In this detailed article, expert coach Dan Simons will tell you how to create your own strength and conditioning program in four easy steps!
New year, new start? Not always. Now that the festive period is safely in the rear-view mirror and you have hopefully deflated from 36 hour cookie binges, you may be wondering how to really go after that goal in 2022. It might be a two-plate overhead press, or a four-plate bench. It could be that elusive double bodyweight deadlift, or maybe you’d be happy squatting your previous 1RM for a set of 6.
Regardless of your goal, it’s too common to get trapped in a cycle of overenthusiasm and underperformance at this time of year. We recognise that we need to make changes, but sometimes our own inexperience or lack of awareness of our weaknesses can hamper us from ever truly making a substantive change.
Often, we plan a program for ourselves that doesn’t really pass muster which then it all falls apart and by March you are back on 5×5 and spinning your wheels.
Fear not! In this article I will talk you through the four steps you need to incorporate into your homemade program if 2022 is going to be the year for you to seek, to strive, to find and not to yield.
Step 1: Mobility and Practice
The first chunk of your session should always be dedicated to movement. Too often I have seen ‘shoulder holders’ in the gym spin their arms around a couple of times by way of warm up and then go straight to benching 220lbs. And what do they do immediately after their first step? Hold their shoulders.
You need to give time over to movement. I know this can be frustrating when you’re young and invincible but – trust me – it will come in handy when you’re in your 30s and still wanting to make gains.
Some lifters are too floppy and have hypermobility issues, others have trouble lifting their arms above their head and can’t touch their toes. Either way, address this at the start of your session with one or two well chosen movements, drills or stretches.
An example squat day: Before the barbell even touches my back, I have gone through a dynamic warm up process where I have opened my hips, got my ankles flowing, loosened off my lower back performed some bodyweight squats – as well as holding the position at the bottom for 30 seconds or more.
This whole approach does not need to take much more than 10 minutes, but it really is important. I don’t want to be your parents nagging at you to eat your greens – but stop moaning and get it done!
Step 2: Speed and Power
OK now that’s out of the way, let’s think about what we came to the gym today for. To get strong. To build our muscles. To let out your frustrations. Focusing on speed and power in the second chunk of your workout will allow you to meet all these goals. Think Olympic lifts and variants. Think speed work on deadlifts. Anything that is forcing you to engage those fast twitch fibres should be factored into this section of the session.
Examples: On my bench press day I will press from the pins for a quick 3 sets of 3 before engaging in my main bench sets. Why? To take advantage of the freshness at the start of the session, and to engage the muscular systems in producing the movement that I will be demanding from them later under heavy stress, in a quick and deliberate run through. Think of it as a primer.
Ideal exercises to focus on speed and power include, but are not limited to: snatch and variants, clean and variants, sprints and shuttle runs, jump squats and trap bar jump shrugs. I’ll show you how to work these in at the end.
Step 3: Strength
Now that we’re warmed up and our pistons are pumping, it’s time to focus on strength.
I’m not going to tell you what to do here, you should know how to build strength by now. You want to be including 3-5 sets of between 2-6 reps.
Exercise selection is key and while there are no wrong choices, if your main lift is barbell curls and you’re not a competitive barbell curler, I’d suggest you focus on a meatier compound movement instead.
Step 4: Accessory Work
So. You’ve gone through all that and your barbell is glued to the floor when you hoped to be able to pull a new 1RM today. Chin up soldier, it happens.
What you need to do now is focus on why. Chances are there is a technical or muscular weakness which is holding you back. In this specific example, struggling to break the floor can mean that your lower back is the weak link in the chain.
What do you do? Address it.
Your accessory work should ALWAYS be purposeful. This is the time to address your weakness and then nail it to the wall. Unilateral work (one arm or one leg), technique focus, or just good old fashioned bodyweight movements like dips, chins and push ups. Whatever you need to do to get better, do it now.
Training to failure no more effective than not, according to new meta-study
To train to failure or not to train to failure? That is the question – or, at least, it’s one of a number of questions that get asked again and again about weight training.
A meta-study from 2021 may finally settle the interminable debate, however.
Researchers gathered together 15 previously published studies for their own study and concluded that there appears to be no noticeable difference between training to failure and not.
The researchers looked at fifteen separate papers on the topic of training or not training to failure and considered the effects of each on i) strength increases and ii) muscle mass increases.
Click here to read more about this fascinating research, and how to implement it into your own training
Conclusion: Your strength and conditioning program
There we have it: your own strength and conditioning program. Nothing revolutionary or ground-breaking. Just simple, consistent principles that you can apply whether you’ve just got into lifting weights or have been in the dungeon gyms for 20 years.
What does it look like?
Here’s one example of structure that I have used for squats successfully over the last decade.
Mobility: ankle, knee, quad and calf stretches, bodyweight squats, clams, holding stretch at the bottom of the squat position with elbows pushing knees out. (10 mins total for all this)
Speed and power: hang power snatch. 3 sets of 2 reps. Focus on speed and power output – weight unimportant
Strength: Back squats – 3 sets of 5 or 3 sets of 3. Ensure that you have moved up in weight or volume in some way from last week
Accessory: 3 sets of 10 squats with 60% of 1RM. Each rep perfect. 3 sets of 10 back extensions. 2 sets of 8 Leg press. A drop set on leg extension. Vomit (optional).
Now get to work!
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