A guide to choosing a workout program. What makes a good workout program?

Ever found yourself asking "Do I really need a workout program?". In this post we explore when you need a workout program, and what makes a good program.

Huw Williams
Editor
April 29, 2021

When considering what workout program is right for you, it’s important to realise that there are both “soft” and “hard” elements to a good program. Much like with life skills, the soft elements are those more emotive, less measurable factors – such as your enjoyment of the workouts. The “hard”elements are those that are objective and can be measure – such as the structure of the program and how it progresses over time.

 

“Hard” elements of a workout program

-      Are the workouts progressive?

-      Is the workout program periodised? What form of periodisation is used?

-      Does the program allow for sufficient recovery? Does it include deloads?

 

“Soft” elements of a workout program

-      Do you enjoy the workouts?

-      Do you feel motivated to go to the gym consistently to complete them?

-      Does the program fit into your schedule?

 

When choosing a workout program both “hard” and “soft”elements are important, but the relative importance depends on your goals and your training experience. If we consider the two in a balance:

Beginners – Don’t get caught up in the details

When starting out with any new form of training, whether that be lifting weights, learning gymnastics or picking up running, “soft” elements are the most important thing to focus on. The reality is that at this point you will see progress no matter what program you do. The introduction of a new training stimulus will induce adaptations in your body, regardless of whether the program is optimised. (‘Newbie gains’ are real) The key at this stage is consistency. Focus on finding a workout program you enjoy. One you will consistently show up for until it becomes a habit. (and habits are powerful!)

 

You may ask, if everything will work do I even need a program at this stage? The main reason we would encourage finding a program to follow even as a beginner, is that it will help you build that consistency. It’s much easier to motivate yourself to train when you have a plan and don’t have to make up or find a workout to do each time you train. Remember, the more work you give yourself to do, the more opportunities for excuses to weasel their way into you mind.

 

Intermediates – Be mindful, but don’t obsess.

Once you have exhausted your ‘Newbie gains’ it’s time to be a bit more mindful of how your program is set up – ie. the “hard” elements. You’re going to want to make sure that the program follows the principles of progressive overload (simply put – doing more over time). You’ll likely want to find a program that is periodised – whether that be block periodisation, DUP or any other variation (we’ll go into what each of these mean in separate blog posts).

 

While “soft” elements remain important as you move into intermediate and advanced categories (eventually we all stop doing things we hate), by this point in your training career habits will also come into play. These will keep you consistent even when you aren’t loving every session.

"Hard" elements become more important as you gain more training experience.

Advanced – Details will be the key to unlocking that extra 1%.

Here’s where being detail oriented starts coming into its own and becoming important. Let’s take Kate, a competitive powerlifter, as an example. Kate’s been training for 10 years, in which time she has worked her way up to a max deadlift of 200kg (550lbs) at 65kg bodyweight. At this point adding a couple of kilograms to her deadlift could take a year of sustained effort and careful programming. Given she’s handling heavier loads and higher training volumes she will need to be more wary of the systemic fatigue she’s accumulating from her training in order to avoid injuries. Recovery and proper nutrition will need to be prioritised. All of this to add just 2 kilograms to her lift over a year.

 

Rewind 8 years and Kate may have added 20 kilograms to her deadlift over the same period of time by just showing up to the gym consistently.

A focus on the "hard" elements will be needed to squeeze out an extra 1% once you are advanced.

It’s easy to get caught up in the details when looking to improve your fitness. How long should your rest periods be? How many times should you train each week? Should you do supersets, drop-sets or any other trendy sounding set into your routine?

The reality is that for most people this won’t be the difference between achieving their goals and not. So remember, don’t sweat the small stuff. Focus on consistency and finding something you love.

For most people the most effective workout program is the one that keeps them coming back.

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