Simplify Your Training By Concentrating It

23 Jul Simplify Your Training By Concentrating It

Simplify Your Training By Concentrating It






It’s time to confess, I’m guilty of complicating things.

I was around a bunch of very accomplished professional strength and conditioning coaches when I was starting off in my career . If you’ve never been part of this little universe, you can’t understand the pride that goes into the programs that these coaches write for their athletes.

Personal training and private sector performance coaching is different. There’s more value placed on how the trainer/coach deals with the athlete or client. Technique, movement, rapport, are prioritized and the details of the program can come very secondary and is always very mutable to the needs of the athlete for that day.

This isn’t always the case in formal strength and conditioning programs like the type you find at Universities, professional ranks, and even some high-schools. Here, value is placed on how good the program looks on paper.

The creative arrangement of sets, reps, load, rest, tempo is sometimes what’s considered the measure of a good strength coach, at this level. This is mostly because of lack of individual attention in these programs.

But before we start nailing these coaches to trees, please understand that this isn’t the coach’s fault. The most caring, attentive, talented coach can’t give any one athlete the deserved attention because he’s usually coaching anywhere from 30 to over 100 athletes by himself or with a handful of assistants.

This isn’t negligence on the coach’s part, it’s being understaffed. Let’s not even mention that many college strength coaches are coaching multiple teams all with these staggering numbers.

Walk a mile in his shoes before you throw your stone Mr. Internet Forum expert.

But Jesse (the imaginary conversation between you and me begins) the great strength coaches I’ve heard and learned from don’t seem to complicate things but instead scrape away until training seems almost simple and easy to understand and apply.

You’re exactly right…or at least the voice in my head representing you is…These great coaches do take what seems complicated and simplify it to be taught in a way almost anyone can understand.

That’s you’ve heard of them, because they’re great teachers. That’s also why they’re the best coaches.

But the allure in making training complicated and fit every idea and training concept known to civilized meathead into one training cycle is common among many strength coaches, especially young ones.

But you can’t blame them. The young ones think that this is what will make them worthwhile because they’re raised up in an environment where the older strength coaches, who should know better, fancy themselves keepers of sacred information and push the idea that complexity is key on them.

To keep our confessional conversation going — I admit that part of my drive and passion to learn everything there is to know about sport science and biomechanics was once partly just to impress other strength coaches with my programming prowess.

I promise I’m not intentionally using alliteration.

Athletes don’t give a damn how clever your periodization scheme. They just want to be given something to do to make them run faster or jump higher.

If I do this it’ll shave time off my 40 yd dash? Sure, I’ll do 3 sets of 10 reps on the squat while  I eat that ziplock bag full of shit.


The Problem With Learning

The program, oh the program. I was so focused on the moving pieces that I forgot the content. I spread and dispersed different training methods over the training week in different patterns to try to elicit the best results…whatever that means..

I’d rotate the training emphasis on upper-body lifts opposite to lower-body lifts to train limit strength upper-body on the same days as I was trying to train absolute speed. But, I had to make sure that my sprint work was 72 hours after this or the sky would surely fall.

My program was so convoluted that  I’d seriously forget what I had set out to accomplish after two weeks starting my new master plan.

I’m going to totally rip off some people and use an analogy I’ve heard a bunch of times. Your capacity to do work and handle stress placed on the body can be thought of in terms of a cup. When you train, you’re filling that cup up. The more intense the stress and the more types of stress you repeatedly expose yourself to, the more and the faster the cup is filled.

Eventually, if stress isn’t managed well, your cup will run over.

If you try to do too many things at once and develop too many attributes simultaneously, the body will adapt to none of the stressors and you’ll get better at nothing. General physical preparedness may increase, but this wasn’t what I was looking for.

Not getting better is best case scenario, of course. Injury and burnout are also likely if this is pushed too far.


Keep It Simple By Keeping it Concentrated

You may have fallen into this same trap. I know that I still have to remind myself not to fall back into it.

I was trying to arrange it so that I would train different types of strength for both upper and lower-body multiple times a week on opposite days.

Yeah…I’m not smart enough to do this.

It’s also not effective. Remember that cup? By exposing myself to similar intense stressors multiple times a week, I couldn’t recover, adapt, not spill over, whatever.

Then I had my revelation and instead I combined the similar stressors into one training session. For example, if I had a max effort style lower-body day, I’d also do my heavy sprint work on the same day instead of trying to arrange them on separate days.

It may have sucked at first, but this concentration of stress allowed me to get enough recovery before I trained this again allowing me to actually improve.

I also combined heavy lower and upper-body training sessions into one day at times …gasp…

The main takeaway from this is to group similar stressors instead of trying to spread everything out in some super complicated periodization scheme that will burn you out anyway.


The Simple Way To Plan Training 

Not going to leave you hanging without some practical advice on how to keep your training simple.

So how do we cut through the bullshit and busywork to make a cohesive plan that helps us improves rather than complication that helps us self-sabotage like a boss (i.e. like me).


Step 1: start with the end in mind

What are you trying to improve? Do you need to build a base first or have you done that and are now looking to realize your true strength. For the record, I don’t think any good plan just works on one thing at a time but rather keeps balance while emphasizing something particular means, but that’s a whole different blog post.

So, let’s say the emphasis for this block or phase of training is getting strong as hell. Even more specific, you’re trying to improve your bench press.

First, pick the lifts/exercises that have the greatest transfer to your goal. So to get good at the bench press you have to bench press. This is revolutionary stuff here. Now, block out what general rep and percentage range you want to hit each week. 

For example, let’s say you train the bench press two times a week, day 1 being higher volume lower intensity and day 2 being higher intensity lower volume. You could start out blocking out something like this:


Week 1

Day 1: 8-10 reps at 60%

Day 2-4 reps at 83-85%


Week 2

Day 1: 6-8 reps at 63-66%

Day 2: 1-3 reps at 88%


Week 3

Day 1: 5-7 reps at 64-70% 

Day 2: 1-2 reps at 90-93%


Step 2: Go back and fill the gaps

After you figured out this general direction you want to move in, figure outwith more volume and decrease it thereafter or vice versa and fill this volume in with deciding how many sets to do with the rep ranges you’ve already chosen.

This isn’t the only way to layout a program and it’s a very general progression that I would only use some of the time but it gives you and idea of how to outline everything with whatever progression and system of training you choose.


Step 3: Figure out what transfers

It key to pick the exercises/lifts that are most important to your progress and have the highest transfer to what you’re trying to get good at. Let’s say for example dips help your lockout strength and you usually miss the bench press at the top. So dips have the greatest transfer to making you stronger in the bench press so you should fit them into your program next rather than focusing on minor details that fill your cup but doesn’t make you better.

Or maybe instead of focusing on your week link, you can focus on making your strengths even more to your advantage. Say you have great speed and strength off your chest but then die out before you lock it out. Instead of working your lock out, you may find that extended pause bench press increases the power off your chest even more. If you increase this enough, you’ll develop so much speed off your chest that the lift is over before you have to worry about lockout.


The Consistent Effort

Remember the work, not the planning, is what gets the results. Don’t make the mistake that everything has to be planned out so intricately that nothing overlaps. It’s impossible to do and the time spent obsessing about stupid details could be time spent training instead.

Grouping your training methods and consistently giving you’re all is what will help you take your success into your own hands.




Have anything to add to the conversation? Do it in the comments. 


Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam.(Thanks toTim Ferriss and  Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration)

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.