The Art of Recycling Training Programs

The Art of Recycling Training Programs

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If you’ve been training people for a long time, you know that the number of training programs you can use is limited, and at some point, you end up running out of ideas, so what should you do at this point?

If you identify yourself with this situation, you are not alone.

When I worked for Ben Prentiss, he asked me to write a training program for one of his clients.

When I asked him for guidance, he told me to use my imagination because that client had been training with him for the last eight years, so he probably had already performed every single program we know.

After naming some programs, we finally found one method that he hadn’t used so far, so we used it, and the client was pleased with it.

So far, I have written about 45 relative strength methods, more than 50 hypertrophy programs, and more than 50 metabolic conditioning routines.

And yes,

I have tried them all myself.

As you might already know, I don’t prescribe a training program if I haven’t done it.

For more information on that subject, read my article If You Didn’t Try It, Don’t Prescribe It!

I have clients training at my gym for 12 years, and they haven’t repeated one program.

When you attend one of my Hypertrophy Boot camps, you’ll be exposed to some of those successful training programs I mentioned.

The reason I have been able to write such a large amount of different training programs is that I consider my training not only the process for my improvement but also a part of my work where I experiment with different ideas to increase strength, produce more muscle damage or to create different metabolic adaptations.

Many of them pass the initial test – myself – but some are discarded.

On top of what I mentioned in the previous paragraph, another process that I do is to recycle training programs.

You might wonder how you can recycle a training program and still progress, which is a good question.

And yes, it is possible to recycle training programs and still get excellent results, as long as you do it properly, respecting the following principles:

Main Principles for recycling training programs

The program to be recycled must have produced good results when you executed it.

If you executed a program that didn’t produce the expected results, the chances that the same program, after some changes, can drive positive results are not that high.

Some reasons for this include the following:

  • The program was not suited for your neurotransmitter profile.
  • The program was not suited for your muscle fiber makeup.

Now, I have to admit that there are other factors why a training program might not produce results, like selecting the wrong exercises, the person was not prepared for that program in terms of structural balance or strength levels, or simply it was not having a good program, amongst others.

The point here is if the program worked for you, you can go ahead and do some modifications, as I’ll explain in a few minutes, and make it results-producing as well.

If it didn’t work and you can identify why, fixing the factors that made it ineffective can convert it into a good program for you, but the process will be lengthier.

The program you want to recycle must have been performed at least six months ago, but one year is even better.

Remember that the human body is always looking for an adaptation to do things more efficiently and save energy. If you performed a program 1, 2, o 3 months ago, your body is still holding on to that memory, so if you want to execute it again, the results won’t be satisfying.

That’s why the program you are considering recycling must have been at least six months ago, and even better if it’s more.

The recycled program must fit into your periodization planning.

Let’s say you loved a program where the average number of reps was 6, and that’s the one you want to recycle.

Also, let’s assume that based on your periodization planning, the new phase you’ll execute falls into the range of 2-3 reps.

It wouldn’t make much sense to recycle the program of 6 reps because it will take you out of your periodization planning, which in the long term, won’t bring results.

In this case, find a program that fits into a similar number of reps to the ones you have planned in your periodization model and adjust accordingly.

The changes for the new program must respond to your current needs.

With time, and if you have been designing the training programs properly, our training needs evolve, and the new ones should be different from the ones 3, 6, or 12 months ago.

The reason is that you should have addressed and solved the specific needs in about three months if the training programs were designed correctly.

Now, I also understand that there are lifts we want to continue improving, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The correct recycling of training programs can continue improving that particular lift.

For example, you could have executed a training program to improve your posterior chain strength, and now you realize that you need to improve your quadriceps performance.

Now that you understand the principles, it’s time to address the different effective ways to recycle programs.

Some recycling possibilities and variables

1. Loading method:

I believe we all know the famous 5x5 training program (Reg Park or Bill Starr).

That program can be executed using different loading methods as follow:

    • A constant weight for the 5 sets.
    • Progressive overload throughout the 5 sets.
    • Every set to failure.

Each one of these loading methods will bring different adaptations, allowing the possibility of being used for recycling, depending on your specific needs.

2. Density:

Density, the amount of work performed in a time window, is another variable that can be addressed while recycling training programs.

There are at least three ways to increase the density of a given training program:

  • Reducing the rest intervals leads to performing the same amount of work in a shorter time window.
  • Adding more sets to a program increases the work performed in the same time window.
  • A combination of the above.

3. Tempo:

Tempo is one of the most underrated, not understood, and least-used of all loading parameters.

When you appreciate its importance, you realize that only a slight change in that parameter can provide an entirely different training experience and adaptation process.

For recycling purposes, you can incorporate the following:

  • Longer/shorter eccentric phases
  • Longer/shorter concentric phases
  • Longer/shorter pauses

4. Exercises:

As mentioned in one of the examples above, you could have executed a training program to improve the strength of your posterior chain, and you based it on variations of the deadlifts.

Now, you realize that it’s time to improve your quadriceps strength, so you can create your new program based on squat variations.

Another option here is to develop a different part of a muscle.

For example, in your initial program, you devoted the whole training session to developing the long head of the biceps, and now you want to do the same for the short head of the biceps.

5. Repetitions:

Slightly variating the repetitions is another good option for recycling a program, and you have two main options here:

  • Increase the intensity
  • Decrease the intensity

Let’s say you did a relative strength program consisting of 8 sets of 3 reps. If you want to increase the intensity, you can change it for 8 sets of 2 reps, or if you want to decrease the intensity, you can choose to do 8 sets of 4 reps.

Both changes will bring interesting and different adaptations.

The five variables above, or loading parameters, are only some of the possibilities you have to recycle a training program properly.

The Strength Community Members will start experiencing this concept in their training programs and will evidence the real-life application of training program recycling.

Final words

When done correctly, recycling training programs is a stimulating and productive way to keep your body progressing throughout the different training programs.

Give it a try and share your results.

Coach Carlos Castro

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