A Word on Programming

A lot of people like to hear about strength and conditioning programming. There are three basic ways that you derive a method of programming.

1. Directly observing set/rep schemes and what kind of progress they induce
2. Hard research on strength training
3. Understanding physiology, anatomy, and trends of how the body responds to stress over time.

The problem with #1 is that it’s typically associated with a rudimentary understanding of physiology. More importantly it lacks context. If someone increases their bench 30 pounds in six weeks, that doesn’t mean your bench will do the same. That’s why copying a famous lifter’s programming is largely irrelevant; the context of training history and expression of their genotype is lost.

The problem with #2 is that it is locked within the confines of academia-based research. There are some quality principles that have come from research like the rep range continuum (strength, hypertrophy, and endurance) as well as power production and rest periods. Yet taking research at its face value can be a mistake, because it also lacks context. Research is specifically designed to begin with specific populations and instead of making generalizations based on those findings, more research on other populations is supposed to be done. Furthermore, a lot of the questions in research are not focused to anything that can help a hardcore practitioner or go off on irrelevant tangents (or it’s so shittily done; there are many studies on the back squat that don’t even define the squat’s parameters).

#3 does well because it conceptually basis training on information known about the body and how it responds over time. However, #3 cannot exist without #1 and #2. Without the practitioners testing their own programs and without researchers definitively finding things in specific organizations, #3 wouldn’t have any trends to base their “educated guesses” on. The collection of all of this information lets us know how to progress a beginning trainee through the first year or so of their training, yet from then on there are various routes that can be followed. This is where the art of programming comes in, and it’s indirectly a collection of the three sources of information above.

When you read anything about programming, whether it’s on Elite FTS, Westside Barbell, Starting Strength, the Texas Method set-up, Strength Villain, or 70’s Big, you have to actually think about what you’re reading. You can’t just directly apply it to your situation, because it’s most likely irrelevant. You have to take into consideration your current ability, your training history, your recent programming, your height/weight/age, and several other data points. Not many people can do this objectively, but that’s the key to programming. Programming isn’t a “program” that a coach uses and implements. Instead, it’s diagnosing what a trainee or athlete needs and wants, and then structuring their training in order to make progress to achieve those things. It isn’t black and white.

Keep these ideas in mind when you consider your own programming or others. If you’re a “keyboard coach” who always pipes up and gives advice, then instead of telling people what to do, ask questions. Learn. That’s what a good programmer does, and that’s what I try to accomplish with this site; to help you learn.

Happy PR Friday
Post this week’s PRs or training updates to comments

53 thoughts on “A Word on Programming

  1. Switched to 5/3/1, so now new 1RM PR’s.
    Did overhead press 122.5 x 5s x 10r.

    Antigen, congrats on your curling 135 x 10.
    I just hit a 135 curl for 2 for the first time a bit ago.

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