Designing Your Ideal Exercise Program

Jun 22, 2022

I've seen a huge number of arguments about fitness. Part of the reason is that there are many right ways to do things. And only a few really wrong ways. That's why context is everything. You might have an amazing program sitting in front of you. But for who? And when?

No matter what, there are some fundamental principles that should exist in any long-term training strategy.

1. Something to prepare you for higher performance
This could (or at least should) be your warm-up. But it may also relate to mental preparation. No matter what, the concept is that you don't just walk into doing great work cold. You build an onramp.

Part of this preparation will typically address your limiting factor for great performance. Maybe there's a physical weak link (like not being aware of whether your spine is moving under a heavy squat) or a mental weak link (like being distracted or apprehensive). By addressing this early, you prepare yourself to execute on a higher level.

2. A whole-body movement that you can be an aggressive idiot with
You know how the internet has endless information about how to perform certain exercises? If you need to think, and think, and research, and practice something to get it right, it won't fit in this slot.  Nope. Instead, you'll need something that you can perform well under fatigue, load aggressively, and have a big buffer for (i.e. you can handle minor issues without pain or injury). This is where you PUSH.

The most common mistake here is choosing something more technical than you can handle at this level of intensity.

It turns out that being an idiot actually requires tremendous thought and strategy.

3. Technical practice
This is where you can work on coordination, body awareness, and movement variation. This kind of work makes the above category viable in the long-term. Lower-load (not easy, just not crushing), consistently high movement standards and exploration are the keys here.

4. Something to support your strongest movement
You might be able to do this with your technical practice. On the other hand, you might need something more specific, like shoulder strength, or aerobic recovery. Either way, this where you would put most accessory work. This category feeds into the strategy behind pushing hard in a smart, sustainable way.

5. Something that demands mental strength
For you to truly make progress, you have to get used to pushing your mental boundaries. This is part of the great value of this process – it translates into everything else.

Pushing mental boundaries can be (and often is) done under gruelling physical demands. But gruelling is subjective. Sometimes, this type of practice can be as simple as doing something that makes you uncomfortable or addressing something you suck at. And sometimes, it's simply showing up. This is not to be underestimated.

One thing I can tell you is that the world's best performers turn boundary-pushing into a game. And then they play that game on a grandmaster level. They're not less uncomfortable; they just have advanced strategies for dealing with those feelings.

6. Something fun
Unless training is your job, it's here to support your enjoyment of life. And that's why it can't always be a grind. Not to mention that play is at the top of the performance pyramid. Following a ruleset in a spontaneous, creative way is not just enjoyable; it also demands the highest level of execution.

7. Something to help you transition back into recovery mode
A minute or two of slow breathing, soft-tissue work, or general relaxation helps kick-start the recovery process.