I don't know if it has just been a common topic in threads recently, whether it's Lancer stuck at 135 on bench, or people asking whether or not they should use the Rippetoe program to squat every other day or 2 days a week, but it seems to me that more people know what a JM press is here than how to structure your workout to maintain strength progress. Knowledge of nutrition and rest doesn't seem to be an issue, regardless of whether or not those of you who are not getting stronger are actually following the right lifestyle to get stronger, you all seem to know the right nutrient proportioning and rest quotas to ellicit progress in the gym. When it comes to programming however, most people don't seem to know what the hell they are doing, even beginners, who are the only category of lifters that can literally do anything in the gym and see strength gains. Most people are over-analyzing their workouts and not giving them a chance to create results, people getting caught between structural and hypertrophy goals (looks vs strength) mid routine and changing things, which causes you to fall short of both pursuits. Intermediate (slightly more experienced) lifters have a harder time making gains because the stronger you get, the harder it becomes to make progress, thus without proper knowledge of programming you will find yourself stuck benching 225 for months, even years at a time, which unless you have an extremely low ceiling of genetic potential, is just unnecessary. I am going to provide below the fundamentals of the relationship between training and getting stronger, followed by the guidelines for each category of lifter (beginner, intermediate, advanced) The Fundamentals This is all pretty basic, and probably not new to some of you, but when you impress an external stress on the muscle, you are triggering an adaptation mechanism that forces the muscle to adapt to manage that stress. During the recovery period after the workout, the muscle's capacity for strength will fall below what you could do before you impressed the external stress, gradually climbing back up to the pre-external stress levels, and shortly thereafter surpassing them, effectively making you stronger as an adaptation. At this point you have several options, and here is where most people screw up: 1. You apply another external stress at that exact point of supercompensation, with the same magnitude of external stress that you did previously. Thus the second hump of supercompensation will be of the same magnitude as the first, essentially, you will not get stronger, this is why one needs to focus on increasing the weight for each stress exercise. 2. You apply another external stress which is greater than the previous one, but cannot apply it at the exact point of supercompensation, lets say you do it before you've supercompensated, or too late afterwards and the body has already regressed into pre-supercomensation levels (ie: benching every 2 weeks). Thus you find that you are unable to execute a higher weight, and subsequently feel like you are not getting any stronger, therefore hurting your ego and probably elliciting an unwarranted program change, when all you did was miss your timing 3. You apply another external stress that is greater than the previous one at the exact point of supercompensation. This triggers another cycle of supercompensation that creates a bigger hump than the first, if at that moment you apply another stress of even greater magnitude, you will continue to get stronger. This is the ideal option Now lets see how this principle applies to people strenght training at different levels of experience: The Beginner The beginner has little to no background in strength training, or he has been working for years, but doing so on machines, so he has no actual strength. While the principles above concerning supercompensation apply to any external stress put on the body, when I say strength training I am referring to bench press, squat, deadlift, standing military press, pull-ups, etc, all with correct form, ie full range of motion. The beginner is unable to recruit a larger percentage of his muscle to be used during the exercise, maybe he can get ~40%, moreover, his muscles are not conditioned enough to lift heavy loads. These factors combined mean that when the beginner squats for 3 sets of 5 reps at 100%, he is not doing enough trauma to the muscle to cause a long recovery. This is why cookie cutter programs for beginners work, because they stipulate fixed set, rep, and rest schemes which are readily applicable to someone with such short recovery periods. This is why the Rippetoe programs is excellent for beginners looking to embark on a strength regimen. As the beginner progresses, his body will be able to move larger loads, which require greater recovery, but he is also simultaneously adapting to the volume, which means he can maintain progress at that recovery period of 48 hrs for some time, that is the point where the supercompensation peak occurs from the workout of the previous session. Progression The beginner should be able to add weight to each exercise on a workout to workout basis, the deadlift can usually go up 10+ lbs each workout, the squat 5, the bench press 5 at the beginning and, like the press, probably slow down to 2 or so as he progresses. You should expect workout to workout progress for each exercise, and if you are not attaining it and all your recovery habits are on the mark (sleeping, eating, not getting fucked up etc) then refer to what you do when you hit a "plateau" Stalled Progress/Regression Like all strength trainees, there will come a point where progress stalls or regresses, the key to beating this is recognizing it early. If a trainee can bench 175 for 3 sets of 5, and during the warm up sets of a particular session he appears sluggish, and can only complete 4 reps for the first set, then you stop the workout there, and move onto the other exercises. During the next bench session, you reduce the load by ~10%, to 155 and have him perform the same workout of 3 sets of 5, increasing the load incrementally each week until he can perform the 175 by 3 sets of 5, thus regaining the progress formerly lost by a setback caused by who knows what. This can principle can be applied to all exercises. End of the Beginner Cycle At some point in time, after a several months most likely, perhaps a year depending on the trainee's dedication, you will find that you are simply not getting stronger, you are not regressing in strength, (which if you are steps should be made in as told in the above section), but not making progress. If this happens after paying your dues as a beginner, and you have made significant progress on all your lifts, it is because the volume you need to induce supercompensation can no longer be recovered from in 48 hrs and you need to advance to the next level of programming. The Intermediate The Intermediate lifter has advanced to a stage where he must apply enough external stress in one workout that he needs multiple days to recover from, thus transferring us from a daily workout cycle to a weekly workout cycle. Routines for the intermediate usually focus on one day in the beginning of the week that is the stressor, followed by a light day mid week to enhance recover, and a low volume, high intensity day at the end of the week to maintain CNS pathways and prime the body for a strong, increased workout the following week. This has been popularized by the christopher's program on this board, consisting of the following: Mon: 5x5 fixed weight Wed: 3x8 light weight Fri: work up to a 3 rep max As you can see this follows the parameters of a basic intermediate program with expectation of increased weight for each exercise weekly, both on the Monday and Friday workouts. Individualizing However, unlike the beginner, the intermediate lifter has a finer line to walk when trying to induce supercompensation. Think of the progress line as an exponential equation that reaches an asymptote, it advances quickly towards the asymptote, and the closer it gets to it the smaller the slope becomes until its looks as though it will never reach it. This is exactly how strength gains come. The asymptote is your genetic potential, you advance to it quickly as a beginner, making large gains with great frequency, as you get closer to it, gains are hard to come by, especially when one move into the advanced stages of strength training, and very few, with the most expert coaching, are able to reach their genetic potential. The longer the time period between the external stress and supercompensation, the harder it is to peg down where the peak it is, and the more it varies for each individual. This is why cookie cutter programs in the intermediate stage should be discouraged imo, at least without massive individualizaiton. As it stands for the intermediate, it might take 4 or 5 days for you to reach supercompensation from your stress workout, as a stress that would only take 48 hrs to recover from will not be enough to make you stronger anymore, a load that is heavy enough, and done with enough volume to actually induce supercompensation will take a week to complete recovery from. The difficultly in attaining this timing with any regularity is why you see many people at the gym stuck benching ~250 for years. Making an Intermediate Program for YOU In terms of making an intermediate program that is right for you, you will need to experiment with various volumes in order to see what is right for you to keep making progress. Using myself as an example, I tried the christophers program and was destroyed after 2 weeks, my body cannot handle 5x5s on Monday at a fixed weight, so I changed the volume to 8 sets of 3 (still similar but different), still after 2 weeks I could not even perform the weight I began with, it was too much. I therefore took a more conservative approach and reduced the Monday workload to 4 sets of 3 for the backsquat and performed a front squat 1RM on Thursdays. I have been making progress on both lifts for 4 weeks now, when it stalls, I will increase the volume on Monday to 5 sets of 3, and maybe to 2 singles on Thursday instead of one. As you can see this workout follows the principles of an intermediate regime, with the volume stressor workout at the beginning of the week, and the CNS intensive, low volume workout at the end, I simply had to tailor it to my personal abilities. This is something you must do as well. While some of you maybe be able to jump right into the christophers program and make progress, its is only by coincidence that you happen to be able to handle the same volume capacity that the program requires, not by some miracle of the program. The progress will soon end and you will have to increase or decrease volume accordingly to maintain it. This is why when you reach the intermediate level, you should dabble in your own program design, while following the guidelines and remembering the principles of supercompensation and timing. It can be a frustrating and arduous process, as each time you realize what you are doing is too much volume, you need several weeks of recovery to jump back into again, therefore it might take weeks, maybe even a month or two to find out what works for you, but that knowledge is priceless and will give you a self-awareness that you can use to constructively tailor your program to maintain gains for yourself for years to come. Inherent in all strength training, you will encounter setbacks like the beginner and at these points its is recommended that you use the principles discussed in in the beginner section dealing with stalled progress and regression to amend any issues you are encountering in the intermediate cycle. End of the Intermediate Cycle This is a day that most of you will never see, as the level at which you must be to advance to an advanced lifters programming is hard to come by and also outside the realm of the casual strength trainee. But what happens when you enter this realm is that you have become strong enough, and so adapted to volume, that the external stress that you must impress in order to achieve supercompensation can take a week to do and a month to recover from, enter the monthly programming cycle. The Advanced Lifter I only want to discuss the principles of what this category of lifter entails as those of you who are actually at this stage of the game will obviously know what I am going to say here and all of what I have said above. But essentially the advanced lifter can no longer benefit from a weekly cycle and must spend multiple workouts impressing an external stress from which he will take weeks to recover from. This is where the line becomes extremely fine between doing not enough, just right, and too much, and thus at this level it is probably almost mandatory that one have a coach to maintain progress. Unless you are in a specialized strength sport specifically involving weights, weightlifting, powerlifting, strongman, etc, you will not reach this level. This level is only exceeded by the Elite Lifter who is at or near his genetic potential and uses programming cycles that contain yearly and multi-year stages, and can only progress with the tutalege of the most advance coaches (at this stage the coaching is what determines the champion). While this guide has only been a taste of what programming should entail, it should have shed some light on the importance of the structure of your workout. I highly suggest that you buy the book Practical Programming by Rippetoe and Kilgore from which nearly all this information was derived. Despite the fact that this was an introduction to programming you'll notice I did not include any program examples, only guidelines for each level of lifter. I know from personal experience and the aptitude of people on this board to fit themselves into a category and start using a program associated with it without any regard to introspection into what make them better. If you pull anything away from this, identify the guidelines for each level and start making your own program that is tailored to your individual requirements, depending on your composition of fast-twitch muscle fibers, genetics, etc, you will be able to handle more or less volume than others so dont rely on someone else to make a program for you, put in the effort and do it yourself, it's not rocket science.