By: Jeremy Partl, RD
You have spent hours upon hours scouring the latest publications on Google Scholar, reading pages of your favorite fitness magazine, and listening to podcasts on everything training.
It takes you even more time, but you finally have the blueprint of your upcoming training plan that details the number of reps, rest, specific exercises, days you will only do cardio, etc.
This is the perfect one. Backed by science, you are now going to achieve your goal of putting on 10 lbs. over the next 3 months. You are so optimistic; you think it will actually help you to put on 15 lbs. Even better than that, there will not be an ounce of fat that you gain.
Fast forward to the third week of the program. You are so sore that you can’t get out of bed. You’ve got a horrible cold that just won’t go away. Even worse, you are having to skip your son’s T-ball game because you had to finish your workout.
But, it’s proven by science. You just have to persist, right?
Adherence to Your Training Program
No matter what your training program entails, if you can’t follow it properly, or it cuts into the other area of your life, it probably isn’t the best one for you.
There is a difference between what is “optimal” and what is actually going to get you the most results.
When you are putting together your training plan, you have to make sure that your plan is practical, fun, and flexible.
These are the most important factors that go into your training program, with a greater importance than the exact number of reps, sets, weight, etc.
Practical: Will this plan work for your life and body?
You need to think about your schedule on a week-to-week and day-to-day basis.
If you have decided that the “optimal approach” is training 6 days a week for two hours a day, yet you are a student who works 40 hours a week in addition to classes and homework, has a hobby, and has social commitments on the weekends, that may not be realistic.
You have to start with what you can do, before you decide what you should do.
Always think about fitting your training program to what is sustainable and realistic in your life first, before assessing anything else.
If you think that a 5 day a week training program would be perfect but you only have time to train 4 days a week – it’s not an option, let go of it! Focus on what you can do in the days you have available.
Are you someone that can tolerate lots of volume? If you can’t get out of bed or can barely walk, your next workouts won’t be near as effective.
Additionally, if you have other hobbies that may interfere with your performance in the gym, you may have to back off on the efforts lifting the iron.
Fun: Are you enjoying what you are doing?
Why is enjoyment so important? Giving someone a suboptimal plan that they love will result in more effort and dedication than if you take an optimal plan that doesn’t get your juices and your passion flowing.
Setting up your training around not only sound principles, but also personal enjoyment can help you create a positive cycle of enjoyment driving harder training, producing results, which in turn, drives even more enjoyment.
Think about the rise of popular programs such as P90X, Insanity, Bodypump, and even Crossfit. What’s most important is that people enjoy doing these activities. They may not have the best principles or progressions, but it get’s someone off the couch, doing something they enjoy, and helping to change their body with each subsequent workout.
Flexible: Do You Have Flexibility In Your Program To Accommodate The Unexpected And Move Forward?
Flexibility is a tied in with the previous two factors, as it allows you to enjoy your training, and allows it to be realistic.
Training is a life-long game and there will be times when you struggle to train as planned. Maybe work gets in the way, or there is a schedule change due to some family commitment – when these things happen it’s important to have the flexibility to accommodate the changes and keep making progress towards your goals without giving up or program hopping blindly.
Flexibility When Stress is High
Training, dieting, sleep deprivation, work, worries etc are all stressors to the body, which contribute to the collective pool of stresses in your life.
Many of the factors that add up stress are outside of your control, and separate from the gym. However, they still can affect your training.
For example, if you have a lot of pressure at work, have trouble with your coworkers, a family member passes away, you divorce etc., anything that you can imagine, remember those stresses have an impact on your training.
That’s why auto-regulating your training (developing an inherent flexibility to your approach) can be very useful so that your training stress matches your ability to manage stress.
Likewise, your mood and energy levels can play a large role in your training progress.
if you have a day where you feel terrible, weak, and depleted of energy, doing the lowest amount of volume may help you to recover and crush the next workout. In the same frame of mind, if you can crush the world, you might as well add more weight to that bar, more than you had planned to use.
Now this isn’t the only way to implement a flexible approach into your training, and we’ll cover more ways to do so throughout this book, but hopefully, it helps to shift your mindset to look at the big picture versus just the sets and reps in front of you on any given day.
Remember, consistency is what makes progress rather than perfection.
It takes self-awareness and restraint to be able to appropriately implement these philosophies into program design. We are not robots, “optimal” is a concept that doesn’t always fit into our realities and the stresses we experience in life are largely out of our hands. Therefore, you need to be sure that the program you develop is specific to your individual life circumstances, considers your individual preferences, and is flexible enough to account for any curve balls life throws your way.
If you would like help creating and executing a training and nutrition plan that is realistic, fun, and flexible, make sure to check out our shop page. We offer affordable coaching plans that are tailored specifically to your lifestyle, abilities, and preferences, all while leading you towards your goals.