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Allow me to start to start off this series by telling you a story about myself. As Treadaway Training became more successful, I found myself with much less free time and was having a hard time sticking to my training program.
At one point, I was having such a hard time getting my workouts in that I rewrote my program 3 times in about one month. Have you ever found yourself hopping from program to program because you were unable to stick to the plan? What causes this to happen?
When setting a goal, most people have a tendency to want to go all-in and get the best results in the shortest amount of time. We want the perfect program. We want a program that includes the most productive exercises with the most optimal number of sets, reps, and training sessions per week.
There's certainly nothing wrong with wanting a program that produces the best results; however, the desire for the perfect program can actually be our biggest stumbling block. Take a look at the figure below.
Reps, sets, number of sessions per week, exercise selection, and a few other variables all fit into the "optimal" category. They are all very important considerations. In fact, if we lived in a perfect world and didn't have other things to worry about, these variables would be the only things to consider.
Unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect world. Life happens. We don't always have as much free time as we'd like. We have weeks where we have to work 80+ hours. We have families to take care of. We sometimes get sick or injured or have loved ones who get sick or injured.
For these reasons, we have to ask ourselves three questions:
Is my program realistic?
Is my program enjoyable?
Is my program flexible?
I call these the adherence variables and we must address them before moving on to optimizing a training program. After all, the best program in the world, is the worst program for you, if you can't stick to it. (If you've been following Treadaway Training for any length of time, you knew I was going to say that at some point.)
You might have noticed the questions are listed in the same order as they're listed in the figure from earlier and that's because they're in order of importance. Think of a pyramid. Each layer is important, but they all build on the previous layers. Without them, the whole thing would come tumbling down. Keep that in mind when reading the next three sections.
I have one final note before discussing the adherence variables: If you're feeling tempted to skip these sections because they aren't as fun as actually creating your training program, just know that writing a training program without keeping the adherence variables in mind is like having the world's fastest car without a key. You're not going to get the results you want without them.
Does your training program make sense for your current situation? Ultimately, this comes down to time, time, and time. How much time do you have until your goal deadline? Are you trying to slim down for your wedding day in eight weeks or are you trying to look good in a bathing suit on vacation a few months from now?
How much time do you have available in a week? How many sessions per week can you reasonably accommodate? Lastly, how much time do you have available to dedicate to each training session? Based on your schedule, does it make more sense to have three longer sessions or five shorter sessions?
When writing the first of my three failed training programs, I thought it would be best for me to have five short sessions. In reality, I was lying to myself. I wanted to go to the gym five days per week, but it didn't make sense for my schedule, causing me to skip workouts. Be realistic about your schedule.
Have you ever heard the expression "no pain no gain"? At some point, it became widely accepted that obtaining your dream body is a grueling process. I completely disagree with this idea. Building your dream body should be fun. In fact, I would go as far as to say your dream body is unobtainable unless you enjoy your training program.
You will certainly have to put forth some effort, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Think of the old adage, "If you enjoy your job, you'll never work a day in your life." If you enjoy your training program you won't have to work out, you'll want to work out.
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make when setting out to build their dream body is including exercises they don't enjoy because they've been told those exercises are the best for sculpting a specific part of the body. For example, you might hear someone say you have to include barbell squats if you want to have nice legs.
The barbell squat is certainly an excellent exercise. This one exercise hits all the muscles of the leg to varying degrees; however, if you hate them, you aren't going to put as much effort into them. If you don't put effort into them, you won't get good results out of them. For this reason, a leg press or a machine hack squat might be superior options for you.
To give one more example, this idea can (and should) also be applied to your workout schedule. Let's say you love going to the gym but you start getting bored after you've been there for a while. It wouldn't make sense for you to build a program consisting of three sessions that are two hours each.
As those long sessions drag on, you'll put forth less effort, reducing the effectiveness of the exercises you're performing. If this is you, it would make more sense to add more sessions per week and reduce the length of your sessions, five sessions that are one hour each for example.
As we go forward with this series and shift our focus to making an optimal program, keep this in mind. A suboptimal program that you enjoy is better than an optimal program that you hate. How much you enjoy your training creates a feedback loop that can hurt or help you reach your goals.
If you enjoy your training, you will put forth more effort. If you put forth more effort, you will get better results. If you get better results, you will enjoy your training. Conversely, if you don't enjoy your training, you will put forth less effort. If you put forth less effort, you will get worse results. If you get worse results, you won't enjoy your training.
Keep the pyramid standing.
Let's revisit the pyramid concept from earlier. When trying to make your program enjoyable, you must not lose sight of making it realistic. This is where I failed when writing the second of my failed workout programs.
I love squats and deadlifts. They're my two favorite exercises, which is why I decided to have two leg days each week and included both squats and deadlifts in each of those two sessions. The problem was these two exercises also take more time for me to complete than any other exercise.
This made the length of my gym sessions grow exponentially. Even though my sessions were enjoyable, they weren't realistic and because I broke the first level of the adherence pyramid, the whole thing came tumbling down. It was time to rewrite my program again.
Have you ever followed a program that told you exactly what to do and exactly when to do it? This level of structure can be good but can also work against us. Let's say your program consists of a low rep/heavy weight session on Monday, a moderate rep/moderate weight session on Wednesday, and a high rep/low weight session on Friday.
What happens if you have a hectic day at work and you're absolutely exhausted by the time you pull into the gym parking lot Monday afternoon. You do your heavy session because that's what the schedule said you had to do that day, but it certainly wasn't very productive or enjoyable. Wouldn't it have made more sense to have done your light weight session since you were tired and saved the heavy weight session for a day that you had more energy?
As it turns out, there was a study that looked at that exact situation. The participants were divided into two groups. They followed the same program with only one difference. One group was allowed to choose which workout they wanted to do based on how they felt that day and the other group performed their workouts in a predetermined order like in our example above.
The researchers found that the participants in the flexible group made more strength gains than the nonflexible group.  Also, keep in mind how relieving it will be at the end of an exhausting day to know you have the option of doing your easiest workout of the week.
Keep the pyramid standing.
Flexibility can help a program to be both realistic and enjoyable but it can't replace either of them. Let's discuss my final failed workout program. My work week tends to be very front heavy and tapers down as the week goes on. I attempted to leverage this by doing my two shorter workouts earlier in the week, saving my two longer workouts for later in the week.
The problem was, my two longer workouts were still too long. This made it hard to fit them in my schedule even though I saved them for later in the week, when I had more time available. My program still wasn't realistic and because I broke the first level of the the adherence pyramid, the whole thing came tumbling down... again.
(In case you're wondering how that story ends, at the time of writing, my current program consists of three sessions per week that last approximately 90 minutes.)
Do you have the first three levels of your pyramid in place? Good. In the sections to come, we will discuss reps, sets, number of sessions per week, exercise selection, rest times, and more. We will also discuss how each of them fit into the order of importance, but as we move forward with this series, remember to focus on the foundations of the pyramid. Keep the pyramid standing.
Thank you so much for reading! If you found this information helpful, share it with a friend. I would appreciate it and I know they will too. If you like what I have to say, sign up below to become a Treadaway Training insider and get notified for each post and video. I will be back here Thursday with another fat loss topic. As always, God bless you AND your family and I'll see you Thursday.
 McNamara, J.M. and D.J. Stearne, Flexible Nonlinear Periodization in a Beginner
College Weight Training Class. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 2010.
24(1): p. 17-22