Strength Training Staples Part VIII – Recovery

Week in Review 3-9-18
March 9, 2018
Week in Review 3-16-18
March 16, 2018
Week in Review 3-9-18
March 9, 2018
Week in Review 3-16-18
March 16, 2018

If you’ve missed any of the previous installments in our Strength Training Staples series, you can find their links below:

Intro: The Importance of Strength Training
Part I – Squats
Part II – Deadlifts
Part III – Upper Push
Part IV – Upper Pull
Part V – Supplemental Exercises
Part VI – The Core
Part VII – Program Design

Today, we’ll be discussing recovery. Without question, recovery is an often overlooked and neglected part of the fitness equation. We tend to focus on the obvious ones like healthy eating and regular exercise, but one of the biggest barriers to progress for many people is actually an unwillingness to allow their body to rest.

I’ll rest when I’m dead…

Try it alive first – I suspect you’ll get more out of it…

When we talk about recovery, we’re talking about a few key things that everyone can do within their exercise programs and everyday life.  Proper recovery is what allows us to make gains.  I’ll say it again – PROPER RECOVERY IS WHAT ALLOWS US TO MAKE GAINS.  Ultimately, when we put the effort into working out and eating healthy we’re chasing improvement.  We’re chasing the opportunity to feel better and feel better about ourselves.  Neglecting one whole part of the Fitness Tripod is self-sabotage of the highest order.

The components of recovery

As I mentioned above, the concept of recovery is comprised of several key areas that we should strive to make a part of our daily lives.

1. Sleep – For some reason people tend to wear their lack of sleep like a badge of honor, as though getting 3 hours of sleep and crushing 4 energy drinks throughout the day is something to be admired. It’s not.  Often, these types of drinks are laden with sugar, which will undo the effort you’ve put in to a healthy diet and regular exercise.  Furthermore, the extra caffeine you need to limp through your day messes with your sleep cycle, creating a vicious cycle of poor sleep and caffeine dependency.  This infographic does a phenomenal job of describing just how necessary sleep is, and ways to improve it.  Keep in mind, that we’re not just talking about sleep duration, but also sleep quality.  If you’re struggling to make progress, first take a look at your sleep patterns and behavior before you overhaul your exercise program or nutrition strategies.

2. Deload Weeks – A deload week is a period of programmed recovery and reduced training volume. We include these weeks in our training not because we are weak, delicate snowflakes, but because our goal is continuous improvement.  Their inclusion is essential for keeping us energized, engaged and at a reduced risk of injury.  Some important considerations for deloading:

  • Reduce training volume: The number of sets, reps and weight used can all be modified to lower volume. For example, if your program had you doing 4 sets of 8 squats, you might reduce this to 3 sets of 8 with a lighter weight.

  • Change up your exercises: If in the example above you’re doing barbell back squats, you might swap them out with kettlebell goblet squats.

  • Workout Frequency: Also a consideration for training volume, if you’re working out 5 days per week you might train 3 days and use the other two for foam rolling, mobility drills or yoga.

  • Stay active: A deload week is NOT an excuse to lay on the couch and watch all seven season of Game of Thrones. Keep moving!

  • Deload frequency: This varies by age and experience. Younger populations tend to recover faster, so they may be able to go longer without deloading.  I usually program a deload every 4th week (3 hard, 1 deload).

  • Don’t wait: If you’re unsure, deload sooner rather than later. Once fatigue from overtraining sets in, your ability to recover is significantly reduced.  Forcing your way through fatigue is guaranteed to set you back in the long run.

  • If you’re not working out consistently or intensely, deloading isn’t necessary.

3. Workout frequency: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) can last for 24-72 hours, and hinder your workout quality. Be sure that you’re allowing yourself enough time between workouts. For example, I like to keep at least a day, preferably two, between a heavy squat day and a heavy deadlift day. I usually fill the time in between with a quick (10-15 min) conditioning workout or circuit strength training. Doing so allows me to get the most out of my hardest workouts, while still training in between.

The Road to Recovery

As you can see, we need a sound recovery strategy in both our daily lives and our exercise programs.  When we neglect this essential component of a healthy lifestyle we harm our opportunity to create continued improvement.  If you feel as though you’re doing the right things but struggling with the outcome, contact us today and join the Vitalifit Coaching Program that is right for you.


If you’ve missed any of the previous installments in our Strength Training Staples series, you can find their links below:

Intro: The Importance of Strength Training
Part I – Squats
Part II – Deadlifts
Part III – Upper Push
Part IV – Upper Pull
Part V – Supplemental Exercises
Part VI – The Core

Today, we’ll be covering program design. Program design is a loaded topic – if you polled 100 different coaches on how to design programs, you’d get 100 different answers. Furthermore, I could probably write a month’s worth of articles about the subject. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to keep it simple and show you how to put together a well-rounded program using exercises from the previous articles.

Lots of things work…

There’s more than one way to…

I’ve heard it said that poorly a designed program done consistently will yield better results than the perfect program done sporadically.  I couldn’t agree more.  Ultimately, if you are disciplined in your adherence to the program, results will follow.  If, along the way, you refine and improve your program you will maximize the opportunity to achieve of your goals.

With that said, you’d be well served to incorporate several principles that are universally considered to comprise a well-designed program:

  • Individuality: The program has to be right for you. Your exercise abilities may differ from your friend or workout partner.  Be sure that the program you follow takes into account factors like skill level, mobility, injury history, etc.   Better program adherence and positive results will follow.

  • Progressive Overload: Our programs should encourage us to improve daily, weekly and monthly. If you’re still squatting the same weight in week 6 of your program at the same rep count as you were in week 1, it’s time to challenge yourself a little more.

  • Specificity: The program should help you work toward your goals. Whether the goal is strength, fat loss, movement quality, etc. be sure that the program fits the desired outcome.

  • Variety: If squat, deadlift and bench press are the only exercises in our program, we miss out on an opportunity to challenge the body in multiple planes and ranges of motion. Exercises that promote rotation, side to side movement or single-leg stability are all great examples of how you can sprinkle variety into your program, while still keeping the primary exercises.  Changing the rep or set count is another way to add variety.

  • Recovery: Our gains happen during recovery. A well-designed program has periods of high intensity and periods of lower intensity and recovery.   If you neglect the recovery component you will increase your risk of injury while harming your overall improvement.

Exercise Selection

We’re going to create two days of programming using exercises from the previous installments. To create our program we’ll refer to the following categories to help ensure that the designed program adheres to the principles above:

  • Squat

  • Deadlift

  • Single Leg Strength/Stability

  • Core

  • Upper Pull

  • Upper Push

  • Pull Up

  • Push Up

I like to pair lower body push exercises with upper body pull and vice versa. For people who have limited time in the gym, this helps to keep our workout sessions as productive as possible. Here’s the selection for each day:

Day 1 – Lower Push/Upper Pull
Pull Up
Lateral Lunge
Dumbbell Split Stance Row
Dumbbell Farmer Walk
TRX Tall Kneeling Fall-outs

Day 2- Lower Pull/Upper Push
Barbell Bench Press
Dumbbell Single Leg RDL
Push Up
Kettlebell Pull Thru
Kettlebell Bottom-up Waiter Carry

Program Design Strategies

With our days outlined and exercises chosen for each day, we can now determine how to design the program to fit our goals. We’ll look at two options, one is a circuit and the other is strength focused.

Circuits are really effective when you’re trying to establish a strength training base.  They also allow you to double up on strength training and conditioning, provided you move quickly between exercises.  These points make circuits a great choice for someone who is:

  • A novice exerciser

  • Recently returning to strength training

  • Prioritizing fat loss over strength gains

  • Whose time is limited

I’d actually design the circuit exactly as it’s written above.  Alternating lower/upper exercises allows you to move quickly from exercise to exercise with little downtime.   The set-up of the circuit would look like this:

  • 8-10 reps for each exercise. Minimize thinking!

  • A set number of rounds (e.g. 4), with rest only between each round. Keep moving! OR

  • As many rounds as possible for time (e.g. 30 minutes). Works great if you’re on a time crunch.

The only downside to the circuit approach is trying to set one up in a crowed gym.  If you run into this challenge, try to carve out a corner where you can complete most of your exercises.  Otherwise, expect to share your stations with other users.


Our set-up for a strength focused workout will look a little different.  The strength focused workout is ideal for an intermediate or advanced exerciser who’s built a solid foundation.  Here’s how it looks:

Day 1
A1. Squat – 4 x 8
A2. Pull Up – 4 x 8

B1. Lateral Lunge – 3 x 8/side
B2. Dumbbell Split Stance Row – 3 x 10/side

C1. Dumbbell Farmer Walk – 3 x 20 yards
C2. TRX Tall Kneeling Fall-outs – 3 x 10

Day 2
A1. Deadlift – 4 x 8
A2. Barbell Bench Press – 4 x 8

B1. Dumbbell Single Leg RDL – 3 x 8
B2. Push ups – 3 x 10

C1. Kettlebell Pull Thru – 3 x 8/side
C2. Kettlebell BU Waiter Carry – 3 x 20 yards

You’ll perform all of your “A” exercises, progress to “B”, then “C”.  Rather than waste the time resting between sets of squats or deadlifts, we’re going to fill that time with a different exercise.  You can significantly cut down on the time you spend in the gym, while ensuring that you’ve recovered enough between sets.  Some additional notes:

  • Provided your technique is good, your level of difficulty on each set should be a 7-8 on a scale of 10. Intensity is your friend, especially on the squats and deadlifts.

  • I usually program 3 rounds on “B” and “C” for that reason, but feel free to add a 4th if you’d like an extra challenge!

  • The above is a good starting point. As you advance, consider adding more “A” sets, but reducing the reps and increasing the weight (e.g. 5x5).  This is a good way to ensure adherence to the progressive overload principle.

  • We have many ways to set up our strength based workouts. For example, some people like to split days between upper and lower body.  As you advance, play with different strategies to help your progress.

Programming is Both an Art and a Science!

Today, and over the last several weeks we’ve covered a lot.  We have a variety or exercises to choose and ways to program – this series only scratches the surface.  Don’t be afraid to experiment with your strength training programs.  At Vitalifit, we adhere to the principles discussed throughout this series to create challenging, well-rounded workouts.  Whether you’re a novice who’s just learning to strength train or a more seasoned lifter who’s in search of new challenge, contact us today to join the Vitalifit Coaching Program that is right for you.