You wanna write your first workout plan and take programming into your own hands? That’s great! Learning how to write a workout plan is no voodoo and is a great learning experience.
Everybody is different and no one knows exactly what works best for you. Even not yourself, unless you try out a lot of different stuff.
But besides that – there are a lot of common things which work for everyone.
That’s why I wrote this series for you about workout programming. So that everyone willing can write a good workout plan and make his own experiences. Over the course of three posts we will learn:
- The basics thoughts of every good program
- Programming more specially in terms of calisthenics
- And last but not least, you will get a checklist to work through – in the end of this process you will create your own program.
Not much more to say here – so let’s dive right into this topic!
Thoughts to ponder on in Advance
Define clear Goals
Clear defined goals are crucial – only he who knows were the endpoint is set can measure the distance already wandered towards it.
Ask yourself – what are my goals? What do I wanna accomplish?
Your goals could sound like these[/efn_note]Or be some totally different stuff!.[/efn_note]:
- Do you wann learn your first pullup?
- You just wanna get stronger? Nothing wrong with getting strong!
- You want to learn a specific skill – like a front lever or a handstand?
- You just wanna start working out regularily?
- Don’t wanna be as *** anymore? Do you want to make some serious mobility gains?
It is important to be as precise as precise and realistic as possible. Chasing too many goals at once or chasing one goal not well prepared is a timesink.
We all got limited time to train and more important to recover. That’s why you should spend your time wisely. Choose 1 maximal 2 goals simultaneously – and chase them hard!
Don’t be the guy training all splits, a Muscle Up, a Back Lever und a Front Lever, Handstands, Planches, as well as finally the Iron Cross at once. Not a great idea!
Set a Frequency
How often have you got time to train?
Much of the following planning depends on this single question. Especially the choice of your preferred split will be determined by it.1
Think about it and set a number – for example for times a week on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
The most important thing here is that the program fits your life. Not vice versa.
I can fully understand that sport is not everyone life’s top priority and wanna work out multiple hours a day. What some call heavens, others call hell. 😀
Good news is, that even with a lower number of total workout days, you can be very successful. Likewise many things in life – all comes with its pros and cons.
Estimate your Volume
What volume-type are you?
Weird question. isn’t it? But there are people responding better to a higher volume and fewer workouts, while other like best to workout often and therefore not so long.
Third – there are all the weirdos and pros, which prefer to train all day long every day. But – that doesn’t happen overnight and maybe makes sense for pros.2
This volume-type is only a tendency – your body accustomizes to nearly everything you throw repeatedly at him. But why work against your inborn preferences?
I for example had to force me training in higher rep ranges. Unconsciously I avoided them. But training every day was never a problem for me. How is it at yours? Did you observe such behaviors, too?
In the beginning I would advise a volume of 3-5 sets per exercise and around 4-6 exercises per session.
Think about Recovery
How stressful is your life outside of training?
Ask yourself this and think about following questions:
- Do you sleep at least 8 hours every night?
- Are you eating sufficiently and not dieting?
- Is your day to day life/job/life at home stressful?
- Do you take regularly some time and plan your recovery?
Working out is nothing more than additional stress – although it is good stress too much from a variety of sources can harm you, too.
Stress is nothing bad – on the contrary it forces you to adapt, grow and get stronger.
But as with many things too much, as well as too less, is never good. It is about balance:
Think of stress as a bucket. Once you throw too much water in it, the bucket flows over and it will be a watery mess. Plus, the bucket doesn’t care if you, your creepy uncle or your wife pours water in it. The only thing that counts is water itself.
If your bucket flows over – you have to wipe it up. Then you hit an imaginary brick wall full speed. This can show itself in psychological issues, aggressiveness, or even physical injuries.
Therefore, think well how hard you kick your ass in training. And if you can recovery well all the damage inflicted upon yourself.
This should be addressed, too, in every good program – but is often overlooked or addressed in a side note. No Pain, No Gain isn’t entirely true. It is just one side of the gains-medal.
Otherwise, it would be too easy, right?! 😀
The Framework of every good Workout Plan
Now that we got the basic thoughts down let’s order them! Anyways, if you want to deepen your knowledge on this topic I can fully recommend the two books The Muscle and Strength Pyramid by Eric Helms*, as well as Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning* to you.
They cover general programming science easy to grasp, even for the non-professional and are legit no matter if you are a powerlifter, bodybuilder or a gymnast.
Training happens in Cycles
Likewise the seasons your workout seen from above over the entire year should be cyclic. Maybe not in 4 defined cycles, but likewise the seasons some will be more sunny than others.
At first glance – they may seem really boring , like algebra. But unlike algebra, once understood cycling your training and your goals can be really useful!3
A macrocycle is the big, overlying cycle.
Let’s say it spans across a whole year.
For that particular year you set a few goals. Many overestimate what they manage to do in a month but underestimate their success in a year. I always like to think myself back exactly one year in time. Where have you been? Where are you now?
The macrocycle is then divided in smaller parts – the mesocycles.
The mesocycles are the next smaller unit.
Think of macrocycles and mesocycles as you thin of the year and the months.
A mesocycle is about 4-8 weeks long. For our example let’s say it spans across 4 weeks. Like the months.
That said – your macrocycle consists of 12 different mesocycles, right?
Each mesocycle can be divided into even smaller microcycles.Would be too easy otherwise…
A microcycle could be every week.
For what use are these cycles?
Cycles shall secure that you are successful. They encourage you to look at the big whole. And make success better measurable.
That’s why you should determine goals for every year, as well as every month or even day.
After every session and at the end of each cycle you check if you are on course:
- Did I get stronger? Could I do more reps? Could I hold an exercise longer or even a more difficult one without dying?
- Did my technique improve? Am I more present while working out and feel better what my body is doing?
As you see success can have many faces. Getting strong is great, but just one mask used by the theatre of success. Control, mindfulness and endurance could be others.
To acknowledge your own successes in the first place is a great exercise, too. I think all too often you forget what you have accomplished. It gets standard.
What to keep in mind about cycles:
Macrocycle > some small mesocycles > many even smaller microcycles
Cycles keep you on track. They make success measurable.
Really useful things these cycles, aren’t they? 😀
Introducing: The Concept of Deloads
I love the concept of deloads.
Deloads are microcycles between mesocycles. Usually they take around a week and their key characteristic is decreased overall volume.
Or easily said – after a month of hard strength work you train one week not that much and give your body room to adapt.
Not just for your body deloads can be beneficial. I found that you come back mentally more clearly, too. No one can be year round on the apex of his performance – it looks more a rollercoaster
Deload with decreases Volume
This is the most common form of deloading.
Let’s say normally you would do around 5 sets of 8 reps pullups within your pull session.
When deloading you just do 2 sets instead of 5. The intensity should stay the same. Stay with these 8 reps and even try hit it hard.
The goal is to decrease overall volume – not train lightly or fuck around. Because – volume kills.
You can use all the additional time to prioritize other parts of your life. Or do some additional cardio, work on your mobility, hit the sauna more often. Or use the time off the gym elsewhere.
Deloads as free Phases
This concept is more about exploration. You train while deloading freely the skills you like to work on. That’s it! 😀
You could for example work on your regular pushing day on handstands or on front lever variations on pull day. All without counting reps and sets.
I found this concept very useful to get into the skills and work on them without exerting yourself. It is more about mindfulness and technique than trying to kill yourself every session.
I learned about this concept first by GMB. Give it a try!
A few final words:
Ok, that’s it for today’s post. You got it!
Armed with the knowledge of the most basic stuff read on and discover within the second post what is important to build your program specific to calisthenics.
This part will get more to the point – I promise! But basics are important – that’s why they are called basics. You can find the second post right here.
Plus, check out the third – it is an easy-to-work-through list that condenses all the topics we talk about into one brief post.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to write me a comment.
See you in the second post,
Sources and further reading:
- Check out the website by GMB. I really like their kind of approaching sports.
- These two posts about frequency by T-Nation and volume by Strongerbyscience are worth reading and very informative for everyone super interested in these topics.
- If you want to deepen your knowledge on the topics above I can fully recommend the two books The Muscle and Strength Pyramid by Eric Helms*, as well as Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning* to you.
- If you want to read about workout programming in calisthenics more specifically I can recommend Another great book specifically on bodyweight training, progressions, and workout structure is Steven Low’s Overcoming Gravity*.
- Following a 3 day split when training 4 times a week might not be the best idea in the first place.
- Fitting that statement I always remember the sentence said by Kelly Starret, the the only difference between you and for example an olympic gymnast is that he can take a much bigger beating than you.
- All that math-bashing… I just try to cope with the trauma inflicted upon me by 3 years of unnecessary math I was forced to learn in high school.