by JARED WILLIAMSON|PT, DPT, SCS, OCS, CSCS
Program design is difficult, involves many variables, and cannot be learned merely by reading blogs, books, magazines, or journal articles. Nor can it be picked up by taking weekend courses or standing on a personal history of playing sports and working out. In fact, some people earn master’s degrees and PhDs in mere aspects of this area. Others make their living doing it in consultation with collegiate and professional sports teams and military special operations units. Ideally, programs are designed by professionals.
So why discuss it here? Because almost everyone you’ve ever seen working out anywhere is trying to do their own programming. For a humorous take on this question, check out the video below:
Though it is fun to laugh at what we’ve all seen going on unsupervised in the gym at one time or another, this subject warrants serious discussion.
Luckily, you don’t have to understand how to design a program yourself in order to recognize a good or a bad one. As long as you can identify certain key elements, you can steer clear of risky or ineffective programs. The elements we’ll cover here are as follows: exercise order, rest cycles, and training versus testing.
Both in an individual session and from one session to the next, training sessions should be programmed to complement one another. Generally, this means putting components of a training session in the order shown in the table below.
When we train out of order, we create interference — sending our body mixed messages on how it is supposed to adapt to our training. For example, when you go for a run before doing some heavy Olympic lifts, you “dull-out” much of the reactivity and elasticity in your ligaments and tendons that is very important to have during power training. Moreover, you have depleted some of the metabolic systems you will need to get the most out of your muscles, and these systems can take time and fuel to recover to more appropriate levels for resistance training.