The following is how I might approach a strength coaching client in his mid-thirties.
LP – Linear Progression. Keeping exercises constant while increasing weight each session.
3×5. In this article, the first number represents SETS, while second number represents REPS.
Client 1: JoeJoe is 33 years old, 5’10” tall, and 177 lbs with bodyfat between 18-20% (he’s skinny-fat). He works a desk job as a software developer and is married with two young children. He hasn’t lifted weights since JV football in high school. He enjoys cycling semi-competitively and would like to get stronger to become faster on the bike. He would also like to improve his physique with a bigger chest and arms, and if possible – visible abs.
My coaching plan for Joe:I will discuss with Joe the importance of strength for his cycling and steer him to the Novice LP for as long as possible. Ideally, this would be during the winter months, and the cycling season months away. This gives us time to focus solely on strength and adding some muscle mass. We will also discuss his secondary goals of physique. The LP will add size to his chest, and probably arms. I will explain that at this early stage, let’s focus on the main lifts, and after a few weeks, we can add chins and BB rows which will most likely develop the arms. I will also explain that as we focus on strength and adding lean mass, calorie surplus will be very important (with emphasis on protein), and the goal of visible abs should wait until he’s finished with LP, where we can then dial back his calories if he so chooses. And depending on how much weight gain is fat, and how hard he trains during cycling season, this goal may be met anyway.
We will run a typical 3x per week LP for as long as possible. After 2-3 weeks, I will program chins and rows instead of power cleans as this will help with his physique goals. And this assumes we’ve discussed the benefits of power cleans and how it could help his cycling performance, but he prefers to focus on upper body development.
Weeks 1-3 (rotate A & B workouts for 3 sessions per week)
A) Squats 3×5 B) Squats 3×5
Press 3×5 Bench Press 3×5
Deadlift 1×5 Deadlift 1×5
A) Squats 3×5 B) Squats 3×5 C) Squats 3×5
Press 3×5 Bench Press 3×5 Press 3×5
Chins – work up to 3×10 Deadlift 1×5 BB Rows 3×8
At this point we are probably nearing the end of our traditional LP. Assuming Joe trained consistently, he took his 100 lb squat to 280-290 lbs. I now need to determine where we are with cycling season approaching. His traditional LP will be finished if he starts missing reps, the bar speed slows considerably, or if he needs to begin his cycling training. If cycling is still a month or more out, I will begin to make small changes to keep the LP going. This may give us another couple weeks.
At this point we have timed the end of Joe’s LP perfectly with Spring and the cycling season has begun. With his strength increase, I am confident he will see the improvement in his performance on the bike. At this time, we will sit down again and discuss his goals to see if anything has changed. Is cycling still the focus? If so, how much time will you devote to it? Would you like to continue getting stronger, or at the very least, try to maintain your new strength? Are you pleased with how your physique has improved? Given the flexibility and endless possibilities with intermediate programming, I will take everything we discussed and come up with a program that can be run during the cycling season (16-24 weeks).
We assume Joe would like to continue training with heavy weight, has limited time now due to a heavy cycling program, and still has dreams of bigger ‘chest and guns’. I would typically transition a new intermediate trainee to an HLM program, but Joe’s situation requires a 2x per week Heavy/Light variant that can aid, but not hurt his cycling. (For this assignment I’m assuming semi-competitive means 3-4 days of cycling and several big Saturday races May-October). We can now prioritize the bench press over the press, according to his wishes, and if time and recovery resources are adequate, we can sprinkle in some curls and ab work. I will also temper Joe’s expectations as trying to balance multiple goals while training for a sport usually yields less progress than a strength coach would want. The drawback to this plan is that ideally, we would have more volume, especially upper body, to drive progress. If Joe becomes stagnant or frustrated with his chest/arm development, we can easily transition to 3x HLM or even add another upper body exercise to his squat/deadlift session, if he can handle the additional workload. Nutrition will now need to be monitored closer than before. We will still need the same protein intake to preserve Joe’s new muscle mass (1 – 1.5 grams per lb), and we should group his carb intake close to his training sessions. We don’t need or want continued weight gain for his sport, but we should also watch for drastic weight loss and adjust accordingly.
A conservative plan which emphasizes the Squat and Bench Press might start like this:
Monday A.M. :
Squat (L) 3×5
Bench Press (H) cycle intensities, with back off sets
BB Curls 3×10
Monday P.M. :
Squat (H) cycle intensities, with back off sets
Incline Bench Press (L) 3×8
Deadlift (L) 3×5
Ab roller 3×10
Hard cycling or race day.
Preference is to take day off if possible, or a light/leisure ride if desired or needed.
Rationale for Joe’s Intermediate program: At 2x per week, we will attempt to increase stress by increasing intensity. We will use the light day to add volume to the lift, but will be kept as low as possible, for as long as possible (MED). We will have a volume deadlift day at lower weight, to not over tax, but heavy enough to still drive adaptation. As the intensity begins to stall after 8 weeks or so, we will make small changes to add stress. We’ll do this by slowly adding volume (sets). I will need to monitor closely to ensure Joe is recovering well, and ongoing discussions on his physical and mental state, as well as nutrition will happen. Ultimately, I would like to have Joe on a 3x per week HLM, and this will happen if 1. Joe’s volume gets so high that we need to add a day. 2. He chooses to reduce cycling and focus more on strength. 3. We are confident he can recover from the added stress. 4. Cycling season ends.
Greg is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer, PNL1 Nutrition Coach and pretty groovy cat. That has a blog.