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August 22, 2020

Our Program Design & Considerations for Success

Reading some of the feedback and questions we received on our recent member survey inspired me to write this article in order to summarize, in layman’s terms, how we approach a training phase and outline the considerations we make when designing a week of programming.

Alas, it’s true…we are fitness nerds. We enjoy the science behind effective training. We read studies, listen to podcasts, and continually seek education. We always test and refine principles before presenting them to our members. We talk about this stuff non-stop. And, we are obsessed with delivering the best group program out there.

First, it must be noted that many very intelligent and well-regarded experts in the fitness space don’t agree with the concept of group training because they feel that you can’t effectively address the needs of an individual in such a setting. However, we know that group training is here to stay. Personal training isn’t financially an option for most people and many people do not want to train alone. So, we strive to create a sound, safe, and effective program that can be successfully delivered and coached in a group. Part of our charge is to not only lead but also to educate our members on training and lifestyle best practices and principles. So, here we go…

Overall Goals With Our Program
When designing programming for group classes, our goal is always general fitness with an emphasis on movement quality, joint health, and strength. Let’s dig a little deeper into each of these topics:

  • Movement quality: a person who moves well experiences less pain, a reduced chance of injury and the ability to get stronger. Moving for the sake of moving is never the point, moving with intent is. That’s why we have modifications, progressions, and training days expressly dedicated to movement without the stress of going for time. And we “get in there” and coach!
  • Joint health: volume and intensity can affect the health of joints, particularly in older populations or in people with sub-standard movement patterns. We want to deliver the effective minimum dose - you make progress without wear and tear on the body.
  • Strength: strength provides protection from what life throws at you. Strong people are more capable, they have a more robust immune system, and are overall more resilient and independent. Strength is one of the keys to longevity.

Why Six-week Training Phases?
We design training phases in six-week blocks, determining an area of focus and working towards an outcome. In a six-week phase, a lot of progress can be made. We find that this length of time works well in the group environment to keep things fresh, and appealing and to achieve buy-in from our members so they don’t get bored. Past training phases have included:

  • German Body Composition, where the goal was more scientific, an uptick in human growth hormone resulting in fat-burning and strength-building effects;
  • Barbell Composure where the goal was to teach sound technique under higher heart rates which transferred to “for time” workouts;
  • Open Prep where higher-rep ranges and CrossFit-type movements prepared members for success in the CrossFit Open;
  • Triphasic where we focused on eccentric, concentric and isometric training for maximal fast- and slow-twitch muscle fiber recruitment.

As you can see, our workouts are never developed randomly.

Within our training phases, you will find some repetition, especially with strength movements. This is to create an adaptation - you get stronger with particular movements over time and move better through them. We reinforce certain movement patterns that apply to real life. Along with us, other experts believe that you must squat, hinge, carry, lunge, brace press, and pull in different planes. Our program incorporates every one of these functional movements and different variations of each to accomplish adaptation.

Appropriate Stress and Intensity
Working out is a stressor. Yes, it can be a positive one, but too much stress is never a good thing and, eventually, the body will break down. If you have a stressful life, job, or family and you add more stress via a workout, it can be detrimental to your health. We are talking about sub-optimal hormone levels, an increase in cortisol, disrupted sleep, a change in appetite, and more. To this end, we are continually paying attention to the intensity and volume of related movements. There’s that “effective minimum dose” again.

Some people are misinformed on how to get better, and this is very common in the functional fitness space. They think “more is more,” but the opposite is usually true and the person really just gets better at suffering. Here we come back to movement quality - that’s what will make someone better. Let’s give a “for instance.” For instance, if someone runs out of breath in a thruster/burpee workout, they may think they need to do more cardio (or more thrusters and burpees) to get better. That could be one approach, but the answer isn’t usually that simple. In reality, they need to get stronger and move better so they don’t use as much energy in a workout. Or maybe they need to learn to approach a workout with better pacing strategies. Doing too much with the goal of getting better, puts you in a state where your body is constantly trying to recover to baseline and you actually fall short of the desired adaptation. Pain and soreness are not synonymous with progress.

So, what are some other factors that relate to intensity and stress? Some notions that are popular, but we consider to be the wrong approach include:

Daily testing
Going for time every day doesn’t align with our goals. High-rep workouts can translate to wear and tear on joints and ligaments, not only from a volume standpoint but also because of the fact that technique breaks down when the heart rate is high and fatigue sets in. This is why the world’s top strength and conditioning coaches demonize most CrossFit programs. While we do find a place for some principles of CrossFit in our program, daily testing equates to too much intensity. Instead, working on efficient and high-quality movement will allow you to expend less energy in a timed workout. So, even without getting stronger, better movement patterns will result in better times.

High-level gymnastics for time
A high volume of things like kipping pull-ups and kipping handstand push-ups can lead to injury if you haven’t built the musculature to handle them - and it takes a lot of development to be able to safely perform these types of movements under fatigue. So, we program strict versions and use other strength protocols in order to build up the necessary musculature, specifically in the midline, shoulders, and lats. If you cannot yet do strict pull-ups, yet you yank on the bar dozens of times in a workout to execute kipping pull-ups, your joints, ligaments, and muscles are not protected from wear and tear. It’s not to say that we will never program these movements, but our first priority will be strength and position reinforcement, working up to the more high-torque variations of these movements.

1 rep maxes
Most times, a 1-rep max is only needed for strength athletes who participate in that sport (like powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting). Furthermore, these athletes work to execute these lifts flawlessly in competition. One-rep maxes present a higher probability of injury for the recreational athlete. So, we work within certain percentages in order to build strength.

Extra work in addition to classes
If you have strength or skill goals outside of the general class program, it can be appropriate to do extra work to meet specific goals. However, we recommend doing so under the direction of a coach to incorporate appropriate skills, drills, and movements without overdoing it. It can be a complicated task to effectively plug in extra work without conflicting with the main program. Done incorrectly, this can result in overreaching and eventually, over-training.

Maximizing results
A discussion of programming is not complete without addressing the behaviors and mindset necessary to truly make progress. In terms of the mindset in approaching strength workouts, a concentration on movement (even with lighter weights) is imperative. Proper tempo is crucial. You shouldn’t simply move through the workout. In strength workouts, your final reps should be challenging, as long as you are maintaining good form and technique. In our program, the Olympic lifts aren’t used for strength-building so we err on the side of caution with lighter percentages and coach sound technique and the correct sequencing of movements. Practicing perfect execution of the Olympic lifts, combined with strength training and position reinforcement will increase your ability to lift more on these awesome, high-velocity movements.

Outside of the gym, your behaviors matter. Proper nutrition will maximize results. Food quality matters and protein is imperative for muscle-building and recovery. Rest days are absolutely necessary for recovery and progress. Adequate sleep is essential. For more on behaviors outside the gym, revisit one of our past blog posts:

Safety and efficacy are always our goal. Pain and constant soreness is not normal (and not the sign of a good workout). Your behaviors outside the gym count, big time. Trust your fitness to a professional who will always level with and educate you. Are you a member of Vero Strength? Good news! You’re in the right place!

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