The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

The Elements of a basic gym: barbell, plates, platform, rack, bench and chin up bar. A basic plan built on solid Principles: Adaptation by way of compound movements, an emphasis on building and maintaining strength with proper loading and rep ranges.

Garage Gym

Garage Gym Elements

It’s not complicated – and it doesn’t need to be. It’s just exercise.

In the last few posts I’ve given you the tools to select a solid program that fits your fitness goal. I’m going to take it one step further and flat-out hand you a few programs that have brought me great results, or that come strongly recommended by trusted sources.

Based on the Principles we covered, a good program will do two things. First, it will align with your training goals, and second, it will fall in line with the principles of adaptation from an anatomy/physiology perspective.

That means, if you’re a powerlifter, your program better make you stronger in the squat, bench and deadlift. If you’re a triathlete, the program needs to make you a faster swimmer, bicyclist and runner. If you’re a football player, your program needs to make you a better football player. Whatever your sport, your training program is a good one when it results in your improvement at your sport.

The second part is just as crucial – the program needs to fall in line with the general rules of anatomy and physiology. It must provide adequate stimulus for the desired response. It must provide adequate rest and recovery for consistent adaptation. And it must be safe for you, the trainee.

A program that doesn’t sufficiently challenge you, doesn’t allow you to rest enough, or puts you at risk of injury or overtraining is a bad program. Choose wisely!

If you are relatively new to the Iron Game, then it is my sincerest opinion that you should begin with a Linear Progression. You don’t have to stay there, but you need to start there. As your training age matures, you can move on to more complicated programs, but for the “young”, there’s no better place to start.

Starting Strength, Madcow/Bill Starr, Stronglifts, and Greyskull LP are all good choices here. I went with CrossFit Football’s Amateur program (also an LP), and was very happy with the results.

I have since moved on to CrossFit Football’s Collegiate program. This program utilizes a mix of rep max work with some percentage-based work. Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 and Justin Lascek’s Texas Method Part 1 use similar percentage tools, and work well for intermediates. While the Texas Method is suited mainly to brute strength/powerlifting, Jim Wendler has spun off a number of variations to his 5/3/1 program to suit the needs of everyone from powerlifters to football players to CrossFitters.

Speaking of CrossFit, if you fancy yourself the next winner of the World Series of Exercise, Rudy Nielsen has a selection of programs to choose from, based on your level of experience and/or your area of weakness.

If you’re more inclined toward Olympic Lifting, Catalyst Athletics publishes both a beginner program and a running daily program.

For the fitness generalist who is interested in exercise simply for a healthy and fit lifestyle, Everyday Paleo Lifestyle and Fitness also runs a program. For Tactical Athletes (Military, Law Enforcement and First Responders), Military Athlete publishes a variety of programs for both Fitness Test preparation, and active duty applications.

Like we discussed last time, there are plenty of methods out there – these a just a few that I’ve had close contact with, and which fall in line with the Principles we discussed. What programs have you had success with? How well did the goals of the program align with your training goals and how much do you think it contributed to your overall goals? Let us know in the comments or over on Facebook!



“…strength drives everything. That’s your foundation, even if you run marathons. How much you develop that foundation will depend on the needs of your sport. For the marathoner, that won’t be extensively; for the competitive CrossFitter, it will be considerably more extensively, although less than a strength athlete like a weightlifter.”

-Greg Everett

Like I said in the last post, the most important biomarker of athletic performance is strength. Being strong enough is your ticket to play. If you’re not strong enough to actually lift the paddle, you can’t play ping-pong.

forrest gump ping pong

Ping Pong Strong

So how does one go about developing the requisite level of strength for his or her sport of choice? Short answer: by imposing demands that cause the body to adapt in a strengthening manner. That is, by exposing the body to resistance which requires near-maximal strength to overcome. Thus, by way of super-compensation, the body gets stronger.

Most of us are limited on training time. We’re desk-jockeys or service-providers, not professional athletes. We cook your meals, we haul your trash, we connect your calls, we drive your ambulances. We guard you while you sleep. So how do we maximize efficiency when training for strength? There are hundreds of muscles, dozens of joints – which movements should we focus on?

Just like we established a brief hierarchy of biomarkers, we can create a similar hierarchy of training movements. Since our primary focus is strength, we want to use movements that accommodate heavy loads. Since our limiting factor is time, we want to utilize as much musculature and as much of the body’s structure as possible.

The beauty here is that these two criteria also coincide with hormonal response desired for strength development: anabolism.

Enough with the Socratic method already – which movements? Squat, deadlift, bench press, press, dips, pull ups, chin ups and cleans. When performed properly, these movements require the vast majority, if not all, of the body’s musculature and structure. As such, they are referred to as complex or multi-joint exercises.

Part two: how much of these exercises? This answer is simple, but complicated. One of the most definitive answers is Prilepin’s Chart. Depending on what training phase (periodization) you’re in, you’ll be training for size, maximal strength, power or strength endurance. The chart clearly tabulates the sets, reps and relative intensities that lead to the desired outcomes.

Given the demands of the exercises and intensities, you’ll want to allow for rest and recovery. It will be optimal to include 36-48 hours between heavy squat sessions, and the same will hold true for most of the other movements. It’s a good idea to then establish your training split by breaking it into upper and lower body, and push and pull groupings. Day one could be both upper and lower body pushes (squat and press), and day two could be upper and lower body pulls (deadlift and chin ups). The cumulative loading would then call for rest and recovery on day three before repeating the push and pull combo (perhaps with different exercises) in the second half of the week.

This brings us essentially full circle. In order to get stronger, we need heavily loaded, complex/multi-joint movements. In turn, our gym needs the equipment to perform those movements. Come back next time to complete the journey with some recommendations on how to choose a program that suits your needs, using the Principles and Elements we’ve covered over the last several posts.

In the meantime, be sure to check out Garage Gym Guy on Facebook for more content!


In the last article, we discussed Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. But what type of demands are we talking about? The answer is simple: What are you training for?

Do you play a sport competitively? Are you a strength trainee exclusively? Are you an endurance athlete? Are you training for a lifestyle of fitness? Some combination of all of the above?

The point is this: your training program needs to Impose the Specific Demands that will cause you to Adapt in such a way that the biomarkers of your performance improve.

Now, which biomarkers are we talking about? In nearly every sport or athletic pursuit, there are particular biomarkers that immediately come to mind: strength, speed, power, agility, flexibility/body control, endurance/stamina, etc.

In the perspective of training, we should be able to craft a hierarchy of those biomarkers which will in turn help us create a priority list that we can use to maximize the efficiency of our training regimen. After all, most of us only have a few hours per week to devote to our training.

I’m not going to beat around the bush. It is obvious to me that strength is the most important biomarker of performance. Strength is the ability to exert force, from which comes speed. Being stronger also means that the rate of exertion for a given movement, relative to absolute strength, is much lower. In vehicle racing, this commonly referred to as the Power to Weight Ratio.

Furthermore, strength is a hard-earned attribute when compared endurance. Endurance can take as little as a few months to acquire while true strength requires years. “Strength is never a weakness.”

Following strength is its derivative: speed. Even in the endurance sports, the competition is still a race: who is the fastest. Assuming the competitors all have the stamina to complete the race, it is still the most powerful (force divided by time – the one who exerts the most forward propulsion in the elapsed time) one who wins.

What comes after strength? Everything else – for your given sport, you will need some level of endurance, coordination, sport-specific skills, etc. A wrestler will only need a few minutes of stamina, while a triathlete may need a couple of hours. A hockey player will only need to be on the ice for about 30 seconds per shift, but may need to be capable of 30 or more shifts per game.

Garage Gym Girl - Sprint Triathlete

Garage Gym Girl – Sprint Triathlete

For our purposes here, we can see that athletes need to start with strength, transition from maximal strength to strength-endurance, and as the in-season approaches, move from a strength-based template to one that closer-approximates the demands of the sport. The common model of periodization describes this near-perfectly. For more detailed reading, I recommend Periodization Training for Sports by Tudor Bompa. In it, the authors describe, in exhausting detail, the periodization approaches for a wide variety of common sports.

In our next installment, we’ll get into the details of how to maximize efficiency while pursuing training goals. In the meantime, post in the comments or visit us on Facebook to share what sport you participate in, and how you hope to use your garage gym to train for domination!


The first principle is adaptation. We are trying to cause our body to adapt. Technically, we’re looking for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID).

In the first chapter of FIT, the authors describe Hans Seyle’s General Adaptation Syndrome. In his experiments, Seyle discovered that in response to a non-lethal stressor, the organism would get stronger. We all know this colloquially now as “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”



Following the general adaptation syndrome, we know that we want to impose stress on our physical capabilities, and in turn we will recover and get stronger. This brings up two important questions. First, how much stress? And second, how much recovery?

What we’re looking for in terms of stress is an effective dose. We’re not trying to push ourselves to the brink of death, rather, we’re trying to be efficient and leave ourselves a margin of error. Going too far leads to illness (rhabdo) and injury.

How much recovery depends on a number of factors such as age, hormone profile, sleep, and nutrition, along with lifestyle factors such as having a stressful job.

When you combine these three concepts – adaptation by way of stress and recovery, a cycle begins to appear. First, we impose stress – our capacity for physical activity decreases, then we rest – our body compensates for the stress, and bolsters it’s capacity in expectation of future stress. We call that second part supercompensation. This is what is going on behind the scenes in every successful training program.



At first, the body is not well adapted to our new stresses, and the super-compensation wave happens quickly. The continual process through wave after wave results in rapid adaptation. As the number of passes through that cycle increases, however, the rate of adaptation slows.

John Welbourn and the Power Athlete crew refer to this as “training age.” A person may not be young, but if they have not been exposed to that specific type of training, their training age is young. Strength programs such as Linear Progressions (LP) fit well with this “young” training age and the associated rapid adaptation. Similar programs exist on the endurance side, including Couch to 5K, which is where I started en route to winning a handful of 5K races and Pump n’ Runs. As training age matures, a more complex method of applying stress and recovery is required.

Instead of the cycle completing in a number of hours, the imposed stresses will take days and even weeks to recover form. Planning for this, in conjunction with individual attention to hypertrophy, strength, power and strength endurance, is called Periodization. Balancing stress and recovery over longer periods of time prevents problems such as over-reaching and over-training, which in time can lead to further obstacles like Adrenal Fatigue.

In the next post we’ll get into specific biomarkers and pairing your training with your performance goals. In the meantime, be sure to check out Garage Gym Guy on Facebook!


“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson


Now that we’ve established a training space and the basic elements for exercise, let’s discuss what we’re training for, and how we’ll achieve those goals. A few years back, I found myself on a bus from the hotel to the convention center for the Arnold Sports Festival. It just so happened that I was seated next to John Gleneicki. We struck up conversation about the variety of events taking place at the “Arnie,” and he concluded with a statement that resonated and stuck with me. He said something to the effect of “there’s a lot of room in physical culture. It’s not so important what sport you’re in; it’s simply important that you’re in.” I agree whole-heartedly.

In line with Emerson’s quote above, there are a few principles that lead to athletic development. A quick glance through the Sports/Health/Fitness section of Barnes & Noble, or simply browsing the internet will confirm that there is no shortage of methods derived form those principles (and some not).

If you can grasp the principles, you can better understand and choose the method(s) that will work best for you. Furthermore, the program that you can stick to will be the one that’s most effective for you – in the business world we call this “engagement” or “buy-in.” You have to know your principles and believe in the method, because none of this is easy. Anyone who says otherwise is lying.

To once again borrow from my favorite fitness author: “I welcome you to the community of people for whom good enough will no longer suffice!”

In the next few posts I’ll go into more detail on what the principles are, and after that, how we can use those principles to select good methods for training. While you’re waiting, Like us on Facebook!