Basic Program Design

I get questions regarding training time and time again. Every day it seems like someone will ask me something about some new exercise they heard about or questions on how to make a certain exercise harder. I hear about all these crazy rep schemes they saw in the latest Muscle & Fitness or these crazy balance/stabilization/crap exercises that they are trying to perform on a stability ball.

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Unfortunately, most people aren’t all that impressed with my response but unfortunately there aren’t any secret exercises or quick fixes. In my eyes, the best way to continually make progress is by sticking to the basics…boring, I know. It’s hard to find exercises that are more effective than the basic bench press, deadlift and squat, assuming of course that you are healthy enough to perform these exercises. Try to find me someone who squats over 500lbs and doesn’t have a pretty thick pair of legs or someone who deadlifts 500lbs that doesn’t have a back as wide as a barn door…I doubt you can.

I believe in order to build a solid strength training program you need to focus on the basic movement patterns. Here they are with a few exercises as examples of those movement patterns…

Explosive – Dumbbell Snatch, Hang Snatch, Hang Clean, Kettlebell Swing…

Knee Dominant – Squat, Front Squat, Goblet Squat, Split Squat, Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat…

Hip Dominant – Kettlebell Deadlift, Trap Bar Deadlift, Traditional Deadlift, RDL, Single Leg RDL (dumbbell, barbell), Good Morning, Glut-Ham Raise…

Trap Bar Deadlift

Vertical Press – Military Press, Incline Bench Press (dumbbell, barbell)…

Horizontal Press – Bench Press (dumbbell, barbell), Push Up…

Vertical Pull – Chin Up, Neutral Grip Chin Up, Pull Up, Chin Up Holds, Lat Pulldown (only if absolutely needed)…

Horizontal Pull – TRX Row, Inverted Row, Dumbbell Row, Seated Row…

TRX Rows

Anti-Rotation Core – Pallof Press, Suitcase Carry, Side Stabilization (Plank), Star Side Stabilization…

Anti-Flexion Core – Front Stabilization (Plank), Front Stabilization with a leg lift, Straight Leg Sit Up, Heartbeat Walks…

Conditioning – Bike sprints, shuttle runs, sled pushes, sled march, timed bike rides (i.e. 5 miles as fast as you can, record the time and try always beat your best time)…

When it comes to actually programming these exercises I would also keep it somewhat simple. Try not to over think things and hit most movement patterns hard and heavy and watch the changes to your strength and body composition follow. Here are a couple of options based on how many days a week you prefer to train.

2&3 Days per Week:

Explosive – 3 sets of 5

Hip Dominant – 3 sets of 6-8

Knee Dominant – 3 sets of 6-8

Horizontal Press – 2 sets of 6-8

Horizontal Pull – 3 sets of 6-8

Anti-Flexion – 2 sets

Anti-Rotation – 2 sets

Conditioning – 6-8 bike sprints

I would do this two times per week and change the exercises. For example, if you were to pick a barbell RDL for you hip dominant movement one day I would suggest picking something different like a trap bar deadlift the second day of the week and then maybe a glut-ham raise on day three.

4 Days per Week:

In a 4 day a week program I like to be a little more selective with the exercises. I like a simple Upper/Lower split with one lower body day focused on a heavy knee dominant movement and the other lower body day focusing on a heavy hip dominant movement. Upper body days I like to add a little more pulling than I have pushing to help maintain shoulder health. I usually go with a ratio of 3:2 because I have no shoulder issues but a ratio of 2:1 or even 3:1 for people with shoulder concerns would be more appropriate.  A little something like this:

Lower Body Day One (Monday):

Hang Clean – 3 x 5

Squat/Front Squat – 3 x 3-5 (heavy)

RDL – 3 x 6-8

Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat – 3 x 6-8

Glut-Ham Raise – 3 x 8-12

Anti-Flexion – 2 sets

Anti-Rotation – 2 sets

Conditioning – Sled Push or Sled March

Lower Body Day Two (Thursday):

DB Snatch – 3 x 5

Trap Bar Deadlift – 3 x 3-5 (heavy)

Goblet Squat – 3 x 6-8

Single Leg DB RDL – 3 x 6-8

Box/Bench Step Up – 3 x 8-12

Anti-Flexion – 2 sets

Anti-Rotation – 2 sets

Conditioning – Sled Push or Sled March

Push the sled is great conditioning and much more fun then going nowhere on the elliptical

Upper Body Day One & Two (Tuesday & Friday):

Horizontal Pull – 3 x 6-8

Horizontal Push – 3 x 6-8

Vertical Pull – 3 x 8-10

Vertical Push – 3 x 8-10

Horizontal/Vertical Pull – 3 x 8-12

Anti-Flexion – 2 sets

Anti-Rotation – 2 sets

Conditioning – Shuttle Run or 5 mile bike ride for time

Hopefully this will help people build a better strength training program. The exercises are by no means set in stone – feel free to swap in others from each category that you may like (there are plenty more movements in each category that I haven’t listed, by all means add them in). This is simply a template that most people will both stay healthy by going through all the essential human movements while staying healthy. And for all the guys that are wondering where all the direct arm work is – well honestly you don’t need it. If you can’t live without some ‘gunz’ work you can add a couple sets to the end of your upper body workouts.

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