Program Design For Improved Body Composition

Program Design For Improved Body Composition

Skeletal muscle is extremely adaptable in response to multiple contractions during a training session.

But how can we be sure we’re getting the best adaptations possible?

The most advanced strategy for programming is to simply keep it simple and apply the following principles as well as you can.

A good program will include some basic movement patterns and allow the individual to continuously increase the load until good form can no longer be maintained and that’s when it’s time to change to a new movement pattern and begin the sequence again.

The more advanced the athlete is, the longer they will be able to stay in a movement pattern before they need to change it.

I often get asked if a training strategy should be different if the goal is for fat loss when compared to muscle growth, the answer really lies within some basic fundamentals and training principles.

Training should create enough stimulus for physical adaptation to occur.

If there is no reason for the body to change, guess what will happen?

Yep, nothing will change. So this is the first thing to consider when looking at your training strategy.

Our training has to create stimulus for change, our overall health, a little bit of genetics and nutritional strategy will determine whether we lose fat, grow muscle or both.

The 4 fundamentals that need to be included in any training strategy.

1, Progessive overload

2, Mechanical Tension

3,, Muscle Fibre Breakdown

4, Metabolic Stress

Progressive overload is the continued increase in training, creating a continued reason for the body to change and adapt.

This is where group classes famously fall short, someone signs up, attends 3 classes per week, their training output goes from 0 to 3×45 minute classes per week so their body starts to adapt to this new stimulus but then once the body has made the necessary changes, if the stimulus doesn’t continue to increase, which doesn’t happen in a group class, the body no longer has the need to change so it won’t.

Remember, the body is an incredible survival mechanism and it will do everything it can to stay where it knows it’s comfortable and safe.

If there’s no reason for the body to change, it simply won’t change.

Think, if you went for a 5k run today, depending on your fitness level, you may find it difficult but if you did that same 5k run everyday, soon enough it would become easy. Your body would have adapted to the stimulus but unless the stimulus continues to increase you won’t just keep getting fitter and increasing your endurance.

You will adapt to a point where the stimulus is manageable for your physiology.

This key fundamental is the main reason a well engineered training program will continue to provide results.

Mechanical Tension:

Taking a muscle through a full range of motion with an external load is what creates mechanical tension. 

More load = more tension but there has to be a ‘stretch’ aspect or ‘movement’.

It’s the combination of the load and the movement that stimulate an environment for hypertrophy.

Correctly applied mechanical tension sets off a cascade of chemical reactions know as mTOR, these signals tell the body to build new muscle cells.

Muscle Fibre Breakdown-

When a muscle goes through strenuous resistance training the muscle experiences trauma or ‘damage’. 

The body, always wanting to remain in homeostasis will sense this ‘damage’ and go about fixing or repairing it.

But the smart thing here is that the body knows that if it repairs the body to be the same, the next time you go into the gym the same damage will occur again so the body repairs the muscle fibres to be stronger, thicker and denser than before, hence increased muscle size.

Obviously adequate nutrition and recovery are the essential building blocks of this function as well but the training is the stimulus for change.

Metabolic Stress-

Metabolic stress is a physical process that occurs in response to physical exercise.  The restriction of blood flow and cell swelling signal for the chemical pathway AMPK to occur and tell the body to send more nutrients to the muscle and to release growth hormones into the bloodstream all resulting in muscle growth occurring,

Total volume and rest periods between sets contribute towards metabolic stress as well as blood flow restriction techniques.

Remember though, all this has to be supported with adequate nutrition and recovery, the training program is the blueprint, the reps in the gym are the labourers and the nutrition and recovery are the raw materials.

So with the 4 principles of training now being understood it’s just about putting all it together into a training method that you enjoy, can perform adequately and safely.

The exercise selection is probably the factor that receives most consideration in the average athlete but it’s probably the least important factor to be considered, any exercise can be of benefit as long as it applies the above mentioned.

Big compound movements that allow for heavier loads to be moved will ultimately put a bigger demand on the body to change.

Compound movements = exercises where there is more than 1 joint moving.



-Bench Press

-Shoulder Press


Ultimately these lifts are going to yield a bigger affect on the 4 principles and I’d always look to place these at the start of any work out so you can perform them without any fatigue setting in.

Place the smaller, more isolated movements towards the later part of the day’s routine.

Make sure there’s adequate volume, 3 or 4 sets of each exercise and about 6-7 exercises per day is always a nice base to work off, ensuring the session doesn’t drag out longer than an hour and you won’t be far off.

Rep ranges for body composition, well all rep ranges have their place and I hate saying this or that will work best, everything has it’s place when engineered correctly.

Anything below 7 reps is predominantly designed out for strength gains over hypertrophy but even then, strength has it’s place within body composition.

As long as you’re hitting all 4 fundamentals, you track and measure your progress you’ll be fine.

One last topic before we sign this chapter off, and possibly one of my favorite topics to discuss when it comes to Training Program design……

Back in the 70’s when Arnold Schwarzenegger was winning multiple Mr Universe’s and taking bodybuilding mainstream, every aspiring bodybuilder looked to Arnold to see what he was doing, 

Monday = Chest day

Tuesday = Legs

Wednesday = Back

Etc etc, single splits training methods were then being applied all around the world.

“I want to look like Arnold, therefore I will train and eat like Arnold”.

Well human physiology is a little more complex than that.

Firstly, not many people have the genetics that Arnold has, Arnold was also using anabolic steroids and the majority of people reading this, aren’t so it makes no sense to follow what he did.

Secondly, science has evolved over time and we now know that each muscle group needs more stimulation than once a week for optimal results.

If you train chest on a Monday, your chest is recovering and repairing Tuesday and Possibly Wednesday as well, then by Thursday, Friday, Saturday Sunday your body is recovering and repairing other muscle, the proteins that got used to repair your chest at the start of the week are now deemed as not quite as essential anymore and possibly better utilised on more recently trained body parts so you end up with a slightly less net result.

Stimulating the chest 2 or 3 times per week ensures we maintain results for longer.

Now that doesn’t mean we have to do double the amount of work, 3-4 sets with 4 – 7 different exercises is still enough, just spread it out over 2 or 3 different training sessions.

Not to mention how much your joints will thank you for this.

Smaller muscle groups can recover quicker and be trained more frequently, bigger muscle groups like quads and lats will require a bit more time between sessions.

Inflammation is part of the recovery process but an inflamed muscle is also resistant to further adaptation form more stimulus so don’t over load muscles, stimulate, don’t annihilate, I wish someone told me this when I first got into BodyBuilding, my body and life would be so much better right now.

Training to a point where you have 2 reps in reserve has been shown to produce exactly the same results as training to absolute failure so give your body a break and train smart rather than training to failure.

Hit each muscle group multiple times per week.

Achieve adequate volume, intensity and muscle breakdown through good form, taking the targeted muscle through a full range of motion whilst progressively overloaded the load you lift.

Make your objective to use weight to make the muscle contraction harder don’t go into the gym with the objective to move a set amount of weight for a set amount of reps.

This little mindset shift will completely transform the results you get from your training.

Moving weight is the objective of powerlifting, using a weight to make a contraction harder is the objective of body composition training.

Train smart, recover, repair and grow.

For a free example of a good program, send a message to and we’ll email you a program to follow.

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