Planning Your Fitness Training Across 365 Days

by Michael Petresky on June 3, 2014


So you’ve completed your first 12-week program, and are wondering what to do next.

Maybe you’ve been at it for a couple years now, and are finally starting to understand the importance of structure and planning to maximizing progress toward your fitness goals year round.

You’ve heard talk that it’s best to switch up your training every now and then to best achieve gains in the gym, and avoid plateaus. This is correct.

Every 2-3 months is a good ballpark range for the time you’re looking to dedicate toward a program before it becomes time to change your training up to some extent. Some can push this with a 16-week program, but I’ve found 12 weeks dedicated to one routine to be the sweet spot.

This could be something as simple as swapping out exercises for new ones that you haven’t been incorporating (such as replacing the Squat with the Deadlift, or Flat Bench Press with DBs to Incline Barbell Press), and continuing the same routine skeleton (intensity, sets, reps, rest, etc.) as before.

Another route is to alternate goals across the year. An example would be to break 12 months into quarters each dedicated solely to one goal:

  • Strength/Body recomposition (Slow Fat Loss, Slow Muscle Gain)
  • Muscle/Hypertrophy
  • Pure Fat Loss
  • Weight Maintenance, and General Fitness*Holiday season*

Depending on your goals you may instead be looking for fat loss year round. If I were really overweight I would instead look to alternate the style of training across the year to avoid boredom, and keep the focus on fat loss. For example:

  • Strength/Interval Training (with Kettle Bells)
  • Aerobic Endurance and Interval Training (running/cycling)
  • Strength/Interval Training (with Barbell/Dumbbells, and a Jump Rope)
  • Aerobic Endurance and Interval Training (rowing/swimming)*Planned For Summer*

Maybe you’re a hard-gainer, and want to focus the majority of the year to adding size. An example for this client would be:

  • Strength/Hypertrophy (Full-body training)
  • De-load
  • Strength/Hypertrophy (Upper/Lower Split)
  • De-load
  • Strength/Hypertrophy (Isolation/Bodybuilding split)
  • Maintenance, or Fat Loss

Order of Results:

Changing your goals up in this way will help you avoid plateaus. Generally when you start a training program your progress looks like this:

Strength -> Performance -> Fat Loss -> Muscle Gain

  • Everybody sees strength gains the first few weeks starting a program.
  • If you continue training into weeks 4-6, you’ll start to see transfer into your overall fitness performance. Your work capacity has increased. You’re noticing you are now able to do more work in less time, with less fatigue at the end.
  • If you’ve been matching your diet to your training and one of your goals is fat loss around weeks 7-9 your abdominals, muscle striations, and vascularity are now much more visible (depending on body fat %, this may be the -10lb mark, or maybe even -15-20 lb weight drop mark for more over-weight clients).
  • By weeks 10-12 you’re noticing your muscle bodies are now looking fuller, and larger. The circumferences of your arms, legs, and torso have increased. Gains in muscle size are always the last thing you get to see. That’s why it’s necessary to see your training through to the end of the program, and not give up after a month or so due to lack of results in the mirror. Be patient.

Miscellaneous Notes for Workout Programming:

  • For Muscle Gain: Whenever adding a new exercise to a day’s workout I always start with only 2 sets. Why? Because it’s the first week incorporating this change, and two challenging sets is a sufficient stimulus. For example: Adding a Bicep/Tricep super set to the end of a Upper Body day. Start with less. Add more over time. This is progress through additional volume (sets/reps).
  • For Fat Loss: This same concept can be applied to your interval or aerobic endurance training. So you’re doing full body circuits to burn maximum calories to achieve faster fat loss, and want to add jump rope intervals to finish the workout. Start with three 1 minute intervals. Do this for a week or two. Then add more interval sets. Then change your work:rest ratio from 1:2, to 1:1, and finally 1:0.5. This is how you build progress into your programs.
  • For Strength/Muscle Gain: Plan de-loading phases. You cannot train with the same program for 24 weeks and expect continual progress in strength across 6 months.  Every 8-12 weeks plan a 2-week break in which you continue training the same exercises, but at 80% effort. Another way would be with reduced sets. For example: Squatting with 5 sets of 4 reps with 80% of the weight you used in the previous week when you’ve been following a 5×5 program will allow your nervous system and muscles to fully recover, but while maintaining progress so you can get back to training for another two months.
  • For Fat Loss: Plan diet breaks in addition to de-loading phases. Eating for fat loss month after month can get to be mentally exhausting. Combine that with an intense training program where you’re exercising daily, and burnout is around the corner. Use these planned breaks to increase calories, practice weight maintenance, and enjoy foods you may have removed from your nutrition plan to lose fat. This will help up-regulate your metabolism, decrease the number of un-planned food binges that set you back, and reset hormones such as leptin and ghrelin that work against you reaching your fat loss goals.

Ok, so you know where you’re at and what you’re trying to achieve. You’ve set up your plan to split the year into 4 periods, each dedicated to a different goal through various styles of training.

What kind of progress is realistic, and should I set goals?

First off, goal setting is always necessary to maximizing your progress. Setting goals will help hold you accountable, and also allow you to evaluate your progress at the end of a program in order to continue improving.

If you work your ass off through a 12-week program, but with no end goal in mind then you cannot look back upon the past 12 weeks to answer the question on whether you were below, on, or above your expectations.

By evaluating your training afterwards you can ask yourself what you could have done better. It could be nutrition, and late-night snacking. Maybe it was getting regular and adequate , and water. Many newbies will notice when beginning their fitness journey that it was consistency with workouts on a week-to-week basis that held them back the most.

Regardless of your weak points when you begin your next program you look to focus in on improving these, and perfect your fitness system. So you lost only 5 lbs in your first 3 months. Congratulations on completing your first fitness program. I can guarantee by incorporating goal setting, and evaluating your training in this way your progress will improve over time. You’ll be losing 15 pounds with the next program.

Realistic Rates of Progress:

For Muscle Gain:

Lyle’s Model:

Years of Proper Training Potential Rate of Muscle Gain per Year
1 20 – 25lbs
2 10 – 12lbs
3 5 – 6lbs
4+ 2 – 3lbs


Alan’s Model:

Category Rate of Muscle Gain
Beginner 1 – 1.5% total body weight per month
Intermediate 0.5 – 1% total body weight per month
Advanced 0.25 – 0.5% total body weight per month


For Fat Loss:

Syatts Model:

Body Type Amount of Fat Loss per Week
Lean 0.25lbs – 0.85lbs/week
Moderate 0.85lbs – 1.5lbs/week
Overweight 1.5lbs – 3.0lbs/week



Use these tables and set realistic goals for your time and effort.

Do not get discouraged when you’re not getting the results you want.

Continue your efforts, and never give up. People do not plan to fail. They fail to plan.


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