Personal Programming Tweaks & Ideas That Worked Wonders for You

Some of us follow programs, and some of us don’t. What I want to hear about are things you changed or did instinctively that gave great results. We all know that we evolve over time as we learn more about our own bodies. Recovery, weak points, things we enjoy, things we don’t enjoy etc.

What did you try that worked?

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Well, I think the idea that one program author got everything right to be kind of dumb. Every successful program has at least one great thing, and I like to take that one great thing and use it in my own training from time to time.

I like using:

  • Rest-Pause from DC training
  • 5/3/1 base for powerlifts
  • loaded/extreme stretching from DC and Fortitude
  • implementing CrossFit WODs into standard training
  • the 8-12-8 Method when not doing Rest-Pause or powerlifts

All these work just fine in their own program, but I consider them some of the best parts of their respective programs… makes sense to implement them when it seems fitting and I’m off-program.

It’s also important to run programs as written for at least a mesocycle before going off-program.

Also, I like the DeFranco Agile 8 warmup (not a program).

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Periodization of my training made the most difference to me. I would do microcycles of the same exercise with different weight and reps. For example, the classic bench press. Month 1 / Week 1 - 225 for 12-15 reps for sets, Week 2- 245 10-12 reps for sets, Week 3 - 265 6-9 reps for sets, Week 4 - 285 4-6 reps for sets. Then I would go back the next month and increase the weight upon resetting the cycle. Month 2 / Week 1 - 235 for 12-15 reps for sets, Week 2- 255 10-12 reps for sets…

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I’ve talked about these a little bit before, but here are some from my own programming

Overhead Press singles
You don’t often see singles programmed for OHP. “To press a lot, you should press a lot”. No matter what I did my form for OHP sets always seemed a little off, one week it would feel easy, and the next week I would struggle as if I had never done the exercise before. Having a day where I’d pound out a load of singles, usually 7-10, absolutely exploded my volume day. The first rep was always spot on and it seemed that with the singles at ~85-90% forcing me to keep tight throughout the movement transferred over incredibly. Getting tight on that first rep with a lighter weight helped me fly through the rest of the reps instead of making minor adjustments throughout. I don’t feel like I need them any more but they were absolutely invaluable when i started taking the OHP more seriously.

Dropping overhead tricep extensions for good
I believe it is a great exercise but with the amount of pressing overhead I enjoy doing, every time I try to reintroduce them my elbows would start talking to me. My triceps and working sets on all pressing movements have gotten way better since I stopped worrying so much about isolation.

No leg days
Lots of people hate leg days, I got around it by doing a Modified Hatfield split with a bit of legs and a bit of upper on EVERY day in an 8-day microcycle. Squat & Bench - Deadlift & OHP - DB Bench & Light squat - RDL & OHP

Double periodization on squats
I found that a top set and then back-offs made heavier weights easier than they’d be without that top set. 100% a form thing. Working up to a top set of 5 until I no longer progress, that becomes 3, then 1, then back to 5. Then 3 back-off sets periodizing between 8-10, 6-8, 4-6 each month-6 weeks.

Something new i’m trying
Something I’m actually experimenting with right now is using DB bench incline percentage as my periodization. I’m sure this has probably been done before but starting with flat, working up to a weight for a set of 8-10, after 6weeks switch to a 15percent incline starting at the same weight I flat DB pressed, get up the weight you finished it at, add another 15percent to the incline etc.

I know there are lots of reasons that i’d make better progress on a premade program but I just love learning and trying different things out. It’s half the enjoyment for me.

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My feelings exactly. A lot of what I do is taken from other people’s programs, those methods are proven often amongst thousands of clients. Is it wrong to do a bit of a Frankenstein program of your favorite bits of each? I don’t think so. I’m often doing different progression models for different lifts. Maybe I’m ill-educated and i’ll actually end up actually looking like Frankenstein, but at least i’m enjoying myself.

I think that’s actually a pretty common way people do things and will work for anyone. Right now with classic bench press I’m staying in a rep range for a month and then switching to a different one, usually going down in a rep range and adding 5lb as per CThibs EOD 4 sets main lift articles.

I don’t know what qualifies as “tweaks” and what’s just straight up programming choices, so i’ll just go through my prefered method for training of the main lifts, if i had to pick just one.

Press:
My press responds best to very high volume in pump work and heavy work. Lots of very heavy singles/doubles, and lots of massive dropsets/giant sets for pump work.

Deadlift:
I can force my deadlift up by going crazy with really high intensity stuff, but that burns me out really quick and damages progress in other lifts. If i want sustained progress, i like to use a really basic, low volume progression scheme and just run it indefinitely. The Kroc simple deadlift program fits this perfectly.

Bench:
My bench responds well to 531 BBB with plus sets. Adding extra pump work helps, but isn’t needed.

Squat:
My squat responds best to keeping the volume high, and the movement nice and speedy. Bar speed seems to be more important here than any other lift. Slow grindy reps or high rep sessions do not make me a better squatter. Moderately heavy front squats do.

Pull ups:
Do lots of them. Then, next time, do more.

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I like this thread idea (all the variations on this theme, really), and I’ll come back to it with some more practical thoughts.

For now, though, my bigger concepts are:

  • It’s all edible - it really doesn’t matter what you choose to do so long as you execute it violently. Fun analogy: I led violent men when I was much younger; their bold actions covered for any tactical errors I made.
  • I think there are two avenues of learning, and you need both rather than either. The first is theory - this is the reading, the debating, the statistical analyses, author theory, etc. The second is the practical - this is actually executing the program and seeing how things play out. I can believe why an author does something, but I don’t really get it until I run one of his programs; that full cycle is necessary for me to start tweaking/ implementing anything. The fun analogy here is learning a foreign language: you need some classroom work to have enough structure/ context to pick anything up when you visit that foreign country, but you’re certainly not going to gain any fluency without that immersion.
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Try Stuff!

I love it.

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Some recent approaches to my training that have made a positive difference on my progress, consistency, and motivation:

Simplifying

I dropped many “nice to have, but not necessary” exercises from my programming. This has resulted in shorter workouts composed almost entirely of compound lifts, which have given me my biggest bang for my buck. Reviewing my training log, you’d see staple movements, such as…

  • Pull Ups
  • Trap Bar Deadlifts
  • Overhead Presses
  • SLDLs
  • Barbell Rows
  • Dumbbell Bench Presses
  • Split Squats

I’m focusing on adding weight and reps on the basics and not much else.

Splitting Volume

In addition to simplifying my exercise selection, I’ve recently taken to splitting single session volume across two training sessions. I was following a full body program for a few months, but realized it was leaving me totally destroyed. Workouts would take up to 2 hours to complete, and I felt drained during workouts.

Only after I took the contents of those sessions and split them across two days did I start to train more consistently, with more enthusiasm, and with more intensity and focus. Now, my split is a simple Upper/Lower approach with basic periodization (trying to add 5lbs. or an extra rep or two to bodyweight movements cycle over cycle).

I’ll add more thoughts as they come to me, but those two are the biggest recent tweaks that have been working very well for me as of late.

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When keeping a log and doing your own programming with no coaching history, this is the master key I feel. Every time I toy with adding a new exercise or a few more isolation sets is when problems start to occur. I’m not smart enough and don’t have the experience to be able to play with the delicacy of recovery.

It’s nice that you figured out that splitting your session into two works better for you. The individual tweaks that lead to better consistency are the most important in my mind. I personally love having close to 2hr sessions because I’m the kind of guy that doesn’t want to go to the gym but loves it when he gets there.

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This is going to sound simple and stupid, but it’s focusing on progressive overload(especially on the big lifts) and following programs that get me excited to train.

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For eating, the Zig Zag diet or 5:2 works nicely.

If you’re cutting you do deficit calories for 5 days, then maintenance calories for two days. The 2 days of extra calories help you recover from your training and prevent your metabolism from slowing.

If you’re gaining you eat a surplus for 5 days, then eat maintenance for 2 days. This is a nice break form stuffing your face and keeps you form gaining too much fat.

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  1. Train every day - or at least get in some movement everyday. I am not 21 any more and by adding body weight movements like burpees, squats, ring rows, weighted vest walks etc. to my non gym days I have managed to reduce soreness and increase mobility and flexibility.

  2. Do some sort of hard conditioning every week. By hard I mean 20-30 mins of something that totally sucks and has you blowing out of every hole. Something that requires significant mental fortitude to keep going and not quit. Hard conditioning has made all my gym workouts feel easy and even a heavy gym day feels like a rest day in comparison.

  3. Not really a tweak or a new idea but the thing that has made the biggest impact to my strength and progression is just like Dave and Blshaw said

Simple block periodisation with a focus on big lifts and progression. Slowly over time added more strength and muscle in my 40’s than any bro split did in my 20’s and 30’s.

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Maybe I’ll just throw in quick hits here as they come to me. One big thing I’ve found: really high volume works, but it gives me tendinitis.

Seems like many people end up here. Just doing this + tracking your workouts will get you a very long way.

I was coming here to post another tweak I’ve been noticing positive things with and it kind of ties into this. I used to grind on various accessories, adding volume occasionally, scaling back down, changing rep ranges, etc. Whenever volume gets pushed, tendonitis would always show up in differing amounts of discomfort. Ever since I started changing the exercise slightly every 4-6 weeks, it seems to be mostly alleviated. I’m talking really subtle changes. A change in grip width, a change from supinated to neutral, that kind of stuff. The first week of the change you usually have to use a little lighter weight to learn the movement, this gives some recovery benefit and by the time you’re about to start having to grind on that new variation, it’s time to switch it up again. So far when I’ve cycled back around to the original variation I am always stronger on it.

I know this is nothing new and actually a pretty common way of programming, and it’s by no means a solution… but it’s 100% helping me.

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For me, specifically, my squat gets stronger when I do it more frequently. That doesn’t necessarily mean squatting heavy three days per week (though I have done that with good results), but a decently heavy variation a couple times a week along with my “heavy” day seems to be the best thing for my squat strength. Plus, I “enjoy” squatting, so doing it three times per week makes me more motivated.

My deadlift seems to respond well to lots of volume further away from my 1RM. I found this out accidentally, but my biggest strength jumps on the DL come when I do a block of top sets of five and a bunch of backoff sets at around the RPE 7 mark, then switch to a block that incorporates a top single. I’ve found that top single will improve dramatically and quickly from where it had been the previous singles block. (of course heavy, dramatically and quickly are all subjective and relative terms)

So, I guess to bring this around to the specific OP, I like to use template programs, but I’ll tweak them to have more squat frequency and lower-intensity deadlift volume. I do use RPE to determine intensity, but as kind of a broader scope thing; I don’t stress out too much over whether a set was an RPE 7.5 or an RPE 8.

If I ever figure out a way to make my bench press strength go up, I will share that information…

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I’ve started thinking of cardio and conditioning as two separate things.

Cardio is just getting your heart rate up for an extended period of time, involves moving, and actually facilitates recovery vs requiring its own. It’s critical for health, and should always be done at a baseline.

Conditioning is outcome-specific and it’s own training modality. It requires its own recovery and, therefore, has to be planned against within the totality of your program.

This tweak in thinking has kept me from giving myself excuses to not move my fat butt because I also am lifting. On the flip side, if you start adding in some sprints with the goal of improved performance on the field, something has to come out of the weight room.

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This is so SO huge. I see red when they’re equated with each other. It’s lazy thinking. It would be like if I were describing my diet and I just wrote “meat” for one meal. Prime rib? Chicken breasts? Hot dogs? Trying to lump all non-lifting activities into “cardio” is so lacking in nuance it causes problems. And don’t get me started on the dudes that wanna claim that lifting high reps/short rest periods “counts as cardio”

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Can I claim yoga as cardio? :wink:

Back Op,
Rest Pause sets, partials, and drop sets with machines are tweaks I add to many programs depending how i am feeling. Though, most modern programs seem to incorporate many of these techniques already.

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Another “Thought Tweak”;

When you want mass, think about volume in Sets.

When you want strength, think about volume in Number of Lifts.

Really helped me when looking at programs to like, compare them.

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