Which are you putting first? The way you would like to train or the training goal?
Most people if asked, would answer the latter. However, it seems very frequent in gym goers and lifters that often they pick first, the way they would like to train.
One problem with writing your own programmes, is that it is very difficult to make objective decisions. There can also be damaged egos, if the programme is shown to not be working. How do you deal with this? Stick your head in the sand and keep going regardless because to ‘programme hop’ is considered a terrible thing? Or learn, adapt and find new ways of moving forward? Just because you made a mistake doesn’t mean you need to live with it until the planned 8, 12 or 16 or however many weeks is completed.
If you’ve been hitting the basic competition lifts week-in week-out and aren’t getting any stronger , perhaps even the same weights are feeling heavier each week then you MUST make a change somewhere because like it or not, your plan is not working. Sometimes using a different intensity loading method or rotating lifts and using variations of the main lifts is the answer, sometimes it’s working on recovering better, but somewhere you need a change.
Also recognise that no programme works forever and just because something worked for you in the past doesn’t mean it will give you the same result again. You are not the same ‘you’ as you once were. You have adapted to certain types of training and that trusty old 5×5 programme won’t produce the same results each cycle. In fact it will produce ever diminished results with each time you run it and arguably you may even end up weaker (5×5 picked at random, nothing personal to any diehard fans).
Writing your own programmes, is a skill in itself and one that all lifters should attempt to develop. However, I would say that the ability to adapt a program, or even scrap it altogether, and recognise flaws, limitations and errors ,is a more important skill to learn and possess.
You must not fall into the trap of becoming someone who cannot see the woods for the trees. Very often I have seen lifters punish themselves by working themselves into the ground (with very little gained in the process), simply because their programme and method is not working and so their answer is to assume they must not be training hard enough.
Subsequently, quality of work that they perform reduces, technique gets sloppy and every session becomes more frustrating for them as they get little to no results for their increased energy output.
They pick up heavier dumbbells to use in their assistance work, for example, because they desperately want progress but with their increased effort only comes increased amount of cheating on form.
They are now in a difficult position because their mindset is based on a mentality that as long as they are working hard, Or at least feel like they are, then they should be progressing. They don’t want to stop what they are doing because to them it feels like failure if they do. Asking somebody like this to drop the workload down, reduced the weight, focus on technique, not to go so close to failure, or strip their program back to purely being about achieving a goal, is never received well.
For a program to work well, it must be able to adapt, based on the constraints and circumstances of the lifter.
I always advise my lifters to use a training diary to record details of their sessions as a reference. I feel that these are best used, by only filling them in once the session is completed, rather than continually writing in them and referencing them throughout the session.
One reason is that I feel when training you should be in be frame of mind to lift and get your work done, NOT to over analyse and procrastinate and whilst studying your training diary.
Here’s another reason why…
Let’s say you have bicep work at the end of a bench session. If the primary goal is to improve your bench press then the bicep work should be kept in perspective. If your goal is a bigger bench, then the bicep work you do should simply be to increase muscle mass and arm size, thereby improving your leverage etc.
If you obsess over little mini-victories like getting 10 reps on 20kg dumbbell curls and beating your previous 8 reps, then you are missing the point.
Your goal for the bicep accessory work should simply be to achieve adequate stimulus to stimulate some hypertrophy.
You should be able to adapt based on circumstances. If you are short on time, or fatigued, or lower on motivation that day or whatever else, then does it really matter if you hit some kind of accessory record? If you can get the hypertrophy stimulus by using lighter weights in half the time by doing one simple high rep drop set then why spend ages forcing yourself to make ‘progress’ with your specific bicep work.
If you treat every accessory exercise like a main lift and scrutinise and over-programme every last detail of your training of that accessory you are really over cooking the pudding (in my opinion)
Quite simply, your accessory should be quick, targeted work to achieve a result. Worrying about whether every one of your assistance exercises is going up in weight each week/session is not the way to track your training.
Track your training by whether your primary goal is being achieved. If you have written bicep work into your plan, to increase arm size to help with bench. Your primary indicators are going to be has your bench gone up and are your arms bigger?
If the answer is no to either or both of these questions then you grinding away and heaving up heavy curls with terrible form just so you feel like you are training harder and moving forward, is mostly wasted effort.
The bicep work is just an example but this rule should be applied to all training. You should be able to trace all work back to your main goal (or goals).
Don’t make the mistake of turning a structured plan into a method of trying to improve about a million different things at once. If the goal is a bigger bench then that is the goal and you shouldn’t care if you are dumbbell curling bigger dumbbells or not if that isn’t improving your bench.
Think carefully. Are you picking your training first and trying to match your goals to it, or are you picking your goals and then using whatever training methods you have available to you but always making them relevant to your goal and assessing their effectiveness periodically?
I appreciate that some people get more satisfaction from the ‘journey’ than they do the end result, however I would urge all lifters to consider is their current training really a ‘journey’ to where they want to be or rather are they walking in circles.
It always comes back to someone being 100% honest with themselves about what their actual goals are. I’ve met lots and lots of people who tell me their goal is one thing but when you strip it back a bit by asking a few questions their actual goals are quite different. Training in the incorrect way for the goal you say you have chosen, because deep down you are at conflict because you actually want something different is the recipe for frustration, lacklustre efforts and little to no progress.
To make this clearer, if you deep down love bodybuilding training and always end up turning a powerlifting programme into a bodybuilder’s one anyway, then maybe you aren’t going to be happiest pretending you want to be a powerlifter.
Equally if you say you want to train for size but you get a massive kick out of maxing out your lifts and lifting heavy weights, and hate any kind of muscular endurance work then order yourself a singlet and some ammonia because maybe just maybe you should be lifting on the platform.
You’ll only ever truly enjoy your training if you are working towards the goal which is genuinely most important to you (not just what you tell yourself or other people) and from a personal point of view I have struggled with some of these issues for that very same reason. I also realise that it’s hard to put full effort into a training programme if you don’t enjoy it.
The real question I suppose that a lifter should ask themselves is…
If training the way you want to train is not perhaps getting you to your goals, then you need to ask yourself what matters more, doing what you want to do in the gym regardless of the outcome (often leading to limited progress, frustration, but a certain level of temporary gratification due to the fact that you are getting to train the way you like) OR reaching the goal.
“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'”
Keep lifting hard.