After chatting with a few friends recently, I came to the surprising realization that most people outside fitness circles (i.e coaches, diehard trainees, etc) have no idea how to discern between a good or a bad fitness program.
There are simply too many options out there. Plus, I found that a lot of people don’t even know what they’re looking for, much less able to commit to a training plan they find in a magazine or online.
Believe me, I totally get it. Before I became a trainer I was a diehard fitness enthusiast with tons of knowledge through my own research. But I still struggled to find exercise programs that gave me what I was looking for, mainly:
- A structured, short-term workout plan
- Exercises that moved me along as I got stronger and better
- Confidence to go from hiding in the corner with my dumbbells to hitting the squat rack
Luckily, a good exercise program needn’t be overly complicated to be effective, but I know that many of us still feel lost, intimidated, or embarrassed to try new things in the gym without a little guidance. We may end up where I was many years ago, in fitness purgatory – the gray area a lot of fitness enthusiasts end up in when they’re stuck and don’t know what to do in the gym to get results.
When you’re in fitness purgatory, you’re likely still working out but just going through the motions. You end up cherry-picking exercises you are comfortable with instead of doing what your body needs most. At best, fitness purgatory leads to complacency and plateaus, and at worse, it leads to injury.
If you’re feeling stuck right now and are ready to give a new exercise program a try, let me help you find what’s right for you with these three tips every good fitness program must have to help you succeed.
Program Must-Have #1: A well-balanced approach
A good fitness program is a lot like a well-balanced breakfast. It gives you all the nutrition your body needs in order to perform at its best without overemphasizing or singling out a single food group. Similarly, your exercise plan should have a balance of the squat, hinge, push, pull, single-leg, and carry movement patterns.
We need to be able to squat and hinge before we start jumping. We need to be able to push and pull and carry sh*t before we start sprinting. And we need to have a strong core that can support us throughout the process.
When you’re looking at a fitness plan, whether it be free or paid, look for the big compound lifts and basic movement patterns. This comes before calculating your 1 rep max (1RM) or how many supersets or drop sets are included. Those things are important depending on your level and what type of program you’re looking for, but they’re not the most important.
Program Must-Have #2: Progress like a boss
I often see beginners at my Globo Gym attempting power exercises like box jumps and med ball throws before they’re physically ready.
They’re standing on BOSUs for squats, curling in the squat rack (DON’T YOU DARE DO THAT!), and attempting handstand push-ups before they’ve mastered a real push-up.
Maybe these exercises appear sexy and cool on the Internet but they’re more likely to get you hurt than improve how your body looks and feels.
If you want to achieve the level of health and vitality you crave, making smart progressions is the way to go.
This means, intelligently going from bodyweight to dumbbells to kettlebells to barbells and choosing exercises that move you either forward or laterally.
For example, you might have a plan that progresses a dumbbell RDL to a barbell RDL to a conventional deadlift over time. The tools, complexity and demands of the exercise change but you’re led there safely over a period of time. You’re moving forward.
You can also progress an exercise laterally without changing the tool or increasing the load, volume, or even complexity of the exercise. For instance, going from a standing cable face pull to half kneeling to full kneeling face pull provides a different stimulus and challenge to your core while offering variety.
Following a structured, focused plan that puts you on the safest path toward more advanced movements and techniques is far superior to an overly complicated, aggressive exercise or workout. It doesn’t have to look cool to be effective.
Program Must-Have #3: It allows you to get better by getting better
The only way to get better at something is to simply…do it better every single time. I’m talking about hitting every rep like it’s your first. Yes, you’ll be tired by the last one and maybe the third set has you struggling a bit, but don’t get sloppy just to check the workout or the exercise off the box.
You don’t have to crush every exercise or every workout but you can at least aim for fine-tuning your skills or form each time. A good exercise program encourages that without forcing you to do more, more, and more.
If your workouts are making you feel beat up, exhausted, and worn down every time, or hurt, then something isn’t right.
You should be able to build strength, have some fun, and look good in the process without having to workout 6 days a week. You should start feeling more capable and confident in your skills with each and every workout.
Notice that I didn’t say “do more” or “go heavier”. There’s a time and place for that in a training program. Do things right, do it well and you’ll start seeing the results come. The easiest way to achieve that is by following a structured, focused training program that you can do 3-4x a week for at least 12 weeks.
I prefer a 12 week program for most people because that allows ample time to build strength, skill, technique, and optimal recovery. It’s also a long enough cycle to get you results without being aggressive and prevents boredom and burnout. After 12 weeks you can reassess where you’re at, how your goals have changed and build up from there.
The Major Takeaway
Building a body you love and feel amazing in is far less complicated than you think. If you’re stuck in a plateau and don’t know where to start, look for programs that address movement patterns, safe progressions and that prioritize strength training.
Pick a program that you can do. Follow the program consistently. Trust the process and track how you feel throughout the program instead of how you look every single day or what the scale says. The outcome is a byproduct of your consistent effort.