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Designing a good training program sounds simple: write your exercises on paper; go to the gym; and run yourself through the paces. What most of us don’t know is that with an improperly designed difficult program, you may put yourself at risk of injury and could easily cheat yourself out of results. Obviously, your training program plays a major role in your success and reaching your goals may be as simple as having a better program. 

November 30, 1999 
By Brad Lawrence

FitSmart is a Fire Fighting in Canada online exclusive column by Brad Lawrence, a firefirefighter and personal trainer in Leduc, Alta.  Brad can be reached at


Writing your own training program
June 4, 2008

Designing a good training program sounds simple: write your exercises on paper; go to the gym; and run yourself through the paces. What most of us don’t know is that with an improperly designed difficult program, you may put yourself at risk of injury and could easily cheat yourself out of results. Obviously, your training program plays a major role in your success and reaching your goals may be as simple as having a better program. There are many different styles of programs and many variables involved. Designing a program can be complicated. You should, however, have a basic understanding of the concept if you’re writing your own program.

The frequency of your training depends largely on how much time you can commit. If you can hit the gym only twice a week, doing a split program may not be a good idea because you’re going to load your muscles only once a week. If time is a factor, a full-body training approach if probably the best bet. If you‘re in the gym every day, you may want to split things up and hit your muscles harder. Frequency of training is an article all of its own, but when in doubt a full-body approach is never a bad idea.

Sets and reps
Proper rep counts will vary greatly with different goals but, generally, if you’re just starting out shoot for 12 to 5 reps with slightly lighter weights. Once you decide you’re ready to play for keeps and build your strength, size, gain weight or lose weight, move to between six and eight reps with heavier weights. No matter what your rep count is, remember to push yourself to fail. Selecting the proper amount of sets is easy: two sets for weight loss; three to five for most other objectives.


The program you write should be on paper and you should document your progress. Writing down your progress will also make you accountable. If you have to check off the completion of an exercise it’s going to make it tough to leave the gym with empty boxes beside an exercise. I’m not saying go in the gym with a binder of junk, but a single sheet or small notepad will do the trick.

Warm up
A proper warm up is crucial to your workout. Studies have shown that without a full warm up, clients are prone to early fatigue. You have to prepare your body to work. Warm ups aren’t complicated. A moderate walk on the treadmill for five to eight minutes is usually plenty. A warm up prepares your central nervous system to exercise, releases synovial fluid in your joints (oil in your engine), starts high-volume blood flow into your large muscles, reduces muscle stiffness and actually increases possible speed of contraction of your muscles. No stretching to begin, unless you have extremely tight muscles or joints that absolutely need to be stretched before strenuous exercise.

Weightlifting/primary activity
Once you have completed your warm up, move to your weightlifting. The first exercises should be from your prime movers (your largest muscles). For example, start with your quads, lats or chest. Major muscles should be loaded before you isolate smaller muscles.

Unstable exercises before stable exercises
When you select your exercises, keep in mind that any given exercise can be more or less difficult depending on where you place it in the program. For safety reasons, any exercise that’s very unstable should be completed while you’re strong and not likely to fail. Save the stable exercises in which there is no chance of a slip or fall until the end. For example, do your walking lunges before your leg press.

Balance your program
Keep track of how many times you work each muscle group and remember which muscles each exercise involves. For example, following a bench press with tricep dips may be too heavy a load on the chest and triceps. It may be better to rest the muscle for a set and move to something else. Another factor to remember is that many muscles work in turn, meaning you flex one muscle, the other extends and relaxes (triceps/biceps, quad/hamstring and chest/back). You should have an equal amount of exercises for these groups, otherwise you’re prone to create an imbalance.

Cardiovascular training
Save this until after your weights if you choose to complete the two on the same day. Growth hormone levels skyrocket when cardio is done after weights. The spike is much less significant if you choose the opposite order.

Cool down
This is where you should be completing your stretching. If you stretch before you lift, studies have shown you’re actually weaker because of the stretch load on the muscle. A good rule of thumb is to stretch the muscles you worked. This would also be a good time to either hit the treadmill or the bike. A few minutes of very easy cardio will help flush lactic acid out of your muscles, hopefully leaving you in a functional state for tomorrow.

Hopefully the above will give you enough to get started. If you’re already up and running hopefully this information will allow you to make smart changes in your existing programs. A well-built program should leave you feeling like you’ve completed a great workout and provide you with enough rest to recover. Designing your own program will never be easy but it can also be a lot of fun. As always any further questions just ask. Happy training!


Understanding creatine
June 4, 2008

You have probably heard the hype. Since its introduction as a supplement, creatine monohydrate has become a staple for bodybuilders and athletes alike. To this day, there is no legal performance-enhancing supplement with as much upside as creatine monohydrate. You may have to look long and hard in many gyms to find a serious athlete who hasn’t taken it at some point. In previous years, more than 500 credible studies have been completed stating that creatine is safe and extremely effective.

The secret has been out for a while now and with all the attention it’s gotten, scientists have been working hard to improve it. There are many variations of pure creatine monohydrate. Some have different delivery systems, different potencies, and some have added entirely different compounds.

Creatine monohydrate
The old classic is creatine monohydrate. This was the first mainstream creatine product that officially hit the market. Most of the major studies completed were done with creatine monohydrate. This is a very old form of creatine and it hasn’t changed much in 25 years. However, it’s still proven to work, and work very well. There have been many reports of “non-responders” with monohydrate, although I’ve never known one. In this case, an alternative form of creatine is usually effective.

Proven to work; breakthrough bodybuilding supplement; increases muscle size, strength, stamina; delays muscle fatigue

Some people are non-responders; occasionally packaged with major sugar content; may be associated with bloating in some users; breaks down in water over time.

Average dose:
20 grams loading stage (about 4 days),  five to 10 grams for regular use.
Average price: $35

Kre-alkalyn is one of the newer creatine products. Creatine begins to break down when it’s mixed with water (in your glass or in your body). The selling point of this product is its strong ability to remain in creatine state throughout your body. It is actually creatine monohydrate altered to give it a higher pH level. The higher the pH of a creatine solution, the slower it breaks down. However when a creatine reaches a pH of 12, it no longer converts, it remains creatine. This is the reason you only need one to three grams of kre-alkalyn, while you may need five to 10 grams of a monohydrate solution. Higher doses of monohydrate creatine allow for higher loss through conversion when mixed with water. Kre-alkalyn apparently has zero loss, and gets very good uptake into your muscles.

: Same benefits as regular creatine; much smaller doses needed; not water soluble; easily gets into your cells (without any sweetener); no bloating; no loading; cheap.

: Not proven to be any more effective than straight monohydrate.

Average dose:
One to three grams
Average price: $32

Creatine Ethyl Ester (CEE)
CEE is the most recent addition. CEE is also creatine monohydrate that has been scientifically altered to increase the absorption rate. The creatine has been attached to an ester, which allows the creatine better absorption. This product is unfortunately, in the early stages and studies have yet to be completed. In the future this may be one of the leaders of the creatine craze. Like kre-alkalyn, CEE requires a smaller dose than standard monohydrate and results have been similar. CEE is like kre-alkalyn in that it doesn’t need to bond to a carrier to transport into your cells. This eliminates the dreaded “creatine bloat” look. On paper, this product should absorb better than monohydrate but not quite as good as kre-alkalyn because of the kre-alkalyn pH buffering.

Reported to have same benefits as regular creatine; smaller doses needed; absorption into cells is better; no bloating; no loading.

Product in early stages; no long-term studies completed; not proven to be any more effective than regular creatine; no pH buffering.

Average dose: Five grams daily
Average price: $45

Monohydrate, kre-alkalyn and CEE are definitely the big three. There are many other forms of creatine on the market and there will surely be more to follow. Most of them are just slight modifications to creatine monohydrate but there is a couple worth mentioning.

Di-creatine / tri-creatine malate
This is a monohydrate blend with malic acid added. Malic acid is a major part of the krebs cycle and having more malic acid in the muscle will apparently help maximize your ATP production (cellular energy). More ATP would obviously delay fatigue and increase strength and size potential even further. Again, this is relatively new; no major studies have been done using either of these. Chances are its going to work similarly to regular creatine or possibly better.

: Reported to have same benefits as regular creatine; potential for even greater gains; usually blended with numerous beneficial ingredients; already bonded (absorption is better); no bloating; quick muscle uptake.

: No long-term studies have been completed; no pH buffering; not proven to be any more effective than straight monohydrate.

Average dosage
: Five to 10 grams daily.
Average price: Not sold on its own; usually blended with numerous ingredients and price will vary greatly.

Your decision to try creatine is a good one. There are many products out there and there will certainly be one to which your body will respond. If you’ve tried creatine and didn’t get the effect you were looking for, try switching gears and trying a kre-alkalyn or CEE product. Creatine is present naturally in your body. By using one of these proven products to increase the amount of creatine, you may have a safe, effective way to get closer to your goals.

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