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Matt Wilmoth


August 21, 2023

You need a plan at the gym

On her way to the gym my niece, at the time a Freshman at Florida State, texted me to ask me what she should do. She had no plan of any kind. She was just showing up to the gym and getting work outs from Instagram and tiktok bouncing all over the place. She knows better. Not only did she train like an athlete in the weight room she dabbled into Olympic Weightlifting when she was younger. Both require solid plans if we want to make progress.

For some reason she didn’t transfer those ideas from athletic training to fitness. That’s a common mistake. The truth is regardless of whether you are training to be a better athlete on the court or the field, trying to be a more functional human or because you want to look better you need a plan. Different plans to be sure but without a plan you will fail. Let’s talk about why.

Lack of progress  

Think of it like driving somewhere without a road map. If you are just going down the block you will eventually get there. This is progress at the very beginning. You will make progress no matter how random your plan is. The problem is when we want to get somewhere. Without a GPS or a map you will likely never get near your destination.

The problem is that the body adapts to what we demand of it. When we start out from nothing anything we do provides a stress stimulus and the body responds and adapts.  Once those initial changes happen, we need to increase the stimulus. We need what is called progressive overload.  So if I lifted 5 pounds for five reps I need to either lift six pounds or do six reps. Same with conditioning. If I biked a mile in 5 minutes I need to either bike longer or faster if I want to progress.

Without a plan to improve you won’t repeat movements on a regular basis, you won’t pay attention to how fast or how far you ran. If you don’t  know what you did last time and have a systematic plan to improve it next time you will not make real progress. Sure, switching up workouts each week may lead to the accidental increase in difficulty but this will be the exception not the rule.

Bottom line is that you won’t see progress without a plan and without progress most people will give up on exercise.

Increase risk of injury  

Everyone argues about what movements are safe. Should I lift with a rounded back? Is running dangerous? We can’t agree on what to do. We can though in some respects agree on how to do it. Small increases in weight or volume, called progressive overload, is the best plan to avoid injury.  

If I squat 95lbs one week then a month later I try to squat triple that I am at a higher risk for pain and injury. No where is this more true than running. One January, when I hadn’t been  running at all,  I was given a spot in the Boston Marathon. Boston is a far more legit event than I am a runner so I needed to train. I went from maybe a mile a week before I got the spot to 40 miles the very next week. By week 3 I could barely walk. This is an obvious case of stupidity because it was planned but it happens all the time when we don’t plan

If I do different stuff every single time . I walk into the gym I run a risk of jumping too far too fast. This may not happen often but unlike progress where you need to be consistently doing the right things injury can happen from a single mistake in load, volume or intensity.

Over and Under Training

Making progress in the long term means we need to train enough that we stress the system but not so much that destroy our bodies. Over training can lead to not only injuries but mood and sleep disturbances. It’s not a great idea. Under training can lead to no gains at all.

Controlling the volume and stress of  training, a well written program should help you progress by giving you a little bit more as you are ready for it. It doesn’t have to be exact especially at a recreational level. There is a decent gap between not doing enough and doing too much. Having a solid plan is the only way though to make sure we stay in the sweet spot and make progress.

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