The Mistake of Linear Program Design

I find most people will design a program for themselves and follow it in a linear fashion, that is they run X times per week for Y distance, lift X times per week doing Y number of sets, etc. with little change over time. A result oriented program looks like a wave form where volume and intensity peaks, say over a 6-8 week period (as an example, but programs vary widely), with volume and or loading reduced 40-60% for a week or two, then either repeated, or onto some other program. Some programs will call for taking a week off totally between programs.
Increasing intensity and or volume improves the response up to a point, then falls off sharply as you hit over training syndromes (OTS) and or injuries or both. So, periods of planned increases in volume and or intensity to reach a personal mile stone, followed by a detraining period, is best to optimizing training, reaching new personal bests, and avoiding OTS. The study listed below gives some insight into that also.
A linear program where you do the same thing each week, such as run X miles and lift X weights will be limiting. Athletes left to their own, will generally follow a “more is better” linear approach, where as a good coach will follow the “smart is better” approach, which follows a wave form pattern. Within that wave form pattern may be micro cycles and other stuff too, but that depends on the program.
There have been some interesting studies where they have taken runners and swimmers, cut their volume in half, and their times improved! Why? Because they were over training.
I find that is often the case with strength athletes also.
Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise:
Volume 39(8)August 2007pp 1358-1365
Effects of Tapering on Performance: A Meta-Analysis
Purpose: The purpose of this investigation was to assess the effects of alterations in taper components on performance in competitive athletes, through a meta-analysis.
Methods: Six databases were searched using relevant terms and strategies. Criteria for study inclusion were that participants must be competitive athletes, a tapering intervention must be employed providing details about the procedures used to decrease the training load, use of actual competition or field-based criterion performance, and inclusion of all necessary data to calculate effect sizes. Datasets reported in more than one published study were only included once in the present analyses. Twenty-seven of 182 potential studies met these criteria and were included in the analysis. The dependent variable was performance, and the independent variables were the decrease in training intensity, volume, and frequency, as well as the pattern of the taper and its duration. Pre-post taper standardized mean differences in performance were calculated and weighted according to the within-group heterogeneity to develop an overall effect.
Results: The optimal strategy to optimize performance is a tapering intervention of 2-wk duration (overall effect = 0.59 ± 0.33, P < 0.001), where the training volume is exponentially decreased by 41-60% (overall effect = 0.72 ± 0.36, P < 0.001), without any modification of either training intensity (overall effect = 0.33 ± 0.14, P < 0.001) or frequency (overall effect = 0.35 ± 0.17, P < 0.001).
Conclusion: A 2-wk taper during which training volume is exponentially reduced by 41-60% seems to be the most efficient strategy to maximize performance gains. This meta-analysis provides a framework that can be useful for athletes, coaches, and sport scientists to optimize their tapering strategy.
Brink Bottom Line:
People should understand that designing effective, efficient, programs is not nearly as simple as it might appear. Unless you have long term experience with concepts such loading, volume, TUT, etc, etc, pick a program by a trusted coach and follow it. The haphazard routines I see people self invent are often responsible for a lack of steady progress in the gym.

  1. Robyn Booth 15 years ago

    Great article, Will. I have mentioned over in the BBR forum that I got into a rut last year with my training and did not progress, so I had a break, then did a program of EDT, and am now back into a 3 day split and can see good improvement in strength. So it has definitely been worthwhile. I am very aware of the detriments of over training now, but still struggle with taking it easier when I need to, so articles like this remind me that it is essential.

  2. Thomas 15 years ago

    Thanks for the reminder that sometime less will give you better results, because the slow progress can be due to overtraining or not working in waves or cycles. I found this to be quite true when it applies to when I train for running. I actually improved in my speed and endurance by being smarter with the training and having less mileage per week overall! Thanks again.

  3. fairlane 15 years ago

    Agreed. I used to work out in my earlier years to always go at it hard, and never miss a day. 6-7 days a week, sometimes lifting heavy two days in a row. Sometimes it worked, mostly it didn’t. Now that I’m older I know better, but there is still that urge sometimes to not quit and not take a day off even when I know I should because, well, if you do you’re a wuss. “I’LL GET WEAK!!” 😉
    Thank God for guys like Will.

  4. Mark. 15 years ago

    Just been through this , lack of progress , not sleeping and general lethargy. Classic symptoms of OTS. Taken a week off training & plan to reduce volume by 70% and start again.

  5. Author
    Will Brink 15 years ago

    I had one of those days today. I woke up tired, achy, then had to shovel snow, and by the time it was gym time I realized I would be better off just taking the extra day of recoup. I have had a detraining few weeks myself recently where I reduced volume by about 50% to let my joints and CNS recoup, and will start pushing hard again starting next week.

  6. Mark. 15 years ago

    Hi Will , what do you think of training this way most of the time as Dorian Yates did. My appologies if this is the wrong section/place. I’m refering to very brief workouts.

  7. merville 15 years ago

    what about variation? of everything, including grip by using terry cloth? it will always be a variable, this way. what about adding balancing, as you use dumbells?

  8. Author
    Will Brink 15 years ago

    Mark: Dorian simply did less volume at a time when ultra high volume was the in thing with bbing. He never followed any type of HIT per se as followers of HIT would define it. It worked great for Dorian, but there are more scientific ways to train for most people as some of my comments in this thread point to. Read Dorian’s books if interested in getting the details of how he trained.
    Merville, variation is another important component of course, but there’s planned variation and hit or miss variation, one being very productive the other being a waste of time. The good coaches are very methodical about how they plan variation into their programs.

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