Program Design, Art and Science

Program Design, Art and Science Where do I start. This is always a question I ask myself when setting out to design a program. In order to honestly answer this question I need specifics; such as goals, currents numbers, time commitment, strengths, weaknesses, etc. All this information goes into my brain and correlates with all my experience, knowledge and wisdom to produce my first draft. Let me just say that I find programming extremely stimulating for the simple fact that it is so damn difficult and by no means an exact science. 19 years of doing this and while it is ‘easier’ it still comes with all sorts of challenges. One challenge comes in the form of a valuable lesson, that science only gets you so far. However, without all the years of research and fieldwork by many of the great coaches and scientist before my time I would have an even bigger up hill challenge, so thank you to all those whom have helped lay the foundation.

So let’s talk some key factors of a program design:

1. Goal of athlete
2. Sport or activity
3. Current status including PR’s, fitness level, injuries, strengths, Weaknesses
4. Time constraints
5. Financial constraints
6. Mental state
7. Emotional State
8. Equipment availability
9. Did I mention mental/emotional state
10. Nutrition
11. Stress
12. Recovery
13. Sleep
14. Support system
15. Contest or competition
16. Commitment level
17. Feedback from athlete, including chart, mental notes, etc.
18. Perspective
19. Attitude
20. My observation of them Ok let’s stop here, I am sure I am missing some components but this is by no means comprehensive and is in no particular order.

It is simply a small list to illustrate the complexity in program design. See, program design is fluid and every evolving. All my plans have contingencies and thus are written in pencil with eraser handy. From all my research on design and implementation one thing remains true, that change is inevitable and flexibility paramount. One must build in contingency plans and be able to adapt on the fly. One must also have keen observational skills and be able to take in data and feedback with the ability to read between the lines all while making sure the athlete understands the aim/goal and buys into your philosophy and approach.

A lack of buy in and a lack of the ability of the coach to effectively communicate only makes this relationship more tenuous and the design that much more challenging. Note, it is not so much about selling or convincing the athlete but about communicating that you understand their needs and have their best interests at the forefront. This has to be an honest feeling you have in your heart and brain as a coach. This relationship relies on trust, faith and the experience that each of you have. Currently I am doing program design for a few Crossfit competitors. This is incredible and very challenging. These people are driven, eager, willing, and talented.

Coming from the general Crossfit approach to a more detailed, specific athlete approach is a change. We do not program daily WODs as in my opinion they serve as tests or mini competitions. And, daily testing and competition on this level is not sustainable nor health in my professional opinion. Instead we train, we work on strengths, weaknesses, movements, endurance both muscular and cardiovascular, flexibility, mobility, and mental toughness. This does include working within specific time domains and these will work to increase your ability to move across broad domains. The difference is these are prescribed work to rest ratios with specific reps and sets. Examples include; On the Minute, Tabata, 30sec/30sec, 15sec/15sec, etc.

See training is mentally far more difficult than randomized workouts. Knowing week in and week out that there is a basic approach meant to build and capitalize on the previous weeks’ work is far more difficult than walking into class and doing a random workout. Mental toughness is not scientific, nor is daily life. Some nights you have a bad nights sleep, or a family dinner in which you may eat out of the norm, or work/family stress, etc. those things are not scientific and need to be accounted for. This is the art, this the mental toughness. As I learn through these weeks of planning along with the athletes feedback, I grow more compassionate and much smarter. As the old adage goes, the more I learn the ignorant I realize I am. And through this all, I realize just how damn complex this stuff is. I am humbled daily and love when I get the data and feedback from the athlete that shows they hit the mark, felt really strong and the numbers were right on, etc. Not all workouts or days are this way, as much as I want them to be but this is the point. It is not an exact science, it is in fact art and science combined in an intricate pattern.

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One thought on “Program Design, Art and Science

  1. Pingback: Program Design, Art and Science | Sports Medicine & Human Performance

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