BYO program

BYO program

After a crazy busy week, I have finally finished all the study for the level two component of my personal training course and have started revising for my assessments – which begin in less than a week. The course I’m completing through the UK is split into level two (which certifies you as a fitness instructor) and level three (which qualifies you to train clients one-on-one). When I started studying back in October, I simply wanted to get through as much course work as fast as possible. While I knew the assessments involved, it wasn’t until about three weeks ago I read the fine print about assessment timing.

As a foreigner, I have to apply for external assessment, which takes an entire month to approve! And then, once I have completed my assessments (two theory papers, a 30 minute video of me training someone, a program portfolio and 20 hours’ practical experience at a gym), each one takes up to another month to be assessed – never mind the time to mail everything internationally. I had originally planned to knock out all my coursework and get cracking on level three during my time off over Christmas. Yeah, right.

I’m sitting my two theory exams on December 14, filming my video next Saturday, and organising my practicum this week. I’m hoping everything will be assessed by mid- to late January, which will give me the whole of February – when I’m no longer working full-time – to complete level three before we leave at the end of the month. Phew!

It’s quite ironic that level two has taught me nothing about teaching fitness classes – although I’m not too worried as I already have three years’ experience teaching dance. I’ve been writing a lot of training programs lately. Seeing as a lot of people email me about it, I thought it would be a good idea to blog about how to create your own program.

When I first started lifting weights, I created my own home-based five-day split. But since I began lifting properly at a gym, I’ve had a trainer designing my programs the whole time. Early next year I plan on writing my own programs for a while before I start training real clients.

Firstly, everything depends on your individual goals – don’t expect someone else’s program to work for you. There is also no magic program that will achieve all your goals at once.

You could follow Phil Heath's program to the T, but I don't think you'll look like this!

There are a number of different variables that can be manipulated to achieving certain goals, including reps, sets, tempo, rest and intensity. The single most important exercise variable, however, is the number of repetitions completed. There is an inverse relationship between sets and reps: as the number of reps increases, the number of sets decreases and vice versa.

If your goal is improving muscular endurance, you should be doing high volume workouts of 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions. To increase strength, complete 3-4 sets of 1-6 reps at 90-100 per cent of your one rep max. For hypertrophy (increased muscle size) aim for 4-5 sets of 6-12 reps.

In terms of rest periods, many people follow certain times without understanding why. During a rest, creatine phosphate stores for the anaerobic system are replenished. 50 per cent is restored in the first 30 seconds of recovery while 100 per cent is restored within 3 minutes. If recovery time is longer than 4 minutes, almost all traces of lactic acid will have been removed. However, if recovery time is less than one minute, stores of creatine phosphate are only partially replenished, which places more stress on the anaerobic system.

Rest periods should therefore be 4-6 minutes for strength training, 30-60 seconds for endurance training and 1-2 minutes for hypertrophy.

I would recommend lifting three to six times a week. You can choose any split you like (whether upper/lower body, or body part splits e.g. chest and tris, back and bis), just make sure you give a muscle group at least 48 hours to recover before training it again. All programs should contain at least one full day of recovery per week to prevent overtraining.

You must make sure you train each part of the body to avoid muscular imbalances. Opposing muscles must also be trained equally (e.g. biceps and triceps, quadriceps and hamstrings). I’m not going to bore you by listing all the exercises you could do, but choose two to five exercises per body part.

In terms of ordering exercises, the exercise which needs most improvement should be done first when you have the most strength. The most complex exercises working the larger muscle groups should be done first, followed by isolation exercises. For example, your core is used for almost every exercise, so there’s not much sense in fatiguing it through ab exercises at the beginning of your session.

For best results, workouts should last between 45 and 60 minutes, with the number of total sets kept between 20 and 25. Once you have completed the straight set style of workout (eg 3 sets of 8 reps), you can experiment by adding in some of the following:

  • Supersets: Two different exercises targeting opposing muscle groups performed consecutively with no rest.
  • Tri-sets: Three exercises targeting the same muscle group with no rest.
  • Giant sets: Several sets performed in a row with no rest.
  • Pyramiding: My personal favourite! The weight is gradually increased after each set while the number of repetitions is decreased, allowing the intensity to gradually build.
  • Reverse pyramiding: The weight is gradually decreased and the number of reps is increased.
  • Double pyramiding: An ascending set of pyramids, immediately followed by a reverse pyramid. For example, three sets of ascending, followed by three sets of descending, with normal rest breaks in between.

Special notes for beginners:

  • Newbies should start with compound exercises (such as squats, deadlifts, assisted pull ups, etc), as isolation exercises can place too much mechanical stress on the body of a beginner. So you should aim for a full body workout three times a week, with one day of rest in between each workout. Reps should be kept between 12 and 20, to first learn proper form and reduce the chance of injury.
  • Generally speaking, any rep range should be performed to near muscle failure, where the last one or two reps are a real struggle. However, beginners should not do this as it again places too much stress on their unaccustomed body.

Do you write your own program? Are there any aspects you struggle with when creating your own workouts?

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