’t be dumped upon the body in a matter of weeks if you are still living that same lifestyle of working in a stressful environment over long hours sitting at a desk. Push the body just enough and don’t be blinded by the rush and constant need to do something for improvement.
Although many programs have been trialed and tested, the key to making a plan successful is to suit it to the individual - which is you. Depending on your circumstances and how they affects your training, following a generalized program can in fact be detrimental to your progress. Rather than taking two steps forward, it may cause you to fall five steps behind.
Use the programs you find as a guideline, but constantly assess and alter aspects of these plans to suit your training situation and physical state. As every person is individual, you’ll need to tailor each plan specifically for you to ensure the best result.
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Photos 1 and 3 courtesy of CrossFit Impulse.
Photos 2 and 4 courtesy of Shutterstock.