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How To Design Your Own Strength and Fitness Program

Developing a Strong Foundation

You don’t necessarily need a personal trainer or coach to have a well-designed fitness program. This is especially true if you are simply training to improve your physique, health and general fitness(those with more specific goals may still want to consult with an expert). This article will give you an idea of how to start putting together a training program and improve overall fitness at your level. A program that will give you a foundation of fitness that will set you up for success when progressing your program to more specific goals.

If you are looking to put together a structured plan that will help you progress, I will go over why it’s important to consider your long-term goals and what you want to get out of your training program. This will prevent you from making the mistake of jumping into a random collage of workouts, repeating the same workout for too long, or running out of ideas to keep you engaged and progressing, which can cause you to gradually lose interest.


Designing a medium-term or long-term program is not necessary to start training. However,  it can give you direction and help you progress properly toward your medium and long-term goals.  It can also help you stay on track and hold yourself accountable. With that said, the structured approach may work better for some than for others. If your style is more on the unstructured side, this is still the best place to start out, and you may still find yourself returning to this section as your fitness level advances.

Although this site focuses on suspension training, it’s not necessary that you limit yourself to only suspension training if you have the resources to include other types of training.

What Is Periodization?

Having spent time in the personal training world, I have too often come across people who exercise consistently but have reached a permanent plateau. The most common scenario is that they have been stuck on the same program for months or even years—the same exercises, same repetition ranges, and the same amounts of resistance. Their bodies have already adapted to the program and are not getting any overload or demands that require any more change. Whether you are a performance-oriented endurance athlete or someone who wants to lose weight and obtain better general fitness, the way to do that is to continually challenge your body with new demands. In a variety of studies, periodization has been shown to result in more fitness gains.

Follow the emphasis of the above pyramid when laying your fitness plan. Focusing on developing optimal flexibility, stability and general strength will help to ensure you are ready for more intense and complex movements when the time comes.

Periodizing your training into phases or blocks that will keep your body working harder and adapting to new demands while getting adequate rest to recover and rebuild, is the route to continuous improvement. Generally, each phase has certain objectives, and you work on targeting things during your workouts that will best result in you meeting those objectives. The articles to follow this will go into further detail on a variety of aspects, such as cardio, strength, performance for running, or bone density, that you may want to focus on during a training phase. These phases may build on one another, focusing on just one aspect at a time, or they may shift in focus to completely distinct aspects.

Periodization can be done within a block of training. The simplest approach would be to focus on increasing the amount of resistance you can move at a targeted repetition range. You could also reverse this and aim to increase the repetitions you can perform at a given resistance. Another approach might be to increase the number of sets or duration of work intervals over the course of a block of training.

Periodization can also be done over the span of several blocks of training. A traditional approach would be shifting from using sets of lower resistance and higher repetitions in one training phase, to sets of higher resistance and lower repetitions in the next training phase. Another example would be a recreational cyclist, or general fitness enthusiast, designing a six-week training plan to focus on general strength, followed by a six-week training program to focus on cardio and weight loss. Finally, a competitive cyclist might transition from a general strength program and then transition to a strength maintenance program, to coincide with an on-the-bike training program.

After you have obtained a general ability and comfort level performing movements on a suspended trainer, you should start thinking about your goals for the next training block. You may want to plan your upcoming phases by choosing to alter any number of variables, depending on your goals or preferences, with the goal being to improve on those aspects and keep your program dynamic and effective.

For instance, if you are interested in targeting more cardiovascular benefits or are pressed for time, it would be beneficial to plan a four-to-six-week block of workouts that include movements that use multiple muscle groups and/or have short, or no, rest periods between sets. If you are concerned about osteoporosis and want to improve bone density, you could choose exercises that work large muscle groups with high resistance, or exercises that involve some impact. If you are combining suspension training with other methods, you have limitless options when it comes to program design.

Things you can change within a workout:

  • movements performed
  • the number of sets performed
  • the number of repetitions performed
  • doing sets of repetitions versus time-based sets
  • the level of resistance
  • The amount of rest between sets
  • The number of exercises
  • The speed at which you perform the exercises

Things you can target within a training phase:

  • building a solid foundation
  • building strength
  • gaining muscle
  • improving cardiovascular health
  • targeting weight loss
  • improving balance and stability
  • improving flexibility
  • improving bone density
  • sport-specific strength
Start Your Program Off Right

A solid foundation for your fitness program is not unlike a solid foundation for your house. It may not always be the sexiest part of the program, but it’s  the most important building block. If you want to be able to perform advanced progressions or intensity, a solid foundation will provide the necessary support, and you will be more likely to handle the higher intensities and complex movement demands. However, adding intense training on top of a weak or cracked foundation may result in bad technique, less efficient workouts, or even breakdown and injury.

To build your foundation, start with a general all-around workout that targets multiple movements and challenges strength, endurance, and stability. Maintain balance in your exercise selections by including movements that counter each other. For example, employ a pushing movement and a pulling movement that work opposing muscle groups, like push vs pull. A movement that targets the anterior chain of muscles in the front of your body counters a movement that focuses on the posterior chain of muscles on the backside of your body. Select basic movements and perform them at a comfortably challenging resistance level. I recommend a repetition range of about 15 reps per set during this phase. This will give you a moderate degree of resistance and enough reps to develop muscle memory and coordination of the movement.

The unstable platform of the straps is something your body may not be used to, and this will allow it time to learn the most efficient muscle-firing patterns, as well as stabilizer recruitment of the muscles involved. I also suggest an initial block of at least four to six weeks to develop this. If you are new to strength training, make that six to eight weeks, and consider doing more than one training block of foundation work. Everyone will have his or her own level of experience, ability, and comfort. If you don’t have much experience strength training, a longer block of time or multiple training blocks of foundation work will allow for your strength, balance, coordination, flexibility, and overall kinesthetic awareness to further develop.

You may experience improvements during this time, as you become comfortable with the movements. Many of these initial gains will be neuromuscular as the body becomes more efficient and figures out which muscles to turn off and which ones to activate. The neuromuscular system is a quick learner. The structural components of your muscle fibers, tendons, and ligaments take a little longer to catch up and adapt to the new demands being placed them. Be patient, and give them the chance to do so.

You may still periodize within this phase, over multiple foundation blocks, by progressing the movements. Your ultimate goal should be improving all-around strength and stability. As you get stronger, you should be able to advance in movement progressions or in the resistance utilized for each given movement selected.

Getting Started with Your Program

A good start would be to choose one or two movements from the beginner/intermediate section of the exercise library with each focusing on a different movement pattern.

  • pushing
  • pulling
  • legs and hips
  • core

Once you’ve completed this phase, and have achieved an adequate comfort and ability level with a program of basic movements, you may want to change things up. This may involve simply continuing to build on that foundation with a modification of the exercises you select. Changing or progressing the movements performed, while keeping the repetitions, sets, and rest periods the same will accomplish that. You may also want to shift the focus to strength, cardio, or a sport-specific strength program.

Sample Workouts to Get You Started

Reference the level 1 and level 2 foundation workouts at the back of the book to begin. Both are well- rounded programs that include a variety of general movements. Level 1 consists of exercises selected from the beginner-level category. Level 2 consists of more movements from the intermediate level.

Which Workout Should I Start With?

Start with beginner workout located here if you are a novice exerciser, are coming back from a break from working out, or are coming back from an injury or health issue. If you are unsure about which program would be best to start with, begin here. You can always move up to level 2 if you decide you need more of a challenge.

Start with Intermediate Workout or Advanced Workout if you are already performing resistance training or have a strong fitness/athletic background. Each movement is adjustable, so find the most appropriate level of resistance and stability for you. You want to be challenged, but you also should be able to complete the target number of reps of each set with good form. You may advance the progression of any given exercise selection as needed.

Conclusion

Progress at your own pace. Don’t worry about what exercises others may be doing. Find the exercise, progression, and resistance level that are right for you and your goals within that workout. It should be challenging to finish each set while performing the targeted number of repetitions. You should also be able to complete the targeted number of repetitions without changes to form or a reduction in the range of motion. Don’t move to the next progression or more advanced movement until you have mastered the current one.

Consider all the variables you can manipulate within each workout and each training phase. You may change any of these variables to target your fitness goals, or simply to keep things interesting and prevent plateaus in your fitness. Periodization to your program can be done over weeks, months, or even years.

Consistency is key. Stick with it.

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