Knowing how to build an effective strength training plan provides a huge benefit to a lifter. Over time it allows them to refine and customize the training plan based on specific needs or how your body responds. Unfortunately most of the training templates commonly used don’t explain the inner workings of the plan. With this you are left with either compromising your needs or constraints to follow the plan specifically, or you make changes that effectively ruin the training plan by not understanding the implications.
In this blog you will learn how to piece together several programs yourself based on basic templates I use personally or for athletes I train. You will learn the foundations and how to apply it. Given these tools you can create your own strength program.
# of Workouts per Week
To begin with you must ask yourself how many days a week can you commit to training. For some perspective, I have successfully trained myself and other elite level strength athletes on 3 day a week program for years. The last couple years I have made changes that allow me to train 4 days a week and I am making better gains as a result of it, but 3 days a week still works.
- Depending on your circumstances select 3-5 days a week to train.
Personally I have not been able to train 5 days a week since I was in my early 20’s with much less responsibility in life. While I am not missing out a bunch, I would still train 5 days a week if I had the opportunity. The important thing is to not overreach and commit to something you can’t sustain on an ongoing basis.
Next you have to understand the concept of scope creep. I’ve improved many people’s results simply by having them do less per workout. Oftentimes you end up seeing an exercise and thinking it’s great and just adding it to your program, and next thing you know you have 7+ movements per workout. As the movements grow your focus on what you NEED to be working on diminishes. And if you have bad sets on one movement you don’t worry about it because you’ll catch it up on the next exercise. Put limits on the number of exercises per workout so that you have to PICK what you really need to be working on. This allows you to FOCUS on putting in the effort because that’s all you have to do.
- Limit your workout to 4 exercises
Focus on Movements Not Body Parts
As a strength athlete one of the big shifts that you need to make mentally and in planning your training is to focus on movements.
- Say goodbye to chest day. Replace with “Press Day”.
Take for example a lower body workout. Single joint movements such as leg extensions and hamstring curls do not aid with hip extension and its integration into core stabilization. These are the foundation of squatting, deadlifting, and numerous other strength movements in Olympic lifting and strongman.
With this in mind, each heavy workout starts with a core movement for that day’s training. After the core movement, up to 3 additional (to make 4) exercises are added to support those movements.
I am a strong believer in repetition work. This is a miss in the long term with many training templates I see. In a meet prep cycle there often is much less repetition work. However, overall volume work leads to strength and hypertrophy gains. While the additional workload will reduce your strength output in the near term to some level it will provide you a growing platform for improvement with each training cycle.
Putting It All Together
On heavy training days I typically do the core movement in the 1-5 rep range over multiple sets. These are often done in multiple sets (3-5) in the first half of a 6 week training cycle with the number of sets getting reduced as the weights increase in the second half of the cycle. Changing that core movement every 5-6 weeks is a recommended practice. The change should be to some other variation of the movement such as doing incline bench or floor presses instead of flat bench. You could change from a standard bar to football bar, or add another change. If you put those combinations together just listed that’s 12 different variations that would take 6 months to complete at 6 weeks each.
The supporting exercises done after the core movement typically don’t get changed out that often as they are longer term focused improvements. These are also done with higher volume in the 8-25 rep range over 3-4 sets.
Now you’re going to step back into a bodybuilder mentality and think about each area of the body and make sure it gets hit twice a week. While this is opposite of what I said earlier the goal is to have two hypertrophy based sessions each week. We hit one on the heavy movement pattern day already.
Here is a basic 4 Day week templates that you can apply these concepts to.
Day 1 Max Effort Upper
Max Effort Bench
1-5 Sets // 1-5 Reps // Change (wks) 5-6
3-4 sets // 8-12 reps // Change (wks) 6-18
3-4 sets //8-12 reps // Change (wks) 12-18
Rear Delt Upper Back (Bench supp)
3-4 sets // 8-25 reps // Change (wks) 12-18
Day 2 Max Effort Lower
Max Effort Squat
1-5 Sets // Max 1-5 Reps // Change (wks) 5-6
Posterior Chain Supplemental
3-4 Sets // 8-12 Reps // Change (wks) 6-18
Posterior Chain Supplemental
3-4 Sets // 8-12 Reps // Change (wks) 12-18
3-4 Sets// 8-25 Reps // Change (wks) 12-18
Day 3 Assistance Day – Full body
1-5 Sets // 25-60 reps // Change (wks)12-18
Pick 3 of the Following:
Rear Delt Upper Back (Bench supp) 3-4 Sets // 8-12 Reps// Change (wks)6-18
Hamstrings 3-4 Sets // 20-30 Reps // Change (wks) 6-18
Quads 3-4 Sets // 20-30 Reps // Change (wks) 6-18
Front Delt 3-4 Sets // 8-25 Reps // Change (wks) 12-18
Tricep or Bicep 3-4 Sets // 8-25 Reps // Change (wks) 12-18
Day 4 Max Effort Back
Max Effort Deadlift
1-5 Sets // Max 1-5 Reps// Change (wks) 5-6
Pick 3 of the Following :
Posterior Chain Supplemental 3-4 Sets// 8-12 Reps // Change (wks) 6-18
Horizontal Row 3-4 Sets //8-12 Reps // Change (wks) 6-18
Rear Delt Upper Back (Bench supp) 3-4 Sets // 8-25 Reps // Change (wks) 6-18
Medial Delt/Traps 3-4 Sets // 8-12 Reps // Change (wks) 12-18
Vertical Pulling 3-4 sets // 8-12 Reps // Change (wks) 6-18
Note: Elbow flexion done on warmups on bench days. Include additional ab work as needed (non- flexion based).
Prepared by Chris Duffin
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