[Guest Blog] The Secrets of Program Design for Everyday Athletes By Max Shank

 In Athleticism, Strength Training

Program design can be confusing at best. This expert says to do it this way, while another one says do exactly the opposite. The result is usually a complicated hodge podge of exercises thrown together. Unfortunately, this type of plan yields almost zero results. Luckily, I have some good news. It’s much more simple than you think.

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The first thing you need to do is forget everything you know about training equipment and “styles” of training. You see, the equipment doesn’t really matter, it’s the movement pattern. By focusing on movement patterns, we can create a workout using any type of equipment that is available. Before I delve into which movement patterns are important, let’s identify the purpose of a good training plan.

  1.  Get a goal-oriented training effect
  2. Manage time
  3. Manage fatigue
  4. Prevent injury and boredom

These all seem straightforward, but how exactly do we achieve this in a program?

1) Identify a goal and make it the main course of the program. For example, if the goal is to build up the booty, there had better be a hefty helping of squats, deadlifts, lunges, bridges and sprinting. I should be able to determine the goal of a program just by looking at the plan.

2) Managing time (and fatigue) comes down to utilizing noncompeting supersets. By noncompeting I mean that you are not doing two exercises that rely heavily on the same muscles. For example, it would be inefficient to do push-ups and overhead presses in the same superset because the triceps and shoulders would be doing double duty.

3) Managing fatigue is not only about utilizing these noncompeting supersets, but also about rest periods. By splicing mobility or activation drills into these supersets we can allow for recovery without wasting any time.

4) Mobility splicing is also a good way to prevent injury and boredom. The mobility drills ensure better execution of the exercises and enhance mobility, which helps prevent injury. Ideally, you will want to look for mobility movements that facilitate the strength exercises. For example, you might want to do some glute activation (like a band walk or quadruped diagonal) before your set of squats or deadlifts. Preventing boredom is also a question of understanding how to categorize movements and identify viable substitutes for existing exercises. By changing the movement, not the pattern, you stimulate the brain and keep things fresh.

What are these magical movement patterns you should be doing? They look something like this:

  • Power
  • Upper push
  • Upper pull
  • Lower push
  • Lower pull
  • Mobility
  • Activation
  • Twist
  • Carry

Utilize one movement from each of these for a well-balanced, full-body training session. I’ll give an example of each one and put it together in a balanced workout.

Part 1: Warm-Up Circuit (3 rounds)

Vertical jump x 5 reps (power)

Hip flexor stretch with breathing from 1/2 kneeling (mobility)

Glute bridge x 10 (activation)

Part 2: Strength Block 1 (repeat cycle for 15-20 minutes)

Push-up or handstand push-up x 5 (upper push)

Supine 1-leg alternating raise (mobility for deadlift) x 5/side (mobility)

Deadlift or single leg deadlift x 5 (lower pull)

Thoracic rotation x 5/side (mobility for push-up or handstand push-up)

Part 3: Strength Block 2 (repeat for 15-20 minutes)

Pull-up x 5 (upper pull)

Side plank leg raise x 10/side (mobility/activation enhances squat)

Squat or lunge x 5 (lower push)

Pec stretch x 10 breaths (mobility for pull-up)

Part 4: Finisher (3 rounds)

Medicine ball lateral throws x 10/side (twist)

Suitcase Carry x 1 lap/arm (carry)

This workout could easily be performed by a total beginner or extremely advanced trainee. You’ll notice that all of the major movement patterns are utilized, but paired in a way so that your fatigue will be most effectively managed. But we can make it even better by adding the power of carryover.

By selecting exercises that have the highest carry over to other movements, you can do less but be able to do more.

Here are the highest carryover exercises in each category:

  • Power: Backflip
  • Upper push: L-sit to handstand
  • Upper pull: front lever
  • Lower pull: deadlift
  • Lower push: Airborne Lunge

By focusing on these primary exercises, you will be able to do just about any exercise. The L-sit to handstand and front lever variations are multi-vector exercises. This makes it so you don’t have to balance out the horizontal and vertical planes with individual exercises because they are inherently balanced. This means less time in the gym and more time outside doing the fun things you love to do. That is the key to fitness—having the physical freedom to pursue any athletic endeavor for the rest of your life. You may look at the recommended exercises above and think to yourself, I will never be able to do that.

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You couldn’t be more wrong. There are progressions starting from absolute zero, and I have spent the last decade helping people at all fitness levels achieve them. Having a goal that is based on time and skill is extremely rewarding. Just like a musician mastering a piece of music or a martial artist refining his forms, moving toward these goals is a worthwhile journey that pays big dividends in strength and flexibility along the way.

I personally have seen people transform their bodies (both in appearance and ability) by following this simple template two to four times per week. Anyone willing to put in the time is guaranteed results that will make life easier and better. Start your journey to smarter programming and better results today.

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