Training

How to Write Your Own Program

JM Blakley Elite FTS

It has been brought to my attention that I “should” write an article that directly addresses programming. THE LAST THING ON EARTH that we need is another training program…SO HERE’S MINE!

Four to six sets of four to six reps. One main exercise. With an OPTIONAL second.

Close to a competition, four to six sets of triples with two to three near-max singles as skill work.

THAT was categorically the EASIEST article I’ve ever written! Whew! I’m glad that’s over.

Now, let’s get on to something that is at least a bit worthwhile! You see, the reason that the above was so easy and why there is a plethora (that is almost unending) of training programs out there is precisely that they are the single EASIEST THING ABOUT THE ENTIRE TRAINING PROCESS! It is so easy that literally anyone (or in the case of online programs, EVERYONE) can write them.


Think I’m joking? Look a few up right now. THINK them through for a brief, brief moment. Then take a guess (in percentage) at how likely they are to ACTUALLY WORK ANY BETTER THAN WHAT YOU ARE DOING RIGHT NOW. Or, for that matter, any other program you would look up online in the next 10 random Web searches. No, really. Do it. Set a percentage on it. Guess how likely the program is to actually come through for you if you followed it religiously. This is a thought experiment. Once you have your number (let’s say you like the way the program sounds, or you like the exercises it advises, so you say that you have 70% faith that it will work), take the next step.

program-ghr

Now, do the HARD THINKING. Ask yourself WHY you gave it that rating. WHY do you think this magic bullet will do the trick? WHAT made you give it the number you gave it? Even if you rated it at 98%, you still need to explain why you trust it so much. In other words, JUSTIFY YOUR FAITH. Hey, if you did choose to follow the program, you would be putting LOTS of effort into it day in and day out, so it is a small thing for me to ask you to think for a second or two about WHY you are going to dole out so much blood, sweat, and tears following it. What makes you so certain or not so certain?

If you take the time to do this and you come up a little dry, don’t be ashamed of yourself (OK, maybe a teensy bit). MOST of the people in the gym can’t answer WHY. But pause and take a deep breath. If you can’t put some ground underneath you to stand on when attempting to substantiate why it is you are doing what you are doing…THEN WHY THE HELL ARE YOU DOING IT? If you wish to follow or are following a program, you have VOTED FOR IT. And you are actively investing in it. Don’t you think you should reasonably be able to explain in simple terms WHY you are up to what you are up to? Well, I sure as hell think so, and for your sake, I hope so.

If you cannot, you just learned a valuable lesson about “following” that many try to hide from themselves. Nietzsche called this a “herd mentality.” Just following along blindly without knowing much about things. Some people just do what they are told to do. But some question things. Even authority. Even experts. And even themselves. Going along with the flow of the herd is certainly an easier way to live. But what if where the herd is headed isn’t where you want to go? If you don’t know why you do what you do, you have given the authority to someone else. Plain. Simple. And probably not at all what you wanted to hear. In my worldview, it does no harm to question things. In fact, I will argue that it is good and healthy. It absolutely clarifies to you if you want to stay on the bus or get off and take another bus. So, ASK WHY.

By the way, it is OK to follow. I follow plenty of people, ideas, and things. But I can tell you why I’ve chosen to. In each and every case. And I re-evaluate my reasons often. Perhaps not as often as I should. But I try. Don’t have a breakdown just yet, though. All is not lost. AT ANY MOMENT, you are perfectly capable of changing this predicament. But you’re going to have to begin to learn to think for yourself. That means work. Lots of work. And it’s not physical. It’s mental. You won’t sweat a drop. But it will be harder than anything you’ve ever done physically. That is certain. But it rewards much more as well. In other words, it is worth it.

To recap up to this point, if you can’t tell me why you think a program will or won’t work to some degree for you, or if you can’t tell me why you are following the routine that you are putting all your time and energy into right now, then you are a follower who is accepting a herd mentality. This may be OK to you or not OK depending on the goals, views, and values of the herd you’re in. If you are able to reasonably explain why you are doing what you are doing, then the CHOICE TO FOLLOW is warranted! The warrant comes from the reasons you have for drinking the Kool-Aid. If you are the former, you need to think of some reasons you might have for doing that particular program. If you HAVE reasons and you are one of the latter, the next step is to evaluate THE STRENGTH OF THOSE REASONS.

coach-dave

It’s fine to say that your reason for following a program is because your friend or some superman does it and swears by it. BUT how GOOD is that reason? Are you more similar to that superstar athlete or to an average person? What about your friend who was successful with it? Yes, HE had a good outcome, but what confidence do you have that you will have a good outcome as well? What connection does another’s success have to yours? I have had some very poor surgical outcomes. My friend Jeff has had nearly miraculous outcomes. He is encouraging me to consider an operation. He’s a fan of surgery. Me…not so much. I am not convinced that I will have the same kind of success in the same area as he has. How about you? Are you willing to bet that you will do as well as your friend? Maybe. Maybe not. My point is this: some reasons are better than others. Science is high on my list. As is common sense. But promises and celebrity endorsements don’t move me much. Nor does the old “that’s what everybody does” pitch. You need your own reasons, and the choice is up to you. I’m encouraging you to move toward stronger ones that are fact based rather than emotional. Evaluate your reasons for your choices. If they are strong, your choice looks sounder than if they are thin.

So, first of all, if you don’t know why you do the shit you do, get your life together and grow up. Or not. The world needs lemmings. We can’t all drive the bus. But the bus I’m talking about is YOUR BUS, my friend! It’s carrying you through your life! You might want to consider steering once in a while. Or not! The proverbial “MAN” will do it for you—no worries! But there will be a COST. You can (and should) do this for yourself. Practice will allow you to gain trust in your ability. But you’ve got to start!

If you think you can tell me why you do what you do, you can go to the next step. Now, really evaluate the STRENGTH of your convictions. Not in how dedicated you are to them but in how WORTHY they are to receive your dedication. Please re-read the last sentence. It is what this point is really about. If you think you have GOOD REASONS to do what you do and they are actually good reasons, they will stand up to brutal scrutiny. The stronger and more worthy the reasons, the more brutal the test that they can endure. If yours fall apart easily, then look for better ones—not better programs! Don’t miss the point. It is NEVER about programs! It’s about having justified trust in them. And working hard to execute them.

The more you know that a program is sound, the more you will work for its rewards. In the end, my friend, it will NOT BE the program but rather your HARD WORK in executing it that yields all of the results. If your faith is in the program or system and not in yourself, you are off the reservation. You have missed the mark. You are now at the mercy of the system. You are back to being a follower. You must rely on yourself and not on the program. Please imagine me saying the last few sentences in the calmest, kindest, quietest way you can picture. It’s not supposed to be shouted. It is so deeply true that it can only be whispered. If you’re looking for greatness and success in a program and not from yourself, you can dig to China. You cannot find it where it does not exist. ALL OF THE THINGS YOU WANT ARE BURIED INSIDE OF YOU. The program is empty in this regard. Stop looking around for a great program and begin to foster greatness in yourself.

leg-curl

If you enjoy success, it will be because you have done the work. This is extremely easy to see in the strength sports. There are a thousand programs. They don’t matter much, really. What matters is the “Rage to Master” that lies within a person. The drive that he or she can access. If you give me anyone with “the heart of a lion,” I can make him or her a champion at almost anything he or she chooses. I will just apply a well-known program that every arena has been using for decades, and I will set the desire for excellence free in the right direction. I don’t even have to know the sport or activity. I can look up the “programs” that are already there and pick a fine one for the right reasons (I will be able to tell you why I chose what I chose). Then, I will get busy releasing my Tiger on the task. Next, I will FEED the person from the inside out. If you have an athlete with the best program that the experts can agree on but he puts in a half-assed effort going about it, and if you have another athlete with a piss-poor program to follow but he gives his best and then some (which he magically finds deep inside of himself), who would you be betting on? I know who my money is on! My money is on the PERSON, not the PROGRAM.

I know that some “trainers” will be upset with me because they feed their families by selling “programs.” And I’m telling you that they don’t matter much. I am sorry. But these people aren’t important, really. They exist because the truth is often ugly and hard to swallow and requires much from us. They exist because people don’t want to do the thinking. They are therefore employed by the lazy. But in the end, this type of trainer or coach will fail us because he or she can’t carry everybody! These trainers fail us because they fail to TEACH US TO CARRY OURSELVES. They might make less money but help more people if they spent more time cultivating inner strength and purpose in us, rather than inventing countless “programs” that differ little from one another.

The programming is the easy stuff. Sets, reps, exercises, order, percentages…numbers. Easy as pie. The challenge for a mentor or coach is in how to USE THE PROGRAM TO ACHIEVE THE BEST EFFECT. All of the programs are designed to work. If they follow the general training truths we all learn about them in the first training class we take in school, they produce. Use anyone you want (yes, yes, I do believe there is a “best” one, and I gave it to you right off the bat….Take it or leave it). The real deal lies not in the program but rather in the application and execution. The spirit of the law—not the letter of the law.

This is why there are so many mediocre programs and so few good coaches. It’s hard to do the hard things. It’s easy to do the same old easy things. Coaches simply are not up for the real effort of coaching. It’s too damn hard. It is too EMOTIONAL when it is done right. Too personal. Too close. It spends you. Online distance and safety can be hidden behind. They never become vulnerable to the pain, frustration, sweat, tears, passion, and failures of their athletes or students. And even in real time and in real life with face-to-face coaching, if coaches are unwilling to put themselves on the line and be there fully with their athletes, they are not sufficiently vulnerable and therefore not as invested or engaged. Odds are you’ve never had a good coach in your life. Not my fault. I’m doing the best I can. Here is the point, though. YOU have to become the best coach you’ve ever had.

leg-curl-coach

A proper coach will be the leader, a teammate, a cheerleader, a fan, a critic, a motivator, a husband or wife, a friend, a healer, and a mentor…just to BEGIN the list. No wonder nobody wants to do all that! But if the coach is not at least a modicum of those things to some degree or another, they are failing to some extent in their calling. This is why every great coach teaches his or her athletes to do more for themselves every day. The greatest coaches coach less and less each year as the athletes grow within themselves. If a coach does not teach the inner lessons, this can never occur. The coach who does not know the inner lessons or who cannot adequately teach the athletes is then relegated to FOLLOWING THE PROGRAMS OF OTHERS. They must fall back on the only thing they can…the program. It’s all they have. They are really empty. They are almost unnecessary. Programs are a dime a dozen, but a good coach who is willing to feel the pain and joy of his or her athlete is a diamond.


The real job of a coach is to teach athletes TO COACH THEMSELVES. The best ones give more and more responsibility and decisions to their athletes. They trust them more and more. But they don’t just shirk their coaching off on them if they have not PREPARED them to take the role! That would just be lazy. Coaches are lazy enough! Please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying here. You can’t give decisions to someone whom you have not prepared to make them! That is the work of coaching and teaching. To prepare individuals for some task. In the case of athletics, it is to develop athletes’ skills on the playing field but also to teach them how to self-motivate, heal, strategize, train, employ their skills, grow their talent, exploit their potential, and do all of the loving things that give birth to champions. And to be more and more capable of doing this for themselves.

The coach will have his or her hands full year after year training athletes to TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES. One day, if the athlete climbs high enough, it will be a requirement for the athlete to be competent in all of these things. The lower the level, the more the coach can do for his or her athletes. But as they succeed more and more, the coach must simply watch, wait, and see if he or she has taught them the things they need.

And as a side note, if you don’t think that LOVE is a requisite ingredient for making a champion, then the champions you know are mere shadows of the champions I’m referring to. Just winning events DOES NOT make anyone a real champion. Not in my book. If you are coaching without loving, there is no hope of cultivating a champion.

OK. There you have it. Programs are the easy stuff. They are interesting and fun to look over, and they are fun to play around with. But they are the small potatoes. The hard stuff is the real coaching. Training the person to be self-reliant. Self-confident. Self-assured. No program is going to do that. So, I’m suggesting that you spend less time worrying about your program and more time dealing with the endless complexity of HUMAN DEVELOPMENT in yourself and in your athletes. These things are not at odds! They dovetail very tightly! They help each other. You can do both.

It is just the American way to gravitate to the easy things. We glorify saving time, money, and effort. THAT WILL GET YOU NOWHERE IN THE WEIGHT ROOM OR IN THE PURSUIT OF EXCELLENCE. So, if you are a coach, or if you are actively working to be a self-reliant athlete who coaches yourself, rethink your priorities. Are you constantly looking at new and different exciting programs to try? Or, are you covering the basics of mental preparation and self-soothing before and after a competition? How many programs do you know? How many calming techniques do you know? How much time have you spent using percentages to design a workout routine versus how much time you have read about ways in which to incorporate creativity into the attitudes that your athletes (or you) take into the competition? I don’t know you or your situation…but I’m willing to bet that the balance of these things is not where I would have it if it were MY PROGRAM!

The takeaway is that I want to shift the emphasis from programming toward athlete development. Both can be done at the same time! But I fear that the former is overdone, whereas the latter is starved out entirely. I’ve made an effort here to highlight the need. People win games. Plays or programs do not. PROGRAMS=EASY…DEVELOPING HEART AND SOUL=HARD.

So, …

Here is my program again. IT IS SO EASY THAT I’LL DO IT TWICE IN ONE ARTICLE.

4-6 SETS X 4-6 REPS = ONE MAIN EXERCISE, OPTIONAL SECOND EXERCISE

AT PEAK, 4-6 SETS X 3REPS, WITH 2-3 NEAR-MAX SINGLES

THERE YOU GO.

Yes, I admit that I take a year to teach this ad nauseam and that there is nuance to it. But that IS the program! The nuance is ME! I train every single rep with my people. I’m THERE. I do it WITH them. I’m present for all of it. It is a “we” thing. They are never alone. I move out of the picture more and more to let them expand, but I never abandon them. They take me with them at every moment. The program is like a trellis that the roses grow on. If you focus on building and rebuilding the trellis, you can’t get on with the cultivation of the flowers, the weeding, feeding, pruning, and loving attention that makes things grow—ALL THINGS.

Voltaire left us with some advice at the conclusion of Candide. He said, “We must cultivate our garden.”

Programs won’t grow anything. What do you suppose does make things grow? YOU can make things grow.

Source: https://www.elitefts.com/education/how-to-write-your-own-program/