So I have been programming for people for the better half of six years, 10 years if you want to count my own personal programming. I have written programs for literally hundreds of people. Some of these people were athletes, some were normal people (general pop.), kids, seniors, injured, ambitious, lazy, and the list goes on. I have noticed something during the years I’ve spent programming for these people. Now, my point of view may seem a little nihilistic, but it seems that “optimal” programming seems to not make as much of a difference as I thought it was supposed to.
Now, to all the coaches reading this, probably one or two if I’m lucky, I can see you now throwing your hands up saying how careless and irresponsible my opinion is, I hear you! I would say that I, amongst my colleagues, was one of the most anal programmers in my circle. I wanted to know every formula, every ratio, every little thing that I could plug into a persons program to make it 100% optimal for my clients. I would apply things like Prilepin’s table, relative intensity charts, rep max calculations, what percent of your squat should be your front squat, etc. Often times I would go deep into the depths of programming just to find that some clients saw little to no progress. On the other hand, I would have a separate client doing a very basic “non-optimal” program see better results! What the hell!? How did none of this highly tested stuff not work? I mean, of course, I’ve had plenty of clients that saw great results with a complex program, but with all the complexity, it should be more fool-proof, right?
Well, as we know, training is an adaptation. Adaptation involves more than just what you do in the gym. Maybe the clients that were seeing better progress were getting better sleep, eating better food, and being less stressed out at work. Maybe the clients doing better were better off genetically? Maybe it was a combination of everything? Unless they were a highly-paid athlete, there really is no way we can tell. So it’s a bit more complicated than“what’s the best program?”. Do the clients have these factors working for them? Against them? Or even just an even middle-ground?
There is one more factor that is relevant, and that is the mindset of the client. Look, I am one of the most skeptical trainers out there. However, I am 100% convinced that the attitude that the client has towards their training affects the outcome of the program. I will refer to this as grit. Grit is the thing that makes you grind out those last 5 push-ups, the thing that pushes a marathon runner through the last mile of a race, the thing that fuels a fighter through the last rounds of their fight when they are tired and beat up. Grit almost completely opposes “optimal” training. “You shouldn’t go to failure or you will lose all your gains!”, “You can’t do push-ups every day because that's overtraining!” Sure, we don’t want to be idiots and completely injure ourselves. But, there are certain things we should implement in training that are hard for no other reason than because… they are hard. Building work ethic. You genuinely feel like you don’t want to do it or can’t do it, but you do it, or at least try it. This will truly build confidence and that attitude towards training that I believe is lacking today.
Training is work. It’s a struggle. It is also something that many people love to do. People find salivation in training. So if they find salvation in struggle and hard work, how do you think this will carry over into their life. This is where the character is developed through training. So it is a balance. Not 100% optimal, but not 100% grit. On one side there is not enough struggle or adversity. On the other side there is too much randomness and injury. We need that middle ground. As Dr. Jordan Shallows once said, “Exercise programming is simply, not being an idiot and not being a bitch.” Train smart and train with attitude.