Program Design 101

Jul 25, 2022

This article is based on a series of Tweets from a few weeks ago. The suggestion was to pull them all together into an article.


Lesson 1 - High School kids need 2 or 3 day total body programs

Start with one explosive exercise. The easiest to teach/ learn is Trap Bar Jump but, we love Hang Cleans done from above the knee. 

One exercise from each of the following four categories:

Push- bench press, incline, close grip ( or any dumbbell version of these)

Pull- chin-ups and row variations

Knee dominant- Goblet squats, front squats  and/ or unilateral variations

Hip dominant – Trap Bar Deadlift, 1 Leg Straight Leg Deadlift, Slideboard Leg Curls, “Nordic” Isos

You can pair pushing exercises with knee dominant exercises and pair pulling exercises and hip dominant exercises. ( or, you can do the reverse)

Sets and reps

1-3 sets 3-8 reps. In season could be as little as 1 set of 8-10. Off season we rarely do more than 3 sets.

Key Point- Less is more. Remember these are athletes, not powerlifters or bodybuilders

Think about the Minimum Effective Dose. That means “what's the least I can do to get the result I want”. I like the aspirin analogy. If you have a headache do you take 2 or the whole bottle?



Lesson 2 Choosing Your Exercises

Explosive Exercises:

As mentioned above, do one explosive exercise and, do it first in the workout. We love Hang Cleans but,  if you can't teach a hang clean, do a Trap Bar Jump 

Key Point- don't program coaching intensive lifts that you can't coach. If you are not present at every workout, don't use Olympic lifts.



Lesson -3 Equipment Dictates Programming

Traffic flow is key.

Pick your “ rack exercise” for the day.

Decide what other exercise to pair the “rack exercise” with ( hint- you better not need the rack)


Lesson 4- “ It's not about what you like”

I like Bud Light and Chocolate Chip Ice Cream but, that's not the nutrition advice I give.

You may like to powerlift, Olympic lift, or bodybuild. Your personal likes should have no bearing on your programming.



Lesson 5 Guidelines for Increasing Weight

 Increasing load is as simple as "lets go up 5 lbs" or "lets add 1 rep". The key is progressive resistance. Going up 5 lbs a week moves you up 260 lbs a year. Start with an empty bar for 5 reps and you could be lifting 305 in a year? Just kidding, that wont happen. Big takeaway, there's no hurry.


Programming 101- Lesson 6 Want to know the best way to get strong?

 Don't get weaker!

 Lift a minimum of 2 days a week year round.

 "dont take time off, it will be provided to you" Anonymous

 I love the "no days off" idea because there's no need to plan them, they'll just come up


Programming 101- Lesson 7

 If an acknowledged drug user tells you to follow their program, don't do it. For years we've confused drug use with good programming. Bodybuilders and powerlifters who use drugs probably don't know how to get a non drug user strong.

Listening to strength advice from a drug user is like getting tutored by a guy who admitted he cheats on tests.


Programming 101-Lesson 8

Phase 1- It's Anatomical Adaptation It's not hypertrophy. It would be great if we could just do more reps and more sets and everyone got bigger muscles. Our job would be so easy. “Ok skinny guy, you need to get big so let's just bang out 3x10 and watch you get huge”.


Programming 101-Lesson 9  

Strength training is a simple biological lesson in stimulus-response. Lifting is a stimulus. Changes in muscle size and strength are a response. Provide only as much stimulus as necessary to produce the desired response. Think Minimum Effective Dose.


Programming 101-Lesson 10 The Basics

Everyone learns:

Hang Clean

Goblet Squat

KB Deadlift


Bench Press

DB Row

Split Squat

1 Leg SLDL

( this is an athlete program) Be Brilliant at the Basics


Programming 101- Lesson 11


Don't do the same thing the same way for more than 3 weeks.

The End



Programming 101-Lesson 12

Pair strength exercises. This is a Charles Poliquin/Ian King concept. They refer to this as 1A and 1B We often use tri-sets vs pairs so we might have 1A,1B,1C 

For us this is generally upper, lower, core but could be just alternating upper-lower


Programming 101- Lesson 13

For adult clients choose joint friendly options.

DB Bench over Barbell

Unilateral Variations over Back Squats

KB Swings over Olympic Lifts

Rows over Chin-ups.



Programming 101-Lesson 14

“ Orthopedic Cost”- the long term effect of an exercise on the body. Think of this as wear and tear. Strength training is like putting miles on your car. You can't roll back the odometer. When choosing exercises consider the long-term costs.


Programming 101-Lesson 14A

Orthopedic cost? Some PTs on Twitter are misunderstanding the concept. Lowering orthopedic cost is about choosing more joint friendly versions of similar patterns. I am not advocating being sedentary. I am advocating thinking about exercise choices.

PS- When the research tells you something that absolutely defies common sense maybe the research isn't right? I've squatted, jumped and ran my whole life. My knees don't feel great in the morning. Is that because I haven't been active?


Programming 101-Lesson 15

Sets and reps

We generally do 1-3 sets 3-8 reps. In season could be 1x 8-10. Off season we rarely do more than 3 sets.

Key Point- Less is more.

Remember these are athletes, not powerlifters or bodybuilders. Think about the Minimum Effective Dose.


Programming 101- Lesson 16

Orthopedic Cost (expanded) - lots of negative reaction to this idea.

Choose exercises based on target. For lower body 1 leg squats done with BW are equal to 2 leg squats done with a bar loaded to BW. Unless your target is the spine, 1 leg squats have less orthopedic cost.

The key as always is KISS and MISS. Keep It Simple and Make it Simple.