3 Things That Have Made My Programs Better

Wil Fleming

I was recently asked to speak at the National High School Coaches Association annual meeting, and I heard one of my favorite coaching phrases over and over (it was a pretty common refrain). Most of the coaches at the convention were up for their respective sport’s national coach of the year award, so these were true experts. You can also imagine that the types of folks that are up for those awards are not newcomers to the game; they have been doing it for years and years, and as their nominations would suggest, they are the best of the best.

At the meeting, I heard this phrase repeatedly and have heard it for years: If you coach one way for 25 years, you haven’t coached for 25 years—you have coached for 1 year 25 times.

The implication is that we must ALWAYS get better and improve, so I thought it would be good to share with you 3 things that I have been doing recently in programming to get better.

1. Create a Movement Menu

I always like to say that we should be principle-based coaches rather than method-based coaches, and the basics of the principles of training are found in the movement menu you use to create your programs.

The movement menu is just like the menu at a good restaurant: There’s the fish, the chicken, the beef, the pork, and the vegetarian dish, and there’s the salad and dessert, too. At certain times of the year, the chef uses different ingredients, but the big thing—the main course, if you will—stays the same.

This is your movement menu. The big thing in this case is the BIG movements you choose, and they should stay relatively constant. On the other hand, the ingredients you choose are more like the methods you use, and they can change based on the availability of equipment, the time of year, etc.

In our case, the main course includes the following:

  • Explosive
  • Squat
  • Hinge
  • Push
  • Pull

That’s our chicken, fish, and steak. The salad and appetizers are mobility work, core work, single leg training, and rotational training.

Once I have this basic menu down, I know I will always use THESE movements, and I can fill in the exercises. By having the movement menu, my programs have become so much better for my athletes—I don’t overdose them on chicken and don’t make them eat too many desserts!

2. Incorporate Mobility Training in Your Supersets

I think at this point we know that mobility (flexibility, injury prevention, activation) needs to be a part of your program. I just always struggled with figuring out how to incorporate it the right way. Should I throw it in the warm-up? Do it afterwards? All of the above?

The biggest question of all was how do I know this mobility stuff is working? In the long term, I could be pretty sure that it works because I could see the movements improving, but what about in the short term? How could I know it was working RIGHT NOW?

I still keep some elements of mobility in the warm-up, but the best use of mobility training for me has been in the actual superset itself. This isn’t new, but the approach itself has changed. Instead of just throwing something in there, I must see that it is working to improve the mobility of the athlete immediately; if it isn’t working that day, then I choose something else until we see something that does work.

Here’s an example: Let’s say we are doing a back squat, and our athlete isn’t hitting full depth. Through screening at the start, we know that it isn’t the ankle that is restricted, so we figure out that it is the hip that is restricted. To correct this, maybe my first choice that day is a quad stretch, but after doing that, the depth still doesn’t improve on the squat. How do you approach this? Simply swap the quad stretch for a deep squat TRX stretch focusing on breathing, and boom, the squat improves! Then we have identified our mobility exercise for the day.

In a practical sense, here is how we pair our mobility work:

  • Squat: Some sort of hip or ankle mobility work
  • Hinge: Usually hip mobility or activation
  • Push: Shoulder mobility or activation
  • Pull: Shoulder mobility

I’d give you some examples, but there are so many things that could go in our mobility work area that it would be 3 articles in itself!

Bonus: I heard from a good coach once that the ideal superset would have one coaching-intensive movement and one not-so-coaching-intensive movement with it. The mobility work as a superset is a great way to do this.

3. Regulate Intensity by Using Work-Up Loading

When is 3 sets of 10 not 3 sets of 10? When the athlete tries to count the bar as their first set.

There have always been a couple problems with how to program for my athletes, how to get them to actually know what weights they should count, and how to regulate intensity around their current state. I could prescribe weights, but that might not be heavy enough or light enough on a day.

The solution is actually pretty simple. Almost all of our advanced programs have athletes working up to a rep max on the day (independent of their bests all time) and then doing multiple sets of 90% of the day’s best weight. This solution solves both problems simultaneously: I don’t get athletes counting sets that aren’t actual WORK for them, and I can also account for days they feel good or don’t feel good.

I got the idea from one of my favorite sources, weightlifting. The Bulgarians used to work up to a 1RM every day in training for nearly all their big lifts, then they would do “back off” sets. My athletes rarely work up to their 1RM, but we work up to a multi-rep best and then do back off sets at 90%. On days they feel good, they might have the opportunity to hit a PR, and on days they don’t feel good, they don’t hit their best but hit the right amount of work for that day. Problem solved.

No snappy conclusion on this one—just get better every day. Seriously, we owe it to our athletes.

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