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3 Thursday Thoughts on Strength and Conditioning Program Design

Written on November 9, 2017 at 7:45 am, by Eric Cressey

Without a doubt, program design is one of the most challenging things for up-and-coming coaches to learn. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts on the topic - and I may even turn this into a regular series.

1. Volume matters.

I just counted them up, and it turns out, I wrote 105 programs in the month of October. I've basically been doing this since 2001, and in these kind of volumes since we opened Cressey Sports Performance in 2007.

When you do anything 3-4 times per day, eventually, it becomes a lot easier. This is why I encourage young coaches to seek out opportunities to program early on in their careers as often as possible. Have a family member who wants to drop 20 pounds? Offer to write something up. Have a buddy who wants a bigger bench press? Write up a specialization program. The best learning experiences will come when they report back on their experiences and you tinker with the program on the fly, but truthfully, even if they don't actually follow through on the program, you'll get better from going through the process. 

Moreover, make sure you have a wide variety of clients early on in your training career. You want to program for everyone from athletes, to general fitness folks, to post-rehab cases.

Be a good generalist to build a foundation for becoming a specialist later. Click To Tweet

2. Get some momentum.

Never, ever sit down to write a single program. Rather, always block off some time where you can write several in a row.

Programming is just like any other skill you practice; you need to find your groove. While I write programs every day, the truth is that I feel like the process comes more easily when it's 6-7 in a row on a Sunday night than 1-2 on a Tuesday morning. Like everything in life, "deep work" creates superior results - so try to find blocks of time devoted exclusively to programming.

If you're early in your career and don't have a lot of them to write, use it as an opportunity to write programs for hypothetical clients, or use it as a chance to review old programs you've written - and update them with new things you've learned.

3. Remember that programming is both a science and an art.

If you take two really skilled, experienced strength and conditioning coaches and have them write a program for the exact same athlete, you might get two markedly different programs. Coaches usually agree on the 90% of principles, but may disagree on the means to accomplish objectives. Just because one coach prefers to use block pulls and another likes trap bar deadlifts in month 1 doesn't make either of them incorrect. It's just an opportunity to highlight that there is an artistic component that goes hand-in-hand with the true science behind creating adaptation with training.

That said, there are scenarios where you don't get "poetic license" with your program. As an over the top example, you won't ever be able to convince me that a behind-the-neck barbell press is a good initiative in a 65-year-old man who is six weeks post-op on a rotator cuff repair. Science is so strong in some cases you can't even get to the art discussion; you have to earn the right (with your education) to get to that point.

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