What Makes or Breaks an Exercise Program

No one can argue that those who see the most results from training have one thing in common. Consistency.

Being consistent isn’t easy.  Life happens; you get busy, you get bored, you get tired, and you get hurt.

You take some time off, hit the refresh button, and, because your last training plan didn’t work out, it’s on to the next program.

Working as a personal trainer, I end up meeting a lot of people when they’re somewhere in the middle of the list above.

Whether you know it or not there are many variables in your exercise programs and your lifestyle that can either set you up for long-term success or quietly de-rail you. Identifying these variables early on will allow you to better examine a training program before you begin, and put you in a position to allow yourself to be consistent and see the results you want.

  • Gradual Increase in Volume

Gradually increasing the volume of your training program over the course of weeks and months sounds simple, but it’s often missed by many gym goers. Using the minimal effective dose will keep you healthy and allow you to progress a program all the way to your end goal. Many soft-tissue injuries are the result of a drastic increase in training volume.  Perhaps this is most obvious when you look at the number of Achilles, groin, and hamstring injuries that occur at the beginning of NFL camps, or injuries to those going from the couch to Crossfit.  A program that steadily increases work capacity and tissue resiliency over time will greatly reduce your risk of injuries due to fatigue and set your body up to be able to handle workouts of greater volume and intensity later on.

Look for whether or not your exercise program has a gradual increase in volume as you progress each week and month. If you’re new to the gym this may mean you start by performing only 12 total sets in week one and 20 total sets by week four. Powerlifting programs like 5/3/1 and The Juggernaut Method also do a good job of managing volume and intensity to help you build specific work capacity in the bench, squat, and deadlift. Group training should accommodate those of different fitness levels and allow some wiggle room for some to perform more work than others in any given class.

  • Movement Quality

Appropriate volume is only part of the equation for ensuring a fitness program is going to last. The quality of your movement is what dictates whether or not you develop great hamstrings and glutes or giant calves and back erectors. This is where hiring a coach can be of great value. An educated movement-centric coach will be able to identify if you can:

  • Centrate your joints and move in and out of all three planes of motion without compensation
  • Execute proper motor patterns while keeping your joints in advantageous positions
  • Find, feel, and use the correct muscles during exercises

Keeping your joints healthy and applying stress to the correct muscles will help to improve your durability by reducing your risk of overuse,“wear and tear” injuries, and burnout.  It can be hard to objectively measure how well you move. Finding a coach or physical therapist that can assess you and create a plan that teaches you to move better is always a smart place to begin a new training program.

Consider the below situation.

Dan Shoulder Flexion
Dan Shoulder Flexion

Poor active shoulder flexion. Anterior rib flare, forward head, tight lats. Landmine variations would be a smarter exercise instead of overhead pressing.

Mike Shoulder Flexion
Mike Shoulder Flexion

Full ROM during active shoulder flexion. Overhead pressing would be more warranted for this client.

  • Variability of Movements/Implements/Load/Tempo

Variability in a fitness program will keep you healthy and prevent workouts from getting stale and boring.

Learn how to move in all three planes and master fundamental movement patterns and the list of exercises you will be able to safely perform becomes bountiful. Throughout the course of a workout, or a week of training your program, should include some form of squatting and hinging, pushing and pulling, abdominal work, and loaded carries. Do things on two legs and one leg and with two arms and one arm.

When applying external loads to movements, use different implements and choose different ways to hold them.  This will allow you to alter the movement in a manner that will help you train the correct muscles in better positions.

For example, let’s use a squat.  You could load it with a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, two dumbbells, two kettlebells, a sandbag, or a medicine ball.

You could do a front squat, a back squat, a goblet squat, a zercher squat, a potato sack squat, an offset kettlebell squat, or an offset sandbag squat; the list could go on and on. Knowing where you should start on the progression-regression list will help make the movement safer and more effective and varying the implements will challenge the movement in a slightly different manner and help prevent boredom in your exercise program.

Varying the external load in a training program is also key to getting stronger and staying healthy while doing so. This is why many sub-max training programs that accumulate volume are so successful. Decreasing volume and increasing intensity during the course of several weeks and months is much more suitable for long term strength gains than trying to push to a new 1RM each week in the gym.

Another variable that can be manipulated in an exercise program is the tempo at which the movement is performed. Being specific with the tempo of a lift is often neglected even though it has a huge influence on what adaptations are had from the exercise.

If you’ve been performing goblet squats for the past few months with a 2010 tempo, they’ve become boring and easy for you. Now take the same weight and change your tempo to 3030.  Add feeling grounded through both feet, pushing your heels through the floor, and focusing on keeping constant tension on your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and abs I can guarantee that your easy goblet squat has become much more challenging.

Varying the tempo of lifts could result in a squat hypertrophying your slow twitch fibers or cause you to increase your rate of force production. Both are important and both are needed. Choosing the right time to apply both and using both throughout the course of a training program can make performing the same old lifts much less monotonous.

  • Adaptability/Flexibility

Things come up in life.

You have to work late.

Your kids get sick.

Traffic is worse than usual.

And now you either can’t make it to they gym or have limited time. A great fitness program is structured, but also can be flexible. On these days it is helpful to have a few workouts that are lower intensity, take less time to complete, or can be done at home.

Cardiac output and bodyweight circuits are two awesome ways to still get workouts in even when life comes up.

  • Premium Placed On Recovery

You may be able to get away with it for a short period of time, but in the end if your recovery efforts don’t meet or exceed the efforts put forth in your training you’ll likely be battling with fatigue and injury.

A good training program emphasizes the other 23 hours of your day.  Knowing what you can do to help promote your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) and tissue recovery is invaluable.

Go through the checklist below and I’m sure you can do better in at least one and if not several of the categories.

  • - Sleep Quality & Quantity- Do you have a good sleeping environment? Are you getting enough hours of sleep?
  • - Nutrition- Quality & Quantity- Are you eating quality foods that promote low levels of inflammation? Are you eating enough calories to support your training?
  • - Respiration- Are you hyper-inflated? Can you fully exhale your air to help shift yourself to a more parasympathetic state?
  • - Tissue Quality- Do you get regular massages, acupuncture, or perform regular self-myofascial release?
  • - Active Recovery Sessions- Do you use active recovery sessions when you’re feeling tired or sore?
  • Mindset and Environment

You’re now making progress.

You’re moving well and gradually increasing how much you’re doing each workout.  

Your sleep is awesome, your nutrition is locked in, and you’re finally taking care of your body by prioritizing recovery.

Even with all of these important physical factors in check it can still be difficult to stick with an exercise program. If this is the case you need to reflect on your mindset and training environment.

Create short and long-term goals. Write them down somewhere next to why you’re training for these goals. A strong WHY, concrete GOALS, and internal MOTIVATION are powerful for sticking with exercise.

Your training environment also needs to be supportive of everything above. Behind the good music, sweat, and banging of weights needs to be a community of like-minded people who can push and motivate you as you work towards your goals.

Wrapping It Up

I know a lot of people who have reached their goals with different training programs. There are a lot of great programs out there that work, but not everything works forever.

I promise that if you use this article as guide you’ll become an informed and confident consumer. You’ll be able to sift through a lot of BS that is currently in the fitness industry and find a program that will set you up for consistency and success.

About the Author


Mike Sirani is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and Licensed Massage Therapist.  He earned a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Applied Exercise Science, with a concentration in Sports Performance, from Springfield College, and a license in massage therapy from Cortiva Institute in Watertown, MA.  During his time at Springfield, Mike was a member of the baseball team, and completed a highly sought after six-month internship at Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA.

Mike’s multi-disciplinary background and strong evidence-based decision-making form the basis of his training programs.  Through a laid-back, yet no-nonsense approach, his workouts are designed to improve individual’s fundamental movement patterns through a blend of soft-tissue modalities and concentrated strength training.

He has worked with a wide variety of performance clients ranging from middle school to professional athletes, as well as fitness clients, looking to get back into shape.  Mike specializes in helping clients and athletes learn to train around injury and transition from post-rehab to performance.  If you're interested in training with Mike, he can be found at Pure Performance Training in Needham, Massachusetts.

The 23 Hour Plan: How to Maximize Your Time Outside the Gym

We talk a lot about what to do in the gym. How many sets? Reps? What weight should I use? What are the best exercises for building a huge deadlift? But training is, like, one hour of the day, so what are you doing during the other 23?

While those hours may not seem all that important, you better have them dialed in because I can guarantee it's affecting your training.

Thus, let me quickly layout for you The 23 Hour Plan:  your guide to making the most of your time outside the gym.


Sleep is the ultimate form of rest. Shut your body off → tweak your brain activity → dream about Anna Kendrick → hopefully wake up refreshed.


There are a lot of things that go into waking up feeling refreshed, so here are some tips.

Sleep quantity: sleep 7-9 hours a night

Experiment to find what works for you. If you listen to the other points I’m about to make, you probably won’t need quite as many hours.

Shoot for the same wake and bed times each night

Circadian rhythm is the ~24-hour wake cycle that our bodies have internalized over years of evolution on earth (though it’s not quite 24-hour cycles). Your hormones fluctuate over different hours of the day, and this helps optimize your performance on whatever you’re doing. For example, your stress hormone levels start peaking about an hour before you wake up and are usually highest around this time. This helps you wake up, but can only be used if your body knows when your wake time is.

If you have trouble finding the energy to get out of bed in the morning, I would heavily consider implementing this tip.

Turn off electronics 1 hour before bed

Electronics interfere with those sensors in your body that tell you when the day is over. This is one of the reasons that it’s so easy to stay up all night playing a good video game.

It’s best to turn off the electronics all together and keep them out of your bedroom so you’re not tempted. Other solutions include buying glasses that block blue light and installing f.lux so that your computer screen color adapts to the time of day. There are also various programs you can install on your phone to do the same thing to your mobile screen.

Do stuff during the day

If you don’t feel tired at night, maybe you just need to wear yourself out during the day. Some polls that are potentially related to this come from the National Sleep Foundation that say 67% of vigorous exercisers can usually fall asleep within 15 minutes on workdays, compared to only 42% of non-exercisers. Sure, this doesn’t mean that exercise leads to better sleep, but they tend to go hand-in-hand.

Anecdotally, I’ve also found that mental tasks do this for me. If I spend 10 hours reading and writing, I’m exhausted by the end of the day. My writing turns to mush and my eyes can no longer follow words on a page. In these cases, it’s so easy to get into bed.

For more on sleep, check out


Mental Breaks

You can’t always have that GO GO GO mentality and expect your performance to stay high. Taking mental breaks throughout the day to block out the noise and clear your thoughts helps you stay focused on your most important tasks. How do you give your brain a rest?

Mindfullness Meditation

The idea of being “in the moment” is useful here, and there are plenty of ways to do it. The most deliberate method is mindfulness meditation (if you want a quick guided tour of this activity, go here or download Calm on your phone).

Eat in Silence

It’s important to note that you don’t have to simply be sitting cross-legged with your knees above your hips and listening to sounds of the ocean to be mindful. If you’re working alone, you can eat in silence. Taste your food. Feel its texture. This short break might be all you need.

If you’re working with others, you can eat with them and have a conversation. This can be especially helpful if you need a jolt of creativity and also offers up another benefit of having social human interactions (more on this later).

Go For a Walk

One of my favorite methods is to go for a short walk because I get a mental break from whatever I’m working on, I get up and move around, and I can give my eyes a rest from computer screens and close up book pages. Even ten minutes outside is surprisingly refreshing.


Physical Breaks

Just like your brain can’t be turned on all day, neither can your body.

Low-intensity exercise

For one, constant high-intensity exercise can be bad for you just like inactivity. More isn’t always better. Complement your high-intensity work with low-intensity work to help jump start your recovery.

The perfect posture

I have a lot of people ask me what is the perfect standing or sitting posture. The problem is that there is no perfect posture. Posture should be thought of as more of a dial than a switch. As Dr. Stuart McGill, a leading spine researcher at the University of Waterloo, has said, “The best posture is the one that is constantly changing.”

Long-duration sitting is poison. Sitting all day uses the same muscles to hold you up ALL DAY. When you walk, however, they get a break every other step you take. Plus you start to move things around in the body, pumping fluids out of places they might get stuck. The point I’m trying to make here is that movement is medicine.

If you need a better posture when sitting, try this:

- Get a chair that allows your heels to be on the floor with your butt all the way back in the arm rest. If necessary, get blocks or books to put under your feet. This will take tension out of your low back.

- For a better sitting posture, sit up tall, then slouch a little. You should feel your sit bones under each butt cheek and your mid-to-low back in the back rest.

- Your arms should be supported by armrests without having to reach down to feel them. This is especially important if you feel a lot of tension in your neck when you sit.

- Whatever you’re working on should be near eye level. If typing, the keyboard and mouse should be around the level of the armrests or slightly above.

- Do not allow your head to move to focus your eyes. Instead, move the screen or your chair.

Give your eyes a break

The eyes are good at accommodating to whatever requires your attention. If that thing is close, like a computer screen, they converge onto the screen so you can focus and block out your peripheral vision. If you need to read the area around you, like when you’re on the field, your eyes diverge and take in the whole scene. Just like how walking gives one side of your body a rest while it’s in the air, you want to alternate your visual patterns from time to time. Have I convinced you to go for a walk outside yet?

Reset exercises

We, as humans, are right-sided. We appear symmetrical from the outside with two arms, two legs, two chests, etc., but if you look closer, we’re actually very asymmetrical. Due to this asymmetry, some people might find it harder to “find and feel” their left side, whether that be their left foot, left leg, left arm, left visual field, whatever.

The fix here could be very complex, which is why I recommend everyone get a knowledgeable coach, but you can incorporate some postural tweaks for a few minutes throughout the day to remind yourself that you have a left side.

- Stand with your left leg back a little behind your right and right hip in front of your left

- Let your left shoulder fall down toward your left hip

- Look forward and notice something in your left peripheral vision

These aren’t magic tricks, but they can help you feel a little better throughout the day.

Additionally, you can do some exercises once a day. There are endless variations that I might choose from and I cannot determine which is the right one for you without working with you, but here’s a relatively simple one that most people benefit from:

What you eat fuels your body, so eat well. I’m sure I don’t need to convince you of that at this point in your health adventures.

Avoid things that cause stomach issues

Farts aren’t just things that are funny, they are indicative of what’s going on in your gut. I don’t know about you, but when I have terrible gas, I do NOT feel well. Pay attention to how your body responds to the things you eat and avoid things that make you feel crappy (that pun was unintended, but man that’s funny).

Human Interaction

In the 20th century, there was a now famous researcher named Harry Harlow who studied social isolation in monkeys. These monkeys lived in complete social isolation for extended periods of time and ended up being messed up. Consider this quote from one of his published studies:

“No monkey has died during isolation. When initially removed from total social isolation, however, they usually go into a state of emotional shock, characterized by the autistic self-clutching and rocking illustrated in Figure 4. One of six monkeys isolated for 3 months refused to eat after release and died 5 days later. The autopsy report attributed death to emotional anorexia. A second animal in the same group also refused to eat and would probably have died had we not been prepared to resort to forced feeding.” (Harlow et al, 1965)

Autistic Self Clutching
Autistic Self Clutching

His research prompted great advances in both science and animal rights activity.

I tell you this to illustrate the issues with social isolation. I encourage you to be around people. Not just any people, but people who allow you to be yourself.

Go out for a meal (or have a dinner party)

Just as you can use your meals as a mental time out, you can also use them as an avenue for good conversation. Invite some people over and make food, or you can all go out to get some.

Watch a movie

If movies are your thing, maybe you watch something together and discuss it afterwards. You can also discuss after the fact if you’re the type of person who yells at the screen and doesn’t want your friends to see that.

Have sex

I don’t think I’ll have trouble convincing anyone that this can be effective for making you feel better. Avoid anything that’s emotionally abusing for you or your partner. Same goes for physical abuse (unless it’s consensual, but then I believe it’s considered a fetish and not an abuse).

Ultimately, do whatever you want! You know what makes you happy better than I do.

Invest in Yourself

If your stuff gets stolen from your car, it’s gone forever. It’s relatively easy for this to happen. It is much harder for someone to steal a part of you.



Read books. This is the easiest way to find a new mentor to influence your life.

Watch things that aren’t mindless

YouTube has cool stuff all over it. And if you don’t know what a TED talk is, you should start here. Endless topics have been discussed, so search for something that interests you.


The overarching theme here is learning. Assimilate experiences and knowledge like it’s your job to keep your body and mind healthy.

The 23-Hour Plan

Alright, write this list down somewhere important. Do you remember what we talked about?

- Sleep

- Take physical and mental breaks

- Eat well

- Interact with other humans

- Invest in yourself

What kinds of things do you do to maximize your 23 hours? Leave a comment below and share your wisdom!

about the author


Lance Goyke, CSCS, is a Nerd Extraordinaire and secret admirer of lesbians everywhere whose expertise focuses on the human body. His clientele ranges from other trainers to kids to house moms to fighters to baseballers to anyone who needs to be taught how to exercise. Go invade his home base at

Peri Workout Nutrition: Managing Training Centric Shakes to Optimize Recovery and Gains

Everyone knows recovery is truly essential to facilitating adaptation. No matter how hard you work one day, if you aren’t properly recovering from the stress imposed on your body then it can, and will, negatively impact your whole training week. In a nutshell, adaptation happens because you’re imposing a similar stressor over a prolonged period of time, which then forces mechanical and neural changes throughout the body. These adaptations, however, can plateau or even decline when major imbalances in stress and recovery exist. Let’s start with the training week since it’s essential to making real change. Week after week of continued and varied stimulus is the driving force behind your gains. And while a single training day is simply not enough to induce adaptation in your body, it’s the summation of many good training days over the course of several weeks that make big things happen. In order to adequately recover from these individual sessions, and show up fresh day after day, your nutrition must be spot on. Here’s an easy way to think of this: the more effectively you recover from the training day the more you will be able to handle next session, and the more able you are to handle the next session, the greater your gains will be over time.

Photo Credit:  quickmeme
Photo Credit: quickmeme

A very effective way to improve recovery from session to session is via pre-intra-post workout nutrition (also known as peri workout nutrition). While there are literally thousands of potential options for nutrition throughout the training window, it’s important to understand that proper nutrition can fuel you to adapt better to the training stressors being imposed.

Better Adaption= Better Gains

I typically find myself training later in the day after already consuming 2-4 whole food meals. On these days, I prefer liquid nutrition around my training because it will digest easier and faster. Not only that, training shakes have proved time and time again to be incredibly convenient when meal prepping or in a rush.

Two of my favorite sources for training centric nutrition are highly branched cyclic dextrin (HBCD) and whey hydrolysates.

Whey Hydrolysates

Now whey hydrolysates have been around for some time, and about 15-20 years ago there was word on bodybuilding magazines that hydrolysates could induce greater skeletal muscle growth versus other protein sources. Their popularity has phased in and out over the years, but more and more quality research has been fueling their most recent surge. Specifically, hydrolysates from di and tri peptides are the choice recommendation for supplementation. And just so we’re all on the same page: hydrolysates are basically protein molecules that go through a filtration process that cleaves most of their peptide bonds making them much easier to digest.

Photo Credit:  Wedding Crashers, New Line Cinema
Photo Credit: Wedding Crashers, New Line Cinema

These broken down protein molecules are not only utilized faster than intact whey (isolate, concentrate), but they are more effective when combined with high glycemic liquid carbohydrates:

  1. They have a substantially greater insulinotropic effect than intact whey and carbs.
  2. They significantly increase glycogen stores in skeletal muscle.

A very interesting study using male bodybuilders found that they recovered peak contraction force in only 6 hours following100 maximal quad contractions while supplementing with hydrolysate. This is only one study, but its results are relevant to the performance field, and it also shows the direction hydrolysate studies are taking which gives the results more efficacy.

Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin (HBCD)

Highly branched cyclic dextrin has been gaining a lot of popularity in the performance community as well. It is a chemically changed amylopectin molecule to actually give a cyclic look to the chain. The real efficacy for using these intra workout specifically comes from their lack of insulin response. The chains are very dense, and in your shaker bottle have a low osmolality, this means they can quickly bypass the osmo-receptors of the stomach. Also, due to their cyclic structure the chains are broken down at once.

Here’s something else worth noting: training is a catabolic process and needs high amounts of sympathetic drive in order to overcome stress. Insulin, however, is the chief anabolic hormone, and happens to be closely linked with the parasympathetic nervous system. This is often where the sugar crash conflict comes when using certain carbohydrate sources intra workout. So…by using highly branched cyclic dextrin we can avoid the sugar crash and maintain sympathetic drive.

Training Centric Shakes

  *The macro-nutrients in the below examples are specific to me. They are based off my my daily caloric intake, macro distribution and my own meal plan. If you want help coming up with your own plan, then feel free to contact me via our coaching page.

Here’s the kicker:  I’m kinda broke.  I can’t always afford 4-5lbs of HBCD a month along with 4-5lbs of hydrolysates to use for all of my training shakes. The great part about the protocol I’m about to show you is its affordability. Replacing hydrolysates and HBCD at opportune times decreases the amount you will need per training session substantially.

The first shake, coming 30 mins before training, utilizes intact whey isolates and only 50% of the carbs come from HBCD. By the time your workout hits, the amino acids have been broken down from the intact whey and help facilitate the driving of glucose to the cell. The dextrose will also help spike insulin to drive glucose to the cell, however, cutting it with the HBCD makes coming down from the insulin spike much more manageable. This ideally should create an even environment for total uptake of the pre training macros.


The autonomics of intra training nutrition make it more difficult to cut the shakes with anything, but it is the smallest shake of the trio. By using whey hydrolysates and HBCD intra workout you can recover better during and after your training.


The post workout shake uses only dextrose for the carbohydrate source to obviously help shuttle nutrients to the cell, but also facilitate the recovery process by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. The whey hydrolysates will immediately begin rebuilding the mechanical damage done to the body, and will be exaggerated by the dextrose based insulin spike.


This is only my attempt to interpret the research I’ve seen and somehow apply it to a real training scenario. I could be totally wrong, but for me, everything is way more fun when I step out of the box. I know this article had a lot of science, and I’m sure you’ll have some questions, so feel free to drop them below in the comments and I’ll help you out.

Also, below are two links if you’re interested in reading more on either HBCD and/or Hydrolysates:

For more info on HBCD click here

For more info on Hydrolysates click here

about the author


Andrew Triana “The Leucine Frog” is a promising young coach who has an intense passion for his clients success and writing. It is evident in his work that he is relentless in his pursuit of excellence. At 20 years old Andrew has produced National champions, World champions, Pro strongmen, and has helped many others reach their goals.  Follow him on Twitter (@AndrewTriana) and Instagram (@andtriana).