Are you striving to meet your physical goals through getting great individual workouts, or are you following a thoughtful program? While making the most of each of your training sessions is important to meeting your goals, it is your adherence to a principled program that ties your daily efforts together and effectively moves you towards a maximum quality of life and high performance.

Based on my research and thousands of personal interactions, I have to believe most you who are reading right now are merely focused on the intensity or density of each exercise session you perform, rather than the long term effect of a program. Most of the trendy options for exercise the fitness industry is offering you right now influence you accordingly, because it’s easier to get you fixated on immediate gratification than keeping your eyes on a long term result. However, the sporadic drop-in approach to classes with randomized workouts does not move you closer to being the healthy person you envision. Sure, the euphoric feeling of floating (or crawling) out each time you leave an exercise session has to mean something, but it doesn’t do much more than make you feel good about yourself once the novelty wears off after a few weeks.

Here’s the truth you need to hear. While working out hard is really great, you cannot achieve your goals through utter randomization. That is like playing the lottery to save for retirement when you know it takes decades of deferring hard earned money into reliable funds to have a chance. Being healthy takes the same level of personal investment and discipline as making the most of your finances. You have to strategically plan and adhere to the best practices in multiple areas. In regards to health, those are mainly nutrition, sleep, and adequate physical activity.

Even on a common sense level, there are major issues with your randomized approach to training, but I sure won’t leave you hanging. Here are three fundamental principles every program needs to include in order to be effective. (If you are paying good money for someone to think about all this for you, understanding these is a good way to keep them honest with some challenging questions.)

  1. Overload is applying an adequate level of stress to stimulate your desired adaptation. This is probably the principle you are closest to nailing down, because it involves hard work! However, we need to talk about how you should properly aim your efforts.
  2. Progression is where a good program starts to trump your random workouts. It considers the ultimate goal and progressively builds up to that point from an appropriate starting place. Oh and once you achieve the goal, it raises the bar, unlike those uniform classes you’ve been attending for so long. Progression promotes more lasting benefits, and most importantly, it minimizes your risk for injury.
  3. Specificity is the most crucial element randomization lacks. For example, if you are targeting weight loss, you need a program that follows the specific principles for that effect. Unfortunately, the intense breathing and elevated heart rate you experience in your really tough workouts do not necessarily indicate you are going to drop pounds. Likewise, if you are training for a sport like football, getting big arms in the off-season doesn’t mean you’re going to be any better on game day. Specificity is where your approach gets thoughtful, and your efforts pay off. You are chasing the wind without it. You should ask your instructors how the activities they are prescribing actually promote your training goal.

Overload, progression, and specificity are the principles that need to be placed in every program if you truly expect success. If we go a step further, the process for constructing a program is identified as periodization. Typically, periodization lays out an entire year, referred to as a training year or macrocycle. Specificity is the most guiding of the principles when you simply answer the initial question, “What do I want to achieve?” At that point. The appropriate progressive phases of training are laid out chronologically. Each stage should stimulate an effect that is necessary to reach the ultimate training goal (yes, the order of the phases is a big deal). It’s like building a house from the foundation to the finished product. You don’t do anything out of order. All the while, applying overload determines the effort your body has to put forth in order to improve. If stress is not high enough, nothing will happen. To the other extreme, if stress is too high, you will over train or get hurt. Again, the stress you experience should be specifically targeted at the areas that are related to your training goal. The first time you complete an entire training year, your training age is 1. That’s right, you’re an infant, but each year you can progress through specific programming. If you really enjoy those hard workouts, you can bet that you’ll be able to handle more overload each go around.

Can you see how your goals and overall health hold the value of lifelong investments? Don’t leave your well being to randomization. Take a thoughtful approach through long term program adherence year after year.

If you have never followed a complete program before, ask yourself these questions now:

  1. Has your physical fitness improved over the last 3-years?
  2. What types of exercise did you try over that period of time?
  3. What were your biggest struggles?

Now, consider making a more thoughtful investment in your health through following an appropriate program. Believe me, you can be successful no matter how many times you’ve failed if you can commit to exercising the right way. There are professionals in every city that possess the knowledge and accountability to support you. However, they usually take a thoughtful pursuit to find, as well.

By: Fred Munzenmaier