So... How Do I Program This?
Today I’d like to discuss programming, but, first and foremost, at ANY time, feel free to reply with any question at all (the more ridiculous-seeming, the better, honestly. J). Especially with provided workouts, you may need a substitution due to injury, joint considerations, or any other limitation. I’m happy to provide suggestions to suit your needs. The #1 goal of strength is to build safely, preventing injury and training proper movement patterns, so please keep yourself in the realm of safety, given your unique situation.
Secondly, as far as intensity goes, the way I gauge my success is by examining my behavior. I know I’m pushing hard enough if I’m breathless beyond just a few seconds (so, not the “just give me 30 seconds to catch my breath” and you really are back to normal in 30s), if I’m sweating a ton (I’ve had new clients tell me…on way more occasions than you might imagine…that they don’t sweat, and it’s impossible to make them to; they were just born with freak genes. Ha. ;) #ChallengeAccepted), if my muscles are burning, and if the weights (or my bodyweight) begins to feel super heavy. If I don’t experience those things by about 1/3 of the way through the workout (20-30m goes fast! I make adjustments quickly.), I up the weights or cut down the rest time, depending on situation.
SO. As far as programming goes, I know some of you are already on a weightlifting or traditional body part split program but want to know how to fit conditioning in. And, the truth is, depending on the program, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s really difficult, for example, to write a program for hypertrophy, in which you’re aiming to make your muscles bigger and thus eating in a calorie surplus, but also throw in some body recomposition work, in which you’re using exercise as a tool to drive your hormones to lose fat and likely eating in a calorie deficit.
Sometimes we have more than one goal, and, sometimes, those goals are incongruous…at least at the same time. Not to worry! This is a marathon, not a sprint – you get to live in this body for the rest of your life and become a master at its change and how it works – so you can do both. Sometimes, even at the same time. But sometimes, we have to manage our expectations and know that we can build strength & lose body fat & build muscle all at once, but they’ll likely all be achieved to a greater degree if we focus on one or two at a time.
Managing those expectations, for me, was a difficult one, because I began a hypertrophy block right at the beginning of the summer… so, you know, eating in a caloric surplus at exactly the time every woman loves to be in a bikini. I think this is a largely under-discussed aspect of training, and one worth mentioning, since the vast majority of us have goals, ultimately, of looking good naked and having joints that move well, rather than competing in the 2020 Olympics.
For the majority of us, looking more fit, experiencing significant strength gains, and achieving better health with lower markers of disease and more fluid movement are the primary goals. To that end, you can absolutely do all of the above and incorporate regular conditioning- in fact, you should!
Intensity is the driver of results.
Keeping this in mind, it’s important to define which parts of your weightlifting workouts should fall into that category. In a moment, I’m going to provide a sample graphic of a modified-powerlifting strength block to illustrate what I mean.
In general, traditional powerlifting + body part split workouts are not intense enough to drive significant fat loss. This makes sense if you think about it: most powerlifters aren’t really super lean, have huge muscles they’ve developed over repeated reps, and, from what we learned about the hormone cycle + SRA curve, we know the length of the grindy powerlifting workout alone isn’t going to allow our hormones to spike in the way we want them to for fat loss. We produce a lot of force over a very short time, but then rest for a long time to be able to do it over and over and over…and over. Nothing is wrong with this at all! But it isn’t producing the waves of cortisol + adrenaline we want in order to drive fat burning. Similarly, neither do traditional bodybuilding body part split workouts elicit a huge hormone surge, as they are generally light weight, high rep, not intensity-driven workouts. They incorporate a lot of isolation movements, focusing on one muscle group at a time, which takes a long time per workout and doesn’t utilize the entire chain of muscles at once. This achieves their goals of honing in and sculpting from sheer overload coupled with hours of low-intensity steady state cardio to burn fat, typically.
If that’s your jam, go for it. But I’d assume what we’re looking for is good results in a relatively short time, right? I’d also assume, for most of us anyway, we wouldn’t be opposed to strength gains or learning how to complete technically sounds lifts.
I’m going to leave a calendar of what I do in a typical strength block. I program myself in waves, usually of about 4-12 weeks at a time. This calendar is relatively powerlifter-specific, but it can be easily adapted to any goal. I wanted to leave it here to give you a general idea of how I program both strength + conditioning so that they fit together, but we aren’t losing our barbell work, if we love it (I do.). We could *certainly* complete 3-4 20-30minute full body conditioning workouts a week and call it a day, but the thought of not being under a barbell is sad to me, personally, and I’m all about finding the joy of movement and getting #StrongLikeBull, so I found a way that works for me to incorporate it all.
My typical month, in broad strokes, goes as in the picture attached.
Rotating through each lift per week, plus an extra day for squats (a fundamental movement pattern, but fairly taxing to our central nervous systems, so don’t go heavy every time) and an extra day for your weakest lift (either technically or relative-pound-wise…which is typically bench press for most women. Le sigh.), gives your body enough chances to build skill and strength, reinforcing proper movement patterns and teaching your muscles to produce more force more efficiently throughout the lift.
I add conditioning days to the lighter or more moderate days, mostly from a length-of-time standpoint, both in the gym and in the time it takes to recover. Conditioning workouts, if done with high intensity, are super tough! Overloading my system on heavy days + conditioning is too much; I’d never recover properly to produce enough force for my lifts (with sound movement patterns, anyway) the next day, plus I’d just feel terrible, which is rarely (heh.) the goal.
Placing the conditioning workouts where we will be able to both drive the intensity highest (lighter lift days or days where the posterior chain is activated and primed for movement) and recover in time for heavy lifts is vital to being able to achieve both strength + body change goals. I find many programs run into trouble by trying to do too much all at once, leaving you exhausted after a week or two, and giving up after three, leaving you pretty much right back where you started (we’ve all been there, myself included.).
Finding a balance is huge. This is what works for me and many clients, but all programs are adaptable to your individual needs. Working in the realm of high intensity + building strength is where the magic happens. Figuring out strategies to do both in the context of real life was the game changer for my consistency in workouts, because I was actually having fun AND seeing results. Hopefully our discussions the last three weeks have helped spur you to examine what you’re doing, why it is or isn’t working, and what you love about exercise in the first place, so that we can level up and get you to where you want to be in a shorter amount of time.