I look back at the programs I made 5-7 years ago and cringe. That type of cringe you get when your teacher drags her fingernails across a chalkboard. I was young, inexperienced (dumb), and just starting my last year of University. I was a terrible trainer. My main goal was to make my clients as tired as possible in each workout. If they weren’t dripping with sweat the session wasn’t good enough in my mind. I had no structure within my programs and would usually use the same workout with multiple clients that worked out that day. If you invent a time machine please let me know so I can promptly travel back in time, slap myself in the face and ask “WTF man”?

Thankfully this all changed. I was fortunate enough to do a practicum with Bruce Craven in my last year of University that really changed my mindset and how I approach working with athletes. (On a side note if you need a physiotherapist go check them out at Craven Sport Services, they’re the best in the city in my opinion). After my first 20 minute meeting I knew I could learn a lot from him. His biggest message was to look at the demands of the sport from a biomechanical/physiological perspective. This message resonated with me and is one of the main principles we use here at JB Performance. We don’t waste time on exercises/training philosophies that won’t help our athletes. Unfortunately for you young 15-16 year old boys that were attacked by the ‘sleeve monster’ that means we don’t do bicep curls. Sorry ‘bro,’ go do some deadlifts.

The biggest difference in my programming from 5 years ago till now is the amount of volume I put in (Volume = Sets x Reps x Load). I have basically cut it in half. Below is an example of an off-season program I made in 2010 when I was the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at the Athol Murray College of Notre Dame. This was Day 6 in a “Strength” phase. Talk about stupidity. Hey Brad, let’s do more volume (sarcasm). More is always better right (No)? 18 sets of speed is awesome correct (You’re an idiot)? You have my permission to kick my 23 year old self in the knee cap if you get the chance. Make it count.

Let’s go back to high school for a moment and give this puke on paper (program) a grade out of 10 for a few different categories;

  • Total Volume -> 3/10
  • Effectiveness -> 4/10 (Taking into account this is a 6 day, high volume program)
  • Exercise Selection -> 8/10
  • Quality of Movemen -> 5.5/10 (Expecting someone to move well throughout this entire day is asinine)
  • Overall Day Analysis -> 6/10

 Total Score -> 26.5/50

For comparison, here is what a strength phase looked like for one of our NHL guys last summer. As you can see the volume is cut substantially. There is a focus on quality of movement as opposed to quantity. This change has made a huge difference in the results we are seeing with our athletes. If you have the mentality that more is always better, it’s not. Take some time and read about the minimal dose effect. Learn about the effects of fatiguing the sympathetic nervous system (This might mean you have to learn some actual science and forget about the article you read in Men’s Health or the advice your Crossfit trainer who has a weekend certification told you).

I love the simplicity of this day. Linear acceleration/speed is the main focus in the first section. We spend about 10-15 minutes/day of speed work at the start of each session. This allows us to get 60-75 minutes of true speed work throughout the week. I like this approach as opposed to doing a day of “speed” training, which quickly turns into a conditioning day if it lasts longer than 20 minutes. The weight section is a full body lift with a lot of contrast training thrown in there. I love contrast training (Heavy weights followed by an explosive movement involving the same muscles) to develop strength and power simultaneously.  If we were to give this day a grade (I’m obviously biased in my opinion here), it would be substantially better than the previous example;

  • Total Volume -> 9/10
  • Effectiveness -> 9/10 (This athlete came to us in August of last year. After 4 days he said this is the best his hips have felt in 4 years.)
  • Exercise Selection -> 8.5/10
  • Quality of Movement -> 9/10
  •  Overall Day Analysis -> 9/10

 Total Score -> 44.5/50

The simple fact of cutting the volume in half made all the difference in the world. Our athletes now move substantially better throughout the workout. Believe it or not if you’re an athlete you actually have to be athletic. Weird concept huh? Some people still don’t understand this which makes my eyes bleed. Every time you involve stupidity in your program a kitten dies. Fact.

Anybody can make you tired within a workout. The Cookie Monster can make better programs that some of the ones I see on a daily basis. Let’s use a football player who’s looking to improve his 40 yard time as an example. Trainer ‘A’ has the athlete do burpees and box jumps for an hour. The athlete is drenched in a pool of sweat and has to crawl to the bathroom. Trainer ‘B’ works on first step technique, arm drive, lean angles, and running technique. Who do you think will get better results? This is the main reason why I’m not a big fan of things like Crossfit, P90X, Insanity, etc. for athlete development or the everyday client for that matter. Ridiculous amounts of volume, random programming, and no care for technique make movement efficiency about as obsolete as a drug free cyclist in the Tour de France. It’s one thing to teach good technique, it’s quite another to implement it into your program.

Before you get mad and send me nasty hate mail saying P90X is the best thing ever understand where I’m coming from. My job is to make my athletes stronger, move better, and remain injury free. We work with athletes with multi-million dollar contracts. I don’t think it’s the best idea to load them up with unnecessary volume and expose them to a higher risk of injury. I was once told that because our athletes weren’t getting injured in the weight room we weren’t pushing them hard enough and doing them a disservice (Head--cement wall--repeated banging). Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Sometimes it’s best to keep those as inside thoughts.

It’s always good to take an objective look into your previous programs. I did and mine were sh*t. The Strength and Conditioning aspect is an ever-evolving process. I’m sure I’ll look back in 5-10 years at the last program and say the exact same thing. It’s sh*t. I really enjoy what I do and look forward to gaining more knowledge as I get older. For now, you’re all stuck with my current knowledge base. Sorry. Leave your thoughts/comments below: