I Asked ChatGPT to Write Me a Training Program and This Was the Result

Like us, you’ve probably read a lot in the news about how powerful AI (Artificial Intelligence) is becoming, and all the cool things that it can do. Simply put, it is the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think like humans and mimic their actions. Heck, you can even code with it! We recently started playing around with a new AI system called ChatGPT, and asked it to write us a training program. The results were pretty interesting…

ChatGPT’s Training Program

When we asked ChatGPT to write us a training program, it gave us a pretty simple training program that wasn’t inherently bad. We did however notice that it lacked a few key components.

We asked: “Hey ChatGPT! Can you please write me a training program for 2 days a week in a table format?” Check out the program it laid out for us below. It included similar exercises to what we would incorporate in our client’s training programs at Ivy Training, however we can see a few red flags (which like most red flags, may not be obvious at first glance).

Red Flags 🚩

Before we get into the nitty-gritty details of ChatGPT’s program, we’d like to say that getting yourself to the gym and following any training program is better than doing nothing. However, here are a few red flags that we noticed when reading over it.

1. There is no reference to intensity.

We covered The Four Pillars of Fitness recently, and intensity is one of those important pillars. Any decent training program will specify intensity by using RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion), RIR (Repetitions in Reserve) or a percentage of e1RM (estimated 1 Repetition Max). ChatGPT doesn’t reference anything to do with intensity, so how are we meant to know how hard we’re meant to push these sets? What loads should we select? Because the level of effort is left undefined, we’re left in the dark about weight selection. At Ivy Training, we primarily use RPE to prescribe effort and gauge how hard a set is for our clients. We don’t want our clients working to failure, but we also don’t want it to be a walk in the park. Our aim is to select an intensity that is challenging enough to be stimulating, without accumulating too much fatigue.

2. There is no variation in the sets and reps.

The next red flag that we noticed is that each exercise is 3 sets of 8-10 reps. Whilst there is nothing inherently wrong with sets of 8-10, it doesn’t necessarily allow for higher intensities. This is because the number of reps is inversely related to the training intensity or load. We would also argue that most individuals would benefit from using a variety of different rep ranges. Lower reps will increase the training intensity and expose your muscles to high levels of force, which will result in unique adaptations that improve stiffness under heavy loads (making someone stronger). Conversely, higher reps are useful for accumulating enough training volume in a time-efficient manner and secondly, improves local muscular endurance.

3. It doesn’t tell us how long we need to rest for.

Depending individual factors, rest time will vary program to program and exercise to exercise. ChatGPT has failed to establish any rest period, so how are we meant to know how long to rest? Is 30 seconds enough? Is 5 minutes too much? It all depends on the context! Generally speaking, we like to keep our rest times between 30 seconds and 3 minutes. This is quite a difference, but as a guide we will typically use shorter rest periods (30-60 seconds) for smaller isolated/accessory exercises and longer rest periods (2-3 minutes) for larger barbell movements. The reason we allow longer rest periods for barbell movements is due to them recruiting larger muscle groups, and therefore requiring more recovery between sets. It takes us a bit longer to feel “ready” (physically and mentally) to hit a heavy set of deadlifts than it does for a dumbbell bicep curl.

4. There is no description on warming up to your working sets.

This was the most problematic for us. We would describe warming up as preparing the body for the physical demands of the task at hand, and priming the nervous system to best perform that task at hand. We’d argue that anything else is either superfluous, fatiguing or unhelpful. Whilst there is no harm in doing “light cardio exercise for 5-10 minutes” as ChatGPT outlined, that type of physical activity isn’t going to prime you for your Barbell Squats that you have following. At Ivy Training, we like to start with body weight or the empty barbell, before increasing the load incrementally until you get to your target weight. We have another fantastic blog on Everything You Need To Know About Warming Up if you’re eager to learn more.

5. Does the cool down serve any purpose?

At the end of the program, ChatGPT prescribed 5-10 minutes of “Any stretching exercises for major muscle groups”. Not only do we find this a bit vague, but we’d also question the purpose. If we dig into the latest research on stretching, there is not a sufficient amount of evidence to support the implementation of stretching to prevent injury or improve joint mobility. We’d say skip the stretch and add in some more work for that 5-10 minutes, whether that be an extra set or an extra exercise.

Conclusion

As we mentioned earlier, it’s better to have some structure to your workout than none at all. However, ChatGPT has oversimplified the process of writing a training program for an individual. It doesn’t take into account the important red flags outlined throughout this blog, and overall we’d argue that it doesn’t structure the training week as well as what what we (or other personal trainers) could. It didn’t ask us about our goals or capabilities, or whether we had any injuries that needed to be accounted for. ChatGPT definitely has a place in this world (much to Jake’s dismay), but sometimes you can’t beat human interaction and an individualised approach.

Resources

  1. https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD007455.pub3/full?highlightAbstract=stretching&highlightAbstract=stretch
  2. https://www.painscience.com/articles/stretching.php#rr
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8120977/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29470825/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29324578/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31260419/

The Four Pillars of Fitness: Intensity, Volume, Frequency and Exercise Selection

As you settle into Ivy Training you might hear us mention unfamiliar terms. Our goal is to simplify the language used when discussing health promoting habits, behaviours and training. What follows will be an overview of four important concepts covered in training, what we refer to as the four pillars of fitness. These are Intensity, Volume, Frequency and Exercise Selection. Today’s discussion will not dig into the weeds of exercise science and maximising performance. Instead, this will be a brief, evidence-informed overview relevant to someone looking to become fitter, stronger and healthier in a personal training context.

Intensity

The first of the four pillars of fitness is intensity. Intensity and the term intensiveness often get confused. Specifically, intensity refers to the load on the bar relative to an individual’s estimated 1 repetition max (% of e1RM). Intensiveness refers to simply how “hard something feels”. You can have an exercise that feels hard yet low intensity. Low intensity sets should be taken close to failure to be challenging. The crossover of intensity and intensiveness is proximity to failure

Proximity to failure refers to how many more repetitions an individual could perform with an exercise at a given weight before being unable to perform any more. If you are lifting a high intensity load, the total rep count will be lower and vice versa. For instance, 5 reps at 81% would have a similar proximity to failure as 10 reps at 68%. In both instances, the sets are about 2-3 more reps shy of failure.

To neatly compare intensity, intensiveness and proximity to failure, we use the terms RPE and RIR. RPE stands for Rate of Perceived Exertion and RIR stands for Repetitions in Reserve. We have used a graph below to show the relationship between the terms and flesh out the details more. In the graph you’ll notice the phrase “bar speed” which can also be termed “velocity loss”. This is a nice visual analogue to effort.

Try it yourself – do a set of push-ups and push as hard as you can before failing, you’ll notice those last couple of reps are an absolute grind! “Bar speed” slows as the effort required increases.

Volume

Volume in its simplest form refers to the amount of work done (whereas intensity is the magnitude of the work). It can be calculated as the number of repetitions performed for an exercise, muscle group, movement or session. However, without a magnitude, the volume in isolation isn’t a very useful metric. Volume does nothing to describe the stimulus of the work done.

For instance, for those who have already developed an aerobic base, running won’t build muscle. However, if we were to count “volume” while running you would accumulate thousands of reps! This doesn’t mean it’s “effective” as a stimulus. Volume is only useful to consider when the work is sufficiently intense to impart a mechanical stimulus onto the target muscle(s).

Therefore, when magnitude is considered, volume can be a useful parameter. For example, if I just told you a program had a High Bar Back Squat volume of “30” it could mean the following: 10 sets of 3, 3 sets of 10 or 6 sets of 5. Each of those schemes can stimulate muscle growth with the correct intensity. Although performance outcomes may vary. Exercise volume and strength adaptations exhibit a graded dose-response relationship. This means up to a point, more productive training produces better results.

We can’t give exact recommendations but 2-3 sets for each major muscle group, at the appropriate RPE is a reasonable start. From there we use soreness, fatigue and progression (or lack thereof) as an indicator of either too much or too little volume.

Frequency

Frequency describes the number of training sessions performed per muscle group or movement in a given period of time. The time frame most often used is 1 week, typically termed a “microcycle”. As frequency increases for a particular movement or muscle group, training volume can increase. The simplest way to consider this is that frequency is a function of volume. That is, a higher frequency allows for more effective training volume. Too much work in one session can negatively attenuate the training stimulus.

If strength performance is more important than muscle growth and general health, a higher frequency may be ideal. This is due to allowing for fatigue management and hitting each lift fresh. Consider the following thought: would you feel most fresh performing 3 sets of bench press three times a week or 9 sets in one day?

We argue that frequency relies upon volume and intensity. Although, personal circumstance should be the deciding factor. For instance, some of our clients enjoy cross-training with activities such as running or swimming. Distributing training volume per muscle group across multiple days can potentially offset delayed onset muscle soreness and therefore, not interfere with other activities. In other instances, we might be trying to really increase the size of a certain muscle group and therefore, it’s more efficient in time-constrained sessions to prioritise that muscle-group within a session.

Exercise Selection

Exercise selection is a bit of a paradox. For instance, it can be unspecific and effective but also at times needs to be very specific. Here’s what I mean: If you were to compete in Powerlifting, you HAVE to Squat, Bench and Deadlift. I mean… that’s the sport! Yes, your intensities can at times be low (for higher volume work) or high (for strength developing and peaking) but you’ve always got to Squat the very least! 

For the purpose of general health and fitness, we believe exercise selection should be about:

  • General transferability
  • Training large amounts of muscle mass
  • Using a long range of motion
  • Exercises that have potential to improve over the long term

Ultimately training resources are NOT infinite – we have to make decisions with our time, resources and allocation of effort and therefore, there will simply be better or worse decisions to make in that regard. Moreover, we simply have to start somewhere! At Ivy Training we believe that teaching people a good foundation of barbell strength training will set up a lifter in the long term. This will include Squatting, Bench Pressing and Deadlifting (and/or variations of those movements) as they tick all the boxes discussed above. As time goes on, our clients will have a more robust history of training to draw upon and make decisions about which exercise seems to suit them best.

Conclusion

Training variables should aim to eventually be individualised. The four pillars of fitness: Intensity, Volume, Frequency and Exercise Selection should be appropriate to the individual, their physical, environmental and psychological resources and their goals. Importantly, an individual does not outpace their coverage by working at any level of the variables they are not yet accommodated to.

We hope you found this brief overview of the four training variables useful. A simple way to remember these variables is that how often, how hard and how much it is that you train a specific thing, should be related to your schedule, goals, preferences, and trainability. At Ivy Training we aim to provide you with the most suitable option for your training.