Training without a Program: A Necessary Evil, Occasionally
Coaches, trainers, avid fitness folk, and even the common gym goer are always on the look out for a new program that is going to help them overcome their training obstacles and achieve their goals. Programs are a neccessity to achieve long term success in fitness.
Coaches often support each others programs, released in the form of E-books, because they believe in the coach, know they have done their homework, and have witnessed a track record of success with clients.
I place every client on an individualized program that is tailored to their particular abilities, , goals, as well as their medical and training history. These programs often share similiar exercise selections (For example, If you can't sumo deadlift yet, I'll have you do a wide stance KB deadlift) and general flow and organization.
Programs get results. Almost all success in the gym is going to come from having a well developed program that is executed with high levels of confidence on the behalf of the trainer and the client.
Progressive Overload is real, and the body will adapt specifically to the demands that are repeatedly placed upon it. Having goals and training towards them is critical to fitness excellence.
Programs can help you pick which goals to focus on first. Programs can guide you to accomplishing them.
Very simply, Programs rock the socks of life!
Yet, what happens when you aren't on a program?
Does the world stop spinning on it's axis? Are all of your gainz suddenly taken from your body? Does Justin Beiber release a new album just to spite you?
Oh God, I hope not.
I think that the occasional week that is as unstructured as possible is good for the body in terms of psychology and physiology. It is refreshing to live in anarchy for a period of time.
Let me share a personal story to support this.
Very recently I went to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with a couple of my closest friends from college. There was a lot of booze, a bunch of buffets, and not much thought about training, writing, or fitness as a whole. Except for when I would body surf in the ocean. While my friends slept on towels I dove around in the waves, contemplated life, and thought about training in a disconnected way that I hadn't enjoyed the luxury of in quite some time.
Seriously, I play in the ocean like a twelve year old.
For the most part...I abandoned the life I lead here in Washington D.C.
The mental break from being a Type-A trainer was utterly refreshing, but I couldn't let go of feeling the endorphins of training. I didn't see it as trying to balance out the unhealthy consumptions of vacation either.
I simply wanted to sweat and work my body hard without having to save energy for impending client sessions. I didn't even do a bicep curl until the last day!
These lifts took the form of controlled chaos. I hit chest, goblet squats, pull ups, and deadlifts. I shoulder pressed, and did push ups, banded flyes, and glute bridges. I did animal flow for core and mobility, the rower for intervals, and even some one-arm lever planks that I saw from Dean Somerset. It was amazing. I had some C4 from the front desk, my headphones in my ears, and a desire to thrash myself in an hour...by any means neccessary.
That is why it is ok to train without a program at times.
Instead of worrying about completing a program, improving numbers, contemplating rest periods, or percentage of maxes...
You just slaughter the weights. You sweat and breath heavy. You FEEL your body working hard instead of just following a plan to completion.
You get back in touch with what real failure is. You realize that even if science says that blasting your shoulders prior to attempting to bench will limit your strength output; you can still do it, gain a training effect, and not end the world. You work hard. The End.
As A Trainer
I've long prided myself on being an intellectual trainer. One who coaches movements and provides quality information and feedback over being a guy with bulging biceps and lingo that doesn't extend beyond "Do it!". I work hard to develop thoughtful programs backed by science and experience.
And still...I don't always follow them.
For example, I have many clients who are avid travelers for business. It is not uncommon for me to see a client eight to ten times in one month only to see them once the next.
It can make program design frustrating. You can do two things when a client hasn't been to the gym in three weeks.
You can pick back up where they left off, lower the loads, account for stiffness or immobility, and trudge through the first three to five workouts until they get a groove back.
You can spend a few sessions getting their body back into fighting shape. A full body day with varying loads, rest periods, and a moderate cumulative volume will do the trick. Focus on intensity and not adherence to a strict set of exercises and prescribed load, repetition, or volume. For one workout, they just work hard.
Lacking a Program doesn't Kill
Bootcamp style workouts that thrive on creating a metabolic effect each and every class are thriving everywhere in this nation, especially in the big cities where a single class can cost $30.00 or more.
The flaws are obvious. Lack of individual attention, lack of progression, and the overwhelming lack of programming sensibility.
For long term success...these classes have their limitations. Yet, what they do accomplish is what should be at the base of every program anyway...
Hard work and a committment to get better.
While most attendees of these classes would benefit better from an individualized program that is designed soley to have them suceed at their goals over time in a safe and efficient manner; at least they are out there crushing it.
They sweat, oxidize fat, and burn through anaerobic and aerobic glycolysis on a regular basis. Some may even see muscle hypertrophy and body fat loss.
Change can happen even when every variable isn't controlled
Fitness as an industry is at a place where incredible individuals with advanced educations have infiltrated a space that used to be dominated by the hard working, bro-science spewing lifter. Countless studies have proved what works and what doesn't. The cumulative experience of coaches and scientists have led to a strong foundation of facts that serve as the basis of any reputable training program, athletic facility, or even just a skilled coach's ethos.
For the overwhelming majority of the year you should train with a program that is well structured and aimed precisely at your goals. Yet, every now and again...