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Design of weight training programs
Currently, there are five weight training programs on this website. They are:
- Beginner (12 weeks)
- Muscle (6 weeks)
- Muscle 2 (8 weeks)
- Muscle and strength (12 weeks)
- Muscle and strength 2 (9 weeks)
The weight training programs are designed to be completed in the order presented. However, if you have weight training experience, you do not have to start from the beginning. To learn where you can start, please see the suitability criteria of each program (presented both below and on each program’s description page).
Before moving from one weight training program to the next, you have to take a deload week (a week during which you either rest or train lightly). Together with the deload weeks, the training program lasts for one year. You can (and should) also repeat the individual programs, especially the more advanced ones. This will help you to get the most out of them. However, before you repeat a program, you must take a deload week.
The year-long weight training program is designed to:
- Build and maintain major muscle mass and muscular strength
- Strengthen your core, which is important for stability and power generation
- Strengthen your body’s primal movement patterns, which is important for functional strength, balance, coordination, athleticism, and performance
- Encourage the right strength balances between your agonistic and antagonistic muscle groups, which is important for proper posture and proportions, and to prevent imbalance-related injuries and syndromes
The program does this by using, or adhering to, a combination of:
- Major mass-building compound exercises
- Functional exercises
- Undulating periodization
- Intensity training techniques
- Recommended muscle-strength balance ratios
About the individual weight training programs
In training program terminology, the year-long training program is known as a macrocycle (“big cycle”). Each individual program or phase of the macrocycle is known as a mesocycle (“middle cycle”). Most of the mesocycles are themselves divided into microcycles (“small cycles”). Each mesocycle and microcycle has a different purpose.
If you have read the lesson How many sets and reps should you do?, you will know that training in different rep ranges leads to the development of different muscle properties. Generally speaking, training in the:
- 13–20 rep range leads to the development of muscular endurance
- 6–12 rep range leads to the development of muscular size
- 3–5 rep range leads to the development of muscular strength.
Focusing mostly on the 13+ rep range, the Beginner mesocycle is designed to build a strong foundation of muscular endurance upon which muscular size and strength can be built in the more advanced mesocycles. It is intended for beginners, lifters who have less than three months of consistent weight-training experience, and experienced lifters who haven’t trained for over three months.
The six-week Muscle mesocycle starts to build muscular size, as derived from the 9–11 rep range. It also incorporates an intensity technique known as superset training. You can start this mesocycle without having to go through the Beginner mesocycle only if you have at least three months of consistent weight-training experience.
The eight-week Muscle 2 mesocycle is composed of microcycles that alternate between the 9–11 and 6–8 rep ranges. While both rep ranges are for developing muscular size, the 6–8 rep range helps to develop more strength. This mesocycle includes an intensity technique known as training to failure. You can start from this mesocycle only if you have at least six months of consistent training experience.
Muscle and Strength
The 12-week Muscle and Strength mesocycle consists of microcycles that alternate between the 9–11, 6–8, and 3–5 rep ranges. The first two rep ranges are for building muscle; the last rep range is for developing muscular strength. The mesocycle also includes an intensity training technique called rest-pause training. You can start from this mesocycle only if you have at least nine months of consistent weight training experience.
Muscle and Strength 2
Like the Muscle and Strength mesocycle, the 9-week Muscle and Strength 2 mesocycle consists of microcycles that alternate between the 9–11, 6–8, and 3–5 rep ranges for developing both muscular size and strength. It includes an intensity training technique known as dropset training. You can start from this mesocycle only if you have at least 12 months of consistent training experience.
Why alternate between rep ranges?
Most weight training programs that you have come across have probably followed either no progression or a linear progression through rep ranges, beginning with 13–20 (for muscular endurance), moving on to 6–12 (for muscular size), and maybe ending with 3–5 (for muscular strength). This arrangement is known as linear periodization. The problem with linear periodization is that when you move from one rep range to another, you start to lose the properties that you developed in the previous rep range! My programs are based on an arrangement called undulating periodization, wherein the rep ranges are maintained as you progress and alternated in microcycles. This ensures that as you progress, the properties that you developed in previous mesocycles (endurance, size, or strength) are not only maintained but also continually developed while you also develop new properties. Note that only the size and strength rep ranges are maintained, not the endurance rep range.
As mentioned above, the purpose of the macrocycle is not only to build and maintain major muscle mass and strength but also to strengthen the core, strengthen the body’s primal movement patterns, and encourage the right strength balances between opposing muscle groups. Most of the exercises were selected to fulfil these objectives. However, some exercises were included to serve other purposes, such as to prepare you in one mesocycle to move on to more advanced exercises in the following mesocycle, or simply to add variation to the workouts to keep you engaged.
Exercises for maximum muscle and strength
To maximize gains in muscle and strength, I ensured that the mesocycles are dominated by major compound exercises (for example the barbell squat). Compound exercises simultaneously target multiple muscles and involve the movement of two or more joints (or pairs of joints). They are different from isolation exercises (for example the dumbbell curl), which target fewer muscles (sometimes only one) and involve the movement of only one joint (or one pair of joints). Focusing on major compound exercises ensures that you:
- stimulate simultaneous growth in the maximum number of muscles
- flood your body with testosterone and human growth hormone, which will boost the development of muscle and strength throughout your entire body
- strengthen your base and core, which will help you to lift even more weight and thus feed the cycle of growth
All of this will ensure that you pack on the most amount of muscle and strength, and get maximum results in the least amount of time.
Another benefit of compound exercises is that their movements are more natural than the movements of isolation exercises, which means that they are much better at improving your functional strength, balance, coordination, athleticism, and performance. What’s more, compound exercises provide a better cardiovascular workout.
Exercises to strengthen primal movement patterns
Your body is designed to perform certain “primal” movements. You use these movements almost every day as you go about your life. They are also essential for athleticism and sports performance. The movement patterns are:
- Lunge (forward, sideways, and backward)
- Bend at the hips
- Push (horizontal and vertical)
- Pull (horizontal and vertical)
- Twist (and twist resistance)
- Gait (walking, running, and jumping)
Training these movement patterns will help you to:
- develop a functionally strong body
- enhance your motor control, coordination, balance, and flexibility
- become more equipped for everyday activities
- improve your overall fitness, athleticism, and performance
Unfortunately, most weight training programs that I have encountered do not cover all of the primal movement patterns; they just focus on training muscles, often in isolation, which is not how the body is designed to work. All of the mesocycles of this program incorporate effective functional and major compound exercises that work to strengthen the seven primal movement patterns and give you the benefits outlined above.
Exercises to strengthen your core
Most weight training programs also don’t give the core enough attention. The writers of the programs think that training the abs in isolation is core training!
Your core is your whole torso, especially all of the muscles that attach to your spinal column and pelvis. As a whole, your core acts as your power base and power transfer center, and is important in stabilizing your body when you lift. As such, a strong and stable core is of critical importance for progress and overall athleticism.
Proper core training involves performing a range of major compound and functional exercises designed to strengthen these muscles, ideally, both dynamically and isometrically. All of the mesocycles in my program incorporate effective dynamic core training, while some also include isometric core training.
When training, it’s important to develop a balanced musculature. Ideally, the strengths of opposing muscle groups, the strength of the right side of your body compared with the left side, and the strength of your upper body compared with your lower body should adhere to recommended muscle-strength balance ratios. The reason is that if opposing muscle groups have significant differences in strength, performance is jeopardized, and the risk of sustaining injuries and developing problems related to muscle tightness, joint instability, posture, and gait are increased.
The most practical way of balancing your muscles is to approach a personal trainer who can identify the strengths of your muscles using one-repetition maximum testing and then adjust your training program to promote the recommended strength ratios. You can also refer to websites such as symmetricstrength.com, which can help you to understand which of your lifts need improving. At the very least, you should follow weight training programs that encourage the right muscle balances.
I balanced the mesocycles of this program in accordance with the muscle-strength balance ratios recommended by the International Fitness Professionals Association (IFPA; Table 1).
|Muscle group||Muscle balance ratio|
|Hip flexors and extensors||1:1|
|Knee flexors and extensors||2:3|
|Shoulder flexors and extensors||2:3|
|Shoulder internal and external rotators||3:2|
|Elbow flexors and extensors||1:1|
|Trunk flexors and extensors||1:1|
|Ankle plantar flexors and dorsiflexors||3:1|
|Table 1. Muscle strength balance ratios recommended by the IFPA|
The strategy that I used was to:
- make note of the target and synergistic muscles of each exercise, as revealed on ExRx.net
- ensure that the number of exercises and sets for opposing muscles and opposing movement patterns generally agree with the above ratios
For example, since you should be able to lift the same amount of weight with your elbow flexors as with your elbow extensors, I have tried to make sure that the number of exercises and sets that hit those muscles is approximately equal.
Of course, this will not ensure that imbalances are prevented, and it certainly will not fix existing imbalances; what it will do is reduce the likelihood of developing imbalances—which is much more than I can say for many popular weight training programs that are currently being sold.
Note that some mesocycles are a little more balanced than others. The Beginner program, for example, starts with minor imbalances and becomes increasingly balanced as it progresses.
Summary of programming rules and objectives
When designing the mesocycles, I tried to follow or satisfy the following rules and objectives:
- Train all muscle groups at least twice a week
- Strengthen all primal movement patterns using compound and functional exercises
- Strengthen the core using compound, functional, and unilateral exercises
- Train the core dynamically and isometrically
- Prescribe exercises and sets for opposing muscles and movement patterns in accordance with recommended muscle-strength balance ratios
- Only include exercises the equipment for which should be available in any gym
- Incorporate exercise variation to maintain engagement
- Avoid exercises that have a high risk-to-benefit ratio, such as the upright row
- Generally favor free-weight exercises over machine exercises
- Undulate rep ranges to simultaneously develop multiple muscle properties and maintain properties developed in previous mesocycles
- Avoid overuse of the supraspinatus, which is a common problem
- Train large muscle groups before small muscle groups
- Prescribe more sets for large muscle groups than for small muscle groups
- If a muscle has multiple heads, include exercises that emphasize each head
- Train large heads of individual muscles before small heads
- Keep workouts to approximately 20 or fewer sets, which produces workouts that last for approximately one hour or less
- Force gradual but definite progress from mesocycle to mesocycle
- Ensure adequate rest by enforcing regular deload weeks
If, for some reason, you can’t perform one of the exercises, I have provided suitable alternatives below that maintain a similar balance. However, it would be best to stick to the exercises provided, as they have been selected carefully for specific reasons.
- Back extension – Romanian deadlift – Barbell/Dumbbell deadlift
- Bodyweight squat – Dumbbell/Barbell squat – Front squat – Hack squat
- Dumbbell/Barbell lunge – Dumbbell/Barbell step-up
- Lying leg curl – Seated leg curl
- Standing calf raise – Leg-press calf raise (not seated calf raise)
- Lat pull-down – Pull-up
- Underhand lat pull-down – Chin-up – Close-grip lat pull-down
- Bent-over dumbbell row – Barbell row – T-bar row
- Cable wide-grip row – Cable narrow-grip row
- Dumbbell/Barbell bench press – Push-up
- Reverse-grip bench press – Incline bench press – Incline push-up
- Low-pulley cable crossover – Incline dumbbell fly
- Dumbbell/Barbell shoulder press – Military press – Arnold press
- Face pull – Cuban rotation
- Dumbbell external shoulder rotation – Cable external shoulder rotation
- Triceps rope push-down – Triceps extension (these emphasize different heads)
- Triceps dip – Bench dip
- Dumbbell/Barbell curl – EZ bar curl (bar must have minimal caper)
- Preacher curl – Concentration curl
- Hammer curl – Reverse curl
- Plank – Wheel rollout
- Cable wood chops – Sledgehammer swings
- Lying leg raise – Hanging leg raise
- Lying straight-leg raise – Hanging straight-leg raise
- Lying leg–hip raise – Hanging leg–hip raise