Before we start, I’m not giving you a definitive answer on this one.
Anyone who says they can (especially in a blog post) is bullshitting you.
There never has been and never will be one best way to write a strength and conditioning program.
Even when we know loads of different variables and know all about the person, we could find two world-class coaches who would write a program with differences. They would both deliver great results.
Getting obsessed with perfection and spending 90% of your time trying to find things that might make 1% of difference isn’t worth and will ruin your life. You’ll also spend more time fucking about that actually training.
What I am going to do is give you what has worked for me and the people I work with from your Average Joe to a professional rugby player, amateur fighters, rugby, cricket and squash players, runners and of course myself.
The first place to look for likelihood of success is the person writing the program.
So here is a ‘blueprint’ to use to design a kick ass program. Some people will query certain parts, that’s fine. They may have another option that worked for them or one of their clients, so the likelihood is that you now have two methods that work – one will suit you better depending on many factors. I can’t answer this from my laptop, sorry!
Questions to ask and answer PROPERLY and HONESTLY:
What’s the purpose?
Don’t ask for a ‘strength and conditioning program’ if you have no idea what you need to be stronger at and what you need to be in condition for.
What are your weaknesses?
Identify your weaknesses then decide if they matter.
For instance, a weakness I see in myself is that I have an internally rotated right femur. I know it’s not ‘ideal’ but I also just squatted 160kg at 83kg. Is it worth spending hours a day trying to correct something which doesn’t appear to impacting my squat?
If something DOES affect a key element of your training or performance, then it DOES need to be addressed.
Weaknesses will include flexibility and being a pussy, wimping out of that final set by convincing yourself you need to move the car or get home 3 minutes earlier.
Taking a lifting session out of your week and spending it doing yoga or just some decent stretching will make more impact on performance than more sub-standard, possible painful lifting.
(BTW pulling your heel to your ass for 10 seconds whilst holding on to the squat rack is not going to make any difference. Spend the 10 seconds doing something productive like staring at the hot girl on the treadmill – this may at least increase testosterone production on your next set of squats with 30kg).
For example, if your conditioning is fantastic but you keep getting smashed on the rugby field because your strength is poor, this should be your priority over doing more conditioning just because you’re good at it.
If you have excellent strength to bodyweight ratios, you need to keep this ticking and get stuck into some conditioning if your sport requires it.
How much time do you have?
A 5 hour per week training program will fail very fast if you only have 3 hours.
Now you may need to MAKE some time if you have committed to a particular goal because ‘quality over quantity’ can only be stretched so far.
However, trying to force it knowing damn well it just isn’t going to happen will lead to TOTAL failure whereas killing it for 3 hours per week consistently will still deliver results.
Once you know your objective, you know your IMPORTANT weaknesses and have accepted the need for correction work into the program and you know what time you have to do all of this, THEN you can start looking at the template.
There is no point me writing lots of different programs here because as I said, there are just too many variables.
What I am going to give you is lots of guidelines IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER to consider as you shape your program.
1) Don’t do speed work or sprints the day after a slog of a conditioning session or a long run. It won’t work and you may well tear something.
2) In the gym, follow this order and you won’t go far wrong: Mobility, Activation, Power (Olympic lifts and plyometrics), Strength (heavy weight / low reps), High rep work (including conditioning). This may be split over different sessions but if you only have 3 sessions per week to do everything, this is a good place to start.
Fighters and team sports respond well to ‘complex training’ towards the end of pre-season or coming up to a fight. This is not using complexes as in 4-6 exercises strung together and performed without putting the weight down.
Instead you will perform exercises covering the whole strength spectrum which confuses the hell out of the body and forces it to be able to switch between generating power to high speed/intensity conditioning, back to grinding strength etc. Just like most sports.
Again the nature of the sport dictates how this is built.
3) Sprint sessions are designed to make you faster. They are not conditioning sessions. You may sprint for 10-20 seconds then rest for 5 minutes to allow the CNS to recover. This is fine – don’t get agitated and start too early. That’s what conditioning sessions are for!
My sources tell me Jamaican sprinters may rest around 30 minutes between some sets.
CALM YOUR TITS and understand the objective of that session.
4) Don’t do it if it hurts.
Even if the exercise is an important one, if it hurts, you will get nothing out of it and end up with a period doing nothing.
Don’t throw your toys out of the pram – work with what you can do with excellence and let injuries recover.
5) If you are a fighter, don’t do too much overhead work or benching.
Unless you’re very lucky, you will probably end up with shoulder issues sooner or later or at best you’ll just find you lack power in sparring or pad work.
6) Building muscle should be done exclusively. Don’t try to be a muscular, triathlete fighter.
Put muscle on when you can dedicate to it as it is a highly energy intensive activity which leaves you feeling like you’ve been bum fucked by Donkey Kong.
7) Don’t listen to everyone.
If you read loads of internet forums you will know by now that it is official that you shouldn’t:
– Bench press
– Stretch before training
– Do dips if you have had a shoulder injury
– Do back squats
– Do steady state cardio
– Do sit ups
– Run on pavements
– Use machines
– Run if your lower, lesser, 14th metatarsal is not aligned
Be careful, but don’t get obsessed.
If you have really tight hips but don’t know how to do dynamic mobility drills, some static hip flexor and piriformis stretching is probably a good thing before training so you move better even if you do ‘lose some power’.
Everyone has an opinion and most have a vested interest in you not using a certain method.
8) When doing TRUE strength and power training, beyond beginner level a good 6-12 progressive sets starting at about 50% of your intended top set will be needed to really get things firing.
9) Deload every 4-5 weeks.
No it doesn’t make you a pussy. It makes you a smart ass who will still be training hard in a few months.
10) Know the objective and speed requirements of each exercise.
Know the speed required, the tension and the tempo. Stick to it even if it hurts like hell or requires a lighter weight.
11) Learn good habits.
That means you who is doing half squats so you can do the same weight as your mate.
How’s your back on those ridiculous deadlifts you do by the way?
12) Progress each week but understand this has many meanings beyond ‘lift more heavy shit’.
Depending on the exercise….
– Increase the speed at which you lift
– Improve the quality / technique / control
– Increase the range of motion
– Hold the tension for longer on the eccentric
– Reduce the recovery if targeting fat loss
What is more important for your goal?
13) Cardio and jogging are not the same but are both valuable depending who you are and what you’re doing.
14) Hit all areas of the strength and power spectrum but prioritise – don’t worry about periodization.
Do it all but change the % attributed to each area depending on your current requirements and weaknesses.
15) Know when to walk away from a training session. It is a training session if it makes you better, it’s a waste of time that could have been spent eating, stretching, sleeping, or getting naked with your girlfriend if you are in such a state you can’t get better.
16) Train the sphere.
This means don’t even just train 360 degree, forwards, backwards, left and right.
Do these but also twist, twist on diagonals, swing things in circles like hammers and power bags.
Think about circular strength as well as the obvious.
But don’t get obsessed with lots of pointless, twisty shit on gym balls.
17) Don’t mimic sporting movements by using heavier versions of the sports equipment.
Train the key movements, especially hip extension then go play the sport.
18) Focus on increasing power to bodyweight ratio in pretty much every sport.
Make weight well early by getting nutrition under control then work on maintaining this whilst increasing strength and power.
19) If doing resisted sprints, ensure your form doesn’t change in any way. Stop when it does.
20) If training purely for strength and power, you should feel epic after a session, you shouldn’t be on your knees.
Your CNS should be firing but you want to be able to train and take this new found power into your sport.
If doing conditioning training, you probably should be on your knees wondering what life’s all about.
21) Measure the important stuff depending on your sport:
Max chin ups
Recovery heart rate between conditioning sets after a set time
Distance to floor on the splits
22) When doing conditioning work, train for slightly longer than the work time in your sport is expected to be.
Take slightly less rest as well.
This helps avoid the panic when you have to bust your ass on the field – train your mind and body to be used to those work times at mega-intensity!
There are of course, many ways to make individual, specific programs more affective.
These are just some rules which apply across the board and should be considered every time you design your program.