The Perfect Program: Does it exist? by Joe Giandonato, MS, CSCS

 As a student of the strength game, I have spent considerable time immersing myself in volumes of research and virtually endless rounds of trial and error in the trenches — first as an athlete, later as a serious lifter, and currently as a strength coach. Over the past decade I have thousands of hours assimilating every strength-related piece of material I encountered – texts, journals, and magazine and blog articles. Shit, I devoted an entire computer hard-drive that literally houses thousands of programs that I’ve compiled from various sources, including fellow coaches and trainers, athletes from numerous schools and teams that I’ve come in contact with, and of course the ones I’ve crafted myself. Some good, some not so good, and others I’ve seen over the years have been downright awful.


What I’ve found is that the age-old adage “What is one man’s trash, is another man’s treasure” certainly applies to programs. I’ve encountered some horrid programs in my years as an athlete, lifter, and coach, but assuredly each program, or workout I saw, served its intended purpose at some point. As coaches we don’t view programs contextually. We are quick to deem a program as being garbage or gold at a mere glance.


Some things coaches and athletes fail to take into consideration when judging another’s program, or designing their own:


1. Logistics – As a high strength and conditioning coach this is the most difficult aspect I encounter when mapping out a program for my athletes. Though we have an array of quality equipment at our disposal, there are multiple teams working out in the weight room at the same time throughout the day. Making matters more challenging are the staff, faculty, and non-athlete student body members occupying the weight room at the same time. Getting too creative or trying to remain too scientific can pose problems, so I just stick to the basics. We’ll split up in groups and occupy power racks or platforms throughout the entire workout. While many of my programs don’t look flashy on paper, they get the job done – Olympic lifts and their variants, compound lifts, bodyweight exercise, and will typically move to a metabolic conditioning circuit in the hallway, consisting of heavy bag work, tire flips, battle roping, sledgehammer work, and others depending on the day, before concluding with a static stretch cool down. In the past, I would’ve scoffed at such as seemingly basic program, however, you must consider your surroundings, space, and available equipment. A high school weight room may offer much in equipment, but very little in space as mine does, which is why I am forced to have my athletes camp out in the power rack or on the platforms for a bulk of the session. (Not that hanging out in the power rack is bad thing, unless you’re an asshole who curls in one at a commercial gym.)


Logistics also may deal with the groups you are training or coaching. Intimate settings, such as small group or individual training sessions, call for drastically different programming and coaching styles. These settings permit a coach or trainer to really help their athletes hone their technique on a certain movement, or a series of movements. This might not be possible with larger groups of inexperienced athletes. Teaching only one person how to do a clean is challenging, much less a group of 30 high school freshman.


2.Adherence – Programs should be designed with an athlete’s ability to carry it out in mind. Keep the movements and progressions as simple as possible. Movement and progression programming should commensurate with an athlete’s technical mastery and motivation level.


3. Specificity – Programs should be designed with goals in mind and will prioritize the development of specific attributes in a cyclical pattern (i.e. periodization). When an outsider sees a snapshot of one of my programs, say a training session within a microcycle, they might exclaim that what I’ve programmed is bogus and that it flies in the face of traditional strength training. Hold up, MMQB! The same can be said for any collegiate or professional program. If you’re not following the program from Day 1, there’s no way you’ll be able to reap any benefits of a given session within one of those programs, that’s if you can decipher the program’s specific terminology. So naturally that program is going to suck, because it’s not going to do much for you, other than make you sore. The same applies with any great program, or template, be it Wendler’s 5/3/1, Rippetoe’s Starting Strength, BFS, Defranco’s Westside Barbell for Skinny Bastards, or methodology. If you selected one of the aforementioned programs, or any others, upon deciding to get a shit ton stronger and got started on Day 1, great. If not, random workouts within a given program, or cycle won’t do jack for you. You might as well do a Crossfit WOD.

 4. If a program yields an athlete or client continuous results, while keeping them injury-free, who the hell cares? Seriously.


If you are looking for the perfect program, it’s wise to refer to the adage in the second paragraph of the article. A perfect program is one that is not only specific to ones needs and goals, but is also logistically sound and able to be carried out on a regular basis — be it alone or in the coach’s presence. Sure bad programs exist, but it’s your job as a coach not to write them. Take the aforementioned points into consideration and you’ll be on your way to providing your athletes programming that is sound and effective. (1270)

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Todd Bumgardner
M.S./ CSCS/ Owner of Beyond Strength Performance/ Ginger
Todd Bumgardner

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M.S./ CSCS/ Owner of Beyond Strength Performance/ Ginger
1 Response
  1. Jim Butler

    Hey Todd,

    I don’t know if this email will go to you or not, but at the risk of looking like an idiot, I’m gonna’ give it a shot.
    I need some help… I am a 42 y/o Soldier who has been lifting for around 20 years or so. I have considered myself in very good physical shape most of my adult life with a fairly strong knowledge of fitness and nutrition.
    My delima is this… I just got back from Afghanistan and I am really feeling my age (which is new to me, and don’t like it). I am feeling soreness in both shoulders, left elbow and right knee. I alternate programs every 28 days, but recently, I am just so “beat up”, I can’t even complete a program. I have taken the 4 days off, and planning to take the next three of on top of that.
    My overall goal is to remain fairly “big” (I am just a little dude at 5’2″ and 155), while trying to lose the gut (I feel like it’s the only flabby body part), and obviously still kicking ass in my daily PT.
    Any suggestion?



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