Advanced Program Design Part 2

Jun 22, 2022

(originally posted in Dec 2008)

Part 2 Designing The Ideal Program (this is part 2 of a two part article. Before continuing make sure to read part 1 of Advanced Program Design.)

The ideal program is designed with the previous three goals in mind. The ideal program takes risk, but analyzes risk to benefit ratio. The ideal program works on all aspects of training but, in a progressive manner that minimizes exposure to undue stress. The big key is that the program improves performance but, never at the expense of health.

Program Design Keys

Consistency- a bad workout is better than a missed workout. It is still better to go through the motions than to miss a day.

Structure- coaches need to figure out how to divide up the time they are given to train. I can't tell you how many times I have heard strength and conditioning coaches complain about lack of time. Figure out how much time you have and go for maximum bang for the buck.

Density- density is really a measure of work per unit of time. How much work can I get into the time allotted? Good program structure leads to density. The best way to achieve density is to pairing or tri--set exercises. This is a concept that everyone should be using. Doing multiple sets of an exercise with 2-5 minute rests between sets should be done only by competitive lifters. Those of us who train athletes or train clients should be pairing or tri-setting exercises. The next best way to achieve density is to use rest time for something other than rest. Most of our core work is done between sets when we are "resting". I hate wasted time and, time spent sitting around waiting to do the next set is wasted time.

Program Structure

As I said above structure is key. I have often used the analogy of baking a cake. You can't pick and choose ingredients. All the ingredients need to go in and, the ingredients need to go in the proper amounts and, the proper order. The "pre-workout" process must include work for:
- Tissue length ( foam rolling)
- Tissue Density ( stretching)
- Tissue readiness ( activation)

Now think time. How many minutes can I devote to the above. My feeling is that it should be 10- 20% of training time for young healthy athletes. That means 6-12 minutes out of an hour. We always work off a clock with our groups.


Warm-up is different than tissue work. In the beginning of the workout we are preparing the muscles. In the next step we are preparing the athlete. A good dynamic warm-up can be done in 5-6 minutes and will be particularly successful once the tissue is properly prepared.

Developing Power and Speed

Once the tissues are prepared the next step is power and speed development. After a proper warm-up bodyweight power (plyometric exercises) and light implement power work (medicine balls) will be done. In addition, this is also the time to add in short sprints and sprint drills. Many of the sprint drills have been done as part of the dynamic warm-up but, the actual sprints occur after. From a training density standpoint I prefer to pair jumps and throws. One set of a plyometric drill will be followed by a set of medicine ball throws. Three sets will be done in alternating fashion. This allows adequate rest between sets of plyos, without wasted rest time.

The nice thing about plyometric exercises and medicine ball exercises is that they also provide an increased level of preparation for the nervous system. The last thing done before entering the weightroom are sprints. I like a low volume of sprinting. We will usually only do 5-6 sprints of 5-20 yards before our strength work.

Moving Into the Weightroom

For a young healthy athlete power development in the weightroom revolves around the Olympic lifts. Older athletes may perform additional plyometric exercises at this point like Jump Squats or MVP Shutttle Jumps. Based on the age and health of the trainee, resisted exercises are selected to develop lower body power. In the last few years I have developed a greater affinity for the Close Grip Snatch. Many coaches are afraid of snatches and find them difficult to teach however I feel quite the opposite. I think snatches are easier to teach as the athlete is less limited by poor upper body flexibility. In any case, we will perform hang cleans, close grip hang snatches, DB snatches or, in the case of younger or older athletes kettlebell swings  to develop total body power. These will generally be done in what we call a tri set with a core exercise and an active stretch or mobility exercise. What this means is that instead of resting the athlete will do core work and mobility work during the rest time. This concept goes back to our idea of density. The goal is to get maximum work done in the time allotted. This will not be accomplished by sitting for 3 minutes between sets.

The tri set for an explosive lift will look like this

Explosive lift 

Core Exercise


Tri sets are used for power exercises so that the focus remains on the power exercise and so the nervous system is not overstressed.

Strength Programming

The strength program looks very similar to the power program. In strength work, strength exercises are paired with other non-competing strength exercises and the rest time is "filled" with core and/ or  mobility work.

The most important thing to understand in program design is that time should never be wasted. To create a great program first create a great preparation sequence then, choose exercises that are appropriate for your population. Last, use time as a precious commodity not to be wasted.

However, the real key to great program design comes from the beginning of the article. Develop a philosophy of training, don't adopt or borrow one. Be a critical thinker and take responsibility for your results, either good or bad.

If you are interested in the Program Design check out Functional Strength Coach 7 or, the whole Functional Strength Coach series at