In the eight years I’ve been posting training programs
and daily workouts
on this site, we’ve had a lot of athletes get amazing results… and we’ve had a lot of people asking questions that stun me with their implications. For example, asking to clarify which numbers are the sets and which are the reps… three weeks into the program. Or asking to confirm they’re doing a particular exercise correctly when what they’re doing is barely even related, let alone correct, and can be learned with the demo video and extensive written description provided in our exercise library
. And of course, my favorite, how they can combine one of my programs with two other programs plus twenty other exercises.
Interestingly enough, all of these things are explained in pretty good detail in the Help
link provided on every single workout (twice), but this page seems to be ignored or overlooked somehow by a surprising number of readers. This article will overlap with a lot of the information on that page, but I’m going to approach it a bit differently and see if I can get through to more people on the critical points that are being missed so that more of you can be successful with these programs. [Edit July 2019: You can use the new program sorting function to help find a suitable program here
Choosing the Right Program
The first step of course is selecting a program that is appropriate for you. This involves a few factors:
2. Your ability to tolerate volume/intensity
3. Your technical proficiency/consistency in the Olympic lifts
4. Your specific needs with regard to technique and strength
5. Your goals
6. Whether or not you have accurate 1RMs
You will have to figure all of these things out and come up with an idea of your priorities. For example, are you decent in terms of technical proficiency in the classic lifts, but need to work on getting stronger? Do you need to focus on squat strength more than pulling strength? Do you need to work on your overhead strength for the snatch and/or jerk? Are you really strong but terrible at the snatch and clean & jerk? Do you need to get ready for a competition in a certain number of weeks? Do you die if you try to do more than 250 reps per week? Are you brand new to weightlifting? Do you have established and accurate 1RMs for snatch, clean, jerk and squats?
With answers to these types of questions in hand, you’ll need to take a look at the programs
on the site. Most of the programs have thorough descriptions and some helpful bullet points letting you know what to expect in terms of the program’s level of volume and intensity and what the cycle focuses on and is particularly good for.
Keep in mind that, except for a few cycles that are specifically, obviously and explicitly intended for squat strength improvement and work toward max squat testing, all of the programs work toward improvement of the snatch and clean & jerk and will build toward maxes in the last day of the last week. This means that any program except those aforementioned squat cycles will work to prepare for competition—which one is best for you will depend on all the factors mentioned previously.
In addition to the info in the descriptions of the cycles, take a look at the workouts themselves. This is important—see what exercises are being used and how those align with what you need to work on. If you’re not familiar with an exercise, look it up in the exercise library
—you’ll not only see how to do it, but what it’s used for.
You are a special group. You don’t have a high level of proficiency with the Olympic lifts, are not familiar with a wide range of supplemental exercises, don’t have established or accurate 1RMs, and can’t tolerate a great deal of volume or frequent high intensity. This being the case, DON’T TRY TO TRAIN LIKE A MORE ADVANCED LIFTER. Using a program appropriate for a more advanced lifter will NOT magically make you that advanced—in fact, it will more than likely be less effective than a more beginner-appropriate program. Check your ego and make the right choice.
Luckily for you, I created a starter program
to introduce you to this kind of training and get you prepared for our training cycles. By the end of this program, you should be able to handle training weightlifting 5 days/week and have pretty accurate 1RMs for the primary lifts, which means more of the programs on the site will be accessible and effective for you.
How To Do It Right
The following are some points to keep in mind when getting ready to start a program and while doing the program to ensure you get the most out of it and maximize its effectiveness. This is important stuff—spend a few minutes here before you invest three months of your life into doing something half-assed.
Read the Help Page
I feel like this shouldn’t need to be stated explicitly, but experience tells me it does, and probably more than once. Read the help page. Read the help page
. I didn’t write it because I was bored and had nothing better to do. I wrote it because I love you and I want you to do these workouts correctly. This page is nice and organized and easy to navigate. Read the whole thing, and then refer back to it as you go through the program when question arise. If there is something you need to know that isn’t explained there, check again closely, and if it truly isn’t there, post your question in the comments of the workout or program so we can help you.
We have a comments function specifically to ensure that you can ask questions and we can answer them and make sure you’re doing everything correctly. We read and respond to every single question posted, even if it’s been answered on the help page or, in some cases, right in the workout or the last comment. There are no stupid questions, only stupid people who don’t ask questions when they should.
Also, make sure you ask your questions in time to apply the answers. Conveniently enough, you can do this even if you’re following the current daily workouts by viewing the next day’s workout (Tomorrow’s Workout
link in the right column) and asking any questions you have, so that when tomorrow comes, you have the answer and are ready to go. Don’t wait until the moment you start the workout to post a question—we’re pretty quick to respond, but we’re not magicians.
Intensity (Weight) Prescriptions
Some of the programs will prescribe specific weights based on percentages of 1RM; other programs have you select weights according to feel (such as working up to a max for that day, and then often doing back-off sets after it); some programs use both.
Selecting weights by feel is ideal for newer lifters—percentage-based intensity prescriptions don’t work well if you don’t have an accurate or legitimate 1RM to take the percentage of. The newer you are as a lifter, the less physically capable you are of performing a true maximal effort (it’s nothing personal, you just haven’t developed the neurological efficiency to do so yet). This means that any given percentage of your “max” is too light.
If you’re a beginning to intermediate lifter and are using a percentage-based program, remember that those prescriptions are adjustable. This is especially important for pulls and pulling variations. If your best snatch and clean is limited by technique or mobility, that means it’s well below your strength capacity, and consequently, pulls based on a percentage of your best snatch or clean will be too light. In such cases, you will need to increase the weights according to feel. Establish this increase in the first week or two of the cycle and then change the training weights week to week in the same increments as prescribed, just from this higher baseline. (For example, if you had 90% snatch pulls and had to add 20 kg to them to make them 100 kg, you can do this two ways. One, just keep calculating the percentage off your true max and add 20kg to this number; or two, calculate a theoretical max snatch based on your increased pull weight (111kg in this case) and then use that max to calculate future percentages for pulls.)
In any case, do your best to maintain the spirit of the program. If 80% is prescribed and it feels light, don’t go bananas and increase it to a max effort—that’s very clearly not what’s intended.
If you intend to do a percentage-based program, test 1RMs before you start to make sure you’re going into it with accurate numbers. If you haven’t tested your maxes in six months, don’t be surprised if the program isn’t as effective as you wanted it to be. However, don’t test your maxes and then immediately start the program—give yourself an easy week after testing before you begin so you’re not beginning Day 1 already beat to hell.
For all of these programs, 1RMs are actual, current 1RMs, not goal or expected maxes for the end of the cycle. These RMs will remain the same for the duration of the program unless during the course of that program you test them and make new PRs, after which you would use that newest PR to calculate your percentages.
Know the Exercises
The amount of content available for free on this site is ridiculous, but not as ridiculous as how many people have no idea it exists. Find it and take advantage of it! The exercise library is one of the best resources on here. I strongly suggest, before starting a new cycle, that you take a look at every single exercise you’re going to do and look it up in the exercise library so you can be sure you know how to do it properly. Don’t wait to be halfway through a program to figure out you’ve been doing the wrong thing. Ask questions! Every single workout has a comments function, as does every exercise demo page, and we read and respond to every single question. Don’t fail because you didn’t bother to ask a simple question at the start.
A question we get surprisingly often is, Do I warm up to these weights, or just do what’s written? I hate to sound like a dick, but come on… Of course you warm-up progressively to a set at 80% or a RM!
Do a general warm-up for all workouts, such as something like this
. Do whatever you find works best, but do it. Then each exercise should have a specific warm-up as needed (e.g. for snatches, maybe you throw the bar around with some snatch presses, overhead squats, tall snatches, etc.; for snatch pulls after doing snatches, probably no specific warm-up at all—you warmed up with those snatches).
Perform increasingly heavy warm-up sets of the exercise you’re doing until reaching the first prescribed working set. Let’s say your first prescribed set of squats is a triple at 150kg. You might squat the bar a few times, then do one triple each at 70, 90, 110, 130 before taking the first set at 150.
Do Your Ab & Back Work!
Some of the programs prescribe ab and back work; most do not. Here’s a helpful excerpt from the Help page you forgot to read before starting your program:
Ab work should be performed every training day, even if not prescribed in the workout. Include back work as well at least 3 days/week (e.g. back extensions, reverse hypers, back planks) if not prescribed in the workouts.
Check out this article for info on ab and back work.
See why it’s important to read the help page? You may have just gone three months without doing a single rep of trunk strength work when you were supposed to be doing quite a bit of it. Technically, you didn’t do the program.
Changing the Program
Inevitably, some of you are going to look at a program and think, I know how to make this better. You might. More likely, you’re going to fuck it up. I say this not because I think you’re stupid, but because I’ve seen it done over and over and over again. So let me give you a few pointers regarding making changes to the programs:
Don’t do it. It’s that simple. A program is a systematic and purposeful series of workouts. Combine two of them, and you’ve destroyed both systems—you’re going to get the worst of each, not the best. If you’re good enough to combine two programs effectively, you should probably be writing your own programs, not using canned ones off the internet.
Decide what it is you need to work on and what exactly your goals and priorities are, and select the appropriate program to address these things. If you want to get better and benching and deadlifting, this is probably a bad choice.
Adding to the Program
Having said the above, it is possible to make some additions to a program that won’t have negative effects.
Primarily this includes technique work, as it won’t have a taxing effect on you because of the minimal intensity. Feel free to add technique work anywhere in a workout, although I would recommend using technique primers
as an effective and economical approach. For each classic lift each day, choose a technique exercise that addresses the biggest problem you have with that lift, and perform 3-6 sets of it with light weight immediately prior to the classic lift it addresses (e.g. muscle snatches to work on a more accurate turnover before the snatches in the workout).
The other acceptable addition is beach work. By this I mean light bodybuilding exercises (mostly dumbbell, kettlebell and bodyweight exercises—if you have to use a barbell, it’s probably overkill). If you have some specific weak points you want to shore up, do that here. Or if you just want to have bigger biceps, that’s fine too. Just keep in mind your priorities and don’t let beach work interfere with your primary training. I would suggest no more than 2-3 exercises per day, 2-3 days per week. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in most of the programs will be the best place to do this training. Don’t add an hour of training—maybe twenty minutes or so.
Modifying the Schedule
All of the programs posted are five days/week. Some of you can’t swing this, and I understand that, but you’ll have to work it out. Check out this article
for ideas on how to do it.
Another way of doing it is keeping all of the workouts intact and simple spreading them out over a longer period of time. For example, doing a 5-day per week program only 4 days per week so that week 2 begins with workout number 5, etc.
Ultimately, if you make significant changes to the program, it’s no longer the program. Don’t be surprised if it doesn’t produce results, and don’t say the program didn’t work when you didn’t even do it.
The Bottom Line
The fact is that none of the programs on this site will work perfectly for everyone who does them, no matter how closely they’re followed. Keep in mind these programs are written for no one in particular, but rather for a general audience, and you may or may not align well with that audience for a particular cycle. This is why it’s so important to select cycles appropriately—this will maximize their effectiveness.