Characteristics of a GREAT training program

One of the challenges that many people face in the gym can be summed up with one of my favorite quotes: ‘It is easy to make someone tired, it’s much harder to make them better’

As a Performance Coach, when designing my clients training programs, this is the main principle I have in mind when setting out to get a desired training response.  In what seems like years ago now, I thought that if I did not leave my client crawling out of the gym by the end the session, they didn’t work hard enough. I was wrong.

My desire to always get my clients the best results led me to study and explore strength and concepts surrounding making people stronger, leaner and healthier. This included the likes of Mel Siff, Charles Poliquin, Tudor Bompa, Yerkoshansky and Zatsiorsky to name a few. A constant theme seemed clear to me:

‘Less is more’

To master these texts is a life long task, there are some amazing principles that can be implemented into EVERY training program that can take your training results from not just being tired… but being better and getting you the significant result you want.

There are 5 Thing you must understand for an effective strength training program.

1. Understand that ‘Strength is an essential component of all human Performance’ (1)

Your training program must include the types of exercises that elicit the best training response and give you the ‘biggest bang for your buck’ to improve strength. These include multi-joint, compound exercises that use barbells, dumbells and other resistance equipment. Examples include Deadlifts, Squats, Bench press, Pull Ups, Overhead Pressing and Rowing exercises.

In Mark Rippitoe’s ‘Starting Strength’ he states that

‘Barbells, and the primary exercises we use them to do, are far superior to any other training tools that have ever been devised. Properly performed, full range-of-motion barbell exercises are essentially the functional expression of human skeletal and muscular anatomy under a load.’ (2)

Outlining the fact if you want the best results, you must put your body through load bearing exercise.

2.  Understand that ‘You can only produce maximal force from a stable surface’ (3)

‘Balance training’ or ‘Core training’ which includes impressive yet unnecessary balancing skills while attempting to do a strength exercise can be a one way ticket to diminishing strength gains from an exercise and also putting your body in danger. One must always out way risk vs. reward when selecting an exercise. The next time you are balancing on a bosu ball with one leg doing bicep curls, always remember ‘popularity is not always equated with effectiveness.’

3. Understand that ‘Your training must have planning and organization for a desired result’ (4)

A term largely misunderstood and often looked at as a scary word by most trainers is ‘Periodization’. I get countless questions about how to use periodization various goals. One of the very best texts on ‘periodization’ is the ‘Programming and Organization of Training’ by Y.V Verkhoshansky. An absolute masterpiece for theoretical-methodical attempts at programming, essential reading for mastering program design. However, often people’s sole purpose in life is not to get a desired strength standard, rather to be better at what they do, work, playing with the kids etc. Finding a significant goal and working backwards from a desired result is a great place to start. Training without a significant goal is the easiest way to not get significant results. Periodization is simply a synonym for planning.

4. Understand that ‘Hip extension movements should be a priority in training, as load increases as does the proportional hip involvement’ (5)

Essentially, we are looking at building strength and as recent research by Chris Beardsley and Brett Contreras suggests. When looking at exercises such as Deadlifts, Romanian Deadlifts, and Back Squats and Lunges, Beardsley et al explain “as the weight and force production increases, the hip extensors become much more important and their contribution to the movement increases.” This means you train the glutes during hip extension movements! The habitual seated posture which we do from a very young age through school, university and work can chronically shorten the hip flexors and cause an imbalance classed by Dr. Vladimir Janda (6)  as ‘Lower cross Syndrome’ explained by Janda as ‘inhibition and facilitation in the lower quarter characterized by alternating patterns of tightness and weakness’ Strengthening the hip extensors can reverse this dysfunction. (7)

5.  Understand that ‘The evolution of the movement and mobility system continues to progress at an exponential rate’ (8)

There is continuing research in almost every facet of performance enhancement nowadays. All the way from certain neurotransmitters involved in brain function to the role of specific synergistic muscles effecting optimal exercise performance of a particular lift. There is a plethora of information at your finger tips, and some great practitioners out there to help you find what is relevant to you. It’s important to understand but easy to forget, all you need is the minimum required amount that will give you the maximum desired results of any training modality. If you can do 20 minutes of mobility work per day to keep yourself pain free, then why do 30? Treatments like ART (Active Release Technique) have revolutionized performance and get people healthier faster.  (9)

In conclusion, Training can be as complex or as simple as you want to make it. There’s lots of new research but always remember throughout the years there are always been exceptional displays of strength and power. Everyone knows the story of the 300 Spartan warriors, years before strength and conditioning books had been written. Sticking to the basics you almost can’t go wrong! Small increments over time will see you strength increase at a steady rate. ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ Always seek some expert advice, at least to get started and move forward from there.

Always remember the number one principle that really overrides everything in this article… Have fun!

Andy Steven

Strength and Conditioning Coach 

Biosignature Practitioner

(1)  Mel Siff: “Super training”
(2)  Mark Rippitoe “Starting Strength”
(3)  Behm, D., Colado, J. C., “the effectiveness of resistance training using unstable surfaces and devices for rehabilitation” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3325639/
(4)  Y.V Verkhoshansky ‘Programming and Organization of Training’
(5)  Beardsley, C. and Contreras, B. “The Increasing Role of the Hip Extensor Musculature With Heavier Compound Lower-Body Movements and More Explosive Sport Actions” Strength and Conditioning Research Limited, Loughborough, Leicestershire, United Kingdom; and 2School of Sport and Recreation, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand
(6)  Assessment and Treatment of Muscle Imbalance: The Janda Approach – See more at: http://www.jandacrossedsyndromes.com/#sthash.15Rd7eRH.dpuf
(7)  CHEK exercise coach level 1 manual, CHEK institute
(8)  Kelly Starret  “Supple Leopard” page 29
(9)  http://www.activerelease.com/what_patients.asp