Putting Together the Program

Last week I posted about the basics of a strength training program – Getting Started with Strength Training. It contains the basic elements of what strength training should include. This post is about everything else that goes into putting together the program: warm-up, planning your sessions and progressing the plan.

Warm-up

Exercise should be begin with a warm-up. It’s problematic to jump straight from cold, “I just drove to the gym”, to vigorous exercise. Doing so increases the risk of injury.

What’s not necessary is stretching, in the sense of doing static positions to feel a stretch. Especially for long holds. A brief stretch, if it helps you feel more ready to move isn’t bad.

The Warm-Up is literally named. You should have a light sweat going by the time you are done. Your pulse should be above 100. But it shouldn’t be tiring or difficult either. A light jog, a few minutes on the bike, jump rope, really whatever works for you is fine.

How long this should take depends on the context. It will take longer to warm-up on a cold day outside than it does in a hot gym. A bike ride or jump rope may warm you up a bit faster than a light jog.

Building dynamic stretches into the routine is helpful but not essential. It’s a topic that will be covered later.

Cool Down

Taking some time to cool down after a workout is also helpful. Rather than jumping straight into a cold car. A short walk. Or just doing light exercises as the end or your workout etc.

Building it into the plan

I always encourage folks to build physical activity time into their routine to make it easier to get the recommended amount of activity. This ties into designing a program for yourself because if you can warm-up by walking to the gym and cool down by walking home, then it’s easier to get the workout done in a reasonable amount of time. Or jog, or bike to the gym.

Planning Each Session

Here’s a suggested break down of the exercises in the first post into a 2 day a week plan:

Day 1

  1. Squats
  2. Bench Press
  3. Step-ups – use a box/step platform, not the padded bench, if you’re gym has one
  4. Bent-over row
  5. Planks
  6. Side planks

Day 2

  1. Straight leg deadlift
  2. Pull-ups
  3. Split squat
  4. Overhead press
  5. Planks
  6. Side planks

This is intended to be a basic, easy starter plan. If you feel like it’s not enough you can message me for suggestions or watch for future posts.

Make sure to have a day in-between the workouts.

Progressing the Plan

Week 1 just use 5# weights for everything. It’s supposed to be easy, and the point is to learn the movements. Any movements you’re not sure about feel free to do without weights initially. It’s more important to get the movement right than it is to look impressive at the gym.

When you reach a point where you can do 15 reps at that weight, and feel good about the movement, for all 3 sets, then it’s time to progress. Progress slowly at first add 2.5#. At the low end of weight gyms typically have dumbbells in 2.5 pound increments or even smaller. But you may need to look for some magnetic 1.25# weights and add a pair, depends on the gym.

Once you get around 30# you should start increasing weight in 5# increments.

The progression scheme is for each exercise individually. Which means that keeping track of everything can get awkward.

Record your progress

Bring a notebook. You won’t be alone in doing so. Or use a note taking app on you phone.

Or use the Jefit app. It’s the best app for this purpose that I’ve encountered. (Hahahaha, I don’t get any money from them – just in case you were wondering)

Upping the Intensity

After a month up the intensity. Now aim for 12 reps. Obviously the same weight won’t be a challenge at fewer reps, so up the weight on everything. Not a lot for the first set. See how that first set goes and then bump it up a notch for the 2nd or 3rd set based on how that went.

I’d suggest going up in intensity level at 1 month intervals, as discussed in the last post.

When you reach a month at the 6RM level then it’s time to up your game to some more serious strength training. Which is not today’s post.

What to Expect When You Are Starting

Oh yeah, you are going to be sore. That’s normal. It may take a day, or two, to feel it. It may take a day or two to resolve. That’s all normal too. As you make this a regular routine it will become less of an issue. Pain or discomfort in your muscles is normal. But pain in the joints is not.

You may want to massage the sore muscles. That’ll help them feel less icky but it isn’t magic. You’ll still be sore.

You should take it easy on days you are sore. That means some walking, other light exercise is fine. But don’t go lifting weights.

Conclusion

Good luck, strength training is fun. More fun than a treadmill. But I may be biased.

As always, if you have any follow-up questions, feel free to ask in the comments or email.

Author: Steven Hirsch, DPT, CSCS

Physical therapist, strength coach, historical fencer.

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