Most people who regularly lift weights are working to a set program.
It might be a DIY program, one from the web or a professionally-designed program.
A program from an S&C coach or personal trainer is usually the best option, as they can customise it for your goals and current lifting capacity.
But those programs can become expensive if updated regularly.
So here are some guidelines to effectively designing your own DIY strength program, for home strength or gym programs.
1. Mobility before strength
Before you can train strength, you need to have enough range of motion to perform the exercise.
Mobility refers to ability to move your joint through an adequate range of motion.
If you’re finding that your exercise is not limited by muscle strength and fatigue, you may have a mobility problem.
So before you can dive into heavy strength work, you need to begin with mobility exercises to improve your range.
If you need examples of these exercises, have a look at a lot of the yoga movements.
2. Strength or stability, not both
The body’s ability to generate force is directly linked to the stability of the platform that it’s working from.
Essentially if you’re standing on a wobbly surface, your brain won’t fully engage muscles when they are likely to push you further off balance.
When you’re designing and selecting exercises for your program, decide whether you’re targeting strength or stability.
For strength work, you’ll be able to lift heavier when standing on two legs on stable ground. The weight should be positioned over your centre of balance, often over your shoulders or held at your chest.
Stability work is designed to challenge your ability to control off-centre loading. So you may hold a single weight on one side or narrow your centre of balance by standing on one leg.
3. Be general, be specific
This may sound counter-intuitive but every program needs a broad range of exercises targeting specific needs.
“Be general” refers to providing your body with different types of stimulus across different areas.
This can involve lifting heavy for some exercises, moving fast for other exercises and ensuring that you challenge most parts of the musculoskeletal system.
4. Train for consistency
This one is more about injury prevention and training smart.
We train one session of the time but you need to be thinking months ahead.
Sure, you can survive one session of brutal punishment. But if you repeat that session over and over, the risk of injury is almost guaranteed.
For ever injury that put you on the sideline, you lose training time and waste the training you’ve done in the week prior.
As a general guideline, for every week that you’re not training, it takes two to three weeks to rebuild to the same point.
So backing off a little in your training and aiming for consistency is a better option than a 2 week injury that takes 6 weeks to recover from.
5. Technique is everything
The technique of every exercise is carefully designed with two aspects in mind.
The first is targeting the right muscles doing the right job. By focusing on technique, you ensuring that you get the most benefit for the target area.
The second is for the risk of injury. Exercise technique avoid overloading vulnerable areas and directly links in to point #4.
When you’re training, you can push each set towards fatigue. But it’s vital that you don’t reach a point where your fatigue compromises your technique.
A wise owl once said that you can push each sets until you feel like you’ve only got 1 to 2 reps left in the bag.
6. Challenging but possible
Exercises you choose should feel challenging. If it feels easy, it’s probably not stimulating the body enough to get a decent training effect.
But it shouldn’t be so challenging that maintaining good technique is impossible.
When you’re performing an exercise for the first time, it’s valuable to have an experienced eye watching you.
The experienced observer is looking at how you perform the technique in the first set, and whether you can maintain that technique to the last set.
7. Be patient
Lastly, be patient.
The body undergoes a cycle of break down and rebuild with every training session.
Trying to speed up the process by pushing harder in training or reducing your recovery time disrupt this balance.
It means there’s too much breakdown and not enough rebuild. That will leave directly do something called “overtraining syndrome”, when you work twice as hard for very little outcome.
When you see the competition in the gym, just remember that they may have been working at this longer than you.