We get asked often about our strength programs and what goes into them. We wanted to break down how we think about writing programs and what all goes into it. Full disclosure, these aren't brand new ideas - there's a ton of awesome content already out there that goes way more in depth than this blog post. There are also many excellent FREE strength training programs online - you don't have to pay for something in order for it to work. Everything in this blog is simply OUR perspective on strength programming.
What's the goal? Context is EVERYTHING
While the principles of building strength are actually pretty straightforward, the context of the goal at hand is going to affect the actual implementation. We would never coach a powerlifter prepping for competition the same way we would coach a high-school athlete. The powerlifter may require exercise selection favoring maximum efficiency in the low-bar squat, bench press, and deadlift, while the athlete may need to focus on a wide variety of explosive movements and speed training - those will result in two very different programs, even though the underlying principles are the same.
For every person we write programs for, we gather as much info about them as possible (aka: find the context). We sit down with them and go through our own coaching questionnaire (scroll to the bottom to see what that looks like). The information gathering goes beyond simply their goals, training history, health and injuries, etc. but it's also meant to learn about them as a person in order for them to get the most value. It's important to ensure our programs are a good fit for each person.
Basic Principles of Strength Programs
If you ask a Strength & Conditioning professional "what kind of program should I do?", there's a good chance you'll get a very long detailed answer or the very vague "it depends" answer. Sometimes you'll get a specific answer from an inexperienced coach that says the way they train is the best or only way to train. There are endless textbooks, videos, seminars, and studies breaking down the science of programming for strength. You could spend a lifetime learning about it (and people do). With that being said, the basic principles of a good strength program are actually simple for a majority of the population:
Programs should be roughly 8 - 24 weeks. Anything less than 8 weeks typically doesn't give enough time for the body to respond to the new stimulus that comes with strength training. Anything longer than 24 weeks and you can't account for the inevitable changes in your physiology, strengths, and weaknesses that will occur.
Lift heavy weights frequently. Yeah, no shit, right? It's been scientifically proven that higher intensity (% of 1RM) sets of 1-5 reps work much better to build strength than burning your muscles out at sets of 10+ reps.
Volume Decreases -> Intensity Increases. Within the context of building strength, as a given program progresses, the weight should be increasing and the sets and reps should be decreasing. This is how the body adapts to the stimulus of heavy weights without overtraining or injury-this is called progressive overload. There are many additional variables to consider when writing strength programs (experience, absolute strength, training modes and frequency).
Work-in movements you are weak at. As an example, if the goal is a stronger bench press and you have relatively weak triceps in comparison to your chest, training for stronger triceps will ultimately get you a stronger bench. This is the foundation of the Law of Accommodation.
Lift with maximal intent. Whether it's a 1RM PR squat or a working set of 6 attack the weights with the exact same intent - aka "practice like you play". This teaches the body the correct neurological patterns and motor unit recruitment to lift weights you haven't before.
Test baselines again at the end of the program. If you're using Squat, Bench, Deadlift, and Overhead Press as the baselines for your strength, knowing where you stand after a 16 week program will tell you where to start for the next 16 weeks.
Add weight <rinse> and repeat. Sure, things will (and should) change in your program from cycle to cycle, but if you're adding weight over time… you are getting stronger.
Again, these are basics - but if you follow them you will get stronger. There's a whole lot more that goes into successful programming and coaching. These are some topics for other days - but things you should definitely research if you're interested in strength training:
- Timing of neurological gains vs. hypertrophy vs. strength
- Energy system training: phosphagen, fast/slow glycolytic, oxidative
- Training Modes, Frequency, Volume, and Intensity variability
- Implementation of aerobic training for the benefit of anaerobic goals, and vice versa
- SAID principle vs. Law of Accommodation
- RPE vs % based training
- Warmups, exercise potentiation, mobility, rehab/prehab
- Periodization of training
- In-season vs. off-season training
- Nutrition for strength training
- Effects of sleep on strength training
- Fatigue tracking and overtraining
Every one of our programs are tailored to the individual and we take pride in the attention to detail we take when building them. If you're interested in learning more about our programming, click here!
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