Everything You Need To Know To Write Incredible Programs

Think about how many different cars you see on the street. Each car has commonalities.

Things it needs to run successfully; 4-tires, a frame, an engine, etc. But, with a closer look, you would see that each car has different brands of tires, frames, engines, and windows.

Guess What?

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They all work even though they are different! They help people like you and me get to where we want to be.

Since I started at Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) 2 years ago, I have written hundreds upon hundreds of programs. Programs ranging from 13-year old softball athletes to minor league baseball pitchers, post-op ACL cases, a top-ranked fencer and I have even helped people make it into the military academy.

That's pretty cool!

Even though these programs were different, they all had common ‘big rocks’.

As a strength coach, understanding that there is no "perfect" program out there that is going to help you understand the art of writing programs. It’s more about guidelines and principles rather than specific methods.

If you follow these four guidelines you should come out with an amazing program.

Assess Biological Age vs. Training Age

Biological Age: Is how old you are based on your birth date. I was born in 1993, and my chronological age is 24.

Training Age: How many years have you been strength training consistently? Training age dictates the means and the minimal effective dose. How much work do you need to do in order to start seeing results? For example, a 14-year old untrained athlete can train only twice a week and start seeing strength gains vs a 21-year old who has been consistently training for 6 years. This individual will most likely have to lift more often with higher intensities to see an increase in strength.  

3 Things to keep in mind:

  • Just because you work with professional or skilled college athletes does not mean they are professional or skilled lifters. Program accordingly. I can't tell you how many times a twenty-year-old minor leaguer comes to me for an assessment and I ask him to demonstrate a few push-ups, squats, deadlifts, and I end up asking myself "How in the world can this untrained noodle throw a baseball 90mph?"
  • Don't assume higher chronological age results in a higher training age and vice versa. A 16-year old female who has been training with me for three years will have a higher training age than an 18-year old male who has never stepped foot in a gym.
  • Training age is subjective (based on personal opinions). Ask the individual: Where did you train before coming here? Basement, commercial gym, personal trainer? What style of training do you enjoy? Strength training, biking, workouts from magazines?

Focus on Movements, Not Muscles

From Dan John's book Can You Go? He states "Program like this: Tortilla with cheese, meat, and vegetables. Stick with the basics for everybody."

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The basics should make up the majority of your programming. What are the basics?

  • Pushes – push-ups, dumbbell floor presses
  • Pulls – pull-ups, rows
  • Hinges – deadlifts, RDL's
  • Squats – Goblet squats, front squats

2 Things to Keep in Mind

  • Keep things simple; you're never too good not to do them.
  • Train the basics, and the muscles will grow.

Accessory Work Should be Similar to Manual Labor

Accessory work shouldn't be more mechanical. Instead, think along the lines of tire flips, loaded carries, thick rope slams and sledgehammer swings.

For example,

  1. C1) Tire Flips x 6
  2. C2) DB Farmers Carries x 30 seconds for max distance
  3. C3) Thick Rope Hand Over Hand Prowler Drag x 20yds
  4. C4) Rest 90 sec and repeat for 4-5 rounds

Training is called training for a reason. It's tough and is designed to challenge you both mentally and physically. However, it shouldn't be extreme to the point where you are running to the bathroom. Challenge people within their boundaries and work to expand them.


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Ensure that when your athletes leave your facility to go to college or move to a new town, you have given them a tool-kit for success

  •  Knowledge of how to execute movements
  • How to self-correct
  • Listen to their body
  • Hard-work
  • Helping others

Educate and teach your clients to the point where they won't need you anymore.

Closing Thoughts

As a coach, understanding that there is no "perfect" program that will set you apart from hundreds of others in this industry. It’s more about guidelines principles rather than a one size fits all approach. Be yourself, and learn to write amazing programs by including these ‘big rocks’ for your next client.