7 Strength Training Program Design Mistakes that Kill Performance
For more than 21 years I have studied and applied the art of program design for athletes. In fact my original business cards said, “No Marketing, Just World Class Training Programs and Elite Results”. I have analyzed, assessed and trialled literally thousands of programs think 30 athletes per week for an average of 3 sessions per week x 52 weeks year for 21 years and it comes to around 98,280 sessions. Given the number of sessions and programs written, tested and measured. I feel I’d have some level of expertise and knowledge when it comes to program design 🙂
Without further adieu I’ll outline the 7 Most Common Program Design Flaws that Athletes and Coaches make.
- No Clear Training Goal-what is the purpose of the training program? Are you looking to get more muscular, faster, more explosive, stronger, more endurance or looking to rehabilitate an injury? I’ve seen programs that have athletes performing high intensity strength training in combination with extended endurance running. To keep it simple; strength lies on one end of the spectrum and endurance lies on the other. By performing both high intensity strength training and extended endurance training concurrently at the same time in the same program leads to a concept and phenomenon called interference effects which means you do not receive great gains in strength or endurance (1). Pick one physical quality and go after it.
I love the quote by one of the worlds greatest physical preparation coaches Charles Poliquin, “Performing strength and endurance at the same time in a training cycle is akin to riding 2 horses going in different directions with 1 backside”.
2. No clearly defined training program and everyone does the same program. This is more common in Cross Fit, F45 and other generic programs whereby the programs change every session. By this I mean that day 1 is 90 Thrusters + ARMAP kipping chin ups and the next day is anyones’ guess you might go and run 5Km and then skip for 20 minutes and then jump onto a box for 10 minutes:) and the next day you may push a sled and perform 200 power cleans. The challenge with these types of program is that it doesn’t take into account your strengths and weaknesses, injury history, sport played or a host of other variables. With these types of programs it becomes challenging to assess the effectiveness of your program if you’re consistently changing from 1 thing to the next. Often times record keeping is non existent which also adds to the challenge of ascertaining if you’ve improved. Most elite programs are highly targeted to the individual (meaning everyone’s program is individualised) and has a clearly defined outcome following a 4-6 week training block and progress is evident.
3. Unbalanced training programs. This refers to the sequence and volume of exercise selection and muscle balance. The easiest way to articulate this is to break down your current training programs into quad dominant movements (e.g. squats, lunges etc) and hip dominant movements (deadlifts, olympic lifts, good mornings etc). Generally speaking most athletes are quad dominant and need more hip dominant exercises. I was fortunate enough to be exposed Legendary Strength Coach Ian King, who pioneered this concept in 1997. Ian believes that those athletes that are quad dominant tend to have higher risk of ACL, hamstring, groin and lower body injuries than those with balanced programs or those favoring more hip dominant movements (4).
4. Inability to understand the impact of the athletes other training (School, club, rep, academy, private training) on the design of their training programs. Many coaches fail to appreciate the work athletes are doing away from their programs (5). Many of the junior athletes I coach have sometimes 4 or 5 other training schedules they are expected to complete and participate in.
1. School sports training
2. Sports excellence school programs
3. Physical education based school sports programs
4. Sporting club training programs
5. Local Representative Team Programs
6. State Representative Team Programs
7. National Body Sporting Academies and Institutes Training commitments
Yet rarely do any of these organizations know what either is doing, so the total athletes workload and volume is triple that of professional athletes…without the recovery processes that professional athletes are afforded. Our USP Athletes have access to sports science monitoring technologies like oura rings and workload management software to ensure they are sufficiently recovered are not over training. Our limited number of athletes we have in our programs ensure we are aware of all their training commitments with various organisations and are able to provide recovery processes and load management techniques to ensure they stay health and perform at an elite level!
5. Attempting to replicate sports specific movements in the gym because they look like the movements performed in the sport-so they MUST be sport specific. An example I’ve seen is junior AFL footballers tying a rubber band or using a cable machine attached to their ankle and then replicating the kicking movement. Whilst this may look similar to kicking a football it actually stuffs up the athletes biomechanics and distorts the co-ordination of the movement leading to 0 transference and generally poorer skill execution (6). Click this link here to read more about sports specific training vs transference.
6. Only focusing on 1 method of progression-load lifted. There are numerous ways training programs can be progressed. A skilled coach knows they can progress a program through many ways and methods like increased sets, reps, exercise complexity, reduced rest periods, modifying tempo or speed of movement or implementing special modifications like performing 1 and 1/2 reps.
7. Imposing professional athlete training programs on junior athletes (2). The same sets, reps, volume, frequency, loading and advanced training methods that benefits professional athletes may not be appropriate for junior athletes. Long term studies by Faigenbaum and the practical and empirical evidence from Istvan Balyi and Kelvin Giles suggests that without adequate long term athlete development and targeted athletic development milestones junior athletes will never reach their full potential (3).
In conclusion, make sure you avoid the 7 strength training program pitfalls outlined above for more success in your sports!
All the best,
- Sporer, B. (2003) Effects of Aerobic Exercise on Strength Performance Following Various Periods of Recovery. JSCR 17 (4)
2. Giles, K. (2006). Long-term athlete development. Keynote Presentation at the 2006 Australian Strength and Conditioning Association National Convention, Gold Coast, November 2006.
3. Faigenbaum, A. (2002). Resistance training for adolescent athletes. Athletic Therapy Today. 7(6): 30-35.
4. King, I. (2000) How to write strength training programs.
5. Penfold, L. (1998) QAS LTAD Handbook
6. King, I. (2020) Transference-How to transfer strength training. A practical guide.