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Designing The Perfect Training Program

Strength, power, endurance and hypertrophy are all muscular adaptations that are achievable via resistance training. The only thing that changes is the way the variables are manipulated. By variables, we mean the basic building blocks of any program such as reps, sets, rest, number of exercises, volume and intensity. Let’s look at each of these in detail:


Training volume is the quantity of work performed and generally consists of load x reps x sets. For example, if you bench 100 kg 10 times, that’s 1000 kg you have lifted. If you repeated this effort four times (i.e. four sets), that would be 4000 kg you lifted. Additionally, volume can consist of the duration of training (in hours) and the number of exercises per training session. It is important to maintain a training log and monitor the volume performed in each session. This will allow you to plan the total volume of training for future workouts.


This is the variable a lot of people get confused about. In strength training, intensity is expressed as a percentage of 1RM (repetition maximum). For example, if you want to bench 80 percent of your 1RM, which is 100 kg, you would need to load up the bar with 80 kg. The training phase you are in, and the component of fitness you are training for, will dictate what percentage of your 1RM (intensity) you use. The following parameters should serve as a useful guide when selecting the intensity for a specific adaptation:

  • Muscular endurance (ME) is 30-50 percent 1RM.
  • Power is 50-80 percent 1RM.
  • Hypertrophy is 60-80 percent 1RM.
  • Strength is 80-100 percent 1RM.

Number of Exercises

The number of exercises should be selected in accordance with (IAW) several key principles, which are as follows:

  • Electromyography (EMG) -EMG studies determine which exercises elicit the greatest electrical activity. The greater the electrical activity, the more muscle fibres are recruited. The more muscle fibres that are recruited, the better the exercise at stimulating growth and development.
  • Level of Development – entry level strength trainers and bodybuilders require fewer exercises than their advanced or professional counterparts. Beginners only require between 12 and 15 exercises that collectively address the major muscle groups of the body. In contrast, advanced trainers, in order to facilitate complete and maximal development, require much more.
  • Individual Needs – the law of individual difference states that we all respond differently. What works for some may not work for others; consequently, as training progresses, it is possible that muscular imbalances can occur. This can be caused by over enthusiastic thrusters over working the ‘disco or beach’ muscles, or by some muscles not developing as quickly as others. When this happens, it is important to employ the ‘muscle prioritisation technique’ which states that lagging body parts should be trained first and require more frequent stimulation (i.e. volume). This should be maintained until such a time that proportion and symmetry have been regained. This may mean that cumulative training volume for the non lagging body parts is reduced.
  • Training Phase – as detailed in the ‘Understanding Periodisation’ article, the number of exercises varies IAW the training phase you are in (i.e. strength, hypertrophy etc). The periodised program has you progressing through several training phases during the year, each phase having a specific objective. For example, in the anatomical adaptation phase where the objective is anatomical readiness (muscles, ligaments and tendons), only two to three sets per exercise are performed. In contrast, in the hypertrophy phase where the objective is to increase muscle size, advanced trainers can complete up to four or five sets per exercise.

Muscle Groups Trained Per Session

This will be determined by how many training sessions are planned per week and how much time can be dedicated per workout. The more time that is available per week, the lower the number of muscle groups that must be trained in each session. If you are only training one or two muscle groups per session, then you can perform more sets than if you were training three or four muscle groups.

(Left, Frank Zane "The Chemist" - Mr. Olympia 1977-1979)

Rest Intervals

Sufficient energy and recovery between sets is crucial in bodybuilding. The energy system used in a given workout depends on the phase of training, the intensity and the duration. The rest interval (RI) between sets determines to a large degree the extent to which the energy source will be replenished. Careful planning of the RI is crucial in order to facilitate the required adaptation. An inadequate RI causes an increased reliance on the glycolytic (lactic acid) energy system. The degree that the phosphate energy system (immediate energy supply for high intensity exercise) restores is dependent on the RI. The shorter the RI, the less phosphate that is restored; consequently, the less energy will be available for the next set. Additionally, the increased reliance on the glycolytic energy system has the obvious implication of increased lactic acid accumulation within the working muscles. This ultimately leads to pain and fatigue and thereby reducing your ability to train. The following should serve as a useful guide when determining the appropriate RI:

  • ME is 1-2 minutes
  • Power is 4-5 minutes
  • Hypertrophy is 2 minutes
  • Strength is 3-7 minutes

The aforementioned RI is a guide only and is ultimately determined by the training phase you are in.

How to Design an Effective Bodybuilding Training Programme

In summary, in order to design an effective training program, just follow these simple steps:

  1. Select the adaptation sought.
  2. Select the exercises.
  3. Test for 1RM.
  4. Develop the actual training program.
  5. Test to recalculate 1RM periodically.


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