Tag Archive | "programme design"

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Designing your own workouts – Part 3


In the final part of this 3-part series, we procvide you with 5 split-routine options to help you plan your workout week

1)      Upper/Lower body split.
Simply divide your body in half and train your legs on Monday, your upper body on Wednesday and your legs again on Friday. The following week reverse your body parts so that over the 2 week period, every muscle group gets equal attention. This is a good method for those new to split routines. By way of progression, you can perform the upper/lower body split and train each half twice a week (Monday = lower body, Tuesday = upper body, Thursday = lower body, Friday = upper body). This increase in frequency can be beneficial for some trainees.

2)      3 Way Split.
This is a body part spilt where on Monday, you perform exercises for your chest and triceps, back and biceps get trained on Wednesdays and legs and shoulders are worked on Fridays. Rest over the weekend and start over on Monday by repeating the cycle.

3)      4 Way Split.
This routine breaks down the body into even smaller groups which means workouts can be shorter or you can get a lot of work done in the same time. On Monday perform exercises for your chest, on Tuesday train your back, rest on Wednesday, train your legs on Thursday and on Friday focus on shoulder and arms.

4)      4 way functional split.

This system ensures that all muscle groups are given equal attention in terms of volume and is ideal for anyone wanting to ensure their muscles remain “balanced”. Monday train hip dominant exercises such as dead lifts and back extensions, on Tuesday focus on vertical pushes and pulls i.e. shoulder presses and lat pull downs, Thursday concentrate on quad dominant leg exercises such as squats and leg extensions and Friday focus on horizontal pushes and pulls i.e. bench presses and seated rows.

5)      Power lifting split.

Monday squats and assistance exercises, Wednesday bench press and assistance exercises, Friday dead lift and assistance exercises. This routine is especially good for those wishing to focus on strength either for power lifting or sports.

Once you have decided on which split routine you want to follow – one of the above or one of your own devising – you can start plugging in exercises into your programme. Again, there are lots of options to choose from but as a general rule of thumb, select 2-3 exercises per large muscle groups and 1-2 for smaller muscle groups and choose a variety of exercises to work your muscles different ways e.g. for chest you may start off with flat bench press, perform incline dumbbell flies next and finish up with dips. Rotate your exercises every 6-8 weeks to avoid getting into a training rut but don’t change things so often that your workouts aren’t consistent. Remember to change the training variables from time to time to keep your workouts fresh.

Planning your training week may take you some time but, once you have a plan and you stick to it you can record and measure your progress from one week to the next. Make sure you regularly increase the weights or do more reps to keep forcing your muscles to adapt and new levels of fitness and strength are all yours!

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Designing your own workouts – Part 2

Pair of big heavy dumbbells over white backgroundIn part 2 of this series, we look at how you can divide your training throughout the week…

Your options

There are 2 approaches when it comes to planning your training week – whole body workouts and split routines. Whole body workouts do just what it says on the tin – train all of your major muscles in a single workout. Exercises are selected that offer the most “bang for your buck” like squats, bench presses and rows as you don’t have a lot of time to do a huge number of exercises. Here is an example of a typical whole body workout…

  1. Barbell back squats
  2. Barbell bench press
  3. Seated cable rows
  4. Leg curl machine
  5. Dumbbell shoulder press
  6. Lat pull downs
  7. Lying EZ tricep extensions
  8. Bicep cable curls
  9. Stability ball ab crunches
  10. Back extensions

Note the order of the exercises; similar exercises are kept apart from each other and follow a loose legs/push/pull sequence with arms and core exercises at the end.

This workout would most likely be repeated 2-3 times per week on non-consecutive days and lends its self to those wanting general muscular endurance and all round fitness. As good as this workout is, if you keep doing the same reps, sets and exercises you’ll eventually plateau and stop making progress. To keep your workouts (and your fitness levels) progressing, you can change a number of factors in your workouts. These are called the training variables and include…

Increase your weights – small regular increases win every time and will make you stronger
Increase the number of sets your perform per exercise – more work = greater benefits
Perform more reps – adding a rep a week whilst keeping the weights the same is a great progression
Reduce your rest time between sets – knock off 5 seconds a week to increase the intensity of your workouts
Choose different exercises – bored of the chest press machine? Try the bench press
Change the order of your exercises – if you always do legs last, try putting them first in your workout
Use more complex exercises – squats are harder than leg presses, chin ups are harder than lat pull downs
Incorporate a training system like drop sets or supersets into your programme for variety
Use a Swiss ball, medicine ball, Bosu or TRX to spice up your workout

After a while (many months and maybe even years) you may may find that they simply can’t fit all of the work you want to perform into a single workout. When this happens, the next choice for programme design is likely to be a split routine. Split routines break your body down into various parts which are trained on different days of the week. This has the advantage of allowing a greater volume of work to be done for a particular muscle or set of muscles that would be possible with the whole body system outlined above.

There are numerous options you can choose from when it comes to split routines, a few of which are outlined below, but it’s important to know that whichever one you choose, missing a single workout can unbalance your whole training week AND your physique so make sure that you can stick to whatever split routine you select.

In the final part of this series, we’ll provide you with example split routines…

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Designing your own workouts – Part 1

barbellWhen you head into the gym, do you have a programme? Do you know exactly what exercises you are going to do, how many sets and reps you’re going to perform, what weights you’ll be using? No? Why not! If you were cooking a meal you’d have a recipe to follow or if you were travelling around a new country you’d have a map. Hell, if you want to catch a train you’d most likely plan your journey using a timetable so why not plan your workouts?

Training without a programme is like starting a business without a business plan – you might succeed but, if you do, it’ll be down to dumb luck rather than skill. Training is hard enough – all those hours of sweating and straining when you could be relaxing watching TV at home. If you are going to make the effort to turn up and workout out, surely you want to get the most from your workouts?!

Training plans and programmes can range from simple whole body workouts to split routines to complex periodised plans that progressively work towards a specific goal. To write a plan, you first need to decide on your training goals…

Muscular endurance
Hypertrophy (bodybuilding)

Each of the training objectives has an associated training method that will lead you toward your goals – this is because of something called the SAID principle. SAID stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands and basically means that when it comes to training, your body adapts to what you do. Want strength? Lift heavy! Want power? Lift fast! Want endurance? Do high reps! Want hypertrophy? Use plenty of volume! Each training goal has a specific rep scheme attached to it and whilst these rep schemes aren’t set in stone, they are a good place to start.

Endurance – 15-20 reps with 30 to 60 second rests between sets
Hypertrophy (bodybuilding) – 6 to 12 reps with 60 to 90 second rests between sets
Strength – 1-5 reps with 3-5 minute rests between sets
Power – 1-5 reps (performed at maximum speed) with 3-5 minute rests between sets

Volume (the number of sets and exercises performed per workout) is dependent on your training history and fitness level and advanced trainees are likely to perform more sets and exercises per workout than a beginner.

Planning your workout week

You have a number of choices when it comes to planning your week and because there are so many, you’ll often hear about how one method is better than another. The truth is they all work and it’s really a matter of personal preference. Chances are, the one that you like best slots nicely into your lifestyle and works well based on the number of days a week you can train and how long you have to work out. Periodically it’s worth trying other weekly training plans for variety but we’ll talk more about that in the next part.

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The art of Programme Design part 2

Pair of big heavy dumbbells over white backgroundNot every one wants to be a bodybuilder!

Something I have noticed many trainers often do, regardless of their clients’ needs, wants or goals, is to prescribe split routines. Split routines are the reserve of the body builder or strength athlete and really have no place in the average gym users’ weekly schedule!

 The whole point of a split routine is to permit large amounts of volume to be performed for individualized muscle groups to encourage hypertrophy to occur which is influenced directly by training volume. Very few of our clients are seeking such a specialized response from their exercise routines and therefore are most of them aren’t candidates for this type of training.


The majority of our clients will benefit far more from performing different whole body routines 2-3 times weekly plus an appropriate amount of cardiovascular exercise on the days in between.

Full body training uses large amounts of energy, eliminates the need for lots of isolation exercises, is extremely time efficient, promotes muscular balance and trains the body as a single synergistic unit – which is how it normally functions. All it takes is a single missed workout from a weekly split routine and the whole programme becomes unbalanced whereas missing one day of whole body training will, other than a missed exercise opportunity, will still address all of the clients’ muscular needs. Also, human nature being what it is, it’s quite likely that if a client is going to miss a workout, it’s going to be one they enjoy less or find hardest and chances are, that’s the one they can’t afford to miss because it’s the one that addresses their weaknesses.  

Whole body training requires creativity on behalf of the trainer, intelligent planning, correct ordering of exercises and also belief from the trainer that whole body training is a viable and useful method of training and not for “beginners only”. Writing split routines is relatively easy as it allows for a “kitchen sink” approach to exercise selection – no need to select quality exercises based on merit or functionality when you can do them all in a single session!

When teaching programme design I use the following template to help my students learn how to correctly order their exercises. This template does the hard work for you by balancing movement patterns and avoiding overlapping muscle groups.

1 Compound leg exercise e.g. squats
2 Horizontal pushing exercise e.g. bench press
3 Horizontal pulling exercise e.g. bent over rows
4 2nd leg exercise (preferably also compound) e.g. lunges
5 Vertical pushing exercise e.g. shoulder press
6 Vertical pulling exercise e.g. lat pull downs
7 Triceps exercise e.g. tricep push down
8 Biceps exercise e.g. bicep curls
9 1st core exercise e.g. stability ball crunches
10 2nd core exercise e.g. 45 degree back extensions







By slotting exercises into the above template, the trainer can easily produce an effective and well balanced whole body routine. With regard to repetitions and sets, these values are goal and fitness level dependent but somewhere between 8-20 reps for 1-4 sets should meet the majority of exercisers needs. Begin with a conservative approach to intensity and volume with the view of making the workout more intense over time as the client becomes fitter and more able to perform the workout. Remember that you don’t have to use the same rep and set scheme for all the exercises. Distribute the volume of the workout as necessary. For example you may have the client perform 3 sets of the leg exercises but only 2 sets for the rest of the body and only 1 set for the arms at the end.

Making progress

Once the basic programme has been designed and has been followed for a period of time, it will become necessary to manipulate the training variables to promote further improvements in fitness…

The training variables include the following:

  • Altering the rep range
  • Decreasing the rest periods
  • Increasing the number of sets being performed
  • Changing the exercises e.g. from machine to free weight
  • Increasing number of exercises per muscle group
  • Increasing the load being used
  • Altering the order of the exercises
  • Progressing exercise complexity/skill requirement
  • Increasing the balance or stability demand of the exercise e.g. progressing to stability ball exercises
  • Using unilateral (single limbed) movements
  • Combining exercises into complexes, supersets or adopting other training systems e.g. drop sets, super slow, pre exhaust or post exhaust training to name a few.

Periodic manipulation of the training variables and rotation of exercises should result in an almost endless variety of workouts without having to resort to split routines which are best left to bodybuilder wannabes and aren’t really suited for the majority of our typical clientele. There is nothing wrong with split routines per se, just the fact that they are often prescribed to clients’ whose requirements would be better met by whole body programmes.

So go and write a new workout for your self?  Use the template provided in this article and you are certain to design a well balanced and effective exercise programme.

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The art of Programme Design part 1

barbellBeing able to design good programmes is the one of the fundamental skills a personal trainer needs to be able to demonstrate. Our clients’ success depends on our skilful manipulation of the training variables and our financial success depends on our clients’ achieving their goals while hopefully enjoying the process. This all means we need to write exercise programs that are physically stimulating, mentally interesting, challenging and varied.

The object of this article is to explore the fundamentals of programme design with a view to sharpening up our programme design skills and avoiding getting stuck in a programme design rut!

The most common problem I see is that the majority of trainers write programmes that they would perform themselves…i.e. trainers with a cardiovascular background write CV programmes, whilst trainers with a resistance background invariably produce watered down hypertrophy sessions. This is not personal training! A clients’ programme should reflect their needs and wants and not reflect the area of interest of the trainer.

I recently heard about a personal trainer who had every single one of his clients on a very similar programme regardless of their experience, gender, goals or medical constraints…

  • 10 minute bike warm up
  • 20 minute treadmill intervals (1 minute fast/1 minute slow – 10 sets)
  • 2-3 resistance exercises (mainly isolation, performed as part of a split routine)
  • “Sit ups” – flexion based core movements (no extension, rotation, lateral flexion etc.)
  • Stretch (as time permits)
    Example programme designed by a not – so personal trainer

Reps were always in the 8-12 range, 3 sets were performed each time and the last set was, almost without fail, performed as a drop set.

 This kind of programme design is far removed from the personalized approach we teach at Solar Fitness Qualifications. The trainer in question (not one of our graduates!) may well experience some positive results with his clients initially but, needless to say, it won’t be long before his clients hit the dreaded “performance plateau” and a client who ceases to see improvements in their fitness and increases in their fitness levels is very likely to take their hard earned money elsewhere, leaving our not-so personal trainer with a gap in his diary and a subsequent drop in earnings – not a good scenario.

There are a number of prerequisite stages that need to be covered before we even set foot in the gym. Follow these steps and your clients will soon be well on their way to reaching their training goals…


1) Gathering information

The first stage of programme design is to gather information. Initially, this should take the form of an in depth medical questionnaire, a discussion of the clients general lifestyle (nutrition, time available, exercise history, likes, dislikes etc) as well as goal setting.  

 2) Health screening
After establishing our clients’ goals etc, we need to screen our clients fully to ascertain their readiness to exercise. The normal battery of static tests should be applied – blood pressure, Resting Heart Rate, Lung Function and Body Composition. Remember these tests provide personal trainers with a legal safety net and should never be ignored. The results of these static tests may reveal underlying medical conditions and also provide an opportunity for medical referral.

 3) Fitness Testing
Once we have established that our client is healthy enough to commence exercising, it may be necessary to conduct some rudimentary fitness testing including appropriate tests for cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility and proprioception/balance. This information can then be used to establish musculoskeletal fitness, energy system fitness, the setting of initial intensity levels and monitoring improvements in the coming months. 

 4) Review
On completion of this initial consultation, it might be necessary to adjust our clients’ goals if the gathered results suggest that they are unrealistic. Remember it is much better to under promise but then over deliver rather than over promise and under deliver! More often than not it is the trainer who will be blamed for the client not reaching their fitness goals, and not the client for non-compliance so ensure goals are challenging but realistic targets to improve your chances of success.

 5) Personalised programme design

When we have gathered all the pertinent information, it’s time to put pen to paper and start being creative with our programme design.

The first rule of programme design is “treat what you find”. Fitness training IS therapy and we have gained a lot of information about our clients physical well being. The results of our testing should be the lynch pin on which our programme is based…If the client is weak then they need to develop strength. Client is unfit then cardiovascular exercise needs to be prescribed. Poor flexibility? Developmental stretching is required. Poor posture? Postural correction exercises are needed. Weak core? Poor muscular endurance? Poor proprioception? You get the idea!

Treating what you find is the very essence of personal training – an individualized approach based on the clients physical needs.

In part 2 of this series well delve deeper into programme design for resistance training.

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