Design your own Exercise Programme
Learn the 4 step secrets behind intelligent programme planning to get in shape this summer
Fitness column by Matt Kay
Gone are the days when a great personal trainer was defined by how hard they pushed you. Structured programming to achieve body composition results takes a much more intelligent approach. The science behind exercise programming has come a long way and here is how you can put some intelligence into your own exercise programmes.
There are multiple components to consider when planning that always start with a specific and measurable goal. For the sake of this article we are going to look at how you would go about structuring an exercise programme to put on lean muscle tissue and drop body fat aka to look better on the beach this summer.
Nutrition plays a huge part in changing body composition but here we will focus just on the exercise side of things.
Step 1: Measure your progress
Monitoring your progress is critical to support your short and long term focus. As we are focusing on a body composition goal (increasing lean muscle tissue and dropping body fat) we recommend you measure your progress in 13 week cycles at weeks 1, 4, 8 and 13 using a method called the Navy SEAL Body Fat Analysis Method.
If you google the Navy SEAL Body Fat method you will be able to access a free online calculator that will tell you your body fat percentage, lean mass (kg) and fat mass (kg). For a man you have to input your height, weight, neck circumference and waist circumference (at the navel). For a woman you should to input your height, weight, neck circumference, waist circumference and hip circumference.
As long as you keep the environment the same when you re-measure you will be able to fairly accurately track your body fat and lean muscle tissue progress. What I mean by ‘keep the environment the same’ is measure in the same room, using the same scales, use the same tape measure, measure at the same time of day, eat the same food and drink the same amount of fluids four hours before every test and for women you should measure at the same time in your mensural cycle.
Step 2: Plan 13 week cycles
At FITISM we always plan our client exercise programmes around 13 week cycles. The reason for this is because 13 weeks is long enough to get good results but short enough not to be overwhelmed with having to think too far ahead.
You should start planning your 13 week exercise cycle by splitting it into three phases to coincide with your measurements (see Step 1). Each phase should have a different focus to maximise results. We recommend you split your 13 week cycle into the following three phases with a focus for each phase on either gaining muscle or losing body fat.
Phase 1 – lean muscle tissue development – 4 weeks
Phase 2 – lean muscle tissue development – 4 weeks
Phase 3 – drop body fat – 5 weeks
Growing muscle and dropping body fat require two very different approaches which is why you should split in this way. Normally when I explain this to people I am generally met with the comment ‘but I just want to drop body fat’. This is where a mindset shift has to happen. If you drop body fat without first focusing on building muscle you will not reveal a desirable body shape. An athletic physique for men and a toned physique for women cannot be achieved by solely dropping body fat. The only way to achieve a desirable look is to build lean muscle tissue first.
It is much harder to build lean muscle than it is to drop body fat so your focus in the first two phases of your 13 week cycle must be to build lean muscle tissue. Once you have more lean muscle tissue you will reveal an incredible physique when you come to striping your body fat in the final 5 week phase of the 13 week cycle.
Step 3: Split your week
Next you must decide how many times you want to train per week. For the first two phases I recommend you commit to a minimum of 4 weight training session in the gym per week. In order to grow lean muscle tissue you must expose the muscles to growth. The more exposure to weight training the body has, the more it will respond. However, if you really cannot get to the gym four times per week we recommend you do what you can through home HIIT workouts combined with as many gym workouts you can to make up these four workouts. You can find some great home HIIT workouts here.
Based on how many gym workouts you can commit to per week this is how I recommend you split the body parts you work on each time you go to the gym through phases 1 and 2:
1 gym workout per week = Total body (including legs, back, chest) – push and pull movements – compound movements exclusively (movements using 2 or more joints)
2 gym workouts per week = 2 x Total body workouts – 1, focusing on pushing movements (squats, chest press, overhead press etc) – 1, focusing on pulling movements (deadlifts, pull ups etc)
3 gym workouts per week = 1 x Leg workout – 1 x Back workout – 1 x Chest & Shoulders workout
4 gym workouts per week = 1 x Push Leg workout (Squat focused) – 1 x Back workout – 1 x Pull Leg workout (Deadlift focused) – 1 x Chest & Shoulders workout
5 gym workouts per week = 1 x Push Leg workout (Squat focused) – 1 x Back workout – 1 x Pull Leg workout (Deadlift focused) – 1 x Chest workout – 1 x Shoulders & Arms workout
Step 4: Training methods
During phases 1 and 2 you want to use methods that will grow lean muscle. On a very basic level either perform single exercises or paired exercises (super sets) and lift heavy for 9 – 13 reps. Your tempo must be slow and steady – each set lasting 40 – 60 seconds. You must perform three plus sets of each exercise with between 60 – 90 second rest periods between sets. After a warm up, your workout should last 40 to 50 minutes. If you are lifting heavy enough to grow lean muscle tissue both your muscular system and nervous system will be so tired after 40 – 50 minute you will not manage much more.
During phase 3 however you should use methods that create much more of a metabolic response. Good methods include three exercises performed back to back using lighter weights with more speed and reduced recovery. Exercises like sled pulls, prowler sprints, box jumps, battle ropes, sprints on the rower or assault bike spring intervals are all very effective tools to use during phase 3 – the final five weeks of your 13 week cycle.
Exercise programming is and should be well thought out. The human body is complex and requires the right physical, mental and emotional input to achieve its full potential. I hope this article has provided you with some useful tools to better plan your workouts. If however you find exercise programming overwhelming seek out a recommended personal trainer that can help. A good personal trainer should plan meticulously and provide session by session programming that is phased according to your goals. They should also monitor your progress regularly (once every 4 – 5 weeks) and provide specific nutrition advice to complement your exercise programmes to further help in achieving your goals. This should be delivered as standard, so do not settle for anything less.