A few weeks ago, a good friend of mine sent me his workout program and wanted my opinion on its design. When I reviewed the program I saw a bodybuilding routine geared towards building muscle mass. He told me that in addition to the weights, he was also doing cardio to help his fat loss, which is his main goal. We agreed to have lunch to discuss his routine and discuss body composition training. During lunch, he made an interesting comment, even though he had to do a little research on the net and grab from programs here and there, his program had been pretty easy to design. I have to be honest, the program itself wasn’t wrong. But as our conversation went on, I found out that it wasn’t addressing the issues that we were talking about. In addition to weight loss, he wanted to increase his biceps strength (a lacking bodypart). When I asked him how he had addressed this issue in his routine, the answer was that he didn’t know how. Also, many important variables had been overlooked in his routine. By the end of our conversation he had realized that program design was very complex.

A good program starts with a goal. Figure out what you want to achieve in the gym. In this article, I will touch on the 6 variables of a weight lifting program. Always keep in mind that no matter how great your program is, no matter how amazing the results have been, your body will adapt and will stop changing. Experts say that after 6 workouts the variables needs to be changed to create a new stimulus. The same goes for your cardio routine. Have a long term plan, change your routine often, play with the variables and at the same time watch your body react and change right in front of your eyes.

Without further a due, here are the six major variables to consider when you are designing your own program.

1. Repetitions: Determine how many repetitions you want to do. In his books, Charles Poliquin will tell you that reps are the most important variable and will determine all the others. Reps of 5 and lower will focus on increasing strength; 8 to 12 will focus on hypertrophy and anything higher will target endurance.

2. Sets: Your number of reps will determine your number of sets. Low reps (1 to 7) will require high sets (5 +) while higher reps (8 +) will require lower sets (2 to 4).

3. Resting Time: Here is one variable that is rarely taken into consideration. Ironically, during your workout, it is a main factor that will determine how much weight you can lift. To increase strength you will require longer breaks. 3-6 minutes in between sets is very typical. For a metabolic effect, 30 seconds will give you the results you are looking for and for hypertrophy, 60 to 90 seconds will do.

4. Training Time: From a hormonal point of view and to obtain maximum results from your hard work put in the gym, your actual training time (from the moment your start your first working set), should be no longer than 60 to 75 minutes. This does not include your warm up. However it does include any cardio you would usually do after your weight training session. I know some of you spend 2 hours plus in the gym. I use to be one of those guys. And I also know how it feels when you read about a different approach that goes against what you have been doing for a long time. There is plenty of empirical evidence that will support the benefits of training for less than 75 minutes. In a nutshell, as soon as you start training, you are putting stress on your body; this elevates your cortisol levels. Although cortisol is essential, you don’t want too much. At the same time, your testosterone increases for the first 20 minutes or so and then plateaus until approximately 40 minutes into your workout. After that time, it starts to diminish. However, cortisol continues to rise. To the point that, after one hour of training, you will be in a situation where your testosterone is low and cortisol is high. This situation makes it practically impossible for your body to make any progress. You are spinning your wheels for nothing. If you need to train longer than 1 hour. Do a second workout 4 to 6 hours after. Your central nervous system will be ready to train again and so will your body.

5. Exercises: Each workout phase should include new exercises. You can bring variety to your old exercises by changing the type of grip you use (pronated, neutral or supinated), your grip width, the angle you perform the exercise or switching from barbell to dumbbells or vice versa. Using bands, kettlebells, stability balls and other training tools are a great way to bring variety to your workouts.

6. Tempo: With rest time, this is another factor that is often overlooked. Each exercises of your routine should have a set tempo. Tempo is the speed in which you perform each repetition. For example your eccentric could take 4 seconds, before starting you concentric, you could wait 1 second and your concentric could be done in 2 seconds. When varying your tempo for the first time, you will experiment a level of soreness during and after your workout that will be reminiscent of your early days in the gym. Although a slow tempo is difficult, it is a must to bring variety to your workout. Attention beginners; the eccentric (negative) phase should be performed at a slower pace than the concentric phase on all exercises.

Now grab a pen and paper, right down your next workout, include all 6 variables and be ready to discover a burn and soreness that will give you the satisfaction of having maximized your time in the gym.

Yours in health,
Guy Dufour