When it comes to workouts there are really two main types of people. There are those who will walk into a gym with a rough idea of the muscle groups they want to train and an idea about the exercises they will perform.
The second group is made up of people who will plan their workouts before they even get to the gym. It might be part of a 3 month cycle or they might have adjusted their exercises and weight targets based on their previous workout for that muscle group.
If you fall into the first group then there is every chance that your progress has slowed or even stopped. The best way to see this is to step into a gym.
When you look around at the people lifting weights around you, who do you aspire to be like? Is it the person who’s lifting set after set in a clear order and clear rep ranges, focussing on strict form, breathing and control of the weight, or is it the person doing one set of an exercise before moving onto the next, taking 5 minute breaks and varying their rep ranges so wildly that it’s clear they haven’t planned this workout.
Of course the first group of people can be broken into two types, the type of people who make a conscious decision not to plan and just turn up at the gym, and the people who are trying their best to form a workout plan but just don’t have the guidance to create one that’s effective.
Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with falling into any of these groups, how you train is entirely up to you. But this article is aimed at planning to improve your progress, and if improvement is your goal then you simply can’t afford to be one of the people from the first group, someone who doesn’t plan.
Workout planning – What are your priorities?
This isn’t just progression for a week, month or even a year. Once you incorporate planning into your workouts you will see progress towards your goal year after year.
It all comes down to setting realistic goals, then breaking these up into smaller goals that you can look at every single workout if necessary and remind yourself exactly what you have to do.
If we take someone who has been lifting for a few years as an example, and let’s say this person has a deadlift of 500 lb but they want to get to 600 lb. This is entirely a strength goal and should be planned as such.
So they have a target, the 100 lb increase in their deadlift, but what’s even more important is the timescale. This is the part that must be realistic. If they were to set a goal of increasing their deadlift by 100 lb in 2 months they wouldn’t be able to do it, may become disheartened and would let their goal slip further away without adjusting the timescale.
By being realistic with our goal timescales we avoid setting ourselves up for a fall and are much more likely to stay motivated, even if the timescale is 6 months, 12 months or even longer.
Keeping with our example of the 100 lb deadlift gain, knowing what timescale to set is the hard part. The easiest way to do this is look at how far you have come in the last 6 months. If they have added 30 lb without having to alter their diet or training routine too much then the chances are they can achieve this goal within 4 months. But 4 months is a long time and it’s entirely possible that the gains may slow or they may miss a workout, so it’s best to add on 10 – 20 % to the time you think it will take based on the previous 6 months of progress.
Breaking bigger goals into smaller ones
So now that they have a goal of 100 lb increase in their deadlift over 5 months, it’s important to break this down into smaller goals, so it’s clear if you are staying on track. 100 lb over 5 months averages out at 20 lb per month, or 5 lb per week. If you think about it this is only adding a 2.5 lb plate to each side of the bar each week and does seem achievable given the right training and diet.
So that gives us how much we will need to increase the deadlift by each workout based on an average of 1 deadlift specific workout each week. The most important part now is the workout planning.
Even if you don’t write down the exercises, repetitions and weight for your other workouts, deadlift day is the training session you must do this for.
It not only helps to provide you with a clear idea of how much you have to lift and what you have to achieve for each exercise, but also keeps you training at your limit and ensures consistent progress. For example if you see that the previous week you did 6 sets of deadlifts but were losing strength by the final work set then you can consider reducing the intensity of one or two previous sets, or even removing a lighter work set completely.
Achieving any goal worth setting isn’t easy, but planning and adjusting your approach will give you the best possible chance of making consistent gains no matter what your training goal is.
Planning your workout times
One final point worth mentioning is the planning of your workout times. Making the most efficient use of your time in the gym will help you stay motivated and focussed on the current set and the exercises that follow.
If you can, try to workout at a time when the gym isn’t so busy. This will prevent having to queue for machines and spend longer time resting between sets which may cause your muscles to cool down and increase the risk of injury if you then jump straight into a heavy set.
One of the main things that separates the most successful bodybuilders, powerlifters and athletes apart from the others is their ability to plan, set goals and adapt consistently.
Take a look over your past few months of progress and learn from what you have or have not been doing. If you are not seeing the results you want then perhaps it’s time for a change.
When you finish reading this article, grab a piece of paper and a pen, open a new Word document or just find some way of recording your next goal. Then think about how long you can realistically set yourself for achieving that goal. Finally, break that main goal into smaller goals and write those down too to take with you to your workouts.
In between sets keep those as a constant reminder and look at them if you need to. Write down any changes you feel you need to make and adapt in time for your next workout.
If you haven’t been making plans and are disappointed with your progress, I guarantee you this will move you closer to your goals.