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Expressing yourself through programme design

Updated: Jun 2, 2022

Seasoned coaches often talk about training programme design as an art and a science. I think many would also agree with me that as experience grows, the more we find the former taking precedence over the latter.

This is particularly important when training for a non-specific athletic outcome, i.e you train because you love it but you’re not preparing for a defined event or sport.

Where to begin?

For me programme design starts well before any exercise is selected or loading scheme determined.

The first thing I think about is ‘Expression’.

This is important because it encompasses both your why and how. Expression is about something much bigger and more important than sets and reps.

Our expression and interpretation of any kind of movement practice will often reflect something of our training values. Values are important so we should therefore allow them to determine our intention and movement execution come workout time.

An example of ‘expression’

Currently my expression is built around two pillars.

1. How I want to move and utilise the movement options at my disposal

No training system is perfect, so I look to find something that fits as closely as possible to the way in which I want to move and then modify how I execute workouts to align more closely to my priorities, values and preferences.

I believe strongly in athleticism and physical literacy, so my training programme needs to have variety and be multi-faceted.

2. The environment in which I want to train and spend my time

Indoors, outdoors, alone or with others, spit and sawdust or prim and polished. These things are important in shaping a programme that brings you personal fulfilment.

First and foremost the environment needs to be able to functionally facilitate point one. After that the most important need when it comes to my desired environment right now is people. I want to be around friendly faces and I want some of those faces to be getting after it and pushing the needle.

So what does that look like in practice?

As a training format I’m enjoying CrossFit and the environment at Nottingham is very much on point.

The challenge is that the format of CrossFit makes it nigh impossible for most people, even those with a good training background like myself, to maintain high quality movement if you go all in.

Furthermore, I also don’t believe that kipping is a positive addition to a workout unless you’re aiming to compete.

My expression of CrossFit therefore means I am selective about the WOD’s I choose to do. In those I do join, I set and hold myself to my own movement standards and select my intensities accordingly.

That might mean scaling or accepting that I won’t finish inside a time cap. I’m more than ok with both outcomes because I am holding true to my personal values.

As a side note, please know that it is also possible to get a solid metabolic adaptation without moving like a turd.

I also aim to do all the ‘gymnastics’ movements strict. This is obviously problematic when fatigue kicks in, so I dedicate a significant amount of my training week in ‘open gym’ to building a bigger base of ‘strict strength endurance’. This therefore moves me closer to being able to complete workouts whilst holding true to my values.

To conclude

Expression is personal and something I don’t think people give enough consideration to.

I encourage you to think about how you want to move* and what you want the result of that movement to be.

Once you know that, select your environment and only then do you begin to design a programme.

* ‘Move’ is a generic term. Bench press is movement, so is yoga. Getting hench requires you to move as does running a marathon.

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