Programming 101…and My Birthday! (Welcome to what 60 looks like!)


It’s a rare day that the question of programming comes up. I would love to just say “Push, Pull, Hinge, Squat, Loaded Carry and Groundwork for reasonable reps and load,” but that doesn’t truly answer the key issues.


The first issue is simply: “What is your goal?” If you want fat loss you need to up the amount of exercise and decrease the amount of calories (somehow), but if you want mass, you need to increase load and tension and make sure you have enough protein to build muscle. And, like the old proverb: “if you chase two rabbits, you won’t catch either,” it is even more true in training.


To begin, we must assess. Goal setting is going from here to there, so we need to find out where “here” actually is. Before and after pictures have great value, measurements are fine and a host of tests have value. Assessment comes down to this:


We need to discover what you NEED to do, not what you want to do. If you are 40 percent body fat, you might need to reconsider your mass building program. If you don’t know how to squat properly, learning to squat might be a need. Certainly, you might want to do more curls, but your progress is going to be stalled by your needs.


The basics of the programming is three simple steps:

  1. Do no harm.
  2. The goal is to keep the goal the goal.
  3. The Path: Almost universally, someone has done it before you. Follow them!


No matter what you want to do, not sending you to the surgeons is universally a good idea. So, let’s make sure the program doesn’t hurt, hinder or kill you. Done correctly, the Olympic lifts can change your career for the better. Done wrong, they can send you into rehab or surgery. There is no good or bad on this, just be careful that you are avoiding harm’s way. Don’t program injury.


No matter how perfect the plan and program, something fun and fantastic is going to appear around the corner. We have all seen this before: someone is trying to get a goal like make the Olympic team in the discus. You see on their Social Media feed that they are doing weekend races in the mud. You ask: how does that get you to the Olympics in the discus? The answer: “Oh, all my friends are doing it and it is fun.”


The coach’s job, or Mister Big Kid, is to remind the athlete that “this” is the goal and all the other crap and stuff is pulling you from the goal.


Frankly, I know of no harder thing than to keep someone focused on the goal we all agreed up in the beginning. If you dipped into your retirement funds to buy a boat and you live in the desert, you probably understand this as well as anyone.


Finally, the best way to program is to simply study those who have done it before you. I have argued for years that to learn about fat loss, ask someone who has posed on the dais with practically nothing on. A famous bodybuilding coach states that it takes a dozen contests to figure out how you lean out best. Ask someone with a dozen contests not the lady in the office who read a book about dieting last week.


Talk to someone who has been there.


Finally, every so often, usually two to six weeks, reassess. Make those small changes early to get you back on the path. Take another round of photos, re-measure that waistline and review the original numbers in your tests. If there is progress, keep on keeping on. If you are not, review honestly the past few weeks.


Programming is more than sets, reps, rest periods and exercise selection. It is a living thing that needs constant care. If there is a secret to success in fitness, it is understanding that programming is all about the “to” in the “Here to There” of goal setting. Knowing where you are is the key to programming.

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