Will I Really See Results From a 12 Week Program?

Will I Really See Results From a 12 Week Program?

If you have ever searched around for an exercise program or gym membership for just a few minutes, you will start to notice a trend. Most programs that offer to get you “jacked”, “shredded”, “lean”, or a “summer 6-pack” are 12-weeks long. One of the appeals to using a 3 month program is that it fits nicely into someone’s calendar and with the changes in the seasons. It is also is a fairly well tested and applied length of time for programming that is long enough to see some considerable changes, but also short enough to make adjustments to the program once you have adapted to that specific program's goal. Another vital aspect to this discussion of program length is the importance of a coach or trainer. A certified coach or trainer can be an important person to hold you accountable to the program and teach proper technique, as well as make some inevitable adjustments to the program when needed. The reason someone may advise you against a “one size fits all” program is because nothing actually does fit everyone. We are all different, and we all respond differently, but there is some important information to consider first.

The first thing to consider is the way all of these programs work. To do that we have to go back to some biology class you probably weren’t paying attention to back in Junior High School. All living multi-celled organisms that grow or learn new skills throughout their evolution go through the same process. Physically, to gain some new strength or adaptation, the organism has to encounter a certain amount of stress. This amount of stress has to disrupt the organism’s homeostasis in order to make some sort of change, however not so much stress that the organism cannot completely recover from it. Recovery is the second step to this process. Given enough time and resources to recover from the stress, the organism will be able to adapt and obtain a new ability to handle the next stressful experience with less energy spent. This is why things become easier or less tiring as you practice them and adapt to the stress. The third step is just that, adaption; to modify or make suitable for a new use or purpose. As an example, let’s say there is a person starting a new strength training program. This person on their first day lifts a barbell weighing 100 pounds, for 4 sets, and 8 repetitions per set. If this was something that the person had never done before in their life, it is a large enough amount of stress to disrupt their homeostasis and acquire a new adaptation to be able to lift that amount of weight again in the future. So when this person comes back to the gym again in a couple of days, they will be prepared to lift that weight again, but now they will be able to do it a little easier. To be able to continue getting stronger, they will have to put their body under more stress than they had previously. To do that they will have to add more weight to the bar, or add more repetitions to the sets, or do more sets in order to disrupt their newly acquired adaptations to the bodies baseline strength. Over time that baseline of strength will increase with constant stress being applied.

Now that you know a little bit more about how these programs can give you the results they intend to, we can look at why they typically last 12 weeks. Over the many years people have been training, 3 months has proven to be a long enough time for a person to obtain results from a program by building up the amount of stress needed to get those results slowly and safely. However, if you try to put your body through too much stress too quickly it can cause injury or halt the progress of the intended outcome. As we can all recount, there was that one summer, the first time at the beach, spending all day in the sun and getting a terrible sun burn. This could have been avoided if you had slowly introduced more and more sun exposure throughout the summer, you would have gotten tan rather than burned. If you were to program a “summer tan”, you could start by sitting in the sun for 10 minutes on the first day, and increase the time outside by 5 minutes every day. Slowly increasing the amount of stress from the sunlight would allow you to accumulate enough stress over time to get tan. However, something weird will happen after a few weeks, you never continue to get more and more tan. At some point you reach a consistent color and never get much darker. Our bodies are amazing at responding, and adapting to stress. This 12 week time frame for these programs is also short enough for just that reason. Once your body has seen the same type of stress for long enough, it will need to experience some change in the way the stress is being applied, allowing the body to become re-sensitized to what it had been receiving before. A good program will have these things considered when being created, and allow for the most optimal outcome possible.

These 12 week programs, depending on the desired outcome, will have some sort of structure to them in the way they are applying the stress. The first month is usually a time that is spent in a hypertrophy phase (which is muscle growth) and or an endurance phase. This will allow the person to practice the skills they need for the program, while building muscle and slowly becoming accustomed to the work capacity required throughout the program. If this step is skipped or not long enough, the trainee may not be prepared for what is to come later on in the program. The second month or so will be a transition period from a higher amount of volume and lower intensity, to a consistent amount of volume and a gradual increase in intensity. This will increase the amount of stress in order to adapt to the amount of intensity that will ultimately be needed to make the person bigger, stronger, or faster. Slowly changing these variables throughout the program allows the trainee to recover quickly enough for the next day’s workout. The final month or so will be to push the stress just far enough to allow for the desired outcome, without completely exhausting the trainee. Lowering the volume quite drastically toward the end of the program will allow for the most amount of recovery possible from the amount of stressful training that has been accumulated throughout the 12 weeks. At this point the trainee should have adapted enough to acquire the desired outcome. At the end of this program, the type of stress and the amount of stress that had been applied must be changed. A small break all together may be needed after very difficult training, however, most trainees will just need to do some new exercises with less intensity for a week or two. This will give the trainee a chance to recover completely and allow them to be re-sensitized to the same program if it had worked well before. Like stated earlier, our bodies are incredible at adapting and will find a way to adapt quickly to the same stress over and over again. This will also be a good time to try some new exercises to lessen the repetitive nature of training.

The final important aspect of training is sticking to the program. A coach or trainer can help keep you on track and get the most out of your training. A coach can also help with technique and movement quality. Although we are all built a little differently, we all move in a very similar fashion. A second set of eyes can help make adjustments to your form, and if you are new to training, the coach can teach you these new skills from the beginning. It is also inevitable that the program will need adjusting due to the differences in people’s recovery, schedules, past injuries, missed workouts, or to adjust to athletic schedules. The more resources you have to use while adhering to a program will give you the best opportunity to achieve the maximum outcome of the program.

When starting any kind of program, whether it is strength training, weight loss, or endurance, the best thing you can do is use a coach or training facility to help you accomplish your goals. There are many things that a trainee may just not have time to consider, or have the ability to objectively analyze themselves as they progress in a program. The amount of time and effort you put into anything will always show in the end result, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Three months may seem like a long time, but it is the best place to start when designing a program and allowing for the desired adaptation to take place. There is no easy way to get bigger, stronger, or faster. These goals take time, and as you get older or get better at them, the harder it is to make progress. To set yourself up for success find a coach and training facility that will work with you and help you accomplish your personal goals. Following a properly designed 12-week program will give you the foundation you need to succeed.

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