How My Programming's Improved Over the Years

TAGS: programming, strength and conditioning, coaching, matt rhodes, conditioning, athlete, strength, strength training, strength coach

COACH columnist

Programming. I hate it and love it. It depends on my mood. If you're at all like me, your brain needs to be in a certain mode to program efficiently and effectively.


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What I mean is that when I'm doing research and reading a whole bunch of different things, my brain goes a million miles per hour. And of course, everything I read seems like the greatest idea EVER! Yes, I struggle with this. Mainly because I know how to filter information and I know whom to read.

If I'm in the process of understanding what I'm reading and trying to figure out if I can incorporate it into my program, I tend to write a lot of programs. I'm the guy that needs to see it written out on paper. Yeah, I waste a lot of paper.

I always go in with a goal. What am I trying to accomplish at this point of the year? Then I look at the new information and see if I'm already doing it my way. If I am, I look to see if my way seems better or if it needs an upgrade.

Oftentimes, the new information doesn't change my program; it just changes the way I set it up, where I put certain movements, how I pair them, etc. The reality is, regardless of the time of year I'm always trying to build strength and muscle.

Obviously, during the competitive season, this is next to impossible, but at least I'm trying to maintain the strength and muscle they already have. Hopefully you get the idea.

Anyway, in this current process, I've been doing a lot of reading about the Tier System (which I ran all winter) and Boyd Epley's stuff. I'm on a Nebraska kick. But his stuff is simple: increase muscle mass, and you'll get everything you need.

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What I came up with is a hybrid mess of something that's pretty damn good if I do say so myself.

Tier 1: Foundation Lift (Hang Clean/Squat/Bench)

Tier 2: Supplemental Lift (Trap Bar/Incline/Push Press)

Tier 3: Strength/Hypertrophy Circuit (sets done every minute —15 total sets done in 14 minutes)

  • Press/Clean Pull (floor)/Front Squat
  • Dumbbell Squat/Dips or Push-ups/Dumbbell Incline
  • Pull-ups/Dumbbell Row/Pull-ups

Tier 4: Posterior Chain/Abs (Romanian Deadlift/Glute-Ham Raise/Romanian Deadlift)

Tier 5: Neck/Shoulders/Traps

Tier 6: Conditioning

This is what football is doing in June. July will look a little different. I'm not exactly sure what I'll do differently.


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We have eight weeks this summer, so I'm using two four-week cycles that go like this:

  • Week 1: T1 - 80%/T2 - 70%/T3 - 60%
  • Week 2: T1 - 85%/T2 - 75%/T3 - 65%
  • Week 3: T1 - 75%/T2 - 65%/T3 - 55%
  • Week 4: T1 - 90%/T2 - 80%/T3 - 70%

Tier 3 weights aren't exactly the correct percentage. I have the kids tell me what their numbers are, and I adjust so their rack can do the circuit without having to change weights. The percentage just gets me in the right ballpark.

I'm hoping I stumbled onto something here. This setup has given me an idea for what I'll do in July — a little more single-leg/dumbbell work as we finish up the summer and get ready for camp. Right now, I just want to pack on as much muscle as possible so we can have a great base to work with in July.

I'm not straying from the Tier System because I know better than Joe Kenn. I'm veering off of it because I'm trying to improve on what I'm doing given the time I actually have my hands on the athletes.

I haven't worked with these guys in five weeks. In the football-strength world, I would've had a week without them. So, May would be a very high-volume building-muscle kind of setup. June would be a strength-and-building-muscle setup. July would be a strength-and-building-muscle-and-fine-tune-the-little-things setup.

In my head, this all makes sense. I'm curious to see how the experiment will play out. At the very least, these kids will pack on muscle. And building muscle will improve everything that needs to be improved in athletics from a weight room standpoint.

I'll probably realize that there's absolutely no need to get as fancy as I've gotten. Nothing works better than a barbell moved with good technique and some violent intention. But I'm enjoying it so I'll keep going.

I'm sure a lot of coaches do this... I always enjoy going back and looking at old programs. I look at:

  • What has stayed the same?
  • What has changed?
  • How has it changed (meaning, has it really changed or is it upgraded)?
  • What has been added or subtracted?
  • Am I still covering all of my bases?
  • Which ones got the best results (this is why I keep extensive notes on all of my sheets)?

Despite the changes and upgrades, all of my programs are centered on building muscle. They all work. Some are just better than others.

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