T Nation

Planned vs. Unplanned Workouts

I’d like to hear people’s thoughts on how they approach each workout. On one side of the spectrum, you have people who follow a strict routine, and know exactly what they’re doing before they step into the gym. On the other side, you have people who ‘wing it’, and just know which muscles they want to hit and go by feeling.

I can see arguments for either side. With a consistent approach, you can put more thought into it beforehand and make sure everything is balanced, and you can better track weight progression week after week. On the other hand, with a looser approach you can figure out on the fly which exercises will work best for how you’re feeling and you can really focus on making sure you’ve targeted the muscles you’re trying to hit that day.

How do you personally approach your routine?

By the way, I’m not looking for personal advice here, I’d just like to hear people’s opinions.

I use both.

Sometimes life gets busy and I just use a program to get shit done and not have to devote any brain power to it. I’ve used Stuart McRobert, Huge In A Hurry, Stronglifts and 5/3/1 to this effect. I can usually do this for 6-8 weeks before boredom kicks in.

When I have free time, I usually design my own program or wing it. After a certain amount of time, this becomes necessary as one-size fits all programs need to be individualized by a knowledgeable trainer or coach.

The most optimal way to train is to get the most out of each single training day. Robotically following a program is not going to help with that. Sometimes, the most out of a day is most recovery, sometimes its most lifting, sometimes its doing a bunch of singles and calling it a day.

I’m glad I used programs because they’re an excellent learning tool. You might not think you can do a lift, but if you program calls for, say, 280x5 on squat and you grind it out, you start to realize just how intense you can train. Then, it’s up to you to hit that intensity level again (or higher), whether you stick to the program or not.

So in summary PRos and cons of programs…

Pros

  • Hit a certain level of intensity guaranteed
  • Mental break from overthinking things
  • Get to know what works for you by trying different programs
  • Certain amount of gains are programmed

Cons

  • Can be trapped by a program
  • Can lose the “listen to your body” skill, a critical skill beyond beginner level
  • Not usually the optimal way to train

I expect to use them less and less as I progress as a lifter.

[quote]Samir wrote:
I use both.

Sometimes life gets busy and I just use a program to get shit done and not have to devote any brain power to it. I’ve used Stuart McRobert, Huge In A Hurry, Stronglifts and 5/3/1 to this effect. I can usually do this for 6-8 weeks before boredom kicks in.

When I have free time, I usually design my own program or wing it. After a certain amount of time, this becomes necessary as one-size fits all programs need to be individualized by a knowledgeable trainer or coach.

The most optimal way to train is to get the most out of each single training day. Robotically following a program is not going to help with that. Sometimes, the most out of a day is most recovery, sometimes its most lifting, sometimes its doing a bunch of singles and calling it a day.

I’m glad I used programs because they’re an excellent learning tool. You might not think you can do a lift, but if you program calls for, say, 280x5 on squat and you grind it out, you start to realize just how intense you can train. Then, it’s up to you to hit that intensity level again (or higher), whether you stick to the program or not.

So in summary PRos and cons of programs…

Pros

  • Hit a certain level of intensity guaranteed
  • Mental break from overthinking things
  • Get to know what works for you by trying different programs
  • Certain amount of gains are programmed

Cons

  • Can be trapped by a program
  • Can lose the “listen to your body” skill, a critical skill beyond beginner level
  • Not usually the optimal way to train

I expect to use them less and less as I progress as a lifter.

[/quote]

Very good points. One thing I like about 5/3/1 though, and one reason I wouldn’t lump it in with other cookie cutter routines is that with 5/3/1, the assistance work is completely up to you. There are some templates, but ultimately everything besides the main movement is free to tweak as you please. There are other programs like this as well, of course. I think it’s a pretty good medium between the two philosophies.

Going off of what you said, I’ve noticed that the more experienced I get, the more I start finding what works for me and the more I start going by feeling. Recently I’ve been focusing on establishing a better mind-muscle connection, and experimenting with different movements and methods each week helps with that. It also keeps things interesting. Still though, I stick with the classic big movements as the foundation of my routine.

I like mine strict and planned out months in advance. Its weird but I have written my training down to the rep all the way up to the end of this year.

I don’t wanna worry about it. I just pick up Octobers notebook and go ahhhh. This is what I’m doing on October 13th 2012

Sometimes I’ve gone in thinking I’m gonna do arms and instead start doing legs because I’m in that mindset. I know what works for each muscle group and what movement patterns work for my particular body so the movement patterns almost always stay the same from workout to workout but I don’t necessarily know what exercises I’m gonna do for each movement pattern before I’m actually in the gym

[quote]Ct. Rockula wrote:
I like mine strict and planned out months in advance. Its weird but I have written my training down to the rep all the way up to the end of this year.

I don’t wanna worry about it. I just pick up Octobers notebook and go ahhhh. This is what I’m doing on October 13th 2012
[/quote]

[quote]myself1992 wrote:
Sometimes I’ve gone in thinking I’m gonna do arms and instead start doing legs because I’m in that mindset. I know what works for each muscle group and what movement patterns work for my particular body so the movement patterns almost always stay the same from workout to workout but I don’t necessarily know what exercises I’m gonna do for each movement pattern before I’m actually in the gym[/quote]

This is interesting - two completely different approaches. I follow an approach similar to yours, myself1992, though I won’t switch bodyparts on a whim - those are fixed for me.

Ct. Rockula, at first I thought you were joking, but you seem serious. That’s a really interesting approach, and it definitely seems like it would be nice to just walk in, run through a checklist and be done with it. Also it seems like a more objective approach and good for planning cycles and the like. How is that working for you?

I know what my lifts are walking into the gym, and I know the weight I did last time in so I know what I need to do to improve. That said, if it’s busy and the machine/bench/whatever is busy and looks like it will be a while I will switch up my order, or if its near the end of my workout do a different lift. Im not waiting 15 mins just to do EZ curls when theres DB’s available.

Occasionally if I feel run down or out of it I might switch up my goals for the workout mid workout. Like maybe im out of it so instead of trying to set a PR in weight I’ll drop the weight some and do a few straight sets since I usually ramp weight.

I use other people’s methods (mostly CT’s) but structure the actual workout to fit my needs and times. They are pretty planned within that framework. However, I will switch things up on the fly if there are any nagging pains that need addressed.

I never plan anything. I just go in and train whatever bodyparts need the most work and whatever feels recovered.

Living in the present makes sense to me. There’s no way that me several months ago could know what the current me needs to work on.

I like frequency cycles.

Example 8 weeks of quads and Back 2x a week with everything else once a week.

Then a deload week before moving to hamstrings and chest pairing

Shoulder and arms another 8 weeks

After that its a single bodypart split with very high volume and run that for 7 weeks until my final push of 2x a day training that finished out the year

Love it

[quote]Ct. Rockula wrote:
I like frequency cycles.

Example 8 weeks of quads and Back 2x a week with everything else once a week.

Then a deload week before moving to hamstrings and chest pairing

Shoulder and arms another 8 weeks

After that its a single bodypart split with very high volume and run that for 7 weeks until my final push of 2x a day training that finished out the year

Love it
[/quote]

almost bang on what ive found myself doing, with the exception of the 2x a day training. fuckin love it!

I plan volume and intensity (both %1RM and effort) but tend to decide on the exact lifts when I get to the gym or as I’m getting ready. It provides a frame work that I can adjust based on how I feel that day.

Mine is always planned down to the rep, but depending on how I’m feeling I might throw in an extra set or an extra accessory exercise if I feel like it. Also I’ll play around with the specific lift, i.e. ROM, timing, grip, etc. depending on what feels right that day.

[quote]fisch wrote:
I know what my lifts are walking into the gym, and I know the weight I did last time in so I know what I need to do to improve. That said, if it’s busy and the machine/bench/whatever is busy and looks like it will be a while I will switch up my order, or if its near the end of my workout do a different lift. Im not waiting 15 mins just to do EZ curls when theres DB’s available.

Occasionally if I feel run down or out of it I might switch up my goals for the workout mid workout. Like maybe im out of it so instead of trying to set a PR in weight I’ll drop the weight some and do a few straight sets since I usually ramp weight.[/quote]

Same here, everything is written down in my workout log before I get to the gym. I just run through the list and get it done. No standing around thinking about what should I do, and it also keeps me from running around and doing unnecessary exercises in the gym that might hinder recovery or just spin my wheels.

I used to just wing it and do what ever, but that was when I first started lifting and it turned out pretty bad, no progress as I was always guessing what I did last, how many reps etc.

Planned, with plenty of wiggle room. I go in knowing what bodypart(s) I’m hitting and what weight and reps I handled for my top set of my main movement(s) in the previous workout. I also know what poundage jumps I’m taking from my warm-ups into my work sets. I vary number of work sets, jumps between work set weights, work set reps, and top set reps (though not top set weight) and whether or not I do any back-off sets by feel though. And isolation work I similarly have a rough plan that I’ll vary by feel–including what isolation exercises I do, how many reps, how many sets, and even how many exercises.

I generally work out something I want to improve, and then work towards it while maintaining the levels of everything else.