It’s Not The Program

13 Feb

Writing a solid program is important. I find programming to be a hot topic, and for good reason – it’s interesting! As coaches it’s an obvious choice to write about because the options are plentiful. There are an overwhelming amount of exercises and a seemingly infinite amount of ways to organize someone’s training. When a coach writes a program they have a lot of variables to manage. This makes for great content and promotes a lot of discussion as to what the best way to go about basically the same task is.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t put time into programming. I’d also be lying if I said that I don’t think the way I program is the best way to do it (I know of). I’m not saying there isn’t a better way – that’s why I’m always reading, learning, and most importantly doing. However, if you have:

  • a reason for what you’re writing
  • and that reason is the accumulation of all that you know about this stuff
  • and you apply it to the person at hand’s needs
then you should think the way you’re going about training is the best way. I think there would be a bigger issue if you did not. It’s not taking an absolute stance to say that, it’s what you should believe if you’re prepared.

Writing a program is not as easy as just choosing some good exercises and having balance. After all, if you give an unbalanced person a balanced program they are still going to be unbalanced when it’s over. Or what if you take the time to develop the best program you can and they don’t do it? Additionally, what if they do the whole program without performing the majority of the movements correctly?

While the variables that go into writing a program are all important considerations, having a program itself is a variable on a much more important level. In reality the program is not the most important variable at all.

Here are some other factors that will have a much larger effect on the success of your client and your own training:

  1. Assessing:
The assessment is crucial to the whole process. Like we always say: if you’re not assessing, you’re just guessing. I like to think the assessment starts the first time I meet someone and really never ends; assess and re-assess. The assessment process should include all the following:
  • Posture
  • Movement Quality
  • Flexibility / Stability / Mobility
  • Performance
  • Lifestyle
  • Goals
  • Attitude
  • Training History
  • Medical History
Without a detailed assessment, and the mindset of continual assessment, you will have a hard time getting anywhere. As you can see most of the second tier variables are gathered during this process.
2. Technique Coaching / Cueing:
As a trainer or coach this is a HUGE part of what you do! There are plenty of intelligent people writing programs online. Many of the good ones even do an assessment. However, they aren’t there to coach the lifts and this can lead to a lot of technique issues. The ability to teach the lifts well is going to shorten the learning curve tremendously. The faster you are able to get people doing things right the faster they can start making progress safely. It is important as a coach that you make it to hands on seminars, spend time under the bar yourself, and of course…coach people. As far as your own training goes, seek out someone who can teach you. Surround yourself with people who do things right and learn from them.
3. Compliance / Accountability:
Anything works if you do it consistently. Squats work and so do foot elevated split squats. Olympic lifts work and so do jumps and med ball work. Hour long “cardio” works and so does high intensity interval training. You just have to do it right and do it often. Therefore, the medium in which you use to facilitate a certain result pales in comparison to the importance of getting people, or yourself, to show up. Put systems in place to monitor compliance. Make sure (based on your assessment) you develop a plan that can be adhered to.
4. Training Management:
This kind of piggy backs on the previous areas. You need to intelligently monitor yours and your client’s training. The perfect program doesn’t exist. It doesn’t exist. It’s important to listen to your body and adjust accordingly. It’s also important to develop an eye for monitoring your client. Maybe they didn’t sleep last night or just aren’t recovering from the training load, who knows, but you have to be flexible. If the bar speed on a warm up set looks or feels slow maybe you don’t push the working sets to where they were written for that day. If you know your client is dragging ass, don’t push them where their body isn’t ready to go. Ask questions, be observant and adjust.
5. Intangibles:
You have little control over this. Some people are wired differently than others. The fact is, the simple program executed with unyielding effort will produce more results than the complex program executed with little effort. That being said, understand the type of person you are, or that you are working with. Apply a training method that plays into their character. I am not a huge fan of giving people things to do that just mindlessly run them into the ground but inserted reasonably to develop mental fortitude it can have a purpose. Other people need to be engaged all the time, pairing mobility drills with an exercise can force them to rest appropriately between sets.
In ending, I wrote this post to help people and coaches prioritize what’s important. There’s no reason you can’t take these areas into account AND write a solid program to boot. Realize that in 90% of the cases it’s not the program that makes the difference. If the larger variables are considered the program is a catalyst.


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