Friday, August 22, 2014

Some thoughts on Programming

This is something I wrote up a while back and never got around to finishing / posting, part of the process of compiling my first comprehensive system of training. You can see the implementation of this system if you look at my 'training-log' posts from March and April of this year. Ended up being quite a great system for me, resulting in some solid PR lifts. Its somewhat of a 'loose' system, in which you make daily decisions on what lifts/sets/reps you want to do. Its intended to be high frequency, but I suppose it could work just as well with 3-4 training days per week.
Hopefully it benefits someone else. -Joe 


·         Top-Set Work – Going for Rep-PRs with a given weight, typically 5-8 or 10+ rep range. Choose to do a PR day based on energy level, physical/mental preparedness, bar-speed on warm-ups & elapsed time since the last PR.

o    Actions
§  1 – Perform 5/4/3/2/1 warm-up. The final single should be around ~90% of current Training Max (which is a 1RM estimate from Rep-PRs).
§  2 – Back-off to the desired weight or % for the PR attempt.
§  3 (Optional) – Perform 1 or 2 back-off sets after the PR attempt, always leaving 1 or 2 reps in the tank.
·         Volume Work – Sets across at a given weight or % (based off of the current training max), aiming to build strength, mass & work capacity.  These days should be of medium difficulty overall, putting the work in without psyche-up. Do not rush the workload, pick a weight that you can sufficiently handle in correct style, without forcing or grinding reps.

o    Actions
§  1 – Perform 5/4/3/2/1 warm-up. The final single should be around ~90% of current Training Max.
§  1A (optional) – Perform a traditional style warm-up, increasing weight up to the amount required for the working sets. For example; 135x10, 225x8, 275x6, 315 5x5.
§  2 – Aim for 15-50 reps total, via one the following;

       Sets of    5 @ 75%*   until RPE 9+ is reached
                    8 @ 70%*                
                                "        10 @ 60%*               
                                        15 @ 55%*               
                                        20 @ 50%*              
*Based on training max

·         Base Template – 6 Training days / Rest days as needed

o    Day 1 – Squat, Pressing, Abdominals
o    Day 2 –   Pulls,       , Back-work
o    Day 3 – Squat,        , Abdominals
o    Day 4 –   Pulls,       , Back-work
o    Day 5 – Squat,        , Abdominals
o    Day 6 –   Pulls,       , Back-work
o    Day 7 –   Rest

·         Daily Layout

o    Day 1
§  Warm up: Stretching, Jump-Rope, Band Good Mornings
§  Pressing: Bench, Dip or Press
§  Squat
§  Ab Wheel

o    Day 2
§  Warm up: Stretching, Jump-Rope, Band Good Mornings
§  Pressing: Bench, Dip or Press
§  Back-work: Rows, Chins or Shrugs


  1. I follow a similar approach to my lifting as well and have had great results with it. Look forward to see you post more often, I've always enjoyed reading them!

  2. Thanks man. I'll try my best.

  3. Good stuff, Joe. I am also moving to a higher frequency approach with fewer exercises per day. Do you have any guidelines for periodizing your assistance work? I looked through your logs, but couldn't really find a pattern. If not, that is completely fine. I understand the big lifts are the focus.

    Also, do you have any guidelines for when you choose to do a "top-set" or "volume" work? For example, do you go a week trying to hit a "top-set" and then switch to "volume" or is it more that you only go for a "top-set" if you are feeling good?

  4. Zach, the article could probably be amended with additional details, but I try to keep things simple. The minor details are all personal preference anyway.

    Assistance work should basically be whatever you feel you need after doing Presses / Squats / Pulling. It shouldnt be much and I never periodize it. Such as 3x10 on facepulls or curls or whatever, maybe some ab wheel. Thats what I typically go for. Put 99% of your effort into hitting the money lifts for the day.

    Think of the Top-Set days as more of a testing day. A display of your current strength levels. The result will be your new Training Max (TM). Using this TM you will have a baseline to 'program' the next few sessions. I'd say at least 3-5 volume workouts before doing another re-test, i.e- Top-Set day. This could be anywhere between 2-3+weeks of training, depending on how often you decide to do that particular lift.

    To be completely clear, I'll provide an hypothetical. The Lifter wants to start my program, so the first thing he must do is establish the TM.

    Workout #1 he tests his Bench and gets 100kg x8reps. His TM is ~125kg.
    Workout #2, 65/75/90/100/115x1 (5/4/3/2/1 warm-up), then 95kg, 3x5 (75% of TM).
    Workout #3, 5/4/3/2/1 warm-up, then 75kg, 3x10 (60% of TM).
    Workout #4, 5/4/3/2/1 warm-up, then 88kg. 3x8 (70% of TM).
    Workout #5, 5/4/3/2/1 warm-up, then 95kg. 4x5 (75% of TM).

    So on and so forth. Lets say the lifter notices on the second 3x5 workout that the weights are feeling lighter and faster compared workout #2. Its also been about 2-3 weeks training (benching 2-3x/week). Perhaps a Top-Set day is in order, if he's feeling ready for it.

    Workout #6 he tests his Bench and gets 100kg x10reps. His TM is now ~133kg.
    He simply continues the program, basing off of his new TM.

    You should be simultanious doing this for all of your main lifts.

    Hope that helps. Will probably incorporate this into the post somehow.


  5. Wow! Thanks so much for the detailed comment, Joe. I really appreciate it man.

    I have another question if you don't mind. I know you have tried a lot of nutrition strategies in the past. What would you say is most optimal for strength/physique goals for someone who trains in the morning/early afternoon? I know you like Biorhythm, but it seems like that is probably most ideal for evening training. Have you trained in the morning using that system? If so, how did it work for you? Do you keep carbs high the day of training or the day before to prepare for your session the next day? Or, do you think carb/calorie cycling is unneccessary? Sorry for all the questions:)

    Thanks again!

  6. You're welcome.

    I've never really done heavy training sessions prior to noon-time or so. I much prefer evening training for various reasons.

    Check out my Meal Template post
    I think you'd do just fine by moving your workout between meal #1 and meal #2. Its mostly personal preference... if a hearty breakfast doesnt sit well for training, then go for a lighter (or liquid) meal. Perhaps even experiment with fasted training, eating your first meal post-workout, around noon or so. See the LeanGains system.

    I think there is some benefit to having a (slightly) higher carb intake on training days, but large swings in calorie intake and carb/fat ratio arent necessary. Also, if you are training daily it would make sense to have a fairly consistant intake, but that really depends on your goals. If youre trying to lose fat, obviously calories will have to be cut from somewhere. In the end, the main determinant of whether you progress toward your goal is you caloric intake and to a lesser extend, your macronutrient ration. I think you should set-up a baseline diet according to your goals and allow some shifting of carbs/fats depending on your training schedule & intensity. If you want help, feel free to email me.

    There is no optimal system. Only what works for you right now, according to the variables.

    Best of luck. -Joe

  7. Dude! You are the best at responding to comments. I really appreciate it.

    What are your current goals? I was looking at your MFP page and your calories look pretty low. Are you in a fat loss phase? Also, it doesn't look like you are following the biorhythm style with most of your carbs later. Are you experimenting with something different? If so, how are you liking it?

    1. Currently working toward the end of a slow fat-loss phase, about 3.5 more kilos to lose. I have been gaining strength during the process.

      Calories are low enough to facilitate bodyweight losses, but they arent drastically low. Some days I Biorhythm, some days I do leangains style IF. Just depends on the schedule.

      Starting to experiment again with a lowered protein intake, higher carbohydrate diet. So far so good.

  8. hi. Found your blog and liked it just to realize that you stopped writing. Is there a reason you stopped blogging? Would have been interesting too see the outcome of you experimenting with a higher carb intake.