Programming (exercise programs) is a big part of my job.
It’s part guesswork, part science, and part geez; I hope this works. Although clients all need similar things from exercise ( fat loss, muscle, reduced pain, moving better, etc.), each comes as a puzzle piece that the trainer (me) needs to put together.
There are slight differences in how people are put together in height, limb length, and body type, and all have different injury histories. Not to mention differences in their joints’ mobility, their muscles’ flexibility, and whether they have an active or sedentary job; all of this must be considered when programming exercises.
It’s a balancing act requiring constant attention. I enjoy it, but as a big-picture guy, taking the view from 10,000 feet OR big-picture programming. The unsubtle way of saying, keep it simple stupid.
But how does this benefit you, the reader? Well, you are about to find out. Here I’ll look at exercise through a wide lens so you can put this into practice with your training. So, whether you’re just starting or an experienced exerciser, you can approach your workouts from a different perspective.
Big Picture Programming Principles
There is plenty of choices and information when it comes to lifting weights. It’s a matter of doing something over nothing and being consistent. Someone who picks up a dumbbell will be in better shape than Mr. Couch Potato.
It’s that simple.
When you’ve spent time in a gym or on the internet, there are many bright shiny toys and methods for resistance training. Some good, some bad, and some ugly. These (probably) work, so it’s not my job to cast doubt on these shiny toys and methods. But I do want to bring to your attention to fundamental human movements.
What do I mean by fundamental human movement?
Movements you perform daily are practiced since birth and should play a starring role in your routine. And they are
Sitting down and getting up: Squatting
Bending over to pick up something from the floor: Hinging
Walking, running, lunging, carrying groceries, or climbing stairs: Carries and Locomotion.
These classifications differ from coach to coach, but it all means the same thing to you, the exerciser. Plus, there are a few more fundamental movements than mentioned here, but I’m keeping it simple because these are the ones that will make you harder, better, faster, and stronger.
Here are some resistance training examples of fundamental human movements,
Squats: Bodyweight, Goblet squats, Split squats, Barbell squats.
Hinges: Bodyweight hip extensions, RDLs, deadlift variations, and hip thrusts.
Pushing: Push-ups, dumbbells, barbell bench presses, shoulder presses, and band presses.
Pulling: Chin ups, pullups, seat rows, dumbbell rows, and band pull-apart.
Locomotion: Carry variations, lunges, running, walking, and sprinting.
When you look at the big picture of fundamental human movements, you never have to wonder what to do in the gym again.
What About Sets, Reps, And Stuff?
I set up clients’ training in terms of simplicity and maximizing time and results in three main ways.
Supersets: Pairing two exercises together, like a lower-body exercise followed by an upper-body exercise.
Example would be
1A. Goblet Squat
1B. Farmers Carry
Tri sets: This is pairing three exercises back to back to back. Here I’ll usually go lower and upper body with a core exercise like planks or an isolation exercise on a lagging body part.
1A. Split Squat
1B. Dumbbell Floor Press
1C. Triceps Extension
Circuits: Here, you’ll use all five fundamental human movements in a five-exercise circuit, performing one exercise after the other and repeating for 15 to 20 sets. An example would be
1A. Dumbbell Squat
1B. Dumbbell bench press
1D. Single-arm row
1E. Core exercise or carry variation.
How you perform your human movements is a matter of personal preference, your time constraints are your fitness goals. Experimenting to see what works well for you is a great starting point.
The reps you perform is depended on your load and goals. There is an inverse relationship between weight and reps. Weight goes up, reps go down, Reps go up, and weights go down. Muscle and strength are built in all types of rep ranges, but I use a few common ones.
4-6: For strength
6-12: For strength and muscle
12-15: For muscle imbalances and fat loss
15+: For isolation exercises and building up a lagging body part.
Here, you’ll want to feel the burn 2-3 reps before the end of the rep range. If you don’t, the weight is too light, or you cannot get to the end of the rep range you want; the weight is too heavy.
Putting This Programming Together
If you’ve been lifting for a while, you got this, and it should give you a fresh perspective. If you need help, contact me here, and I’ll be happy to help with your programming. Sometimes, I’m better than Google, and welcome to my Ted Talk.
Exercise and lifting weights needn’t be complicated; it must be effective. You’ll have it made when you take the big-picture approach to exercise and perform fundamental human movements consistently a couple of times a week. Now, admire your handy work.