Density-Based Program Design

Patrick Ward, Carson Boddicker, and I were e-mailing about a week ago about Patrick’s question about the NEED to program mobility during the strength and power portion of the program.  I think Coach Boyle would describe this packaging of as much quality into a finite period of time as creating training density in the program design.
Patrick was suggesting that maybe this could be contrived as the Warm-up section of the training session may be or should be enough to satisfy this part of the program’s goal.

I have to say that it just doesn’t matter.  Or it all just depends.

This level of programming thinking is simply based on all of us to some level trying to fit what we want into what someone else does.  And this is a critical approach that is very appropriate for many people.  It recalls back to Coach Boyle’s Cook or Chef article.  Dan John suggests the same thing.  Most clinicians automatically upgrade yourself by being a Mike Boyle clone.  Do what he does.
Dan John is asked why does he do rotation exercises?  Because Coach told me to.
Why do I do Z-Health drills?  Because Steve tells me to.
Sometimes it’s very okay to do it someone else’s way when you know he or she is just better than you at it.
You try it out and grow and get better………….if that’s who you are.

But there is no rule that says you have to do mobility in this super-, tri-, quad- style of design. I am much more interested in laying out, within the time I have and longer-term frame that I know, what I need.

I think we get caught up in this program density mantra, which again typically is the right thing for many people, just because this is how Boyle and AP, etc. set it up.
I think for the general population and individuals training for more than strength, you do need density, but mobility may not be a part of it. Our gumby girls do no mobility work after ankles-hips-shoulders which comes immediately after foam rolling.
For a 60 minute workout, at least 1 strength move is not accounted for, but these are the circuits………
Plyo landing – dynamic need – Med Ball
Power – Anterior Core – Need
Push-Pull-Leg-Need

We have a  young lady who just turned 15 and about 4 months after ankle reconstruction, this was a recent workout.
Foam Roll
Ankle-Hips-Shoulders
Bridge Series (Table Top feet together and heels together, Bridge, Clamshell, Bent Leg Side Bridge)
TGU w/30′ walk and back (16kgx1, 12kgx2)
Linear Warmup+Sprints
12″ jump and stick, 1-arm farmers 32kg, standing side med ball throws 8#
Front Squat (65×6, 75 2×6), Swiss Ball Rollouts, Standing Ankle Mob
SLDL 12kg, BP (65 3×5), TRX Inverted Rows (3×10), Birdog
Conditioning @ home

As a young novice lifter, we don’t fuss with a “power” move.
She destroyed her ankle.  She doesn’t need more mobility anywhere.
But someone else may do a mobility drill every opportunity they get.
Both programs would be excellent examples of density-based programming.

As you see my training logs, I am more training for strength, I do not program as much density as how I train others.

Bottom line is that programming decisions are so less important than moving well, working hard, and slow and fast strength.
I think it’s hard to be an expert of strength.  It’s just busting your ass and going hard.  There are so many program designs that work and work excellently.

The stuff that happens underneath requires less of a neanderthal mindset and some more patience for mobility to grow.

Perhaps more important is just do what someone else does sometimes.
Being a cook isn’t so bad.   Sometimes you miss ingredients even if you think your cake tastes good.

  • May 14, 2010

Leave a Reply 7 comments

Nate Brookreson Reply

Well said Charlie. If someone is getting great results and keeping people injury free, why not “borrow” from them? I’ve used Eric Cressey’s Ultimate Off Season Maunual with my athletes (while modfying it appropriately) because it’s really good stuff, and I get great results.

GregR Reply

I completely agree Charlie. I do not like to incorporate these tri-sets and quad-sets in my programs with athletes as I feel when you combine too many things together the athletes lose focus of the primary lift…ie the deadlift, hang clean, snatch, etc….We do all of our myofascial release, mobility, stability, activation work before any workout so we can place emphasis on them at that point in time. I find that when you combine things the athletes tend to do 2 things either skip over the the mobility/corrective work and/or as previously mentioned, lose focus on what the main exercise is at hand.

Ray Eades Reply

“It depends” always seems like the way to go. Plus going through as full a ROM as your body permits within the context of optimal movement mechanics will do nothing but help maintain mobility. Of course those who need more mobility for one reason or another would benefit from more frequent exposures, and the density approach just makes it possible to fit more in without having to free up more time. Of course some out there may take it a bit too far and try to cram too much in, but this is where individualization once again comes in……if it fulfills a pressing need and can be done with high enough quality, keep it in and as presently structured, and if quality takes a hit, drop an element (or shuffle it around) and focus on bringing up the quality of the biggest bang-for-your-buck elements before trying to compress things any further or add more elements to the mix.

As for the cook vs. chef issue, it is absolutely okay to be a cook in certain areas, provided you are borrowing your recipes from trustworthy, quality sources. But then again, I think the continuing education mindset may be partly to blame, as it often focuses in on the why. “Why” is a critical question for so many reasons, but sometimes I think we allow it to makes us afraid to say, “Because so and so says so, gets excellent results, and quite frankly knows more than I do in this particular area.” Blending one’s own common sense with the advice of a legitimate expert in any particular area can often go a long way. But for whatever reason, a borderline fear has been created among many where they find themselves afraid to admit they don’t know all the reasons why something works or how it all fits together and are simply using it as such because someone smarter than them does it that way and gets the desired result.

Charlie Reply

Ray – I may only take one exception with your post. Common sense isn’t always so common. Crunches, leg presses, and seated shoulder presses are quite common and pushed by big time names.

Sam.Leahey@gmail.com Reply

While this blog post and subsequent comments is all well and good and i totally agree; However, i think one point everyone may be missing in this discussion is that we never bothered to clarrify what setting of the proffesion we are refferring too.

I think if you practice in the private sector (training facilities) and YOU CHOOSE to run and individualized programming business model, then everything said applies.

However, if were talking about a collegiate setting where you may have 32 varsity teams and only 2 strength coaches and no GA’s you’re almost forced to use some form of a group program that everyone follows. While we would all agree this yeild less than optimal results and i would even say that with some elbow grease and organization you can attempt adding in some “individualization” a bit. The reality is many collegiate settings would struggle greatly trying to do that and end up resorting to the generic group program we all secretly frown upon. In this situation, i think the program design DOES matter. So much so that i would even go as far as to say it matters MORE in this setting then the “individualized” approach.

As Charlie was referring too, you can shuffle around and reorganize a persons program and still end up training the same qualities to match the appropriate goals. But its MUCH more difficult to program design for 30 athletes that’ll be in your weight room in 1 week with no time for assesments of each athlete. I this case i think it matters even more how you organize the training and the specifics of the program design SHOULD be something you really think about.

Just some thoughts. . .

Charlie Reply

Sam, I think your example demonstrates a lack of importance on specific program design. If atmosphere, size, coach:athlete ratio changes your design, AND you still get great results, I think that diminishes from the variable’s importance.

My point is that there are dozens are fantastic program designs from athletic development that are all more the same than different when you strip away the quad-sets or warm-up choices or how you train for power.

I would suggest that if you can add serious performance skills by improving movement quality or neuromuscular efficiency, THAT to me is the bread and butter and individual excellence.
Play the neuro games AND move well AND go big in the weight room is how you make a monster. There is so much variability to be excellent.

I would just prefer people didn’t hold on so tight to the so few wrong things to do.

Paul Lenart Reply

Yea I found myself at this point at one time, after first coming back from Cook’s seminar. I was at the point where I had all of my clients working much of their time on corrective strategies rather than performance. It took quite a while to learn how own the skills and actually figure out how to have them integrated so that skill remains a focus. Still I have not completely mastered all of it, but I think it was nescessary to start by following people wiser than me, until I really understood what the reasoning was to what they were doing. Thanks for this post Charlie always nice to hear some sort of reassurance.

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