Q & A: How to Write Resistance Training Programs, Part 1

Q: Hi Steve,I'm very new to the powerlifting/strong(wo)man training world ... and I love reading your blog! It's always chock full with information. One thing I was wondering, and maybe it'd be a topic to write about ... how do you come up with workouts?? Do you make stuff up?? Have a "grab-bag" of moves and pull out of that?? Borrow and modify from other trainers??  I always wonder where trainers come up with new ideas.

Thank you for all the great info!!

A: First, I'm humbled that you enjoy reading my (and my fellow coaches) musings here on SAPTstrength and I thank you for the kind words. It's always good to feel appreciated and to be assured that not everyone, to put it as eloquently as possible: thinks I suck.

Second, as I began to draft my response, it didn't take me long to realize how multifaceted this topic really is, so I'm going to break up my answer into a short series that hopefully doesn't tank as much as Pirates of the Caribbean. Moving on to the first point....

1. Train Yourself

Yes, I'm serious. You'd think I wouldn't have to make this #1 on the list, but I'm continually shocked by how many people are out there, either on the internet or in actual gyms, training other people when they don't walk the walk themselves. I'm not saying you have to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, or possess the raw strength of Andy Bolton, but at least get after it yourself, for the love!

For one thing, are people going to listen to your advice regarding fat loss if you're borderline obese and get winded simply from walking from your car to the front door? Second, and more importantly, consistently training yourself gives you a chance grow in understanding of how all the training variables interact with one another.

And I'm not talking just sticking with one training methodology, either. While I personally haven't experimented with everything under the sun, I've completed full cycles of Bodypart Splits (more cycles than I'd like to admit, hah!), High Frequency Training, Upper/Lower, Powerlifting, Escalating Density Training, Total Body Training, Push/Pull Splits, Jim Wendler's 5/3/1 (for six months....not sure why I stopped to be honest), Stevo-Gets-Sexified Training, and more.

Through this, I've figured out which exercise pairings are brilliant, those that are not-so-brilliant (I'd be embarrassed to recount them all), what type of plans actually make me stronger rather than turning me into a huge pile of fail, and what style of training is best to implement based on what my goals are and/or what I have going on outside the gym walls.

Heck, I've competed in running/obstacle races, and even Triathlon, in order to garner a deeper understanding of the training stressors distance athletes face specific to their style of training. This, in turn, has helped me become a better coach and and allowed me to write the programs for SAPT's endurance athletes with much greater accuracy and proficiency, due to the fact that I've walked (or ran) in their shoes. These races provided me with a real, first-hand opportunity to see how:

  • Performing 4x8 Bulgarian Split Squats or SL RDLs the day before a Threshold or Cardiac Power Interval run will be akin to asking for a suicide mission, and also, perhaps, for your gluteal musculature to fall off the bone and onto the pavement
  • Intervals are a very powerful tool in training for endurance events, but should not be used exclusively
  • When designing conditioning programs (be them interval or steady state), it's best never to increase the total distance or time by more than 20% per session, as this will greatly reduce the risk of injury while still allowing the athlete to improve
  • The frequency/volume of swim sessions will affect the implementation of vertical and horizontal pressing performed in the weight room
  • You actually won't turn in to a weak pile of poo if you do steady state cardio, as long as you design your weight lifting program appropriately
  • Yes, distance athletes need to resistance train. They needto foam roll (I don't care what people are saying, just do it). They need soft tissue work. They need to stop worrying about their six-pack.

The same can be said for when I experimented with all the weight training methods above, it gave me a chance to feel what it's actually like to train different ways, and this has helped me to better write the programs for my athletes and clients.

I've trained using 2x/week plans (when I was working three, part-time jobs simultaneously while studying for the CSCS), 3x/week, 4x/week, and even 6x/week plans (shoot me), all for extended periods of time which helped me feel out how to best distribute the training stress throughout the week depending on the plan being used.

And yes, I realize everyone is different, and other people won't always respond the same way I do (positively OR negatively) to a particular training plan, but it's still a much greater step in the right direction that sitting on your butt all day and then commanding other people to suck it up and train (because that always goes over real well).

Please don't mistake me sharing all this an attempt to brag (don't know what exactly it would be bragging about....but just in case). Continually training yourself, through no matter what "Life" throws at you, gives you a greater appreciation the demands your clients experience outside of the gym walls, and say, for example, you had planned for them to do cluster sets of front squats (hint: they're awful), but then Life hit them with a poop-storm before they walked in the doors of the gym, it is actually okay to change the plan you wrote for them, and instead, give them something more "invigorating" and something that will set them up for success rather than make them hate you for life. They'll still get results, and they'll love you more for it, I promise.

I was just talking to Sarah the other day about how she's just weeks away from giving birth to her second child and yet she's still getting after it every day, be it inside or outside the gym.

And you know what? When her daughter grows up and becomes pregnant, and then complains that it's not possible to exercise regularly while facing the demands of pregnancy (and if you're like Sarah, owning a business while simultaneously working as a full-time strength coach for a DI university), she'll be able to look her child in the eye and say, "You know what, twice a week I did one prowler push for every week you were in my belly, along with lifting 4x/week."


Anyway, that's it for now. Be back with part 2 on Friday.