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Programming Made Simple
In today’s world of strength and conditioning, weightlifting, powerlifting, and CrossFit, everyone seems to be looking for the perfect program. To be sure, there are programs that are better than others, but the program is only as good as the coaching, atmosphere, and determination that goes along with the program. The magic of a program lies more within the atmosphere, coaching feedback, and your own determination. There are certain elements that have to be present for a program to be successful. These elements should be obviously present. My goal in writing this is for you to recognize a solid program, so that you can choose a program wisely.
The first element that has to be present in a solid program is a steady increase in volume. There are several ways to do this linear, undulated, daily undulated, and other forms of periodization, but the one common theme is that you will be performing more work at the end of the year than at the beginning. There are several popular programs out there that do a poor job at steadily increasing volume. For the body to signal an adaptation process, there has to be a stimulus. It’s like working a blue collar labor intensive job. For example, when someone begins a job like logging, the first few weeks are terrible. They will get tired and sore, and they will struggle to keep up with the veteran workers. After the first month, their body will adapt, the soreness will ease, and they will be working at a much faster rate. Their body has strengthened and become more efficient in the tasks. The same goes for any type of strength and conditioning.
Weightlifters need the reps and sets to get stronger and to become more efficient at weightlifting. Football players need sprinting, jumping, and strength to force their bodies to get stronger and faster. Work capacity is one’s ability to perform work. The higher an athlete can increase their ability to perform work, the stronger and faster they can become. This simple concept holds true for all sports: wrestling, powerlifting, football, MMA, and all the rest. Volume is something that all coaches should be aware of when writing programs, and if not, they are not doing their athletes justice.
Second the program has to address weaknesses. Every athlete is different, so a one size fits all approach is really not the best option. If someone is strong but immobile, then the program has to address mobility. If an athlete is super mobile, but lacks the stabilization to maintain positions, then exercises to address those stability issues are necessary. If a football player wants to get faster in the 40 yd. dash, then program needs to incorporate speed mechanics, deep squats, cleans, posterior chain, acceleration work, and mobility. It’s a simple concept that is often overlooked.
Also, periodic deloads and a taper before competition needs to be present. A steady climb in periodization needs to have periodic deloads present for the body to compensate for the extra high demands. There are several ways to do it, but in my programming we follow 4 week block periodization with the fourth week being a type of deload. The last four weeks of a plan will be a systematic tapering process allowing full recovery and full body compensation to take place. This will ensure the body’s readiness for competition. A perfect taper will have the athlete primed for his or her event which is the whole point of the plan. The tapering process brings us to the next component of programming, recovery.
Recovery has to be addressed for an athlete to be fully prepared for battle. All athletes workout hard, but it’s what they do when they are not working out that makes them great or not. We call this being the “Master of the Mundane”. An athlete needs to ask themselves if they are really doing everything that they can to get better. Recovery includes sleep, stretching, eating properly, massage, Active Release Technique, Chiropractic, and anything else that will help the body recover from the high demands of being a top athlete. If a program doesn’t at least address these things, then it is doomed to fail. There is no such thing as overtraining, just under recovering.
An athlete must practice what’s important often. If you are a weightlifter, you need to snatch and clean & jerk 3-4 times per week. If you are a powerlifter, you need to squat, bench press, and deadlift at least 2-3 times per week. Strength sports are no different than any other sport.
Basketball players practice basketball every single day. They don’t necessarily plan a game every day, but they do pick up the rock and practice. Why are strength sports any different? If you become more efficient at a movement, you will lift more weight. Period!
The last suggestion that I have for programming is “cut the fat”. If you don’t absolutely need an exercise in a program, get rid of it. Too many coaches simply throw the kitchen sink at their athletes hoping that something will work. I recommend focusing on the competition lifts and choose assistance exercises that target weaknesses.
Just to recap:
1. Volume must increase over time!
2. Address Weaknesses!
3. Periodic Deloads to acclimate to increased volumes.
4. Recovery must be a consideration
5. Practice what’s important often.
6. Cut the Fat! If you don’t need an exercise, get rid of it.
I recommend choosing a program wisely, but keep in mind that the program is only as good as the coaching feedback, atmosphere, and the work that you put into it. The best part of the internet age is that there is a lot of information out there for an athlete to choose. The worst part is that there is a lot of information out there. The key is being able to make educated decisions between all the options.
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