I’ve written thousands of programs and workouts in the past decade between online coaching, and in-person with groups and individuals at Ambition Athletics.
During that time I’ve seen people achieve amazing results by sticking with a very specific plan.
I’ve also seen people achieve success by following loose guidelines, or even by following no plan. Yes, you CAN make progress by not following a set program. Of course you can.
What’s the right choice?
Anyone who tries to sell you on 5 sets of 5 being vastly superior to 6 sets of 4 is simply trying to sell you whatever dogmatic nonsense they are peddling. It’s all good, and it’s all relative.
If we look at something as simple as rep ranges, the truth is, you need them all. If you just do sets of 3-5 you might get quite a bit stronger but not feel as good. If you just do sets of 20+ you probably won’t achieve maximum results from a maximal strength standpoint. So both high reps, and low reps are good–medium reps, too.
I am completely fascinated by the art and science of program design, but as I’ve said before, success comes from essentially 1 thing–consistency.
Consistency is achieved by minimizing boredom and injury.
Minimizing injury is simply (but not easily) achieved by having a well-balanced training program that incorporates mobility training.
Minimizing boredom is just doing what you WANT TO DO.
No one ever set the world record in the squat who didn’t LOVE squatting.
Specializing vs Hitting all the Movements
The more you specialize in one area, the more you must sacrifice in all the other areas–and this is fine, as long as you are aware of the consequences.
Ok so back to program design. If you follow a program it should include a balance of pushing and pulling in the upper and lower body, single leg training, core work, and of course some sort of dedicated mobility.
If you have a very specialized goal, it should dictate the direction and formulation of the program that you follow. Having a goal that drives you can help facilitate that consistency we talk about so often.
Sometimes Program, Sometimes Play
Often, just following a program can be a mental break so you don’t need to think about what to do.
You also have the advantage of an expert having pieced it together, with a reason for each piece of the puzzle fitting together.
Similarly, just playing with movements within the 80% rule can be a mental break.
Ditch the sets.
Ditch the reps.
Ditch the plan.
Get outside and play around with handstands, swing a kettlebell, run some sprints. Do a pull-up during the song thunderstruck every time they say “thunder.”
Increasing overall athletic capabilities means you gently challenge your limits on a regular basis. The minutia of sets/reps/structure matters less than the fact that you are DOING IT.
I believe that over the course of your life, you should follow about 100 different programs. You should also have periods of time where you just play with weights, body weight exercise, sports, and not sweat the small stuff. Make the training its own reward–not just the pot of gold (goal) at the end of the rainbow.
Sometimes follow a program (maybe you’d like to work on handstands, levers, and deadlifts in Ultimate Athleticism) and sometimes just #5minute, #10minute, or #20minuteflow and just really enjoy the process.
Both will bring you results.
Better every day,