The 4 Basic Fundamentals for Designing a Training Program
Posted on 19th April 2016 at 07:27
Explore the basic fundamentals that go into designing a training program including sets, reps, tempo and rest periods.
No matter what your goal is when entering the gym, whether it’s fat loss, muscle gain or simply being a weekday warrior trying to stay fit and active, it’s essential that you have a good training program in place to optimise your time and complement your goals.
Inevitably, there are many angles from which to approach designing a training program, a lot depending upon the end objective. For simplicity, the target of today’s program is the beginner aiming at fat loss. That said, I feel sure that more experienced gym user will take away key learning points in program design – I simply needed to write this article from one perspective to narrow it down.
So, the fundamentals regarding sets, reps, rest periods and exercise tempo for a training program aimed at fat loss are:
Sets refers to how many times you will repeat an exercise for the set number of repetitions. When designing a beginner program I like to use something called supersets. Supersets are simply performing 2 exercises consecutively and then taking your rest period. e.g. Chest Press x 15 reps & Leg Press x 15 reps then rest for 45seconds (the ideal rest period is covered later) and repeat for your desired number or sets.
Starting with Super-setting increases the amount of work you perform in a specific time period and, since you are moving quickly from 1 exercise to the next with minimal rest in between sets, it increases workout intensity. Along with that, alternating these exercises between the upper and lower body causes the body to pump blood from one part of the body to the other, thus creating a greater metabolic demand.
I have found Upper to Lower body Super-setting to be the gold standard for getting quick fat loss with clients.
Reps is short for repetitions. Repetitions defines the number of times to perform an exercise. There are so many rep variations from 1 rep maximum to 30 rep burn outs – so which one is right for you? Total beginners should never attempt a 1 rep maximum – this means preforming 1 rep at your maximum weight – this is extremely dangerous. Beginners lack the sensory motor skills to optimally perform an exercise with proper technique, so loading them up with their maximum weight and asking them to perform 1 rep is inviting trouble.
For beginners my preference is 12 to 15 reps. this may sound excessive to some, but if you are totally new to the gym you need to train your body and nervous system to perform the exercise correctly. You have all heard of the saying practice makes perfect? Well this is exactly that doing 12 to 15 reps for 4 sets is 60 repetitions! Doing that a few times a week will make your body become very efficient at performing the exercise. It is important to note that learning to do the exercises with proper form is essential, because if you are learning the exercise wrong your body will become programed to always do it wrong.
As you progress and become more advanced you can lower the reps and start to increase the weights!
Rest is simply the time taken between sets and exercises. In the earlier Super-set example, the rest is taken after performing the 2 exercises consecutively. As always there is a lot of debate about ‘optimal’ rest periods. As a beginner it’s important to get the right balance between pushing your training intensity and allowing your body to recover optimally.
For this reason I like to start on the side of caution and give my clients anywhere from 60 – 90 second rest between sets. That way I can gauge how out of breath they are, and if I feel they are ready to go again after 60 seconds, then that’s what they’ll do. It’s important that you do take adequate rest periods! I have some clients who like to rush through their sets with no breaks. But to get the most out of each set you need to allow your muscle to recover; in an untrained beginner that may take 90 seconds, for more advanced gym user this is likely to be 30-45 seconds. Don’t be afraid to start the next set while you are still slightly out of breath, as long as you feel you have allowed your muscles enough time to recover then off you go.
I like to try and lower my client’s rest periods to around 45 seconds reasonably quickly, allowing them to maintain an elevated heart rate and, once again, creating a huge metabolic demand on the body.
Tempo is the rhythm at which you raise and lower a weight, including the rest time at the top and at the bottom, or return, of the lift. You will often see this written-out as 4-digits, such as 3110. The 1st number is the lowering (return) phase of the lift (3 seconds). The 2nd number is the stretch or pause phase (1 second). The 3rd number is the upwards (effort) phase (1 second) and the 4th number is the pause at the top, or in this cause the lack of (0 seconds). If you ever see an X, that simply means perform it as quickly as possible.
Using a bicep curl with a tempo of 3110 as an example – You would lower the weight till your arms are straight for 3 seconds, pause at the bottom for 1 second and then return the weight to the top in 1 second. There would be no pause at the top before you start the lowering phase again.
For beginners however I would normally avoid such complicated tempos and simply say control the lowering (return) phase for around 3 seconds and then simply control the upwards (effort) phase and not rush it.
To illustrate these points, I’ve attached a basic beginner, fat loss, super-set program below.
I have included tempos so you get an idea of how they appear. However, its important to note that this is a general plan and is not designed to be specific or individualized in anyway. Enjoy!
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