Get strong with a personalised weekly GreenBook plan
You have the desire to get stronger and feel healthier, but don’t know where to begin? Start with a plan! In this blog, an exercise science PhD student and powerlifter lays out the steps for your first weekly gym plan. With these explanations you will be able to continue by yourself. Know what you’re doing! Shall we start?
Most people have a desire to get stronger, look better, and feel healthier in their day to day lives, but simply don’t know where to begin with achieving it. The first steps are the most difficult ones – whether it be joining a sport, going to a gym, or reducing the amount of ice cream you eat (just kidding, that’ll never happen). However, the first step doesn’t have to be actually doing the activity of your choice – rather, it can simply be planning out what your first foray into the activity is going to be. Not only will this make it more likely for you to start achieving what you want to achieve, but it will also lay out the steps you will take to get you there!
An often underlooked fact is that exercising for your health is something that is highly quantifiable – when you start you often know a certain amount about the current state of your performance. That could be the speed at which you can run for 20 minutes, or how far you can swim, for example. Over time, if you’re going to spend time on an activity, you should try to make sure that the time spent doing it means actual changes in your ability to perform at it. That can mean getting faster (increasing your endurance), or getting stronger, for example. This blog post is going to focus on getting stronger.
Why personalise your strength training
Getting stronger is something that can be done in a gym with weight training. The World Health Organisation states that “Muscle-strengthening activities should be done involving major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week”. However, this is not often a consideration that most people have when considering how they exercise, and this is due to a number of obstacles. Planning out how to get stronger is something that takes a reasonable amount of existing knowledge about how to go into a gym, perform specific exercises, and an understanding of how well your own body reacts to training stimuli. How quickly you adapt to exercise is something that can be quite specific to the individual.
However, you don’t have to devise a plan on your own, as strength training programmes can be made which are very applicable to almost anybody. With a solid plan, going into the gym for the first time doesn’t have to be scary, and it also minimises the amount of time you spend in the gym whilst simultaneously maximising the benefits you receive from that time. What’s not to like, right?
Of course, to write the plan down you’re going to need something capable of adapting to your training programme just as well as you can – for this, I’ve chosen the Greenbook with time planner pages showing a vertical week overview. Although it functions very well as a diary, you can also use it to plan out your exercise regime as seen in the pictures throughout this blog post. You can even take it into the gym with you as it’s totally sweat proof! When you get stronger or want to change your programme, you can simply wipe out a part of it and re-write it. Very handy!
Compound exercises are the core
The foundation of your programme should be what are known as compound exercises. Compound exercises are movements that recruit a large amount of bodily musculature throughout their range of motion, and they are typically performed with free weights using plate-loaded barbells or dumbells. This means that from one exercise, you’re getting a lot of the work done that would require a long circuit on multiple machines. These are the same exercises that athletes use to enhance their ability to perform in sports such as sprinting, rugby, swimming, etc. For this blog post, I’ve formulated an example starter strength training programme which is done over 3 days a week. And, of course, I wrote it down in a Greenbook!
This programme targets all the major muscle groups of the body, using five compound exercises as the pillars around which the workouts are constructed, namely: the squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, and barbell row, and gives you guidance on how to get stronger at them. These are all performed using a barbell, and excellent tutorials can be found on YouTube on how to do these movements.
I’ve organised these movements throughout the week in order to give you plenty of rest before going into the next workout. To make it more easy to understand, I’ve used multiple Greenbook pen colours to colour-code the exercises according to what body part they’re targeting. Those in blue squares are compound exercises for the lower body, green squares are compound exercises for the upper body, and black squares are accessory exercises for the upper body or lower body. So, if you’re time-limited in the gym, then prioritise the blue and green exercises. However, this doesn’t mean the black ones are useless. The accessory exercises are key to help you adapt more quickly to the compound exercises and avoid injury and muscular imbalances.
Your percentage-based scheme
Some of the terminologies I’ve used might be difficult to understand for the beginner. So, I’ll walk you through what they mean.
On Monday, I’ve written squats for 5 sets of 5 at 75%. 75% refers to your one-rep max. If you’re a complete beginner, you will probably not know what your one-rep max is, of course. I’d recommend for you that you only use the bar for 5 sets of 5 reps on squats on your first day. This same principle applies to all the exercises in which I’ve used a percentage-based scheme. On Wednesday I programmed in 4 sets of 10 reps on barbell row at 70% of your one rep max. This might be too difficult to do with the bar for a beginner, so I’d recommend using a 10kg or 15kg bar for this until you get stronger and calculate your one rep max from there.
Scan GreenBook via “Scan Documents” with Notes on iOS or use the app Camscanner on Andriod.
Each week I recommend adding 5kg to your lower body compound exercises (blue) and 2.5kg to your upper body compound exercises (green). For the accessory exercises, I’ve programmed them all at RPE8. RPE means “rating of perceived exertion”, in other words, you should be struggling a little, but you could still do about two more reps if you really needed to.
Keep on this programme until you can no longer feel that you can achieve the workouts as prescribed. For example, if you come close to failing the 5th rep of 50kg on squats, this means that your one rep maximum can be calculated based on these 5 reps at 50kg. You can use a rep max calculator to estimate your one rep max based on this 4 rep maximum. One such rep max calculator is available online here or you can use an app on your phone (just search the app store). I used a rep max calculator to calculate what 5 reps with 50kg would be and got 56kg for one rep as a result (see picture below).
At this point you can readjust to your new one rep max. With the knowledge that your one rep maximum would be 56kg, you can re-balance your workouts. As it originally said 5 sets of 5 at 75%, and considering that you struggled with 5 reps at 50kg, you would thus calculate 75% of 55 as shown above and continue with 5 sets of 5 at 42kg and build back up again from there. Next time it comes to facing off with 50kg, you should be stronger! If you keep coming close to failing, I’d recommend moving from the beginner level programme on to an intermediate strength training programme.
Luckily, with Greenbook, you can reuse the same pages and re-write your new programme into the same week planner pages that you used for this one. Whether you choose this programme or apply similar principles to other activities such as running or swimming, remember to record your progress so that you can always look back and see where you began. Once you’ve learned to quantify your achievements, you can also quantify and plan your future. Good luck!
Ps. I’ll be happy to answer any questions in the comments
About the author of this guest blog
Justin is currently doing a PhD in the field of Sport and Exercise Science. He’s currently at a 210kg deadlift, 180kg squat and 160kg bench. In February 2016 he radically switched his diet from lots of meat to completely vegetarian and now increasingly vegan. No gains lost.