Home Posts tagged "Program Design"

Programming Principles: Installment 5

With my current sale on Sturdy Shoulder Solutions (use coupon code ST2021 to get $40 off through tomorrow/Thursday at midnight), it seemed like a good time to update this series on program design strategies. Many fitness professionals and strength and conditioning enthusiasts have looked to this resource as a model upon which to base some of their program design efforts, so I thought I'd dig in a bit deeper on a few useful principles you'll find in it that should be consistent across all programs.

1. Use your "pre-work" to address the most pressing issues.

In Cressey Sports Performance programs, you'll see five distinct "components" to each day in most programs:

a. Warm-ups
b. Pre-Work
c. Strength Training
d. Metabolic Conditioning
e. Cooldown

Of course, there's always some variation included. For instance, not every day will feature metabolic conditioning, and there may be training sessions that don't include strength training. All that said, when folks come to observe at CSP and take a glance at a program, they're often most intrigued about our "pre-work."

This section of the training session comes at the end of the warm-up and before the strength training for the day. Typically, it's power training that'll include some medicine ball work and sprint/agility/plyometric work. However, we'll often take it a step further and include some single-leg balance work, or even mix in some technique practice on something like a Turkish get-up. Basically, it's a bridge from the warm-up to the heavier lifting; we want this period to be all about athletes actually being athletic: moving fast, and being challenged in a rich proprioceptive environment. 

Typically, in this time period, there are some rest periods that athletes have a tendency to rush through. Since they don't feel very fatigued from a set of 6/side rotational medicine ball shotputs, they tend to rush from one set to the next. To get the most of these drills, though, we need to slow them down - and if we're going to have them rest, we might as well make it productive rest. To that end, we use the pre-work period as a great time to mix in some fillers. Here's an example we might use for an athletes with a flat thoracic spine and poor end-range external rotation control:

A1) Step-Behind Rotational Med Ball Scoop Toss: 3x4/side, 6lb
A2) Alternating TRX Serratus Slides: 3x6/side
B1) Side-to-Side Overhead Med Ball Stomps: 3x4/side, 10lb
B2) Prone External Rotation End-Range Lift-off: 3x(3x5s)

The secret is to pick the 2-3 highest priority movement struggles for each athlete and attack those in the 2-3 fillers you have each day in the pre-work. Over the course of a week, this could be an additional 15-20 sets to help get things moving in the right direction.

2. Proximal-to-distal almost always works great...almost.

Anyone who's followed my work knows that working proximal-to-distal is a strategy I like to employ when addressing movement challenges. The principle is simple: work on something toward the center of the body (e.g., neck positioning) and it'll often yield downstream benefits (e.g., shoulder range-of-motion) as we work our way to the extremities. One time you might backtrack this strategy, however, is when there is a known pathology more distally. I'll use myself as an example. I had a left knee meniscus repair (the first orthopedic surgery of my life) just over six weeks ago, and it has actually been a great learning experience for me.

As part of the surgery, my medical-collateral ligament had to be loosened (the equivalent of a Grade 2 sprain). There are some very specific post-op contraindications: I can't flex the knee beyond 90 degrees in weight-bearing right now, and any of the classic drills that take my hip into external rotation (like a cradle walk) and abduction (split-stance adductor mobs, or lateral lunge) can easily irritate the medial (inside) aspect of my knee. Additionally, when you're a bit limited in how much you can flex the knee during the gait cycle while in the brace, you tend to "cut off" hip extension on each stride. What does all this mean? The hip on my surgery side feels tighter than normal.

Sure, I can get creative with my hip mobility drills and even do some soft tissue work to settle down some muscles that can't be lengthened, but the best solution is actually a distal to proximal one: get my knee right! Sure enough, getting the swelling out of the joint early on and hitting all my ROM targets immediately improved the hip symptoms because my weight-bearing strategies improved.

The take-home message here is that before you look to integrate a proximal-to-distal approach, be sure your assessment picks up on any unusually "sticky" joints. And, where appropriate, refer those cases out to someone who can get them "unstuck."

3. Make your warm-ups more efficient so that you don't have to "sell" them as much.

Let's face it: people don't typically enjoy the warm-up period. It's without a doubt the "most likely to be skipped" part of any training session. We probably aren't going to change people's perspectives on this, but we can change the situation in which they operate. In other words, we can adjust our programming to make it logistically easier to complete for our clients/athletes. One way to accomplish this is to just structure the program in a more convenient context. To that end, here's how I like to structure a warm-up:

a. Ground-based (e.g., positional breathing drills, supine/quadruped mobility drills)
b. Standing, stationary (e.g., wall slides, bowler squats)
c. Standing, moving (e.g., classic dynamic warm-up drills like lateral lunges, spidermans etc.)

This approach saves the time of having athletes get up and get down over and over again; it's a more efficient flow.

Once you've incorporated this strategy, you can make them even more efficient by considering the location of any equipment - bands, benches, TRX straps, etc. - that they may need to complete the drills. In an individualized warm-up, putting these implements in convenient spots helps athletes keep their body temperature up while they're moving from one spot to the next.

Finally, you can always use "combination" exercises to attack multiple qualities in the same drill. As an example, an adductor stretch with extension-rotation gets you both hip and thoracic mobility.

I'll be back soon with another "Programming Principles" installment, but in the meantime, be sure to check out my popular resource, Sturdy Shoulder Solutions, at a great $40 discount through tomorrow (Thursday) at midnight. Just enter coupon code ST2021 at checkout at www.SturdyShoulders.com and it'll be applied.

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Programming Principles: Installment 4

With my recent sale on The High Performance Handbook, it seemed like a good time to update this series on program design strategies. Many fitness professionals and strength and conditioning enthusiasts have looked to this resource as a model upon which to base some of their program design efforts, so I thought I'd dig in a bit deeper on a few useful principles you'll find in it that should be consistent across all programs.

1. The warm-up should always build context for the strength and power training exercises that follow.

A good warm-up shouldn't just get your body temperature up; it should also be a chance to drive quality movement so that you're patterned for the loading that follows.

Planning to sprint and want to improve the likelihood that you'll get clean hip extension? Try a glute wall march iso hold.

Looking forward to a big overhead pressing day? Get in a set of the back-to-wall shoulder flexion drill.

[bctt tweet="Specificity doesn't just matter with respect to how your high-load and high-velocity movements carry over to performance; it also relates to how your warm-ups prepare you for those movements in the first place."]

2. In any program, the most important work should occur early in the training session.

In my opinion, one of the absolute ways to teach a young coach how to efficiently and effectively program is to ask him/her to take a 4x/week strength training program and pare it back to a 3x/week and eventually a 2x/week program. In doing so, it forces the coach to really consider what the most important programming inclusions are.

95% of the time, you'll find that it simply means cutting off the last exercise pairing from each day, trimming the volume on certain exercises, and then simply rearranging the exercises so that there aren't competing supersets (which can often happen when switching from an upper/lower split to a full-body approach). If you go through this exercise and find that any of your A1/A2 and B1/B2 programming is "expendable," then you probably need to reconsider your programming approaches.

3. Make use of combination exercises when you need to be efficient - or just more athletic.

Let's face it: you don't always have unlimited time to get in an optimal training effect. In this situations, it's really helpful to have exercises you can plug in to combine some of your favorites. Here are just a few examples:

Landmine Squat to 1-arm Press - I love this as a first exercise on the middle day of a 3x/week strength training program. You can train a squat pattern, get a bit of lower body stimulus, and still drive some free scapula pressing under considerable load.

Rear-Foot Elevated 1-arm Low Cable Row - This is a great horizontal pulling exercise you can plug in when you also want to get a little single-leg emphasis, but don't want to bury an athlete with fatigue or soreness. I might use it on a full-body day when we've already had a deadlift variation and lateral lunge variation, but I want some kind of single-leg work in the sagittal plane without making the session last much longer.

The possibilities are really endless on this front, but the point is that you always need to have options for delivering multiple training effects without driving excessive volume or really long sessions.

I'll be back soon with another Programming Principles installment, but in the meantime, be sure to check out my flagship resource, The High Performance Handbook, as an example of how I attack my programming.

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Performance Programming Principles: Installment 2

As I promised back in November, I've decided to dedicate a regular series to the principles that govern a lot of our program design at Cressey Sports Performance. Here's the second installment:

1. A few positional breathing drills can be a game changer, but don't let them take over the training session.

Positional breathing drills have really surged in popularity in recent years, largely thanks to the great work of the folks at the Postural Restoration Institute. Forceful exhalation in certain positions can both activate certain muscles and inhibit others. Take, for instance, TRX Deep Squat Breathing with Lat Stretch.

We're firing up several muscles of exhalation: rectus abdominus, external obliques, serratus anterior - and toning down our lats, rhomboids, lumbar extensors, and calves (to name a few). It's not uncommon for folks to get up from this exercise after 30 seconds and feel dramatically different.

That said, as is often the case in the fitness industry, if a little is good, then a lot must be better, right? It didn't take long for us to find the zealots who are spending 30 minutes doing positional breathing at the start of every training session. It's somewhat analogous to the folks who foam roll for an hour every day.

You're better off doing 1-2 breathing drills at the start of a warm-up (and possibly as a cool-down) and then following it up with good resistance training technique to make those transient changes "stick." Patience and persistence always win out over short-term "overindulgence."

2. Follow these two great Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA) strategies.

SFMA was one of the better courses I've taken in the past few years, and two programming principles they discuss really stand out:

a. Chase dysfunctional, non-painful patterns first.

Let's say someone walks in with a cranky shoulder that's limited into internal rotation: a dysfunctional, painful pattern. If you just throw caution to the wind and stretch that shoulder into internal rotation, more often than not, you're going to flare things up even further.

Let's say that individual also has a pronounced scapular anterior tilt and very limited thoracic extension and rotation. If you do some soft tissue work on pec minor and work in some thoracic spine mobilizations, there is a  very good chance that when you go back to retest shoulder internal rotation, it'll be improved and pain-free. Sometimes, the best way to get from A to B is through C or D.

b. Find and address areas were passive range-of-motion far exceeds active ROM.

There's a reason a lot of gymnasts and dancers retire with stress fractures in their lower backs; they have a lot of passive range-of-motion, but not always much motor control to stabilize those ranges of motion. This is why it's important to have assessments that test both passive and active ROMs (straight leg raises and supine vs. standing shoulder flexion are great examples). And, you need to have training initiatives that build control in those passive ranges.

3. Check out the Acumobility Ball.

I posted this on my Instagram and thought it might be of interest. The Acumobility Ball has been a game changer for us. You can save 10% on it at www.Acumobility.com with the coupon code cressey.

Here's a little example of how we'd use it on the pec minor/coracobrachialis/short head of biceps attachments on the coracoid process.

4. There's nothing that says you have to progress or regress programming - and there are many different ways to make lateral moves.

As few years ago, Charlie Weingroff coined the term "lateralizations" for times when you don't progress or regress an exercise, but rather, move laterally.

An example would be something along the lines of going from a standing 1-arm cable row to a split-stance 1-arm cable row. There really isn't any change to exercise complexity, but it does give the trainee some variety in their programming.

I'd say that lateralizations are the most useful with adult clients who don't have crazy lofty fitness goals - and therefore aren't interested in taking on a ton of risk in their training programs. They might not crave being sore all the time from all the innovative new exercises you can throw at them. Lateralizations can keep training fun via novelty without adding a steep learning curve.

Additionally, remember that exercise selection isn't the only way to progress or regress the challenge to the athlete or client in front of you. You can increase or decrease volume, alter the tempo, modify the load, or adjust the rest intervals.

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Performance Programming Principles

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.

[bctt tweet="Be a good generalist to build a foundation for becoming a specialist later."]

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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