The Perfect Strength Training Program

Posted on 31 Jan 2011 10:08

The Perfect Program: for Whom, by Whom and for What

I recently came across an article by Chad Aichs called Mistakes Made and Truths About Strength Learned. This blog update is a reflection of my thoughts regarding Chad’s article.

Mistake One: Perspective on Strength Training “Programs”

Chad’s first point, that trying to find the Magic Solution to strength training via a perfect program is what makes most beginning strength trainees fail is very true. I completely agree with Chad on the fact that most people DO try to seek out the black-and-white clear-cut “programs” and this leads them to just spinning their wheels. Chad also comments that trainees get intrigued by superficial complexities promised by programs – he is referring to waved loading, percentage cycling, etc. Ironically, 5/3/1 which is based on these very complexities is written by Jim Wendler of EliteFTS. However, Chad’s point stands strong in that people are in pursuit of the most complex looking set of protocols they can get their hands on. After all; the more complex a program, the more guaranteed the success, right? Wrong.

I do however disagree with Chad’s take on simplification of training: "The simple fact is that strength training is not very complicated in principle. You break your muscles down in the gym and they recover when you’re away from the gym. Hence you get weaker in the gym and get stronger away from the gym. Yes there are some other principles involved, but that’s the basic truth to strength training."

View of Earth from the Moon

While I am a huge proponent of designing templates and starting out conservatively and keeping things simple, Chad’s description of “simple” is too simple. It isn’t that easy to get strong. There ARE other principles/processes involved which are critical to strength growth.

Mistake Two: One Size Fits All

Chad’s next point is about customization of training. I also believe that people are different and these One-Size-Fits-All programs like 5x5, TM, Sheiko, etc. wrongly discount different recovery rates, metabolisms, weak points, different mentalities, and response to different work loads. Given this, I do think that 5/3/1 has some merit because it IS more customizable than many of the other fancy programs out there.


A trainee must select a routine or training protocol which is sustainable – something which will be stand through the test of time and suit the trainee. However, we know that this does not exist. So what Chad is trying to say - and this is something we strongly believe at Ground Up Strength as well, is: NO program is going to last you forever but a good program will allow the trainee to manipulate it to suit his/her needs and the program itself will adapt as per the progress of the trainee. So what does this actually mean? It means set routines and set programs DO NOT WORK. Find a template which is flexible and open to change and you're set to go.

Mistake Three: Program Origins

I think Chad’s third point is tied into the second one: someone embarking on the strength journey should consider where his training program comes from. Chad refers to the percentage based programs which have gained a lot of popularity recently: Sheiko, Smolov, Smolov Junior, Phillipi-Coan, etc.

Dinosaur Fossil Skeleton Exhibit

I think given this point, people should also consider the recent articles on in the forum section where strongman Pros like Travis Ortmayer are posting their own “routines”. This perpetuates the myth that normal average Joe’s can directly start training like the Pros. This also discounts all the efforts of Travis himself: all he had to do was cycle 4 weeks of percentages for his training and that has lead to his success? So anybody can just start doing this and grow exponentially strong? Probably not.

Neither I nor Chad Aichs is claiming that the average strength trainee can never go toe-to-toe against a Pro. I think Chad has said this best because it states what I believe as well:

I do think Average Joe can achieve great things and even compete with the genetic freaks. The difference is that Average Joe needs to take his own path to get there. He won’t be able to follow the program of the genetic freak. In most cases, I actually think the genetic freak would get to the top no matter what workout he did. Average Joe has to be smarter about his training, but he can make it to the top.

The big point here is that trainees should not just dive into a program and hope it works for them. Eric has commented on this in the past: all too often even top level strength coaches go about selecting a program backwards: they first choose a program which looks good for them and then they go about outlining the goals of the trainee. Sounds silly, right? Well, this is exactly what happens. The right way to go about this is to first have the trainee list his/her goals and then a training schedule should be set up based on these goals in order for the trainee to achieve these goals.

Mistake Four: Zero Adaptability

Chad complains that learning to gauge one’s body while training is essential and adhering to a set number of prescribed sets, reps and other inflexible built-in-stone type training protocols only ends up harming the trainee’s progress.

Strongman Farmer's Carry

At Ground Up Strength, we also believe in the same concept. A beginner doesn’t know his or her own body but the goal is that as the trainee advances in strength, his training should involve more and more “thinking on his/her feet”. Training should be a bunch of guidelines on the whole with some specific pointers and plenty of room to adapt to the situation.

When I first started training diligently in 2008, my training was highly structured. But, as time wore on and I got stronger, my training became a lot more of being able to decide what to do once I got to the gym with only a few guidelines backing me up. Right now, I would say that 20% of my training (or less) is structured. All the rest of it is being able to successfully think on my feet – and this quite a difficult task.

Keeping in line with the customizable nature of an ideal training program, Chad makes a very valid point: most of us strength trainees aren’t doing this for a living. In fact, I’m confident that most Powerlifters are Powerlifters out of passion and they take it as a deep personal hobby. This isn’t what earns them their bread and butter. Given this, it really is impossible to ALWAYS be punctual to the gym or make it to training week in and week out. As Chad says “sometimes shit happens” and this can cause a little break in your training. If a strength trainee is doing a highly structured and regulated percentage based program, then how does he/she handle this offset? Does he/she repeat the percentage work tomorrow or the next week?

This is another reason why at Ground Up Strength we are so hell-bent on developing goal-oriented templates and not just doing “routines”. Templates can be modified and adjusted to fit the trainee’s restrictions in the real world as well as help him reach his goals. They are not overly structured and have room for improvement.


I think Chad’s article was very well written and he raised a lot of very important issues to consider when selecting a training regimen to adopt. I think that all Strength Trainees should develop a training template which enables them to train within whichever restrictions life has thrown at them (for example, someone who can only workout so-and-so-and-so days a week, etc) as well as it helps them meet their goals. Their training protocols should be simple but pertaining to THEIR goals and keeping in mind their own individual weaknesses, strengths and abilities.

The most important take-away point:

I don’t do “routines”.



This page created 31 Jan 2011 10:08
Last updated 20 Jul 2016 20:32

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