Understanding Optimal Programming

Strength and conditioning is cool because it’s pretty hard to screw up.  In other words, there are plenty of recipes for success.

You see, there’s pretty much one common goal:  Get people to perform and look better while reducing the likelihood of them suffering an injury (I realize that people may have more unique goals than that, but most all of them will fall under this in one way or another).  With so many tools and strategies available, there are endless amounts of combinations a coach or trainer can use to reach that goal.  This allows us to get extremely creative with our program design, and most would agree that getting creative is both fun and rewarding.

Trainers and coaches have LOADS of freedom.  A client comes to us with a goal, and we can do whatever we want to put them in a position closer to that goal.  If we’re good at our job, “whatever we want” will be our idea of the most optimal training approach to take in order to move that client closer to their goal.  Different programming approaches are going to be more or less optimal for different people.

Whatever approach we decide on is going to be determined by a large number of training variables that are specific to that client only.  Many people will need the same things (like more hip mobility, more core stability, etc.), but no two clients will be trained identically.  Over time as they start to move better and build strength, it gets easier to simplify the programming and many clients will end up following a similar style of training.

To help clear that up, let’s take a look at what the training experience might look like for two very common types of clients.  I’ll refer to them as Jane and Joe.  These are completely hypothetical scenarios.

Jane is somewhere in her 40’s.  She has some exercise experience, but she’s never really practiced any type of resistance training.  She’s not overweight, but she’s weak and not very active.  She wants to start training mainly for aesthetic reasons (aka to “tone up”) but she also wants to gain some strength to make daily life activities easier.  Jane has pretty good mobility in her joints and overall she’s pretty flexible.  Jane is also very unstable, so she’s a little shaky when attempting basic body weight movements.

Joe is in his late 20’s.  He’s done some strength training routines in the past, but he hasn’t stuck with anything for a considerable amount of time.  He played a couple of sports throughout high school and he stays reasonably active.  Joe wants to start training to develop some athleticism and could use some extra motivation to push himself harder.  Joe already has some foundational strength, but his mobility is lacking in key areas and his posture sits in a very extended position.  He feels like he’s tight in a lot of different muscle groups.

Jane’s initial programming will be focused mainly on developing joint stability and body awareness.  Due to her inexperience with lifting, Jane is going to have to familiarize herself with how it feels to contract certain muscles that she has probably never trained before.  We can go about many ways of accomplishing this, but it’s at the trainers discretion to decide what is best (aka optimal) for Jane.

Joe’s on the other hand will place more emphasis on correcting his immobilities and any other movement dysfunctions he may have.  Due to Joe’s prior lifting experience and athletic background, he is more likely to have muscle asymmetries and joint dysfunction that will need to be addressed.  Again, many ways to work on these issues, and it will be up to the trainer to develop a plan in Joe’s best interest.

The initial goal is to get each client to a point where they possess adequate mobility where they need it (shoulders, hips, ankles, etc.) and adequate stability where they need it (knees, hips, lumbar region, etc.).  From there they’ll be ready to perform basic strength training movements (squat, hinge, push, pull) with decent enough technique to make the exercises effective.

Once they reach that point, Jane and Joe are basically on an even playing field.  Obviously their level of strength is going to determine what specific exercise variations they’ll be doing, but most of the movements are going to be similar in nature.  They’ll both be doing some type of deadlift and squat variation, some pressing and rowing variations, and definitely some kettlebell swings and weighted carries.  It really is that simple.  Their programming is still going to be unique to them, but the overall philosophy behind it remains constant.

So what’s the take home point?

Relax!!!  Your program/routine isn’t just automatically determined to be favorable or unfavorable based on it’s substance alone and nothing else.  There are too many variables present to label it such a black and white manner.  Instead, try to figure out how you can make improvements to it for your own wants and needs.

One of my favorite Dan John quotes states that “everything works, for about 6 weeks.”  If you remain consistent with any training program, you’re not NOT gonna get better at it.  Will it be optimal for you?  Probably not even close!  But really, chill out with the labeling.  Good, bad, right, and wrong are all useless terms in this industry.  There is no way to define them given the context.  You may think running is bad, but people do it and they better themselves.  You may think CrossFit is good, yet not everybody shares the same experience.  People get results from a variety of different methods, and that’s part of what makes exercise so great – the freedom to choose!

As a fitness professional, I don’t like the idea of telling someone that what they are doing is “wrong” and that I’m going to teach them how to do what is “right.”  Instead, I’d much rather express that what they are doing is okay, but that I can show them how to optimize their training for them.  This is much less intimidating to someone who might be new to fitness and it also gives them a more realistic and practical idea of how to approach exercise.

I hope this post has given you some new insight into how you work towards your fitness related goals.  Keep your mind open, try new things, and always strive to be optimal!













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