The Wide World of Programming


Programming - the foundation upon which strength coaches build and develop their athletes. A good program is methodical, progressive, and strategic; it encompasses all the essential parts of being a successful athlete in a particular sport. I will say this now, there are SO MANY WAYS to write a good program - a lot of those I'm still trying to wrap my head around. Programming is one of those things that still kind of makes me nervous ... there's a lot of pressure as a coach to ensure that you are giving your athletes something that will help them develop and keep them healthy - something you should not take lightly as a coach.

In the world of strength and conditioning, there is a lot of research to show the success of varying rep/set schemes. The Godfather of all programming would be classic periodization developed by Leo Matveyev who worked with the Soviet athletes in the 1950's-60's. From there, there were other major contributors, but let's focus on what periodization actually is. Simply put, periodization is a progressive overload of training over a large period of time (macrocycle). Within this time frame, could be 1-4 years depending on the athletes you work with; the training is broken down further into cycles (mesocycles). These mesocycles are blocks of time ranging from 4-6 weeks. Finally, microcycles are the day-to-day and week-to-week changes in training - this could be exercise selection, intensity, etc. Classic periodization generally starts with a hypertrophy phase (volume), leading into a strength phase, which would roll into a power phase. This is merely scratching the surface of programming and periodization, but that's a brief rundown.

As I mentioned above, there are SO MANY different styles of training, from rep/set schemes, to cycles, to exercise order and selection - so many differences, and guess what? There's not really a right and wrong way. In my short time as a strength and conditioning coach, what I've learned is that programming is not a one-size-fits-all type deal. What works for one athlete, may not work at all for another. As long as you have the athlete's health and well-being in mind, then you have the flexibility to determine which programming style will work best for them and what will give them the best results.

Each coach has their own coaching style and philosophy which is a hybrid of their experiences, mentors and knowledge. The most important thing to do as a coach is to keep an open mind. As much as it is important to be confident in your programming styles and knowledge, it's always great to see things from a different perspective and learn what other coaches have success with.

To be completely honest, sometimes reading about all the different programming styles stresses me out because there are so many - the tier system, 5-3-1, triphasic, linear, non-linear, etc. I have found that I've had some great success in keeping things simple with a classic periodization and progressive overload approach. The more athletes I work with and the more research I do, the more I will trial-and-error what works best for each athlete.

Know your athletes - know what makes them tick, how long they've been training for, what their capabilities are, and determine what they need to be successful. Build them to be strong, resilient and injury-free!

Comment below with your favourite programming styles!