Too often, athletes go to the gym and make up a lift. This non-strategy is a bold one, to say the least. Any coach knows that it is crucial for a lifter to track workout progress and plan accordingly.
Tracking progress allows you to see improvements and map out your success so you will know exactly when your heavy week is, when your deload is, and when you should peak for competition.
The best place to start when trying to track your lifts is with either a notebook or a spreadsheet. If you're a beginner, just bring a notebook to the gym and write down all the exercises you do, along with the amount of weight you lift. Tracking weights and reps will allow you to use progressive overload, which means that you will gradually increase the stress placed on your body.
In order for your muscles to grow and build strength, your body must adapt to a resistance that is higher than you previously lifted. When you go to the gym and lift the same weights every week, you limit your potential.
Plotting Your Workouts
It's a good idea to plot your workouts over a long period of time. If you are really organized, you can set up different cycles. The place to start would be a microcycle, which is usually about one week of training. Planning a certain number of microcycles will allow you to progress gradually. You can then establish where you want to be by the end of your mesocycle, which is a group of microcycles.
For example, you could have four microcycles at one week each, and that whole month of training would be a mesocycle.
From there, you can take it a step further by mapping out your long term goals over a few months, which makes a macrocycle. Most lifters and athletes, however, take it a mesocycle at a time.
Writing Your Lifting Program
When writing your program, you first need to decide how many days a week you want to lift. Then, decide what kind of split you want to do.
There are a few options to choose from, but the most common is an Upper/Lower-Body Split. For example, if you lift four days a week, you can do pper body on Day 1, lower body on Day 2, rest one day, upper body on Day 3, and finish the week with a lower-body workout. This splits up the exercises so that you work every muscle in your body over the course of four days.
Once you have the split figured out, decide what your primary lifts will be. The best primary exercises vary depending on your goals and which sports you play. For example, if you need to gain explosiveness, it's a good idea to work in Olympic lifts. If you are looking to improve your physique, the best way to do that would be to make Squat, Bench, Deadlift and Push-Press your primary lifts. They will give you the best results, and they match the upper/lower split.
Next, pick your secondary lifts. You have a lot of freedom when choosing what you want to do after you get your main lift out of the way. From a physique standpoint, you should try to target every muscle over the course of a week and make sure the exercises you choose are taxing since you are trying to put on muscle. You can also set yourself up to reach a goal. For example, if you are trying to reach a goal of 15 Pull-Ups in a row, you can add Pull-Ups to your program twice a week. So pick some of your favorites, but don't forget to gradually progress the weight.
Once you have the workouts figured out, choose the rep ranges. This is relatively simple if you know what phase you're in. There are three phases to choose from: hypertrophy, strength and power. Hypertrophy is involved with muscle growth, while strength and power are primarily to strengthen muscles and gain explosiveness. Rep ranges for each phase are approximately 8-12 reps for hypertrophy, 3-6 reps for strength, and less than 3 reps for power. Most new and beginner lifters should start with a hypertrophy program just to familiarize themselves with the movements and build some muscle before jumping into a strength phase and lifting heavy weights.
Just because you did a certain phase doesn't mean the next mesocycle needs to be different. If you are trying to get stronger, you may want to do two strength phases in a row. It all depends on your goals and what you want to get out of the program.
Say you are working on a hypertrophy phase. You don't want to do the same number of reps every week. You should give yourself a linear progression, meaning you have a consistent progression while increasing the reps each week. For example, you perform 12 reps, then the next week you do 10, then 8, then back up to 10 to make it an undulating progression (meaning your reps for each week form a wave-like pattern). This pattern will allow you to increase weight each week, which will build muscle as you adapt to the stress being put on your body.
There are a lot of things that go into writing a program, but once you learn how to do it, you will be able to write your next cycle very quickly.
Write Everything Down
It might be tedious, but you must write everything down. No exceptions. You might think you can remember what you did last week, but it can be quite difficult to be perfectly accurate.
Writing everything down allows you to know exactly what you did in your previous workout, and whether you should increase the weight or sets/reps during your next workout. There is no substitute for seeing what you did on paper. And there's nothing more satisfying than looking at your chart and seeing your strength numbers go up.
Below is a sample lifting program. Work on a spreadsheet that is easy to read and works well for you. Keep updating it, and you will definitely become stronger and gain plenty of muscle.
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