3 Tips For Writing Better Strength Programs

athlete-numbers-email-header (2).png

Over the course of my 20+ years of “under the bar” coaching and training career, I have made plenty of mistakes creating training programs. The amount of information available to S&C coaches today is easier to access than ever before; however, that doesn’t mean that it’s all good information. 

I can remember being a young coach and writing my first program for a collegiate rugby team I was working with. Looking back, I didn’t understand why exercise selection or order made a difference. I wasn’t experienced enough to understand how all of the components of a S&C program fit together. 

Luckily I had met some great S&C Coaches at an NSCA clinic in NYC. Here I was able to talk about programming, pass along what I had written to get feedback, and see where I was going wrong. Over the course of the past two decades I’m still seeing some of the mistakes I first made arise with S&C Coaches today.

1. Utilize Proper Exercise Selection and Exercise Order

Choosing the proper exercises is critical to designing safe and effective programs. A S&C Coach must understand both the movements and requirements of the sport/athlete they are programming for, the training age/experience, the equipment that is available, and the time they have to train the athlete. 

Programming band-resisted squats at 92% bar weight with the cambered bar off a 12” box for your 13-year old football team athletes sounds pretty cool, but it's not the best choice if you a) haven’t seen them squat with body weight properly and b) you don’t even know what a cambered bar looks like… 

A great way to think of organizing your exercises is Primary and Assistance.

Primary exercises target multiple muscle groups and give you the most “bang for your buck” in your program. As an S&C Coach, you should have an exercise list you are confident coaching that includes multiple primary exercises for each major movement in your programs (such as push, pull, squat, lunge, and hinge). 

Assistance exercises should complement the primary exercises and can also target multiple muscle groups, but may be single joint exercises as well. Assistance exercises used wisely in combination with primary exercises should have a synergistic effect in helping to improve performance and decrease the likelihood of injury. Assistance exercises can also be utilized to help “grease the groove” in your athletes and improve technique when programmed and coached properly. 

  • Examples of Primary Exercises: Squat (& variations), Deadlift, Olympic Lifts (& variations), Overhead Press
  • Examples of NON-Primary Exercises: Burpees, Box jumps, Conditioning drills, Agility drills

2. Be The Test Dummy

“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” 
― Aristotle

If you don’t know what an exercise feels like, you probably should not be programming it with your athletes. I’m not saying you have to be a national level Olympic Weightlifter to program weightlifting movements, but you damn sure better know what a combination lift of Clean Pull + Power Clean + Front Squat feels like and its training effect before you write it into a program.  

One of the best things you can do as a coach is write yourself a training program based on an assessment of your current sport or training goals, your weaknesses, and the equipment you have available... and then do it!  

Take note of how the program flows, what works well together, and what doesn’t. If you write a program that takes you 2 hours to complete, how do you think you’re going to get all 90 of your collegiate football athletes through it and off to class in time when it’s their turn?

Now what if I did that with a team without trying that out on myself first? Think I’d have a job long as a S&C coach? 

Probably the most important thing you can do as a S&C coach is to know the training effect of the exercises you’re implementing.


3. Do What The Best Do... and Experiment

The TrainHeroic platform is a tremendous resource to coaches from a programming tool perspective. This can save you valuable time when programming for your athletes and maximizing the time you spend actually coaching on the floor. If you’re a new S&C coach and you’re trying to figure out what program to use with your athletes there are numerous available out there to look at and learn from.  

The majority of these programs are well organized and designed but the downside is that you aren't using your own expertise as an S&C Coach to design and implement your programs.  Now if I were a Sport Coach and didn’t have the expertise and experience to design and conduct a safe and effective program I would absolutely utilize one of the programs found in the TrainHeroic Marketplace.  

But as a S&C Coach didn’t you become interested in S&C because you wanted to learn more about the science behind training and help your athletes improve?  Creating your own training programs is still one of the most engaging and fun parts of being a S&C coach.  The majority of the programs I write today are what I’d call conjugate training but I have been influenced by great S&C Coaches like Dave Tate, Boyd Epley, Joe Kenn, Paul Goodman, and Matt Wenning and taken parts and pieces from each of their systems and programs to develop my own programs for the athletes I train.  

I hope that upcoming S&C coaches will learn the proper anatomy and physiology and look at many different systems and programs and then use trial and error to test and re-test programs on themselves and their athletes to come up with what works best for them and their situation.

If so, we have a small favor to ask: more coaches and athletes than ever are reading the TrainHeroic blog, and it's our mission to support them with useful training & coaching content like this. If you found this article useful, please take a moment to share it on social media, engage with the author in the comments below, and link to this article on your blog or any forums you post in. Be your best! - TH Editorial Team

About The Author

Scott Caulfield is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at NSCA Headquarters. You can check out Scott's programs in the TrainHeroic Marketplace by clicking here.