Program Design & the Little Things

Since taking my new position in North Carolina, I’ve focused much of my thought into not only the training and rehab that I commit, but also how do I think through developing a brand new training system for both a culture that has been slow to change in the past and a staff that probably dont/didn’t have FMS, Mike Boyle, and purposeful training on the tips of their tongues.

Here are some bullets and notes I’ve made over the last 6 months to try to sum up how to organize not so much the program, but the thoughts behind the program.  What are potential limiting factors?  Where does the thought process start and get you to?  What does a methodology represent?
I think it can apply to the most general of one-on-one training relationships in a big box gym to managing 24 sports @ a D1 University of Somewhere State.

This is something I wrote up several months ago to represent the entire program, and it’s integration of the physical piece of the program with the mental and spiritual pieces.
Program Methodology
Some verbage was altered for that post to make it useful to a general program, not just what we do in my setting.

Limiting Factors to a Program
All of the below questions are things I’ve thought about and had to deal with in developing a program.  I think you need all of these things in tow to have the vision for an excellent program.  You probably don’t need to have them all at once to start, but I do think you need to know about them for the future.  It’s pretty much a needs analysis for a great strength & conditioning program after you have a methodology in mind.
A glaring limitation in any of these components brings down the version of excellence.

Is it built just for you?

1.  The Facility
–Is it big enough?  Too big for cost effectiveness?
Is there enough open space to engage movement skills?
Do you share it with others?
Can you work through running/sleds/dynamic warmup?

2.  The Coach/Trainer
What does the Coach know?  Does he/she know what you know?
Do they want to know what you know?
Are they ready to be a waiter or waitress?  Do they identify that they are equally as important as the Chef or owner of the restaurant?
Are they smart?  Are they dumb?
Where has their experience been?
What are their long-term goals?

Do you have waiters and waitresses to carry out the orders?

3.  The Athlete/Trainee
Is the Athlete motivated to train?  To train using your methodology?  Are they required to use your methodology?
When/if they push back, where do you bend?
What is the training age of the athlete?  Do they know that?
What are the physical limitations of the athlete, and what are their impact on the ideal training methodology?

In developing the program, circuits, tri-sets, quad-sets, however you group your exercises and movements, I start to think of Rippetoe’s progressions that start with a main lift.
Then I’ll think Coach-Complement-Don’t Compete.
The key is to build the program around major indicator lifts that represent the big lifts or movements that you believe in.  When I suggest Rippetoe, I don’t push barbell lifts only.  I just try to think of if I only had ‘x’ amount of time, this is what I HAVE to do.

Advanced Program Design: Advanced Program Design DVD Set

It's either this or Westside, and they ain't all that different when it gets down to it.

1.  Coach
This is your main lift or movement, and it can stand alone.  There is no mandate  to have a functionally dense program, but I think that is the ultimate goal.  But how do we regress from that for a coach that doesn’t know much or an athlete with a low training age.  If you look at a period of time, this is the most important means to the end that you want.
This is the lift or movement you want to see to either provide feedback or scrap and change it if it is not the right choice.
Now the facility comes back into play.  Can you get the racks you want to squat?  Can you keep an eye on what else is going on with the other moves you want to use?

2.  Complement
Pick something that has low CNS intensity and that complements the main lift.
Complement can be a movement prep progression like ASLR or Dowel DL with the Deadlift as the main lift.
Complement might also be a mobility-based drill that is a component to the main lift.  Ankle mobility as a complement to the squat.

3.  Do Not Compete
Pick something that can serve as another key strength lift but does not “offend” the main lift.
This can be a pull-up that doesn’t typically challenge the body or the psyche when paired with a DL.
Certainly the pull-up is challenging, and it can be toned down to any technique that serves a purpose.  It may not be linked to the “Coached” Main Lift.

I’ve tried to teach that there should be common threads in every workout.  They may not be linear as you follow them, but there are principles that I want every training session to represent.
Without a doubt you can add complexity or stretch out certain components to tailor individual training sessions.

String as many of these together as you can.

Functional Density
–Trying to fit in as many qualities into the training session or each tri-set, etc. or unit of time.
–Through the whole workout: Self MFR, Specific Warmup, General Warmup, Power, Explosive, Strength, Conditioning
Joint by Joint
–It’s just the rules.  If it doesn’t fit into the Joint by Joint, you don’t do it.
–Self-Limiting exercises, Corrective Exercises that are proprioceptively rich and successful, Weights that are heavy as shit
–When you set up super-, tri-, and quad-sets that allow for centration around a main lift, you don’t need to rest much in going through the exercises and movements.
–The athlete should have no clue when the warmup ends and when the speed and agility training begins.
–You will have no need for long bouts of Interval Training if you go hard the whole workout.
–When you are focused on limit strength, you shift left on this one, and maybe spend more time on HIIT after the strength work.
–Coaching is teaching.  It’s guiding.  It’s doing as little as necessary but no less.  It’s doing what you need to for success.
–Coach yourself into a Programmer.  When all the athlete needs is the guidance of a structured program, you’ve done the job.  Then you become a motivater, and a strategist.
–Prepare before, during, and after.  Think about all of the common threads and make them all apparent.  Be able to explain the entire workout just using one of the common threads.
Set up the facility before the athlete or client is ready.  Don’t be chasing down a med ball when you are ready to move forward.  Set up the gym, and let it flow.

Better idea to coach before the whistle. Remind your folks of the most common factors, and maybe you won't have to coach after the whistle..

Especially in the early stages of putting in the program, which I did last week for our group in California, these are the phrases I think I said the most.  With the exception of Toes Straight, I think you can apply these cues to just about anything you do.

Heels Down
Toes Straight
Get Long
Chin Back, Pack the Neck
Huge Grip
Breathe through your Belly Button
Push the floor away from you

These do not apply to every exercise, so no, toes shouldn’t be straight when you squat, and not every technique involved lower quarter propulsion.  These cues though I really find apply to maybe 90% of every exercise or movement we should be using.

All in all, I think this information applies to anybody and everybody.  These are just the thoughts that have permeated my game plan in trying to put together something that would serve the folks that work for us and the folks we are all trying to train.  It’s not for the military or “combat athlete.”  The notion that they need anything different than anybody else is total myth and nonsense.
Move better.  Get Strong.  Get Fast.  Do all of the above for longer periods of time.
This stuff is for everybody.

I tried to make it all about just filling in the blanks based on your specific (and hopefully growing) skill set and resources and based on the needs of the individual you are working with.
And it applies to training or rehab.  You just go with what you have and prioritize with the above thoughts, maybe just in a contracted nature.

Rehab=Training, Training=Rehab.  Sounds kinda catchy.

  • January 30, 2011

Leave a Reply 7 comments

Carson Boddicker Reply

Very insightful, Charlie. Gives me new concept in writing my own methodology manual.

Carson Boddicker

Coach Len Kuhn Reply

Charlie; as a coach with a span of ovr 30 years, It gives me great pleasure have read the above. Coaching is absolutely teaching, the only thing I would add is passion, you (in my opinion) must be passionate.

Sean Reply

Charlie- this is a great read. Great points on coaching.

jeff3544 Reply

Delighted to follow your way forward in spite of the obstacles a couple of us pointed out. As we discussed, the need is acute. Looking forward to follow on SitReps.

Chris Kelly Reply


Fantastic blog.

I just finished you’re DVD and I am really impressed by your ability to break down complex and broad topics in to practicle information. Now, I wonder if any of those trainers actually used it.

Keep up the great work and I plan to send a testimonial your way.


Charlie Reply

Great words, Chris. Thank you, Sir.

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