KISS Training – less stress, more gains!


After working with hundreds of clients over the last decade, if I had to single out the biggest training mistake among gym goers, it would be making their training too complicated for their current level of conditioning and training age.


Too much detail, too little groundwork – chances are you do it too

Like many of you, my journey into the world of strength and conditioning began by reading bodybuilding magazines and Internet articles written by various “gurus”. This, combined with the enthusiasm of a newbie gym rat, led me to believe that effective training equals 5 part split programs, ultra complicated periodization and training methods with exotic names.

After starting my exercise physiology studies I started to attend many seminars and courses that featured Olympic athletes and their coaches. I quickly found out that they were doing way less complicated strength training than I was. As a typical newbie smart ass, I also asked them questions about their possible use of particular features of the latest super training method found on the Internet. And they responded to me “Do we use WHAT?” What a wakeup call.

Nowadays, it sometimes breaks my heart to see a skinny girl doing dumbbell presses with a 10 pound dumbbell as a part of her new 5 part split program shoulder day, or watching a 150 pound psychotic male trainee going through endless chest isolation exercises and asking for advise for myofascial stretching techniques to induce muscle growth and about possible addition of more specific amino acids into his latest supplement program. Obviously this isn’t the optimal way to go, so what to do?


Build the base – keep-it-simple-smart

I suggest you make your training simple enough and concentrate on building a super-solid base, so that you won’t have to make stupid mistakes I made. Be a smart trainee instead. If you can seriously call yourself an advanced trainee, the go ahead and be fancy, but otherwise, here are some tips to build not only a foundation, but also very likely more mass and strength than you are getting out from your current workout routine.


1. Train often enough.

More frequent training helps to build strength faster. Research shows that beginners and intermediate trainees need 2–3 weekly sessions to build strength optimally. Complicated split programs just don’t fit into this picture. But why is training with whole body or a 2 day split program the optimal choice for a beginner or even sometimes for an intermediate trainee?

It enhances neural adaptations to strength training both via intramuscular and intermuscular co-ordination. Intramuscular co-ordination means that you learn to recruit small units of muscle, motor units, more efficiently. Intermuscular co-ordination, in turn, means the optimal co-operation of various muscles involved in the lifting task. So strength and muscle activation is a skill that needs to be practiced more often than once a week.

If you jump straight into a 5 day split program, it takes you months to build the mind-and-muscle connection properly so that you really learn to activate and “feel” a certain muscle group properly. Increased frequency via whole body training or a very simple split teaches you to activate an individual muscle much, much quicker.

Also, strength is a skill. Frequent training of squats, deadlifts, presses and chins leads to quick development in intermuscular co-ordination – your muscles work together instead of working against each other, which they literally do if you are a beginner.


2. Protein synthesis is not stimulated often enough

After a training session, muscle breakdown and repair accelerates for approx. 48 hours. This is the period when a lot of muscle is built. This doesn’t mean that the muscle is fully recovered after this, but it means that the muscle will soon need a new stimulus. There’s very seldom a need for 168 hour (one week) repair period often found in advanced split programs.

For a beginner and an intermediate it’s way better to stimulate this rebuild process every 3–5 days. And this goes hand in hand with neural adaptations. You’ll get stronger through neural adaptations, you’ll build muscle faster through more frequent stimulus of protein synthesis, and this cycle reinforms itself.


3. Your work capacity increases

Most intermediate trainees who come to me to break a plateau are in horrible shape in terms of their work capacity. When I put them through a workout they should be able to easily tolerate (considering their training age), they start gasping for breath, their performance from set to set drops dramatically, and they even puke. I often do this to wake them up a little bit: maybe doing only 12 sets of chest in 1,5 hours between sets isn’t the only way to go – all the time.

Using whole body training or simple splits, it’s pretty easy to ramp up volume. If you use e.g. agonist-antagonist supersets, you can further increase your training volume. Soon you’ll be able to handle a much bigger training load, recover faster and make greater gains. 


4. You’ll get bigger hormonal responses

Levels of various blood hormones rise during a strength-training workout. This is called a hormonal response. Compound lifts, such as deadlift, squat, bench and chins, cause biggest hormonal response. Also, a large volume training session also causes a bigger response than doing just a couple of sets. Research is still somewhat controversial about how significant this response is for muscle growth. Yet, this is another reason why jumping straight into split programs or continuously searching for a more complicated split can slow down your progress. Training arms only will result in much smaller testosterone and growth hormone response compared to e.g. whole body training of push-pull split.


Putting theory into practice

Now, let’s look at some basic structures for base work. You can use these frames to build a simple enough periodized program. Let’s start with a whole body training, which I very often use to kick-start development in either a sole beginner or an intermediate client, who’s stuck in a plateau.


Whole body periodized training program


4–5 compound exercises

2–4 isolation exercises

Use periodization either in a linear way

1 month of 12–15 reps

1 month of 8–10 reps

1 month of 5–6 reps

Train 2–3 times per week

Note: You can unload the fourth week of each one-month period. Use 50–60% of the volume of previous week.

or undulating way

2–3 months mesocycle where you alternate sessions of 3–6 and 8–15 rep ranges with slight variations between exercises and rep/set schemes.


Two day split program

Use a simple split

Split your training into two parts. Do upper body/lower body split or push-pull split – both them do fine.

Use periodization in a linear way or non-linear way.


Mesocycle 3+1* weeks 12–15 reps
Mesocycle 3+1* weeks  8–10 reps
Mesocycle 3+1* weeks  5–6 reps

*Unloading microcycle. Use 50–60% of the volume of previous week.


Monday lower body 3–4* weeks 3–6 reps

Wednesday upper body 3–4* weeks 3–6 reps

Friday lower body 3–4* weeks 12–15 reps

Saturday upper body 3–4* weeks 12–15 reps

*Do an unloading microcycle every fourth week.


In case of a total beginner, I would use a more linear-type approach for the first couple of months. Intermediates often benefit greatly from the undulating model, as variety is more constant in terms of motor unit activation and the energy systems used.

Now it’s time to start building your base: keeping it simple – yet extremely effective! Set your KISS training mesocycle into RecoApp and watch your lifts go up. Get into it!


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Timo Haikarainen, MSc, Finnish personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach.

Markus Mäntynen, the CEO and founder of RecoApp Oy.


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