I’ve come to realize that at this point in my life I’m a “middle-of-the-road” kinda guy. It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when I followed fad diets and exercise routines. But now that I’ve, I suppose, “grown-up” I favor more of a moderate approach. Despite what I’ve personally learned, there is a lot of extremist thinking in the fitness industry. “This is bad, That’s good.” Regardless of the context. One of these lines of thinking is the “just pick a program and work hard” crowd.
Examples of this reasoning include: “Sheiko, 5/3/1; these are all good programs and they work. Just pick one, stick with it, and work hard.” Of course, I wouldn’t be a moderate guy if I didn’t admit that there’s some truth to it. You do need to work hard and you shouldn’t program hop. But jumping on any old program is rolling the dice. If it works it’s because it provides what you need at that point in time to progress.
A program isn’t a program. Clearly 5/3/1 is very different from Sheiko. We know this, it’s very easy to see that is the case. For a newish lifter, Sheiko will be unnecessary and potentially too much. For a very experienced lifter adapted to high volume and high frequency, the vanilla 5/3/1 is probably not going to work so well. The program needs to fit the lifter. If it doesn’t the lifter will often stall and regress.
This is why, in my opinion, custom programs will always be better than cookie-cutter programs. To be most appropriate for the individual their program needs to take into account their current requirements for volume, intensity, frequency, exercise variation, etc. Even those trainees that make great progress on pre-defined programs will generally modify them to fit their needs. I’m a big fan of taking charge of your own program and making small tweaks to variables over time to make it better and to learn exactly what works for you as an individual.
The lesson here is that there is no one single important variable that will make a trainee successful. Sleep, nutrition, exercise technique, these are all important but no more important than the program. All of these aspects work in synergy.