Square Peg, Round Hole

What this is really about is matching your program to your goals. Programs should always have the components you are looking to improve incorporated in them and be progressed accordingly (below I have some examples of what should be in programs for the basic goals there). What this means is that we will always be training specifically for whatever our goal is. Now that seems like a simple enough concept to understand, but go to the gym and see how many folks are doing things that are counter to what their goals for training really are. This is due to a number of issues like misinformation, survivorship bias, and so on. Let’s cut to the heart of the matter here: what are your goals?

Lose Weight

If your goal is to do this, your first focus needs to be on what you are eating. If you are running in a caloric surplus you will never lose weight. It is incredibly hard to out train a bad diet. So the goal here is to get a good idea of what you need every day as far as calories go and cut that number by 250-500 calories. There are a number of good apps on the market and websites that can give you a simple idea here of where you stand (google search calories needs, also the Harris Benedict equation is a good start). Track your weight for a week or two and if you aren’t losing weight (and you are being honest about your calories) try adding in some more work to your training and cut a few more calories (don’t cut your total calories by more than 1000 a day that’s a recipe for disaster.

After the cutting calories the next thing you need to do is preserve your muscle mass. Muscle is very metabolically active tissue whereas fat is not. If you see someone who has just went on a hard diet and doesn’t train notice how they typically just look shrunken (I use the term freeze dried). The reason for this is simply they have lost muscle mass with their fat mass. You can avoid this by keeping some resistance training in your program specifically going heavy in the 5-10 rep range. You want to give the body the message that although there are less calories around you still need your muscle. Use compound movements and for the love of god make sure you are squatting, deadlifting, pressing, and pulling heavy stuff not pink dumbbells.

For the conditioning (cardio) work, now is the time to do the long slow distance on some days and run some hard sprints (hill sprints and car pushes are great for this) to burn even more calories. Listen to your body here and don’t overdo it. Try and keep with your typical amount of training volume per week, and don’t increase it by much more than really only 10% a week. The goal is to make changes that you can maintain for long periods of time (well the one to three months that you hit this hard for).

Gain Weight

If your goal is to do this, your first focus needs to be on what you are eating. Notice how that is the exact same sentence as earlier. Now the goal here is if you aren’t eating enough you won’t be gaining weight. Add in an extra 250-500 calories a day from quality sources (this isn’t an excuse to add in 500 calories of ice cream a day, though that is fun). Track your weight and see what happens. Now the goal here is also to make sure that you are gaining muscle not fat. The way you can do this is by doing some hard resistance training aiming for heavy weight in compound movements with around ten reps each set. Play with your total training volume and make sure you are hitting every major muscle in the body at least twice a week and see what shakes after a month or so of focused training. You might want to cut conditioning out at this point since that just makes you have to eat more calories to offset the ones you burn from that training.

Common Mistakes

Using the programs meant for someone other than you. Don’t worry about doing Michael Phelp’s swimming program, JJ Watt’s lifting program, or Meb’s long distance program. The key is to do the program meant for someone at your current level of health, strength, endurance, flexibility, and so on. Don’t try and do what any pro teams are doing unless you are a pro yourself in that area. If you are  a beginner do a beginners program, if you are an intermediate do an intermediate program, if you are an advanced trainee do your own program because lord knows your know your body well enough at that point to know what you need to do. If you are not sure what level you are on start with a beginners program and work your way up. There is nothing wrong with starting easy and increasing with time, starting on Nightmare level and trying to hang on is a recipe for disaster.

Another mistake is to do a program meant for different goals than yourself. Sounds like a mistake most people wouldn’t make, but trust me it happens. The key here is some folks who are naturally small will tout things like long distance running as the be all end all for being in shape, or doing yoga, pilates, etc. These can be great additions to a total program, but if you think doing yoga three days a week is going to get you in shape then I’m sorry about the brutality of reality, or congrats on winning the genetic lottery and everything works for you (just kidding Bo worked hard too). So if your goal is to look better in just about anything you typically need two things; more muscle and less fat. Do this by some hard compound weight training and some also hard cardiovascular training/conditioning combine this with a good diet you are set. There are a number of ways to skin the cat, but a number of folks sell themselves short by completely avoiding one of those two methods and then not getting the results they are aspiring for. When you look at the program you should be able to see what they are doing to help you build strength, build endurance, or build flexibility. If it is doing the same thing every day with no progression or just a random happenstance of movements and lifts what then exactly are your progressing towards?

Finally, just run one program at a time. There is a reason that you don’t see people that hold world records in powerlifting and the Olympic marathon much less at the same time. You can be competitive or enjoy both, but the body only has so much of a recovery capacity so you have to make sure that you are only stressing yourself as much as you can handle. Why do two program and get half the possible results or one program and be able to get all of the results possible?

Bonus mini rant

What I get a kick out of when I go to any major gym you will always see someone on (typically female) on the hip adduction and abduction machines (also referred to at the good girl/bad girl machines). Muscles have really only two options really, get bigger or get smaller. You get them bigger by training them, so doing the adductor machine turns out can help hypertrophy your adductors (big surprise there). However when you ask someone if they are aspiring for big meaty inner thighs they tend to not be so enthusiastic, though that is what they are actively training towards. Bros don’t do endless sets of curls because they don’t want bigger muscles, but for some reason this logic can break down from time to time.


At the end of the day make sure you are doing programs that apply directly to what you are trying to accomplish and are appropriate for your health and fitness level. Find a program you enjoy, because at the end of the day training is really about the journey not the destination. We are all heading towards the big dirt nap so might as well find something you enjoy that gives you the body and physical abilities that you want. If you want me to expand on any ideas more thoroughly leave a comment for me to do so. Thanks for reading.


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