Where is the busy work in your program?

Busy work is a term you might be familiar with if you follow business books or material aimed at entrepreneurs or “side hustles”.

It’s basically the tasks and “work” you spend time on that don’t really add to the bottom line or don’t help you to realise your end goal in a meaningful or demonstrable way.

A few common examples of busy work in a program

  • Leg press cause I have weak quads
  • Weighted crunches cause need strong abz innit
  • Pause squats cause people on reddit says it’s good for strength out of the hole
  • Power rows cause some juicy lad on the internet with a deadlift build of the gods says it’s good for deadlift.

There are a few layers when putting together a plan for someone that you need to consider before you start to put flesh on it. Surprisingly enough step one isn’t copy this person’s program because they are strong.

‘We’re holding our own, but I’d really like to see some growth.’

Layer one – what’s the goal

Before you start putting together a program or plan you need to understand what the point of the training is. If your main aim in training is to take up weightlifting as a sport then stronglifts or starting strength are going to be a fucking stupid starting point (you could argue they are stupid starting points regardless of your goal).

Once you have narrowed in on the goal or goals of the program you will already have a good frame work where your priorities should be and where you are going to get the best spend of your energy.

Layer two – what’s the time frame, how much time per session and week do I have to put towards the goal.

When you know the goal you then need to know how much time you have in terms of longitudinal time (12 weeks to the meet, for example, 6 months to the wedding etc).

If you are dealing with a new powerlifter who is in their early teens then the content of the program is going to be completely different from a 34 year old elite powerlifter who had 12 weeks of getting juicy as fuck to try and win prize money at a big money meet like the KERN open.

The things we will accept and let slide are going to be completely different in these two extreme scenarios. We might never go above a 7 or 8/10 effort for the teenager while the elite level lifter might only be training 3-4x per week but when they do they are red lining it to try and produce as much progress as they can in their finite time span.

For someone on a long term trajectory performing lots of skill work like overhead squats, Snatch grip deadlifts, goblets or maybe even dabbling with a bit of gymnastics or weightlifting might be a really good use of time and have some decent transference down the road. At this stage, overspecialization is a terrible idea so more general training is a great idea. For the elite lifter on a condensed timeline, this would be a terrible waste of time!

Layer Three priorities come first.

Once you are happy with your goal and the time you have to work towards that goal you then need to put together a structure that will allow you to maximise your time and get the best results for the activities that matter.

  • The first session in the week will have the best training effect.
  • Sessions after a light session or rest day will have an enhanced training effect.
  • Sessions after a heavy or high day will have a blunted training effect.
  • Exercises that come early in the session will get most of the training effect.
  • The further down the list that exercise comes the lesser it’s training effect will be.

You should put the exercises or sessions that are going to have the best effect or input into your goal for that week first in the training week when you or your athlete are freshest. If you have a second priority or want to work on a priority then you should place it after a rest or recovery/light day.

When it comes to training sessions themselves the further away from the first thing you do in a training session the exercise goes the less of an effect or training effect you are going to get from the exercise and the more expendable or closer to “busy work” they are likely to become.

Layer Four – is there room for more?

Once you have covered off 1-3 then what you are left with is your wiggle room. For some people based off schedules, time scales and goals there won’t be any room to wiggle and they will only be left with a portion of the priority they wanted.

If you were to start with the end in mind of your current training commitments and then run through the above process it will put your current training routine in a new light.

If you could ONLY train for 3x 1 hours sessions in a week what would it look like based on your current goals. This is a process worth doing even if you a professional athlete with a full time schedule to work with as it will show you where you really need to be focusing your efforts.

At certain times of the year development and building a base for future development are what you are going to fill your 3 hours of time as they are priorities. Later on in the year or in different training phases these kinds of activities (hypertrophy, building aerobic base, exercise variety and working on weak points) are not going to make your 3 hours as they are not going to help you produce a result in a finite period of time. They are going to help you to set yourself up for better results in the future.

What to take from this?

The above is a brief talk on a working backwards approach to panning. Where we look at where we want to be, we take the time we have and we decide upon the best use of that time. Chances are you probably haven’t gone through this process.

It is worthwhile looking at where you are and where you are going.

4-year goal, 3-year goal, 2-year goal, 1-year goals, 6 months goals, 3-month targets, 1-month targets, 1-week structure and session to session/set to set standards.

Once you have had a look at your training and time in this kind of manner you will see where you can spend your time better and you will be able to get rid of the busy work that is wasting your precious time.

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