How to build an exercise program: Part 3
How to build an exercise program: Part 3
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This series is centered around helping those who are new to exercise. As such, we will use an example of the four mesocycles I would lay out for a client of mine who is new to exercise.
We will not go into extensive detail as to the exercises for each phase or the science of the physiological adaptations as I will be leaving that for later sections where we can focus on each mesocycle in depth.
Let’s instead briefly summarize the different cycles and their rep ranges, load type, and rest periods. Also, each mesocycle should compliment itself with some form of aerobic activity, such as speed walking, running, or hiking one to two times per week.
The Foundation Phase
When you are a beginner, It is important to devote your first mesocycle to learning correct form and the development of a higher level of body awareness.
This first mesocycle, appropriately called the foundation phase, should last about six weeks and only needs to be performed once. Long term success will come much more efficiently and with less chance of injury if you devote yourself to this first foundational phase.
During the foundation phase, I would have my client perform basic, full body, compound movements like squats, hip hinges, presses, and pulls in high rep ranges and with less weight.
The goal is not to exhaust yourself by the end of each set. Instead, you should be able to perform the last repetition with the same attention to good form as your first repetition. You’re attempting to build good motor patterns now, so you don’t have to think about it when you load more weight in the future.
Think about riding a bicycle. When you first get on a bike, it seems incredibly difficult. However, with time you develop the motor patterning to the level where you don’t have to think about it, you just ride.
This motor patterning is what we are accomplishing in the foundation phase. However, if you pattern improper form now it will carry through to the next cycle, creating a greater chance of injury when you load it.
This is why it is so imperative you pay attention to practicing good form in this first mesocycle. The great thing is, if you focus on the proper form you will never have only have to do this mesocycle once.
The Build Phase
We call the second mesocycle the build phase as it is the heavily focused on building muscle size and increasing strength endurance, a process called muscle hypertrophy.
By adding resistance and decreasing repetitions to the same or similar exercises you performed in the foundation phase you cause the need for your body to regenerate muscle protein at a greater extent than before.
Building muscle during this phase is important regardless of your end goal, as more muscle on your frame equates to more energy burned through the day and ultimately a lower body fat percentage.
As an example, if in the Foundation’s phase you were doing a bodyweight squat for 20 repetitions, you could now progress to a barbell squat. A barbell adds the necessary additional resistance to the squat pattern that fatigues the muscles with a lower number of repetitions.
This mesocycle should last six weeks. You will perform the exercises with ranges of 10 to 15 repetitions each set and a rest time of one to two minutes between each set.
The third phase is called the strength phase and, as the name implies, focuses on building strength and muscular force production.
Although the build phase increases a person’s strength, the primary adaptation is one of strength endurance or increased strength over increased time and repetitions.
In this strength phase, however, the adaptation will be an increase of strength through less time and fewer contractions or of moving more weight through fewer repetitions.
The strength phase causes the muscle fibers to get better at firing together in one contraction, creating the potential for more explosivity and power through dynamic movements in the future.
You will likely notice your muscles feel more firm to the touch after completing this phase, as though the muscles were denser than before.
This strength focused mesocycle should last around four weeks, no longer than 6. Repetitions in a strength phase typically range from 2 to 6 reps. However, I always recommend keeping the reps between 5 and 8 the first time you go through this phase.
Rest time between sets is also longer, between 2 and 3 minutes, as the extra weight is more taxing on the central nervous system and requires additional recovery time.
The Metabolic Phase
The fourth and final mesocycle is called the metabolic phase. This phase will have you drowning in sweat and breathing heavy.
The high intensity of this phase is going to put all of that muscle you worked so hard for to good use, burning through fat much quicker than before. You may have read that last sentence and thought, “Why don’t I just skip right to the metabolic phase?”
The only way this phase will work as well as it can is if you have built the necessary muscle mass and motor control in the first three phases. Think of it as a quarter mile drag race.
If you show up to the race with a 1989, three cylinder Pontiac Firefly you’re not going to come in first. If you continue to run that car down the track three or four days a week for the next four weeks, then you’re likely going to see your car blow up before the end of the month.
If instead, you take the time to build up a proper race car, steadily adding high-performance engine components and electronics, eventually it will have transformed into a supercar and be ready to compete in the quarter mile.
The metabolic phase will improve your ability to generate speed, force, and agility at peak levels of performance. The exercises are much more dynamic than the three phases before, often utilizing only bodyweight exercises that allow for rapid movement in all planes of motion.
Balance, speed, agility, and coordination are all trained during this phase.
The metabolic mesocycle should last no longer than four weeks. Repetitions and weight are not critical. Rather, the goal is to push yourself to make it through each set with maximum intensity.
Think of it this way; No matter how fit a person is they will always have a maximum amount of effort they can put forth. During this phase, it’s your responsibility to put the maximum effort you are currently capable of into the workout.
Therefore, the workouts never get easier. You just become better capable of performing more work.
Following this final phase is what we call a de-load. The de-load offers your body some much needed time to rest and recover while still keeping you active and not allowing for strength or flexibility and mobility to decrease.
During a de-load, you will be performing the exercises from the build phase in the same rep range, however only using between fifty and sixty percent of the weight.
As an example, if you were squatting 100 pounds twelve times during the build phase, you would squat fifty pounds twelve times during the de-load phase. The reps should be slowed down with a heavy focus on proper form.
If you followed those five mesocycles, you would have over five months of training logically ordered and programmed in advance.
By the end of five months, you would have achieved an entirely new body, with a potential for losing over forty pounds of fat, increasing your strength by over 100 percent, and developing a lean, muscular physique.
The great thing about this style of programming is that, once you have completed the build, strength, and metabolic cycles, you go back to the build phase and repeat.
Every time you come back to the build phase you are stronger, more coordinated, and more mobile, allowing for the inclusion of more challenging exercises in your routines. This regular, periodized programming ensures you are continually progressing.
As always, thank you so much for taking your time to read this article. If you got something from it, or you know someone who would benefit from this article, please feel free to share.
If you have any questions or suggestions for future articles or videos, please leave me a message in the comments or reach out to me on social media!
And remember, with everything in life the secret to success is getting started. So get started!