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

by Kristy Parrish | November 18, 2013 11:30 am


Rick Scarpulla: Stop "Program Hopping" If You Want to Make Real Progress[1]

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[2]
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.

Be a Student of Your Training Philosophy

Be a Student of Your Training Philosophy[3]

The game plan stays the same yet we allow for adjustments to be made according to the needs of our daily training flow.
Here at Ultimate Advantage we never switch programs since there is no need – we follow a philosophy, not a program. We understand the theory of our training. We understand that adjustments will be required along the way, yet a complete change of direction will not be necessary – those adjustments are all part of the game. The game plan stays the same yet we allow for adjustments to be made according to the needs of our daily training flow.

The most successful teams and athletes adhere to the same approach. At West Point I have 23 men on our powerlifting team and all follow that same theory. We all train together yet we all also train for the needs of the individual. Understanding the theory that we follow and allowing that theory to develop a rhythm is how we continue to achieve success.

Pick out any successful athlete and look at their training: they all subscribe to a training methodology, not a magic “one size fits all” program.  A CrossFit athlete needs to have the same approach. You can do group WODs but you must also address your individual weaknesses and needs.

You must subscribe to and understand the inner workings of your chosen training philosophy and stick with it or you will never realize your full potential. You must train within that philosophy and make the needed adjustments while still adhering to the methodology of your chosen training theory.

You must first understand the goals and expectations of your plan and then devise a way to approach them. There is no 3×3 or 5×5 “one size fits all” super program.

People change training programs because they feel the one they are doing is no longer working. Many people start altering the program and making changes even before they begin, switching key components of the program and replacing them with things that they think will be better. The reality is they have nothing substantial to base those changes on but they do it anyway – then after a while, they say the program doesn’t work and they look for another program.

What Is the Athlete’s Responsibility?

What Is the Athlete's Responsibility?[4]
It is my honest opinion that most programs fail for two main reasons. The first reason for failure is a lack of understanding and proper execution on behalf of the athlete. Your chosen program probably worked well for whomever designed the program because they understood the philosophies behind it.

Coaches are not going to publish a program and put their name on it if it is bogus. When you are a coach you understand that you are only as good as the athletes you develop and your reputation is everything, therefore why would you risk putting out something that didn’t work? It would be counter-productive to your success. (Read Rick Scarpulla: So You Want To Be A Coach)

The second reason for lack of desired success in my opinion is due to a lack of intensity.  Most people just do not push hard enough in certain areas. In CrossFit the Achilles’ heel is absolute strength. Athletes are simply not going hard enough in the pursuit of absolute strength. (Read Rick Scarpulla: Absolute Strength Is the Key)

Train with intensity! We like to say “push until your eyes bleed, then push some more.”
Many athletes will collapse and lie on the ground from doing met-con engine work but rarely if ever will they collapse from doing a max load for a triple or an eye-popping single. We like to say “push until your eyes bleed, then push some more.”

If you train with that type of intensity (not just physical but mental as well) you will make gains with almost any program you choose. This is due to the fact that the body has to respond to that high level of demand from intense training stimulus. (Read Rick Scarpulla: Are You Working Hard Enough?)

Additionally, it is much easier to mentally prepare yourself when you are using only one methodology. You build mental strength through repetition and if you are constantly going in a different direction you make the mental journey much harder as well. Anyone who is familiar with me knows how strongly I feel about the mental game. (Read CrossFit Mental Training and Strengthen Your Mental Game)

My advice for athletes and coaches:

The Ultimate Athlete Seminar series is a no-holds-barred hands-on learning experience. Coach Rick Scarpulla has developed the most dynamic training program available geared directly toward athletes and athletic performance. Not just for powerlifters, but for athletes. This is a rare one-time chance to learn from one of the nation’s best at one of the most informative seminars you will ever attend — the one everyone is raving about! There is simply no other program or seminar comparable to The Ultimate Athlete Seminars[5]. Contact us and book yours now! Coach Scarpulla is now offering a rare limited on-line training package, so check the website[6] for details.
Tags: Rick Scarpulla, Ultimate Advantage,
  1. [Image]: http://www.tabatatimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/article_590_pdm167.jpg
  2. [Image]: http://www.tabatatimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/article_590_pdm183.jpg
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  5. The Ultimate Athlete Seminars: http://myultimateadvantage.com/camps_clinics.cfm
  6. website: http://myultimateadvantage.com/index.cfm

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