Sunday, March 25, 2012

Step By Step Guide to Your Own Workout Routine - Part II: Choosing the Right Training Style(s) for Your Goals

Image 1: Maybe it is because I don't have the beard, but for me HIT a la Mike Metzner never worked out ;-)
In the last installment you should have learned "How to Fit Your Training, Rest Days, Strength and Conditioning Workouts into Your Personal Schedule". By now, you should thusly have a general idea of what your future workout week is going to look like. You should, for example, know that you will have to bring your gymbag to the office on Monday, to be able to go right to the gym after work. While you will have programmed your shiny new iPhone to wake you up on Wednesday early, so that you can do a fasted HIIT workout before you shower, have breakfast and head to work... what you still need to know, though, is what exactly you are about to do at the gym, on your treadmill or simply in the park next door. The second part of the "Step By Step Guide to Your Own Workout Routine" thusly starts with a chapter on training types and splits.

A fundamental decision: The "right" training type(s) / style(s) for you

When you are planning your workout days the first decision you will have to make relates to the "training type" or "training style". Based on this decision and the number and schedule of your workouts your will then decide on the optimal training split. It goes without saying that we are dealing with a two-tier menu, here. In other words, there is a range of strength and a range of conditioning workouts you can chose from, when planning your workout regimen.
Strength workoutsConditioning workouts
Classic full body strength training
Circuit training

High(er) volume bodybuilding split
German volume training
Escalating density training
Pyramid training

5x5 high intensity training
HIT a la Mike Metzner
Olympic / powerlifting
Low intensity steady state

High intensity steady state
High intensity interval

Metabolic circuit training

Cross-fit conditioning workouts

Other sports
Table 1: Examples of "training styles" you could chose from (not intended to be complete!)
This brief overview is obviously not intended to be complete. The main intention is to give you an idea of what a "workout style" actually is. In most cases the latter is closely linked to certain volume, intensity and even set and rep prescriptions. This is something you should be aware of, since the type of workout you chose will limit your choices as far as set and rep schemes are concerned. On a full body strength training regimen, for example, it is impossible to do five exercises per body part. And while you could certainly do olympic lifts in the 20+ rep range, it is still questionable, if that makes sense, after all you will probably have chosen an o-lifting or powerlifting type of training, because your main goal is to increase your strength and though it may be debatable if that is not just as well possible if you train in what is usually considered the hypertophy range of 6-10 reps (cf. Marshall. 2011), I can assure you that you are not going to see significant strength increases if you perform your deadlifts with 20lbs plates on each side for reps.

"Right"? What's that supposed to mean and how do I know?

That said, we are already approaching the question of "which type of training is right for me and my goals" - a tricky question in which you will have to consider a whole host of parameters, of which I believe that the most important ones are:
Image 2: I know that most magazines and website make it appear as if you just go to the gym, pick up a dumbbell and train... unfortunately, your results depend not only on what you do (the correct plan you are learning to set up, here), but also how you do it. Especially complex movements, like the squat and the deadlift require training (not just "doing") and someone who checks your form and helps you correct it. So, if you can't afford a personal trainer, please don't be rude to the strength training veteran who is telling you that you are using way too much weight, but ask him to help you improve on your skills!
  • your training schedule: If the training schedule you have outlined based on what you have learned in the last installment allows for just one strength workout per week, this must be a full-body workout. If you have four or five workout days, you will have to use a body part split.
     
  • your training experience, conditioning and age: Just like the number of workouts must be matched to your experience, your athleticism and your age (or potential health issues), you will have to chose your workout style accordingly, as well. Other than in the case of the training schedule, which has little to no restrictive influence on the range of conditioning workouts you can chose from, your training experience, your conditioning and your overall health could make it hard or not advisable to perform certain conditioning workouts. As I have hinted at before, I don't believe in HIIT training for morbidly obese trainees, simply because walking on an incline at a constant (moderate) tempo for 15 minutes is already very high intensity training for someone who carries an additional 100-200lbs of body fat around. Similarly, someone who has never lifted weights before would be ill-advised to do any sort of high intensity lifting (only), simply because chances are that he or she will just move the weight from point A to point B without stimulating the muscle, but putting lots of stress on cartilage and joints.
     
  • your personal preference and previous choices: Many trainees who want to see optimal results make the fundamental mistake of following a plan to the T, although they hate doing what they do. In other words, a commonly overlooked, but fundamentally important question you should ask yourself is: "What type of training do I want to do?" If you want to get stronger, but hate O-lifting, you better ignore all expert advice that this would be the best way to get stronger, and rather pick a more bodybuilding oriented HIT regimen a la Mike Metzner - assuming you like BB-style workouts better than olympic lifts. In this regards, you will yet have to be cautious not to stick to your favorite routine forever. The HST (hypertrophy-specific training) regimen with its carefully planned macro- and micro-cycles of heavy lifting in the lower and lighter lifting in the higher rep ranges has not been around for so long for nothing. From a physiological perspective it simply makes sense that maximal muscle gain requires adequate strength gains in as much as maximal strength gains won't occur if you don't make sure that your muscles also grow (I will address the issue of "periodization" in an individual post)
     
  • your goals: Based on the previous considerations, the number of workout styles you can / want to chose from should have narrowed down considerably. It is thusly time to make a decision on which of these suits your current goals best (remember: whenever your goals change, e.g. when you have lost enough fat and want to start building muscle, you will have to revisit this choice!). 
Your goal - your workout: There is no single "best" combination

Since it is virtually impossible to come up with definite pairs of workout-style < > goal, and in view of the fact that I have bombarded you with more than enough theoretical information I will try to come up with a handful of common examples:
  • health focus, three days a week: 2x full body classic bodybuilding inspired routine (use different exercises, i.e. routine A and B), 1x HIIT
     
  • health focus, four days a week: 1x full body circuit training (3 rounds), 1x light intensity steady state (35 min), 1x 5x5 high(er) intensity lifting, 1x HIIT (15 min)
     
  • weight loss focus, three days a week: 1x HIIT (20min), 1x full body circuit training (3 rounds), 1x steady state cardio (45 min on rowing machine; largely underrated "cardio" equipment, by the way)
     
  • weight loss focus, four days a week: 2x escalating density training (chest + back, shoulders + legs, arms as supersets), 1x HIIT (20 min), 1x light steady state (35min on incline treadmill)
     
  • hypertrophy focus, three days a week: 2x classic bodybuilding split (day 1: upper body or push; day 2: lower body or pull), 1x HIIT (15 min) + optional ab and flexibility work
     
  • hypertrophy focus, four days a week: 2x escalating density training, 1x powerlifting, 1x steady state cardio (35min rowing ;-)
     
  • hypertrophy focus, five days a week (hardcore ;-): 3x classic bodybuilding split, 2x powerlifting, 2x additional HIIT training either in the morning or 1x steady state (30min) and 1x HIIT (10min) after two workouts of your choice
     
  • strength focus, three days a week: 2x 5x5 training, 1x HIIT (20min) or 1x olymypic lifting + 1x HIIT in the morning or after one of the strength workouts
     
  • strength focus, four days a week: 3x HIT a la Mike Metzner (push, pull, legs), 1x light intensity steady state cardio (45min walking on treadmill)
     
  • strength focus, five days a week: 2x powerlifting, 2x olympic lifting, 1x steady state cardio (35min rowing)
I could obviously continue this list for ever, but rather than doing that I will conclude this installment of the  Step By Step Guide to Your Own Workout Routine, by identifying two common patterns, which may also help you your decision about which combinations could work for you:
  1. Variety means freedom and keeps you from getting bored: You will probably have noticed that many of the templates combine different training styles. This is particularly true for the regimen with more than three workout days and with respect to the "cardiovascular" or conditioning work you are performing. The reasons for that are two-fold: For one, performed correctly, i.e. at maximum intensity, a 15-20min HIIT will require about as much recovery time as a 50min strength workout. A light intensity steady state "aerobic" workout, on the other hand can actually accelerate your recovery (assuming that you have a decent baseline conditioning). It does thusly, at least in my humble opinion, make sense to include one "classic cardio" session into your regimen, especially if you are sitting at a desk for the rest of the day. Secondly, you will notice that having the option of doing one or the other will allow you to chose your cardio workout according to what you feel like. Just got that new magazine in the mail? Well, then discard the 20min HIIT and read your magazine while you are fidgeting around on the cross trainer ;-)
     
  2. Auxilliary work not directly related to your goal can make all the difference: If you look at the "hardcore bodybuilding split" (hypertrophy, 5-day routine) you will see that this is not one of those stupid 5-day splits you see in the magazines. You rather follow a classic 3-day bodybuilding split from Mo-Wed, rest, and perform a push-pull powerlifting type of training on Friday and Saturday. This is similar to one of Layne Norton's plans, who, I am sure, is just as aware as you should be that by improving your major lifts and your overall strength on the "powerlifting days", you are able to get much more out of the "hypertrophy days" earlier in the week. Similarly, a power- or olympic lifter would be ill-advised to neglect his overall conditioning. With the "low" training volume, auxilliary long(er) duration light(er) intensity cardio sessions are thusly an ideal complement to make sure that he does not have to drop the bar, simply he gets wind.
"How many reps? I want to know how many reps I am supposed to do!"

I guess, by now you probably understand, why I have hitherto shied away from this type of blogposts. I have spent the whole sunny Sunday afternoon "blogging" and covered no more than ~15% of what I had in mind, when I sat down. I hope you have still gotten some inspiration, and promise that I am going to do my very best to tackle all of the following issues
Image 3: What is the most underrated conditioning workout? Easy: Rowing! A decent rowing machine will activate your whole body, train your coordination and can even help you build muscle. What more can you ask for of an "auxilliary" and allegedly "uselsess" aerobic exercise?
  • pairing body parts - antagonistic, synergistic, arms on their own day... ?  
  • set and rep ranges - 1-5 for strength, 6-12 for size and 12-20 ...? 
  • exercise selection - do's & don'ts (for a sneak peak check out the EMG series)?
  • periodization - HST, intra-workout "periodization" a la Hatfield... ?
on the coming weekend. In the meantime, you will have the chance to see a 100% concrete example of how an allegedly beginner (and probably also intermediate) incompatible workoutplan can look like, when Adelfo is going to present the results of the "workout-plan-storming" session we had yesterday.

And don't forget: The comment section (below) is open for suggestions, wishes and questions on this and for the future installments of this series - don't be shy folks ;-)