When writing a training program, the hope will normally be that it should help you to increase your strength and fitness while perhaps losing some weight. Ideally it should be something that's relatively easy, but that brings great results despite this relatively mild effort. Ultimately it's about looking good, in the minimum amount of time possible.
If that's your approach to a training program though, then it's severely lacking in ambition. In reality, there are many ways you could be getting more from your program and you should probably revisit what precisely your training program should be.
The Problem With Most Training Programs
The main problem with most training programs is that they focus too much on the aesthetic. While it's fine if that's your primary goal, the unfortunate irony is that training primarily for aesthetic benefits is actually not the best way to improve the appearance of your physique.
Why? Because training your appearance alone often means focusing on isolating specific muscles (the mirror muscles) through exercises designed specifically to trigger hypertrophy, or it involves doing lots of CV (cardiovascular exercise like running) and not much else. Either of these two methods of training will ultimately leave you feeling achy, tired and sore and won't do anything to combat the underlying route cause of why you're not already in great shape. Meanwhile, this kind of training is often too intense for a beginner, which can result in them becoming injured or developing muscular imbalances and back pain.
Ask yourself this: how often have you tried to start a new training program, only to give up because you're feeling tired, achy, lethargic and quite possibly injured? If you're like most people, the answer will be: every time.
The other problem is that these training programs tend to be based on the routines of athletes and bodybuilders: people who have very specific goals which differ from our own. These training methods are optimal for people interested in becoming bodybuilders… but not for everyone else. Do you need to have bulging biceps that explode out of your shirt? Probably not – you'd probably be just as happy with defined and strong looking arms. Do you need to diet to such an extent that you can't have any of the nice foods you want, and that you then have no energy or enthusiasm for work when you get to the office? No. We need training programs that support our lifestyles and that means focusing on the requirements that our everyday lives place on us.
A New Kind of Approach
So now imagine instead, that a training program focused instead on just making you healthy. This would mean improving your energy levels, your flexibility, your power, your fitness and endurance. Thus, you would feel energetic when you woke up first thing in the morning, you would have plenty of energy to throw into your workouts and you would actually enjoy working. Far from making you achy, this kind of training program would reduce your stiffness and far from developing muscular imbalances you would actually be focusing on improving functional strength such that you could perform impressive displays of power with no risk of injury.
You would be more focused at work, more formidable during sports and you would enjoy your free time more. And the aesthetic benefits would come as well, because people look good when they're healthy. Extra exercise coupled with improved energy throughout the day, would mean you had a toned and slim physique – whereas the right diet would make your skin practically glow thanks to optimal nutrition.
Would such a routine be easy? Probably not to begin with – but it would be practical. In other words, you would be training in a realistic way, conducive to staying active during the challenges of every day modern living. It would fit around your schedule and it would be flexible and adaptable.
How to Train This Way
So that is what a training program should actually be – at least for the 99% of the population who aren't professional athletes.
But how do you go about training this way?
Forget Bro Splits: The first piece of advice is to forget 'bro splits'. These are splits that focus entirely on one or two muscle groups per session and thereby spread a full body routine out across an entire week. This kind of training is great for building size in individual muscles, but if you aren't interested in building 'large' muscle, then they aren't that efficient or that useful. Likewise, they make it all too easy to create muscle imbalances that lead to pain.
Don't Go Too Hard: There's simply no point in pushing yourself ridiculously hard in the gym – again, unless you have specific ambitions to build large muscle or lose a lot of weight fast. Instead of dreading your workouts, try to make them fun and fast. This way you'll be more likely to stick to them and less likely to injure yourself. The benefits will come on slowly, but they will come eventually and stay. Instead of going mad in the gym, focus on being constantly active and enjoying it.
Likewise for Your Diet: The same goes for your diet: try to reduce the number of calories you eat on a daily basis and avoid carbs in particular. But when it comes to having a tuna salad, give yourself the benefit of having a little mayonnaise with it. The number of calories a small dollop will add are negligible compared to how much tastier it will be.
Keep Your Training Varied: Your training should be kept varied and interesting if you want to a) stick to it and b) ensure you develop every aspect of your fitness. One day you could go for a run, the next you could do a bunch of pull ups and push ups, the next you could play tennis.
Likewise for Your Diet: Again, the same is true for your diet. Research is constantly telling us different things about what's healthy and what isn't and anything in great quantities it seems can end up being bad news. The best way to avoid that is to eat a mixed and varied diet. This will also ensure that you take in the maximum number of nutrients, and it's another good reason to give yourself a break sometimes and to have 'cheat days' (or even whole 'cheat' weekends).
Spend Time Outside: It's hard to emphasize the importance of spending time outdoors, not only to improve your energy (thanks to the vitamin D and improved sleep), but also to improve your mood and combat stress.
Don't Neglect Flexibility: Don't just train your muscular strength and your cardio fitness: you should also be training your flexibility if you want to increase your energy levels, reduce pain and generally perform better all round. If you sit in an office all day for your work, then there's a good chance that you're currently incredibly stiff and immobile and you may not even realize it.
The Mental Aspect: Stress is one of the biggest issues preventing us from training or eating correctly. It also generally contributes to poor health and increases our chances of becoming ill. The solution then, is to consider the mental aspect of your training too, by doing some meditation or just generally combating sources of stress in your life.
Use these strategies and you're likely to find that sticking to a program is much more achievable and enjoyable. And what's more, you'll notice benefits in every aspect of your life.