Monday, February 22, 2010

Whats Wrong With This?

I have been ask by a friend to give my opinion on the following Strength Program that I have witnessed lately. This program is currently being performed by athletes with a training age of zero in the facility that I work out of. This is the Program:

Day 1:
Bench Press 4x8-12
Clean & Jerk 4x8-12
Box Jumps 4x16 (Jump up & Down! Hikes !!!!!!!!!)
DB Push Press 4x8-12
RFE Split Squat Jumps 4x8-12

Day 2:
DeadLift 4x8-12
DB Snatch 4x8-12
Squats 4x8x12
DB Swings 4x8-12

They have been doing this exact same program now for over 2 months. I know, I know!

So whats wrong with this program?

First off, I do not claim to know it all. I will never know it all. Knowing this drives me to be a better coach everyday. This is why everyday I read, listen to podcasts, watch dvds and webinars, get on websites like and sports rehab expert, and blogs like I have listed to the right hand side of this website. This is why I travel around the world to intern with the Top Strength and Conditioning coaches. To try and make myself a better coach, so I can in turn help build better athletes.

Secondly I definitely do not want to come across as an asshole, or being negative. It is just so frustrating for me to see coaches who spend no time continuing to educate themselves to be better coaches making money (and sometimes a lot) off very poorly designed programs. As Peter Griffin would say “It grinds my gear”!

I just want to help people understand Strength and Conditioning better, so that they can then have a more critical understanding of it. This will allow them to have a better judgement of what is good, and what is not good.

People don’t question those who they see as experts. You should always question! Question your doctor. Question your dentist. Question the physio. Question the Strength and Conditioning coach. Ask them what was the last book they read about their profession? What was the last DVD watched about their profession? What was the last seminar they attended? What is the next seminar that they are attending? Where do they read their research? What podcasts do they listen too? You would be surprised as to how some of these so-called experts will answer!

I actually personally know the coach who “designed” this program. He is a very nice guy, but he doesn’t get it. He doesn’t read everyday. He doesn’t listen to podcasts. He doesn’t watch DVDs and webinars. He doesn’t....... well you get the point.

Ok Robbie. You still have told us what’s actually wrong with his program?

Just to let you all know again, I train my athletes in the same facility that this program was designed for, so I know what was at his disposal when design this program.
Also I would like to add that my program design is far from perfect. I do not claim to have the ulimate program here right before you. What I do have though is a very thought out process, and a reason for everything that I do! Still I do realize that there is many ways to skin a cat. But some ways I feel are just better then others.

Ok, here goes!

1. No Warm Up Section:

There is none of the following in this program:
- Soft tissue work (Foam Rolling), for tissue quality
- Stretching (Tissue length)
- No activation exercises for muscles that are usually dormant (glutes, scapula stabilizers)
- No Mobility work to any joints that need it (ankle, hips, t-spine)
- No Dynamic Warm Up for getting the nervous system revved up
- No Plyos for lower body elasticity, and injury reduction, and again to get the nervous system revved up
- No Med Ball work for upper body power
- Speed work. This one he could not do, just not enough space.

No Soft Tissue Work

No Stretching

No Activation Work

No Mobility Work!

No Plyos

No medball work

2. Order of exercises:

Ask any of the top strength and conditioning guru’s, and all will tell you that explosive exercises like the clean, snatch, DB snatch, always, always are the first exercises to be perform in a workout.


Because they are the most demanding on your central nervous system (CNS). This means you need to be FRESH to perform them, NOT fatigued.

3. Reps? :

Again ask any top expert how many reps would you do for explosive exercises like cleans, DB snatches, snatches, box jumps, RFE Split Squat Jumps, and they will all tell that they should not be done for any more than 5-6 reps. Anything over this is conditioning, NOT power development.

Know if conditioning is your goal, then maybe I wouldn’t be so critical. But I still would not do any Olympic lifts (Cleans, snatches, etc) for conditioning. They are far too complex to do for high reps. I would prefer things like, body weight circuits, medball circuits, and barbell complexes.

I know that some crossfit people swear by their high rep cleans, and thats fine by me, but most of the crossfit guys that I see doing high rep Olympic lifts have at least a few training years behind them. I am talking about some guys who have never picked up a weight before in their life!

4. No Vertical or Horizontal Pulling? :

There is absolutely no upper back work in this program. Their is 3 pushing exercises, bench press, DB push press, and the jerk (which is really more of a push press) of the clean, all done for 4x8-12.

(4x12) x 3 = (48) x3 = 144reps.

144 reps of pushing and absolutely NO PULLING EXERCISES? 48 horizontal pushing, and 96 vertical pushing.

Do you think this could lead to some muscular imbalances down the road? Mmmmm..........

And we all know that muscular imbalances can be one of the causes of??

That’s right. INJURY!

No Horizontal Pulling (Inverted Rows)

Again No Horizontal Pulling (3 PT DB Row)

5. No Single Leg Work:

No Split Squats, reverse lunges (with beginners I would not do any forward lunges), single squats, SLDL’s. Apart from the RFE Split Squat jumps, there is absolutely no single leg work.

This is criminal.

Single work is essential, especially for a field, court player.

No Single Leg Work

No Single Leg Work

6. Too Much Volume:

These players are training on the pitch 2 times per week, and also have a game on the weekends.

The volume in this program is overkill on the central nervous system (CNS). 4x12 on big compound exercises like deadlifts, squats, bench press, clean & jerk (?). Then you also have DB snatches, RFE Split Squat Jumps for 4x12, and Box Jumps (where the athletes jump down off the box backwards? Again, I know!) for 4x16!

Think quality NOT quantity

7. Periodization? :

The athletes have been following this exact program for over two months now. This of course completely neglects the fundamentals of periodization for strength training.

You must understand that after a certain number of exposures to the same workout your body will start to adjust to the workload and your progress will stagnate (Stop). Charles Poliquin, a world renowned strength and conditioning coach from Canada reckons that after 6 exposures to the same workload your body will start to stagnate.

Now if you are a beginner to strength training, you could get away with staying on the same program for more than 6 exposures because you are a beginner! But eventually your progress will stop if you do not change at least one of the following in your workout:

- Reps
- Exercises
- Rest Intervals
- Load
- Tempo

Poliquin also reckons that the body adjusts to rep ranges first, before any of the other variables.

When designing a program you need to have a system. You need to know where you want you athletes in 12-16 weeks at least. You can’t just make it up as you go along, and you certainly cannot just use the same program for a whole year!

I like to use either an undulating periodization model, or a concurrent model.

Undulating Periodization Model:
Phase 1 (Weeks 1-4): 3x10
Phase 2 (Weeks 5-8): 4x5
Phase 3 (Weeks 9-12): 3x8
Phase 4 (Weeks 13-16): 5x3

Concurrent Model:
Every phase will have the following:
Main Lift: 1-5 reps
Submaximal lifts: 5-12 reps
Repetition lifts: 12+

Example Concurrent Workout:
Lower Body:
A1: Deadlift 6x3
A2: Mobility

B1: BB RFE Split Squat 3x10
B2: Core

C1: Glute Ham Raise 3x12
C2: Rotary Core

Upper Body:

A1: BB Floor Press 6x3
A2: Mobility

B1: DB Row – Neutral Grip 4x8
B2: DB Chest Press – Neutral Grip 3x8

C1: Face Pulls 3x15
C2: Push Ups 3x15

8. Technique:

Not good. Mike Boyle says something along the lines of, a coach should be able to tell if you are a good coach or a bad coach, just by how good your athletes technique is.

I coach my athletes to be able to coach the lifts I get them to perform. I find that this helps my athletes to have at the very least good technique in the weight room.

9. Confusing Density (Volume) for Intensity:

This really bugs me. The guys all tell me, “It’s so intense”. To them if they are destroyed by the end of the session, this must mean it was intense!

Any fool can make an athlete work hard, sweat, or get sick. It is the coach who can make an athlete better that will get results.

Now listen closely to the following:

Intensity in Strength Training is judged by THE WEIGHT ON THE BAR!


8x3 is far more intense then 3x8 why?

3 reps is over 90% of your 1RM (1 rep max). Were as 8 reps is only 80% of your 1RM.

So what do think is going to be more intense on the body. A heavy load, or a light load.

10. Progressions? :

Where are the progressions? You need progressions. You just can’t get guys who have never lifted before (properly anyway) to start to deadlifts from the floor, squatting, Cleans from the ground. 8 out 10 guys will all have some sort of mobility, stability (or both), restrictions that prevents them from performing these exercises with good technique. This is why you need progressions.

Eoin Lacey, a Strength Coach here in Dublin said to me once, “ you have to earn the right to squat, deadlift, and Bench. By this he meant you need to serve your time with the proper progressions before you get to start shipping more impressive loads on the big lifts!

Now this by no why means that you should not lift some heavy weight, it just means you need to find a better and safer way to load yourself.

Example Progressions:

These are just examples don’t read into them too much.

Deadlift Progression:

Phase 1: Pull-Throughs
Phase 2: Rack Pulls – Bar just above knee level
Phase 3: Rack Pulls – Bar at mid-shin
Phase 4: Deadlift from the floor

Squat Progression:

For squat progression, what I usually do is, I have my guys/gals work on their squat pattern in the warm up, and during rest periods in the first 2-3 phases, and then we will start to load a squat up in phase 3-4. I have them all do loaded single leg work until they start squatting.

Phase 1: DB Spit Squat
Phase 2: DB RFE Split Squat
Phase 3: BB RFE Split Squat
Phase 4: Front Squat

Split Squat Progression:

Phase 1: DB Spit Squat
Phase 2: DB RFE Split Squat
Phase 3: BB RFE Split Squat
Phase 4: BB RFE Split Squat (more load/or volume)

Walking lunge Progression:

Phase 1: DB Reverse Lunge
Phase 2: DB Forward Lunge
Phase 3: DB Walking Lunge
Phase 4: BB Walking Lunge

Reverse Lunge Progressions

Phase 1: DB Reverse Lunge
Phase 2: DB Reverse Lunge off low step
Phase 3: BB Reverse Lunge
Phase 4: BB Reverse Lunge off low Step

Single Leg Squat Progression:

Phase 1: DB Spit Squat
Phase 2: DB RFE Split Squat
Phase 3: Single Leg Squat
Phase 4: Single Leg Squat (more load)

Single Leg Dead Lift (SLDL) Progression:

Phase 1: Reaching SLDL
Phase 2: 1 Arm DB SLDL
Phase 3: 2 Arm DB SLDL
Phase 4: BB SLDL

You get the point

I could go on and on with Progressions, and also Regressions, which are just as important. I have loads of different variations of progressions and regressions, but the point is that it is important to have them.

So to my friend who ask the question “Whats wrong with this”. There is your answer.

Stay Strong,



  1. Great blog Robbie! You're getting pretty damn smart I must say.

    Another critique is that the program is almost all axial loading (vertical plane) with only one anteroposterior loaded (horizontal plane) movement; the bench press. There's also illogical order - squats after can be done, but it's usually wiser to squat before deadlifting. Finally, too many repeats in the same workout (box jumps and RFESS jumps, jerks and push press, snatches and swings...). We could pick this thing apart all day!

  2. Good work Robbie....fair amount of time and thought went into the post...good on you for trying to get everyone to go beyond excellence...Keep it up..cheers..Paul Clarke

  3. Thanks Bret,

    I cant believe I forgot to mention hip lifts.

    I currently have my guys perfroming them.

    Thanks for your comments and thoughts.

  4. Paul Thanks for the kind words.

    Much appreciated.