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The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Program Design

Training discussion on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Program Design, within the Bodybuilding Forum; 1. Bodyweight Before External Resistance I've said this before in a bunch of articles. Other coaches and trainers have said ...


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Old 08-28-2006, 03:08 PM   #1
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Default The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Program Design

1. Bodyweight Before External Resistance

I've said this before in a bunch of articles. Other coaches and trainers have said this before in a bunch of their articles. Yet this remains the step that most people will ignore. Regardless of your goals, one thing is for sure: You have no freaking business using a load if you can't stabilize, control, and move efficiently using only your bodyweight!

Unless your bodyweight is way too much or way too little resistance, then there's very little room for external loading. This is not to say that external loading isn't important. Of course it is, but it has definitely been overemphasized.

Unless you can perform twenty pushups in good from, get your ass off the bench press. Too easy? The same rule applies to the single leg squat. If you can't perform 8-10 good reps, then why are you using two legs to squat with external load?

bottom line:

chins and pullups
dips
pressing motions - pushups (pu), wide arm, closed grip bench, diamond hand, triceps (hands close to body and farther back than normal), hindu's.
single leg squats, jump squats, hindu squats


2. Train with Free Weights (Destabilized)

Once bodyweight has been mastered, the superiority of three dimensional free weight training is unparalleled. Single joint fixed axis machines — like the leg extension and the preacher curl machine — are quite honestly outdated. Other than rotational movements, which can be trained effectively using a cable column, every other movement can be performed better with bodyweight or a free weight rather than with a machine.


3. Train Functionally

"Functional" means training for performance, not for the "pump" or standing on a ball or some other activity. Multiple joint lifts and combination lifts such as the squat and press are all real world functional activities.

Life and sport take place primarily on our feet. It's how we were designed to work. Our training programs need to reflect that. It seems to me that I've said this a thousand times, but it doesn't make it any less true: a muscle group allocation is pointless. Why would the muscles of the chest need their own "day" for training? If you split up the body into parts, how do you decide what parts to include?

Typically we see splits of chest, shoulders and triceps, back and biceps, and legs. Why don't we see splits like rhomboids and hip flexors, quadriceps and rotator cuff, sternocleidomastoid and pec minor? Because that wouldn't make bodybuilding "sense." But in my opinion, any split routine based on a random allocation of muscle groups to certain days of the week defies all logic.

Consider the following example: Hold a dumbbell in your right hand and raise your arm out to the side until it's parallel with the floor ( lateral raise) Which muscles are working? The classic answer is the medial deltoid and the trapezius.

True. But maintain this position and just touch your obliques on the left side with your free hand. They're contracting maximally in order to stabilize your torso and spine, thus preventing you from tipping over. So the oblique has to contract so hard in order to stabilize your entire upper body (plus your arm and the dumbbell) that it becomes clear that this exercise forces more work from the oblique muscles, the tensor fascia lata, and the quadratus lumborum than it can from the medial deltoid!

So is it still a shoulder exercise? Or is it a total core and shoulder exercise? What body part day is this movement supposed to be trained on? Hopefully this helps you realize that the body will always work as a unit.

And I don't mean to "bag" on bodybuilding. One can't help but be impressed by top athletes in any sport. But the fact that it is a sport is also an important thing to remember. Bodybuilding is a unique sport unto itself. For the general fitness enthusiast (i.e. not a competitive bodybuilder) to develop and implement a fitness program using bodybuilding theory and bodybuilding type exercises makes as much sense as using soccer training or racquetball to design that same program. And while most people recognize that this is idiotic at best, we still continue to talk about splitting up "body parts" and following a bodybuilding-based program.

Now, that's not to say we don't use exercises or ideas from all sports and systems (remember, absorb what is useful…) To do so would be closed-minded. But to adopt any one single philosophy is just as closed-minded.

If you rank an athlete's qualities for their sport from 1-10 on a scale and find that they have a very poor flexibility score but a very good maximal strength score, then a strength based program may not be the best choice. Similarly, if my client is a golfer, a powerlifting specific program isn't warranted.


4. Train Unilaterally and Multi-Planar

The majority of training programs take place in the sagittal plane (an imaginary "line" which divides the body into left and right halves — all pushing and pulling movements occur in this plane) with bilateral movements such as barbell bench presses and barbell curls that work in that plane. However, life and sport takes place in all three planes simultaneously with primarily unilateral or single-arm loaded movements

It isn't uncommon to see a fitness trainer spend an inordinate amount of time teaching a beginner to squat with a perfectly parallel stance and perfectly even loading. Yet watch that same client load his gym bag over one shoulder and walk to his car, where he gets in using an offset loaded, single leg rotational squat! Or move boxes in his garage with an offset stance and a rotational reach. We all have the story of the jacked guy who blew out his back helping you move a couch. Just be aware of real life function.


5. Train with Balance

Train with balance — balance between motor qualities and balance between movement patterns (e.g. horizontal push-pull). A training program in general should be balanced in terms of sets, reps, total time under tension, and volume throughout the entire body, but particularly in opposing movement patterns.

If, for example, you're doing 2 sets of 10 reps in the bench press, and 2 sets of 10 reps in the seated row, this isn't necessarily balanced. You could be pressing with 200 pounds — that's a total volume of 4000 pounds — and rowing with only 150, a total volume of 3000 pounds. This is actually a major imbalance and would need to be addressed. An imbalance in volume like this, left unaddressed, will end up causing a major shoulder girdle problem.

In an ideal situation we'd be using the same sets, reps, and loads in all antagonistic movement patterns, unless of course we were purposefully using volume to create an imbalance in order to correct an existing one. It's also important, although beyond the scope of this article, to understand that other motor qualities, including flexibility and cardio respiratory endurance, also need to be considered in the total scheme of programming.


6. Use a Method of Periodization

Periodization just means planning. However, most trainees seem to ignore that simple concept and jump mindlessly from program to program without a clear picture of the long-term plan.

I'm not concerned with which method of periodization you use, but you do need to use some form of long term plan. Good coaches write programs for long-term success; poor coaches write workouts for short-term success but inevitable failure. The fact that most people will probably just jump from one program to another without planning their "big picture" makes success even more unlikely. So, for those of you who have primarily aesthetic goals, an alternating periodization model will be the most appropriate.

Let me explain. When using linear models (e.g. 6 weeks at 12-15 reps, 6 weeks at 8-12 reps, 6 weeks at 6-8 reps etc.) we tend to lose the qualities we initially sought to improve. For example, if we were to undertake 6 weeks of endurance (12-15 reps), 6 weeks of hypertrophy (8-12 reps) and 6 weeks of strength emphasis (4-6 reps), then at the end of the sixth week of strength emphasis it will have been 12 weeks since we were exposed to any endurance methods (twice as long as we spent developing it).

So we'll have lost portions of that quality! This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but if we felt that the quality was important enough to train, then it's certainly important enough to maintain.

A better system would be to alternate the phases. So we'd perform a 12-15 rep phase, followed by a 4-6 rep phase, then an 8-12 rep phase. Using this method of alternating the accumulation and intensification phases, we never spend more than four weeks going in one rep "direction." Therefore, we avoid most of the problems of linear periodization.

For a more complete look at periodization, and specifically the limitations of the linear method, checkout Dave Tate's excellent Periodization Bible series.


7. Use a Time-Outcome Based Approach

You have to know how long a workout takes. The big equalizer in training is time. We all have a limited amount of time to train. Yet most training programs tend to ignore this and begin with an exercise menu approach. (Warning: The following portion contains math!)

Let's say we have one hour total to train. We begin with 60 minutes. Subtract warm-up time (10 minutes) and rehab concerns/stretches (10 minutes). We now have 40 minutes of lifting time left.

Average length of a set in this phase is 60 seconds, rest period is 120 seconds. That's three minutes per set total (work set plus rest period). If we want to do two sets of each exercise, we're looking at six minutes per exercise. That allows us to perform only six exercises in this workout.

I've lost track of the number of trainers I've heard mindlessly say "you must get your workout done in under an hour" who then go on to design workouts that quite simply can't be performed in that timeframe! When you've finished designing your program, take the time to do the math and see if your workouts are even possible.
This article is an excerpt from Alwyn's forthcoming manual, Professional Fitness Coaching: Program Design

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Old 08-29-2006, 09:58 AM   #2
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*Edit* It took me a bit to figure out the source. I had asked if it was Alwyn Cosgrove.
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Old 08-29-2006, 10:27 AM   #3
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Good post, I appreciate it.

But I'm not sure I agree with the first "habit" of bodyweight before resistance. I recently had the experience of completing my first set of proper push-ups . . . ever. Sad, I know, but I also know that it wouldnt have been possible without all of the core-strength training and the 5x5 program that I've been doing.

My inability to do push-ups was not due to my lack of trying, believe me. My shoulders, my back, my trunk, all of it, was simply not strong enough to support me in what is actually a very difficult exercise. This might be even more applicable in my case since I'm 6'3" and have always been over 200 pounds. As you all know, being able to lift & support 200+ is no easy feat, bodyweight or otherwise. I know it's easy to take a push-up for granted when you can do them, but for rank beginners like myself, the weight training leads to bodyweight training, not the reverse.
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Old 08-29-2006, 11:23 AM   #4
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Yeah, you know I kinda see what you're saying. Alwyn did say, however, "unless your bodyweight is way too much or way too little". To me it depends on the exercise, your goals, and also on the transferablility of what you're doing. I think it should be taken on a case by case basis, just like everythng.

I've heard the thing about single leg squats before loaded squats. To me the first question is what is that? Is it like a bulgarian split squat or what? And is a single leg squat the same as a loaded bodyweight squat? Hell no. If it's just about building up a base of strength I can understand a little where it's coming from but becoming proficient at bodyweight exercises does not automatically make you proficient at loaded exercises. Honestly I don't think a push up is the same as a bench press either but I can see that point better.

But Alwyn is a great coach and I'm sure he has his reasons. One of the biggest problems is that everyone gets so caught up in "muscle" they completely discount the value of a good strength base. It's all about "getting 8 reps" at all costs or whatever. And then adding weight. THERE ARE MORE WAYS TO PROGRESS BESIDES ADDING WEIGHT.

We can add reps; we can add sets...with no change in load and still see an increase in strength of course. It's the difference between single, double, and triple progression. Changing any one factor is still single progression. Changing any two factors is still double progression. Even if neither is an increase in load.

So this is where I thing the "too much or too little" thing comes in. Look at pull-ups. Many, including me, think pull-ups are better than pull-downs. But if you can't even begin to complete one rep then obviously you're gonna have a hard time progressing. So then assisted pull-ups or pull-downs are gonna come into play. But if you can do one rep or two reps that changes your options completely.

But MOST will ignore the fact that they can do a body weight pull-up and use assistance or pull-downs in that almost religious need to do this many reps and that many sets. Why? If you can do one pullup then with some rest you can do three or four singles. Next time maybe you can do two. So on and so forth. Your stength increase dramatically with a much more effective exercise.

That's all assuming that your body is healthy. Meaning shoulders, etc. And THAT is where a lot of this stuff is coming from. Many personal trainers have been duped into thinking what is good for rehabilitation purposes should be applied to everyone. So they say never use body weight until you can do this may reps and sets with lighter weights. You have to build up to it. Rehabilitation is rehabilitation. Effective training is effective training. The goal of rehab is healing properly...not to gain a lot of strength and pack on mass.

That's where the rest of his recommendations come in, I guess. Training functionally and with balance. People get obsessed with bringing their shoulders up or something and they get bad shoulders for their trouble.

Last edited by EricT; 08-29-2006 at 11:38 AM..

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If you act sanctimonious I will just list out your logical fallacies until you get pissed off and spew blasphemous remarks.
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Old 08-29-2006, 12:16 PM   #5
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good article. if what he says is true, then some of the top bodybuilders in the world who can bench press over 400-500 pounds would have difficulty doing pushups if they never do pushups in their programs.

i thought he made a good point in the article writing, "When using linear models (e.g. 6 weeks at 12-15 reps, 6 weeks at 8-12 reps, 6 weeks at 6-8 reps etc.) we tend to lose the qualities we initially sought to improve. For example, if we were to undertake 6 weeks of endurance (12-15 reps), 6 weeks of hypertrophy (8-12 reps) and 6 weeks of strength emphasis (4-6 reps), then at the end of the sixth week of strength emphasis it will have been 12 weeks since we were exposed to any endurance methods (twice as long as we spent developing it)."

makes sense to me

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Old 08-29-2006, 12:29 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by triqqey
good article. if what he says is true, then some of the top bodybuilders in the world who can bench press over 400-500 pounds would have difficulty doing pushups if they never do pushups in their programs.
What do you mean by this?
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Old 08-29-2006, 12:32 PM   #7
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Same question here. Now I kind of think that just because you can knockout 50 pushups that is not going to necessarily help you a lot on the bench..... I mean, you're certainly better off, but...

However, if you can bench 400 to 500 I reckon you can do a pushup.
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Old 08-29-2006, 01:00 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by triqqey
good article. if what he says is true, then some of the top bodybuilders in the world who can bench press over 400-500 pounds would have difficulty doing pushups if they never do pushups in their programs.
You know, I can understand why this statement has some follow-up questions because it sounds so crazy, but I have heard the same thing.

My workout partner is a CSCS and he has told me that the core-strength and functionality is so different (not to mention the mechanics) that there are instances of these massive guys not being able to do a proper push-up with their own bodyweight. Obviously, they would have a shorter learning-curve than most others, but yeah, this scenario could actually exist.
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Old 08-29-2006, 02:27 PM   #9
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Hmmm...I agree that the mechanics are different. We have to be careful not to equate mass to strength though. I.E. you can be way massive without having anywhere near a 400 pound bench and this is where functional muscle mass and strength comes in. So yes, I can see the scenario where a massive pro doing the high rep high volume thing can have his mass outstrip his ability to do pushups (maybe). But a guy that can do 400 to 500? PROPER or not and different biomechanics aside, he should be able to power through a pushup, so no, I still don't buy it!
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Old 08-30-2006, 07:18 AM   #10
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ok ok, I over exaggerated a little too much. my point is that it would make more sense to start bench pressing, then move to bodyweight because the bench press motion and pushup motion are very similar. I just got out of this article that the guy would want even advanced lifters to start from square one with bodyweight until they could master their own bodyweight, then add resistance. I know that I'm prolly beating a dead horse when I say this , but everyone is different and some advanced lifters who haven't done a pushup in double-digit years would be able to do 100 in a row, while other advanced lifters would struggle with 1 pushup. It would be common sense to say that a person who is 5'8" and 150 lbs able to bench press 300 lbs would find a pushup to be very easy, while a person who is 5'8" and 300 lbs able to bench 300 lbs would find a pushup to be a lot more difficult.
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