Training Program Design for Small Groups

Tomorrow afternoon, Emily and I will be hopping on a plane to head to San Diego for a few days of R & R. I’ve been in desperate need of a vacation since about September of last year, so this is long overdue. I’m really looking forward to getting away for a few days.

But before I go, I wanted to follow up my post from the other day on 3 Keys to Successfully Pairing Exercises with another post on program design, but this time for athletes training in small groups. In the constant search for the “perfect program” I think people lose sight of the fact that “perfect” is situation-dependent. In other words, what might be ideal for training one individual athlete may not be ideal for a group of athletes, and what may be ideal for a group in one setting may not be ideal for a group in another setting. There is a lot to consider, which is why it’s important for people to not judge the programs of other coaches until they’ve seen the setting that they work in, and the clientele they work with.

One thing we’ve done at Endeavor Sports Performance to accommodate larger groups and ensure a smooth-flowing session is move to quad-sets with two main, non-competing lifts. An example template of this looks like:

A1) Main LB Lift
A2) Non-Competing Core/Mobility
A3) Main UB Lift
A4) Non-Competing Core/Mobility

This allows us to take a group of 6-8 athletes and break them into two smaller groups. One group of 3-4 would start with A1 and cycle through; the other would start at A3 and cycle through. For Group 1, they would progress as A1-A2-A3-A4, etc. Group 2 would progress through as A3-A4-A1-A2, etc. In this way, we’re able to make better use of our equipment and keep a good training flow, but still abide but the fundamental principles we feel are important.

This isn’t a program design strategy that I would give a universal approval, but there are certain situations where it works great. The more “advanced” an athlete becomes, in terms of their training experience, the less effective this strategy is. Simply, as training experience increases, it becomes increasingly difficult to make substantial gains in size and strength and therefore every aspect of the program needs to be more meticulously designed and implemented. Naturally, this includes exercise order, intensity, and rest intervals.

In contrast, athletes new to lifting (or re-integrating back into a lifting program) and younger athletes in general progress more readily and recover quickly from any individual exercise. This means that the residual fatigue from any exercise, and therefore the deleterious effect on any subsequent exercise, will be inconsequential.  I’m not suggesting it’s appropriate to just run young athletes through circuits of exercises haphazardly and without consideration to fatigue accumulation or exercise order; it’s still imperative that athletes are sufficiently recovered, mentally and physically, before starting a new exercise. But given the recovery time these athletes require, altering the starting point of an exercise circuit as described above will not impair their progress in any way.

There are a million ways to skin a cat. The key is to know your athletes, and not lose sight of fundamental training principles.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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