One of the worst beginner mistakes you can make is to not plan your training. Like driving with no destination – however fast you're going, you'll never end up where you want.
A training program is exactly that: a map showing where you are, your goal, and the way there.
You need one but which should you chose?
When I started lifting I wrote my own program, thinking I knew all I needed. Biceps on Monday, chest on Wednesday, back on Friday. And perhaps some of those squat things if there's time.
This is called the Dunning-Kruger effect – the less you know, the less you know you don't know.
No wonder I went so long without getting anywhere!
I'm sure someone might be thinking that they certainly know how to program strength training properly. You just need to throw in some periodization, hit the right weekly frequencies, adjust for intensity, tweak exercises for different muscle groups and fibers, auto regulate, and you're good.
If you want to go down that route – and I personally would love to learn more myself – make sure you head on over to my books section to pick up some books on strength programming.
But right now, do you honestly think you can do it better than people who've been in the business for decades, trained thousands of athletes, read the science and have had to adjust it hundreds of times?
How to pick a program
If a training program is a map, then picking one should start with knowing where you want to go.
Decide on your goal
Your goal could be to gain strength, grow muscle, lose fat, boost speed, increase mobility, improve endurance, etc, etc. It'll be very hard to do all at once, so even if that's your long-term goal you should pick just one to focus on for at least a few months.
Your preferences can vary, of course, but these are my personal recommendations:
If you're obese: lose fat.
If you can't squat x2 your body weight: train strength.
If you're short-winded in daily activities: work on your endurance.
If neither of the above applies: tackle your weaknesses.
Determine your level
Next you need to assess where you're at, so we can plot the path from that starting point to your destination goal and thus complete the map.
Most programs are targeted to either beginner, intermediate, or advanced athletes.
While it's tempting to put yourself in a "higher level", keep in mind that the earlier you are in the scale, the faster you'll be able to progress. A beginner might be able to double their performance in some months, while an intermediate would see some mere percentage progress in the same time.
This assessment is highly dependant on your goal, so I'll list three different tools you can use:
Now you should know exactly what you're after and it's time to look at the selection.
I won't go into detail on the individual programs now, but I'll list the most popular ones here for your own research. If you're interested, I'm writing on each of them in-depth in the coming weeks and will link to them from here below, as they're published.
So check back later or subscribe now (for free) so you don't miss that!
Beginner strength training programs
These are all based around linear progression, where you add a little weight every session. Seize the opportunity as long as you can enjoy those sweet beginners' gains!
- Starting Strength
- Greyskull LP
Intermediate strength training programs
Sooner or later you'll have to start thinking of progression over weeks instead of adding weight every session – that's when you go for one of these intermediate program.
- Texas method
- Conjugate system
- Sheiko's routines
- Cube method
Hypertrophy training programs
Once your strength progress slows down, or even halts, it might be worth focusing on building more muscle mass. The following programs are all popular with the bodybuilder crowd.
- German volume training
Specialist training programs
If you're already strong and well-rounded, these programs can be fun to try. They take one aspect of training (squats, weightlifting, bodyweight, long distance running, etc) and lets you specialize in it.
- Smolov squat routine
- 10'000 swings challenge
- Weightlifting 101
- Couch to half marathon
- Convict conditioning
Explore training programs
While I do encourage you to explore these training programs, you should be aware of the dangers.
The first one being that it's very easy to get paralyzed by the many choices. You can spend weeks researching the perfect program but that won't get you one centimeter closer to your goals.
Have a look, pick one that looks decent and go with it. You can always change later.
The second danger is that just like a tv series you can't really make a good decision after just one episode. Give it time! Commit to at least two months of whatever program you chose. It's not a whole of time in the grand scale of your athletic life.
Itching to dive into these training programs? Subscribe now and I'll send them over ASAP!