How To Choose A Weight Training Routine

Posted on 16 Feb 2013 10:08

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By Ashiem Matthn

I originally started writing this little blog post as a status update for Facebook just to share observations about the happenings on various strength forums of the internet. However, while developing my points, I realized I want to provide some practical solutions regarding strength training. So, what I want to do with this article is put forth a way to go about selecting weight training programs and then provide some unconventional yet practical templates for those of you interested in getting strong.

One of the hot button topics in weight training is program selection. Within this there are a range of various debates about splits versus full body versus upper-lower versus push-pull routines. Which is the best and how should one go about selecting these?

I think the best way to figure out what you want to do is to figure out where you want to be; what your goal is. Most people want to either get big or get strong or get big and strong as a whole. If you want to get big or if your overall goal is hypertrophy in any way, then whatever you select - whether it is a split of a full body routine or an upper-lower or a push-pull, it has to get you to that point. Therefore, you have to pick any one type of layout, do it for a while and see how far it gets you to looking big.

Now, if your goal is to get strong, then this entire discussion is a waste of time. Getting strong is not dependent on what type of routine or template you pick up. It's all about which lifts you are training for. For maximal strength guys, if say we want to get strong on squats for example, we'll go about creating a template based on factors such as intensity, volume, workload capacity, etc. based on where we stand with the squat and what we've done before. If you're training squats aggressively then deadlifts get put back on "maintenance" mode. And what if the lift is new to you? If you are trying to learn squats the way you train will be much different in the beginning than it will once you've gotten used to them.

If you want to get strong, you cannot aggressively train all your big compound lifts at the same time. I am aware that all the latest programs call for applying the same progression plan for squats, bench press, deadlifts, overhead press, etc. because these exercises have to be the bread-and-butter for all strength athletes. But how many big-time lifters actually train this way?

Everybody is kissing everybody else’s butt in this business and the best way to weed out the deception from the real deal is to just observe how many expert and elite athletes are suddenly endorsing these new programs. If you’ve been in the industry training yourself for 15 years and you train others as well, you would never need to pick up somebody else’s routine and run with it. What you keep reading with all the fad routines out there telling you everyone wanting to get big and strong must do Deadlifts, Squats, Overhead Press, Bench Press, etc is just hoodwinking you from figuring out the truth for yourself.

Professional Powerlifters and Strength Athletes are specialists in their own way. Konstantinovs will always bank on his deadlifts over his squats and bench. The Westside dudes will always push for either their bench or their geared squats. The list goes on. In their regular training these behemoths will never ever train all 3 lifts with equal importance, aggressive progression and intensity or workload. It just isn't practical. Yet the programs they promote do that. The forum elite will insist that at their level these big boys can afford to specialize but the little guy wanting to get strong cannot. Here's the truth: the big boys became big boys while specializing. They did not decide to become specialists once they'd become professional. They always trained one lift as their best and tried to get everything else up to par. They focused on one strong point of theirs and capitalized on it as much as possible.

True Strength specialists are never as strong as the professional guys. If you wanted to be professional you wouldn’t be reading my blog and training yourself: you would be strong despite whatever training you did. So, the fewer lifts the trainee picks the better it is. There is no harm in specializing right off the bat and the main exercise or exercises (if there is more than one), can be rotated from time to time. This does not mean that you must do Deadlifts for 6 months of the year and then Squats for the next 6 months. Do whatever you love doing and have a passion for.

I do not want to sound like a conspiracy theorist but the bare truth to this is that all these guys are just trying to market pseudo-strength training to a bodybuilding audience. Bodybuilding is where the money is at; true strength training is a very niche market. I don’t blame them for making money and I don’t hold it against them but I do not believe in muddying the strength training water with diluted bodybuilding training to appease the market. It is very important to understand that whenever anybody wants to get strong, they cannot and should not try to aggressively pursue all the big compound lifts at the same time. The fewer key lifts you choose the better it is.

If you want to get strong then you have to train to get strong. Saying "Oh hypertrophy is a byproduct of training for strength" is all fine and dandy but it shouldn't be a means to disguise your true goal of wanting to look strong vs. BE strong. For those of us who want to get strong primarily, we cannot go about "selecting" workout routines or templates. They have to be built from the ground up for us to suit our needs based on where we are as individuals in our training lives.

I know this may seem like I'm just speaking in theory. But there is a practical approach and I'm going to give a small example. Someone comes to me who wants to get strong, who is not a beginner per se but has major form issues in terms of mobility work, etc. His goal is to get a big Squat. What is the right approach? To first work on the mobility factor. While this is going on focus on other aspects of training as well to build a firm foundation. It isn't a check list where until mobility is worked upon he cannot move to the next stage of actually squatting. Everything happens at the same time and until things start coming together (and they just may not for 3-5 months even) the train will move slowly. So this trainee (for example), will be made to do Squats twice a week, with one session being dedicated to the actual squat, the other to a supporting variation or group of variations - to build the movement. As you can see: there is no definite set template here just to give this guy: his training will evolve. For the first 3-4 months he may just be doing basic things like squats, front squats, deadlifts for maintenance, a little posterior chain work, etc but then once he's getting the hang of maximal strength training then at that time based on his workload and capacity more things may be introduced or taken out. My point here is that it is NOT set in stone. It's evolving.

So, once again, in trying to be practical, let us assume there is a trainee who is used to doing squats (with his form issues) may start out with a very simple layout of:

Day 1 – Squats working on Hip Mobility, Back Squats and Bench Press
Day 3 – Deadlifts and Pull-ups
Day 5 – Squats working on Hip Mobility, Goblet Squats, Front Squats and Posterior Chain Exercises

This is just a basic template. Within this there is so much leeway for improvement and setting volume, workload and intensity parameters. A particular trainee might start off using just 4-5 big movements and in time gradually add in more exercises. The thing with strength training is that it never gets easier. So your training just has to evolve with your progress.

Another idea about arranging exercises is to do a Front Squat variation on Deadlift Day and a Deadlift variation on Squat Day. For example,

  • Deadlift Day
  • Deadlifts
  • Front Box Squats

Here the Deadlifts will be done heavy and this is assuming the deadlift is the main lift. Given that Deadlifts are heavy, the Front Box Squats will be relatively light for 2-4 sets of 3-8 reps in general.

  • Squat Day
  • Back Squats
  • Romanian Deadlifts or Rack Deadlifts or Snatch Grip Deadlifts or Deficit Deadlifts

The trainee here is focusing a large part of his energy on Deadlifts. Therefore, both the Back Squats and Deadlift Variation will be of medium intensity and medium volume.

Whichever lift is the main lift to be worked upon by the trainee, this lift must be performed right at the beginning of the “training” week. Assuming that a trainee is a Deadlift specialist, a productive way to arrange exercises is to have the trainee perform Deadlifts and a Unilateral Leg Exercise (either Pistol Squats or Bulgarian Split Squats or Reverse Lunges, etc) on the same day.

Strength Training is about working hard to get strong on particular lifts. As a strength trainee your training will evolve as you get stronger and it is all based on your performance.


This page created 16 Feb 2013 10:08
Last updated 25 Feb 2015 21:57

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