Rick Scarpulla: Stop “Program Hopping” If You Want to Make Real Progress

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Rick Scarpulla: Stop "Program Hopping" If You Want to Make Real Progress

Summary for athletes and coaches:
  • Evaluate and understand your goals.
  • Choose a program that fits those goals.
  • Learn all the nuances of the methodology.
  • Understand why you are doing what you are doing.
  • Develop a training rhythm and allow time for your training to work.
  • Do not jump ship at the first sign of trouble – take a look at why it occurred.
  • Make the adjustments necessary to continue on the correct path.
  • Each time you make corrections you make it easier to understand and identify future problems.

A situation that is almost non-existent for top athletes and teams across the board regardless of sport seems to be very prevalent in the lower and intermediate levels of  strength sports, especially CrossFit – I am talking about frequently switching training programs and philosophies.

I hear all kinds of reasons from athletes for this type of approach, ranging from lack of progress to limited time constraints. However, the bottom line is that top teams and competitors rarely switch directions in programming the way lesser-experienced athletes seem to do all too frequently.

Understand the philosophy of your program and that adjustments will be needed along the way – don’t simply abandon the program for another one.
The reason for this is simple: the top teams and competitors fully understand the philosophy of the training they are using and know that adjustments are part of success; abandonment of the philosophy is not the way to go since it is detrimental to continued progress.

Most experienced coaches or athletes research the theory of a training philosophy before committing to training using it. They research and understand the inner workings and development of the program — and why it will work for their goals — before they ever put the first weight on a barbell.

Therefore when a problem arises (and it invariably will) they are able to assess and identify the reason for the problem and take corrective action to resolve it, not just switch wholesale to the current “flavor of the month” program.

The Problem with Program Hopping

The Problem with Program Hopping
Here is a common scenario I see over and over again, not just with CrossFitters but with strength athletes in general:

Let’s say an athlete is doing a set program. She starts the program and sees some good gains at the beginning. Then all of a sudden, she realizes the gains have stopped.

She can’t understand why because she has not done proper research on the programs’ philosophy to afford a complete understanding of it. So she decides to go onto the Internet and find another program to follow.

Fast forward a few months – with a new program in hand, it is the same story once again. She sees some gains at the beginning of the program then the gains begin to slow or stop altogether and back she goes onto the Internet to find another program.

Fast forward to the third go-round and history repeats itself again. The only difference is  now six months have passed and she is in basically the same spot she was in when she started the first program. She may possibly be further along in some areas but on the whole not nearly enough progress for the amount of time and effort she has put in.

This situation presents several problems to athletes. The first is that all of your focus is always on the next step of the new program – you never allow yourself the opportunity to look back and repair the old problems that you continue to encounter. There is no such thing as “failure without reason” in life, and that includes sports.

[I]f you keep switching your training from one program to another, it doesn’t allow you to look back to see why you failed in the first place.
Yet if you keep switching your training from one program to another, it doesn’t allow you to look back to see why you failed in the first place. Identification of the problem is the first step toward the solution; never understanding what went wrong doesn’t help your training, as you very likely will make the same mistakes again.

Every training program has a different philosophy and focus; you may get a little stronger in one area but it will quickly fade when you begin a new program because that program will have a new main focus and philosophy.

Let’s say the first program was one with a heavy focus on lower body strength. Your lower body strength will go up in that situation, but when you switch programs the new program may be more volume- and technique-oriented so that area goes up … but your strength gains from the first program atrophy because you are not focusing on that any longer.

By the time you have moved on to the third program (and another change of focus) the gains from the first program are long gone and the gains from the second program are going to fade for the same reason as the first program – the new program has a completely different goal and philosophy.

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