Updated: May 26
Before I sat down to write this article, I calculated that I write approximately 120+ individualized programs each month- and I would say that I have written well into the thousands of total training programs so far in my career!
Over my 13 years of coaching, I have accumulated a training program database that me and my team use to work with all of our clients. It has taken a LOT of work to develop all of these programs from scratch and they are simply our templates and training organized in an easy to access manner, which also allow individual adjustments for our clients.
All great coaches have different approaches or philosophies to some degree, yet all have one main thing in common.
Effective coaches know that training CANNOT be random or unorganized in order to elicit the greatest possible training effect.
The days of throwing a workout on a white board for everyone to follow is gradually becoming less preferred. Yes, many great training sessions happen this way, but remember that my goal with this article is not to address how to have a great training session, it is how to organize a program for maximal effectiveness- these are not the same thing!
There must be some order, a plan and sound reasoning for how training programs are put together. This is especially true for more advanced and elite individuals, however it is still very important for beginner and intermediates, especially with regards to safety and load control.
It really is that simple if you sum it up…have a plan and know what that plan is trying to accomplish.
Overall, effective programming needs to be a few things:
Organized and specific
Appropriate for the individuals current capabilities
Realistic and attainable
With this idea in mind, here are 5 Key factors to consider when organizing a training program:
1. Have a specified goal for the training session
Whether you are a distance runner, powerlifter or volleyball player; any training session you complete should have a goal connected to it. This may be a strength session for a marathon runner with minimal eccentric stress to avoid muscle damage and soreness, or it may be a vertical power and single leg strength focus for a basketball player. Either way, the exercises selected, the loads used and the intensity should all compliment the rest of the training week and other stresses the individual will endure in the run of a week or training block. Sometimes, this obviously cannot be just determined in black and white, so this is where well experienced coaches who can adjust on the fly come in.
2. Use progressions and regressions for the fundamental movement patterns
As training progresses or as injuries occur along the way, there will be a need for progressions and regressions within the main movement patterns (push, pull, squat, hinge, carry, etc…). Try not to get too married to one exercise or movement pattern. Change can be a very good thing, and addressing weaknesses with special or alternate exercises, or adjusting for injuries is just smart training. Don’t be stubborn, and learn to recognize when a change is needed.
3. Focus on progressive overload
No matter what your sport, experience level or current fitness level, a focus on progressive overload is necessary to ensure adequate mechanical tension and continuous strength improvements throughout a training cycle. I have talked about this before in other articles, but it is a good idea to make it clear that you MUST push to do more total work in order to force your tissues to adapt. This can occur in a lot of ways (more weight, more reps, longer set time, change in tempo, higher percentage of your max, etc…).
Constant progressions will yield long term returns. Be prepared to work hard and push for extra if you want to get the most out of your time and training.
4. Address any personal weaknesses somewhere in the program design
This is such an important point, that I think I’ll make another blog article specifically dedicated to addressing your own weaknesses. Often times I will have 4-10 clients on the same program. This simply makes sense, since the program is well designed and follows logical programming guidelines, designed to produce improvements over time. However, each of those “same” programs, may have anywhere from 1-10 minor “tweaks” within it, specifically selected for a given individual.
While one person may be able to perform a high bar back squat, another may not. This individual may still have the same set/rep prescription as the other person, however they are instead doing a wider stance safety bar squat.
Likewise, another person may need isometrics and higher volume in order to achieve an appropriate stress on a new to them exercise, while another more experienced lifter may have a heavily weighted version and is performing drop sets. Know yourself, or find someone who knows you. When you start tightening the bolts, things really start to come together!
The point here is that if the programming is not suited to address your personal weaknesses, then you certainly won’t be maximizing your training and worse yet, you may create new problems along the way
5. Prioritize your weaknesses
Finally, playing off of #4 above, I feel it is a phenomenal idea to prioritize your weaknesses in a training session. This does not have to be the focus of every session, however if you do what most people would want to do, which is perform all the things they like and are great at first, both time and energy will be far less at the end of training sessions.
This is a really common trap, and one that can be eliminated by simply plugging necessary exercises between other main work sets or even just performing some focused weak point work at the start of a training session. It will pay off big time, and your strengths may even start becoming your weaknesses.
I hope this article was useful to you. It doesn’t matter if you design your own programs, grab them from the internet or purchase them from a coach, either way it is always a great idea to become more informed.
If you need help in your own training, feel free to contact me anytime to discuss how Synergy can help you get organized!
Keep things simple and train hard!