How to Design a Good Gym Program: Use the “Keep It Simple Stupid” Methodology
Keep it simple stupid to get results.
The importance of fundamentals is often overlooked within the new era of strength and conditioning resultant of an ever-growing evidence base for modern training methods which, of course is not a bad thing. Designing a good strength and conditioning programme does not need to be complicated. Keep it simple, perform each component well and you will see good results. Keeping it simple starts with the programme itself and how well your athletes can engage with its contents. In this article, we will talk about how to design a good gym program using the “keep it simple stupid” Methodology.
Athletes want to know the lift they need to do, how fast and how many times they need to lift it and how long they should rest for between their sets. There are plenty of examples out there where athletes are given a programme with headings and sections which, the athlete doesn’t necessarily care about or need to know. You may love the science which goes into designing your perfect programme but the athlete may not. Descriptions of neural preparation, an overly detailed sheet regarding percentages from a warm up to first working set from 40%, 56.2% and 73.2%, daily max weights and a list of 5 key points for each lift is too much for what is effectively a logging sheet to record work performed in each session.
Regarding programming, we want to focus on the fundamentals and doing these fundamentals well. We want to perform our most explosive movements at the start of the session while the central nervous system is fresh to maximise the adaptive responses to the quick and explosive training. This may include plyometric activities and velocity-based activities. For example, drop jumps and squat jumps respectively to maximise power output with optimal CNS activity. Following on from these, we can work our heavy compound lifts to stimulate development of the structural and metabolic characteristics of muscles. Heavy compound exercises tax our CNS and cause high levels of muscle damage and muscle fatigue which, would reduce efficacy of powerful movements, if we performed them following the heavy lifts. These lifts can then be supplemented by our accessory movements to develop movement competency of primary lifts as well as develop sport specific movement patterns to enhance on-field performance. These include unilateral exercises which, can stress the body in different planes of motion and increase activation of smaller stabilising muscles as well as isolated movements such as dips to help improve the bench press. We want to work large muscles before smaller muscles. Pre-fatiguing larger muscles and the main agonists puts a greater strain on the smaller stabilising muscles to control movement and maintain balance.
When programming we want to ensure balance throughout your training week. You should be targeting movements including squats, hinges, complimentary pushes and pulls, unilateral accessory exercises and working our core through bracing, rotations, anti-rotations, flexion and extension. Choose the appropriate regressions or progressions for the level of athlete you are or are working with.
Should I substitute my reverse band squat for squats with chains?
While variation within your training programme is recommended it can be quite easy to overcomplicate exercise selection and end up changing exercises with no real reasoning resulting in an exercise which, may be “fluffy, and not challenge the body enough to develop adaptation or that takes too long to set up, requires too much equipment and gives no added benefit to the training programme.
In practice, we want to think of the opportunities the gym we train in can provide. Equipment, space, time and competency are all key factors in designing a programme and often, especially with large groups, the simple exercise done well will often deliver the best results. Using the example above about bands and chains, the training goal can be met by simply performing jump squats or utilising contrast training where, less equipment is required and the setup time is reduced while still developing the same attribute.
In short, keep your programming simple. You may have theoretically the best programme going but if in a practical setting you cannot get the engagement from individuals or a team because of an overcomplicated programme that takes too long to set up or delivers a fluffy exercise then, you may not deliver the best result for your athletes. Hit your key movements, perform them well and consider the structure of your programme in line with evidence-based principles using the “keep it simple stupid methodology”.