The Single Biggest Factor Missing From Your Training Program…

I’ve written A LOT of programs for myself, for my athletes, and for my clients over the last 20 years. I’m not sure how much “a lot” is, but I’ve literally got files and files of them.

For example, I just released a Kettlebell Fat Burning Program, Kettlebell Burn, and one of the biggest questions I got and always get is, “Can I do _____ with this program.”

My response is always – “You can do anything you want – it just might not give you the results you desire. It alters the way the program was designed and therefore I can no longer predict the results.” Or something along those lines…

This often meets with a confused look from the individual I’m speaking with – or a moment of silence if we’re talking over the phone. (Email responses vary…)

And that gets me to my main point – and it seems to be one that not a lot of people take into consideration these days – it’s not how much work you can do, but, rather, how much work you can recover from.

Read that again.

The rule of thumb is generally as follows:

  1. The more volume in your program, the more recovery you need.
  2. The higher the intensity of your 1RM, the more recovery you need.
  3. The more “dense” your program, the more recovery you need.
  4. The more learning that occurs, the more recovery you need.
  5. The more effort you exert, the more recovery you need.

There are other factors we often fail to take into consideration for recovery.

  1. Daily stress levels.
  2. Amount of sleep.
  3. Quality of sleep.
  4. [Over]Dependence on stimulants.
  5. Alcohol consumption.
  6. Body toxicity levels.

So how do you account for each of these factors, since obviously there are at least 11 variables to manipulate?

My good friend Brett Jones made a great point to me a couple of years ago – “What’s the least you can do and still make progress?”


There’s a question for the ages, huh?

That kind of flips things on there heads, doesn’t it?

Well here’s what I’ve noticed after 20 years.

  • I can train 6 days per week and make progress if my training sessions are 20-30 minutes.
  • I can train 5 days per week and make progress if my training sessions are 30-45 minutes, but the closer to 30 minutes the better.
  • I can train 4 days per week and make progress if my training sessions are 60 minutes per less AND they’re designed as a upper/lower split.
  • I can train 3 days per week and make progress if my training session are 45-60 minutes and they’re total body.
  • I can train 2-3 times per day 3-4 days per week if I use 10-15 minute training sessions (sometimes 20 minutes).

Those are the parameters.

As much as I wish they weren’t so, they are. I love to train. So I would prefer 6 days per week 1-2 hours at a clip. But those days are gone forever.

So, what’s the “best” program for the “average” trainee?

I think it’s pretty simple.

And it’s not very profound, either.

And it’s been said by other fitness professionals, too.

Train 3 days per week.

Use a total body program.

Pick 2 upper body exercises – one pulling and one pushing, and one lower body exercise, preferably hip dominant like deadlifting over squatting.

Here’s how you’d set it up:

Day 1.

Pulling – Chin ups

Pushing – Push ups, feet elevated

Lower – Deadlift

Day 2.

Pushing – Military Press

Lower – Squat

Pulling – Single Arm Row

Day 3.

Lower – Single Leg Deadlift

Pulling – Pull ups

Pushing – Push ups

And it would really be that simple.

You would adjust your reps and rest periods according to your priorities.

And yes, I know, you could do a “split” if you wanted, but you better be strong and “need” the recovery.

(If you have to ask how “strong” strong is, you aren’t strong…)

In order to do that, I would still use a 3 day per week program, but I would do only 2 workouts – using what’s called an “A-B” Split. You repeat one of the days each week so in a 2 week period each workout is performed 3 times. (Wk1 – A-B-A, Wk2 – B-A-B). I’ve used this many times in the past, each time with great success.

I would pick one upper body exercise to focus on and one lower body exercise to focus on. For example, the Deadlift and the Military Press (kind of similar to Power to the People!). And then add in 2-3 complimentary exercises in after each main exercise.

For example:

A. Military Press, Chin ups, Parallel Dips, Ab-Wheel

B. Deadlift, Step ups, Hyperextensions/Glut-Ham Raise, Hanging Leg Raise

And yes, I realize these programs are not sexy. They’re not at all sexy. If you want sexy, buy your wife some lingerie and take her out for a romantic dinner (my apologies to the ladies reading this…) Don’t confuse the two.

What you want is results. What you need is recovery.

These templates will provide you with just that – the right balance of results with the right balance of recovery.

Plus, the best part is, you won’t be spending a large majority of your free time working out so you can do more of the fun stuff you want to do and more of the responsible stuff you should be doing but aren’t.

18 comments… add one
  • Sean Greeley Apr 22, 2010 @ 14:32

    Nice post Geoff and well said.

    I’ve found I need a whole lot more recovery in my training these days than in my younger years.

    And YES I hate it. But it’s something that you can’t fight too much… because the more you do the worse it gets.

    So, I guess we just take deep breaths, enjoy the ride, and use that extra time to enjoy other things in life.

    Even though we’d rather be training more!

    Best Regards,

    • GEOFFN Apr 22, 2010 @ 21:09

      Hey Sean – Thanks for stopping by! I hope everything is going great for you guys at NPE. I recommend “mini-sessions” for you my friend – 10-15 minute sessions of one exercise per session starting with every day. Do that for 2-3 weeks and then add one extra session 2-3 days per week. You’ll find your work capacity will increase quite quickly and you’ll get to satisfy the itch to train every day. Take care.

  • Anna Dornier Apr 22, 2010 @ 15:59

    Hi Geoff, I just got your Kettlebell Burn program and I am going on day 3. I love it and I look forward to my workouts! I like how it’s simple but still gives me a good amount of work. I look forward to telling you about my results in a few weeks!


    • GEOFFN Apr 22, 2010 @ 21:09

      Anna – Thanks for picking that up. I know you’re going to love it. I look forward to seeing your results too…

  • Mike T Nelson Apr 22, 2010 @ 17:31

    Thanks for the info Geoff.

    Kudos to you for keeping such detailed notes over the course of 20 years! Very cool!

    I agree with your premise about more work in general = more recovery.

    The hard part is that stress levels will change on a day to day basis for most people (excluding those that live in the Olympic training center), and if they had to pick one direction or the other, doing a bit less training is the way to go since you CAN control training stress.

    I would not rule out training 1-2 hours per day for 6 days quite yet though for yourself 🙂

    Rock on
    Mike T Nelson PhD(c)

    • GEOFFN Apr 22, 2010 @ 21:01

      Mike – I agree, stress levels do change from day-to-day for most people, but they are “generally” the same through certain periods of life. And less training is the way they should go – 3 days per week is probably right for most based on my personal and professional experience…

  • David Clark Apr 22, 2010 @ 18:10

    Hey Geoff,
    Great post! Love your stuff.
    I’m assuming that you’re going ’bout two reps away from failure in these templates.
    Q: My recovery sucks….. You believe it’s necessary to spend 50 minutes on a three-day-a-week? I don’t see how I can handle that. Do you really need to be doing that much?

    Note: I’m doing TGUs (kalos sthenos), chins, headstands, pistols/squats (lightly), hanging knee raises, swings, and squat thrusts over the course of a week.

    • GEOFFN Apr 22, 2010 @ 21:00

      David – Yeah 2-3 reps or so. I really just stop when technical work feels off – especially the Oly stuff. Conversely, I keep going when speed is up and movements feel easy, like tonight…

      No, I don’t think you “need” to do 50 minutes 3 times per week – those were my numbers. Do what you can as often as you can with as little fatigue as possible, to paraphrase Dr. Zastisorsky.

  • Erik Petersen Apr 22, 2010 @ 19:55

    People are always amazed when I tell them that I only exercise about 2-3 hours a week and sometimes will only do one or two exercises in a session. Trying to get people’s mindset changed about exercising correctly (the “I’ve got to do 2o different exercises with 3 variations on each crowd”) is like pulling teeth without anesthesia. Getting them to change lifestyle behaviors is the most difficult as it’s hard to gauge certain stressors.

    • GEOFFN Apr 22, 2010 @ 20:58

      Erik – Yeah, it’s a different mindset for sure… The key is getting them to evaluate their current results in light of what they are currently doing. If you can get someone to admit that they’re not getting the results they want from what they’re doing, that’s half the battle.

  • Tim Anderson Apr 23, 2010 @ 21:37

    Awesome post, Geoff. Good stuff and dead on.

  • Russ Moon Apr 24, 2010 @ 15:05

    Recovery – Rotating my exercises to see what creates the most result with the least inroad into my ability to recover.

    Last Month – my results …lost 10 pounds and involuntarily gained 1/2 in on bicep with very little direct arm work. I don’t understand how the TGU, Deadlifts, Squats, Presses did that, all I know is it happened.

    Further proof for me that something is working and I am going to keep going.

  • R Moon Apr 25, 2010 @ 18:34

    Saturday TGU Repeater 2 x w 24kg

    Sunday Snatch Test 100 reps 4:20
    SSST 170 reps 10:00 – work to do here but moving in right direction

  • Russ Moon May 2, 2010 @ 20:31

    500 resps 1 arm swing w 24 kg. Alot easier sets of 100 switching at 50 reps per arm. 85% effort so that was a good place to get some volume without going to failure.

  • Dave Z May 27, 2010 @ 14:53

    I’ve been using kalos sthenos and I’m getting alot out of the TGU. I was wondering what exactly people are referring to by TGU Repeaters? Thanks.

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