Our Programming, Part 1

“May I see a sample of your programming?”

We hear this more and more as people discover we provide custom weightlifting programming. And the answer is always, “Of course.”

This post, first in a series, will give you a sense for our programming approach. The posts that follow will include sample programming from several athletes, each of whom have a different training purpose and profile. These should give you a sense for how your custom programming may look.

But first, let's review the programming principles that guide us:

• Program design matters: We design our programs methodically, not haphazardly, to deliver long-term results. Our program design is influenced by the scientific literature, Russian weightlifting literature, input from international coaches, lessons learned as competitive lifters, and our experience programming for thousands of athletes over time. A haphazard approach to programming may feel exciting and deliver small, early benefits to new trainees, but it will limit your ability to progress.

You’ll notice this in your custom program by the way we adjust the volume and intensity on a daily and weekly basis. The patterns we use are known to help get you the best results. You’ll also see that your reps, sets, and weights are carefully selected to manipulate stress and optimize your recovery.

• Balance matters: We program to achieve balance. Balance, in our view, means your technique and strength develop in tandem. One should not significantly outpace the other. We believe balance is one of the most important goals in your development.

Programs that don’t develop balance may result in long term, sometimes permanent, plateaus. If you’ve ever known athletes with a big squat but a low clean & jerk…or a big clean & jerk but a low snatch, they suffer from balance problems.

Balance is the main reason we ask for your maxes in four key lifts (snatch, clean and jerk, back squat, front squat) when you build your custom training cycle. Using ratio analysis of these maxes, we can assess your balance and tailor your program to best attack your weaknesses. Later this year, we’ll start asking for additional 1-rep max data. This will help us make your programming even more targeted.

• Quality over quantity: Our programming prioritizes quality of movement over weight on the bar. In our view, high quality movement consists of proper speed and precision. While we’re no strangers to heavy lifting, we believe you only earn the right to lift heavier once your movement quality is consistently high.

This is one reason why we program at moderate weights and in moderate volumes. We want you to develop & refine good habits. You’ll have the best chance of improving if you develop good habits first at moderate weights, rather than patterning poor technique with overly-heavy programming prescriptions.

• Sustainability is paramount: We program for sustainability because we believe it’s more important to train consistently with high-quality than to kill yourself and train at lower quality while you recover. Training sore is fine, even expected. But training, or skipping training, while incapacitated is not.

This is one of the main reasons we ask you about factors like your age, your work, and your other physical activity when you first build your program. It’s also why we adjust your program as you proceed. This helps us help you by dialing-in a sustainable level of cumulative stress.

Parameters We Manage

We prescribe and customize training based on several factors. The main parameters we manipulate are:

1. Intensity: We measure and program training intensities based on percentage of your one-rep max. Our average target training intensity for most athletes is between 70% and 80%. While we regularly include sets between 80% and 100%, we spend the bulk of training at more moderate percentages.

We’ve found that excessive training at higher percentages takes a greater toll on you, especially your nervous system. It often requires extra recovery time during which it may be difficult to perform high-quality work. By training at more moderate percentages, you can train more consistently with a lower risk of injury and still get all the gains.

2. Volume: We measure and program volume based on number of repetitions in a given session, week, and/or month. On average we target between 200-300 reps a week. That works out to approx 800-1,200 lifts per month and just over 9,500-14,000 reps per year.

Volume will vary slightly based on your goal and purpose for training, your phase of training, as well as external factors like outside stress.

3. Exercise selection/variety: We select exercises for your training based on the phase of training and the athletic qualities we seek to improve during each phase. Generally, early in the overall training cycle you’ll experience a wide variety of exercise selection. As training nears competition and/or progress testing, your exercise variety will decrease to focus more on the classic lifts.

As with intensity and volume, exercise selection/variety will vary based on your goal and purpose for training, your phase of training, and other factors.

We Test Your Maxes, But Not Weekly

By now you probably realize that we don’t ask you to max out weekly. In our experience, it’s too hard on most athletes to be recoverable and sustainable without high risk of low-quality training or injury. For these reasons, we won’t ask you to max out weekly. While some coaches or athletes have success programming/training to max weekly (or more), we believe it’s rare. If lifting to max every day or every week is your thing, we’re not the right fit for you.

Instead, we integrate testing days (usually heavy singles) toward the end of your training cycle. By default this will happen approximately every 12-weeks, however you can adjust this duration when you build your custom program.

Overall, we believe in methodical, balanced programming without extremes. We target high performance and longevity via training that is challenging and effective but not likely to break you. This is reflected in our strategic but moderate implementation of intensity, volume, and exercise selection/variety. If this approach appeals to you, come train with us.

(adapted from my original article here since my philosophy is still the same)