How I Program

My History

I often get asked on how I program and why I think it’s better than paying someone else to do it. First and foremost, if you have minimal experience with programming, coaching, and training, you should refer out to someone who can safely write prescribed workouts for your members. However, outsourcing programming means that direct communication and instant feedback isn't there. It’s important to know how your members/clients are relating to the programming. If your business goal is to offer the best service to your paying customers, their feedback is most important. So there isn’t any confusion, this is focused solely on training with the goal of being healthy and not to be confused with the training required to be competitive in the sport of fitness.

I’ve been dabbling with program design since my early 20’s. That means I have over 10 years’ experience with programming as well as training. The first 5-6 years weren’t very good. I’ll admit that I didn’t really understand proper dosing and would crush myself with too much volume. Along the way to refining myself, I invested more money and time to education. I was then able to couple my experience with research, to better provide a service for my members. I committed to being a “Brute Strength Athlete” so I could get better, but also to see how a proper program is written. I was able to speak with their two main coaches, Adrian Conway and Nick Fowler. After 3 years of that, I switched over to an individual coach through Training Think Tank and Adam Rogers.

I invested into my coaching by trying to educate myself on various methods of training through coursework and reference books/material. Of course, I haven’t read them all cover to cover, but I use them as a reference for coaching individuals, group training, and specific populations. I was motivated to learn more so I could guarantee that my members were staying injury free, enjoying their gym experience, not getting burned out, feeling a part of the process, and having a better overall quality of life. I went through the 2012 OPEX course, 2017 OPEX Course, Training Think Tanks courses, the Power Athlete Course, and Precision Nutrition’s course. Later this year I plan on attending Power Athletes Block One certification, Certified Functional Strength Coach’s Level 1, and the Clinical Weightlifting Certification.

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Programming for a Group

When programming for a group it’s important to ask,

  • “How can/does this benefit their lives?”

  • “How well can they perform said movements under fatigue versus fresh?”

  • “What are the biggest movement discrepancies that need to be addressed?”

The reason I chose those 3 questions is because if you’re performing an exercise that has a low return on investment, then why waste the energy or risk the potential injury? When people are left to their own devices, they will do what they want to do and do that too much. I call it a dopamine effect where they do something because they like how it feels, but ultimately it leads to a recipe for overtraining. It’s important to manage the weekly dose, especially for Crossfit. We don’t want to compromise the recovery of certain joints and muscle groups, movement patterns, or overdoing one energy system/training time domain. I can look at my members in workouts, talk to them, take the feedback and alter programming the next day if I need to. You can’t do that paying for someone. It’s also important to program progressions for movements that require skill or develop strength. That becomes a problem if the coach(es) can’t properly teach the lifts or movement. Crossfit is special because when you design a macrocycle of periodization for it, you’re going to have linear, undulating, and conjugate styles. Most training cycles were dependent on the sports season or a competition. Crossfit is relatively new and it’s best to train a safer mindset than pushing yourself to the brink of failure and death every time you’re in the gym. It isn’t healthy or sustainable to push that hard, nor is it necessary for general fitness. So, I program to improve movement quality over time which can lead to strength gains, skill acquisition, and better conditioning. I don’t program for quick fixes or instant gratification. The health and longevity of my members is my main objective and I won’t compromise that for anything.

Misnomers in Programming

 I recently had a coach say that if there’s an “8:00 metcon, I’ll just throw some strength in beforehand.” This isn't ideal for a few reasons. An 8:00 Metcon is going to be very intense in comparison to a 16:00 metcon. You need to warm up properly. This means over 20 minutes. First, there needs to be some blood flow initiated. Second, we focus on getting the large muscle groups and joints loose. Third, we focus on the movements in the metcon and if they require weight, building that up. Lastly, we run through a few lower volume cycles of the metcon to make sure the nervous system is primed and ready to go. After a metcon of that intensity, we need to provide a cool down so the nervous system can start to down regulate. Not a lot of time, “to throw some strength in”, is it?  

Training Years and PRs

Don’t be fooled by the guise of PRs. If someone has never trained or trained very little, the chances of them PR’ing regularly is very high. Why? Because their body is experiencing new stressors and is adapting with them. As the training years increase, the jumps in strength will wane because the load is now or should be, treading towards their genetic physical potential. Don’t fall in love with initial PRs, teach movement quality and integrity under load.

Conclusion

If you put the life function of your members first, TEACH them how to move, make them stronger, powerful, enduring, mobile, and healthy, you will find great value in your work. This may also mean that you must explain to them why you do what you do or what the importance of what we’re doing is. To be a professional coach means that your learning never stops, and your members will appreciate it. Lastly, more is not better. Don’t program more volume, program better volume.

-Joseph Freeman

Joseph Freeman