Programming a single strength training session is not particularly hard. Exercise selection will be dependant on the session goal or the demands of the athlete. You really can’t go wrong with Dan John’s Mexican food analogy (1). A push, pull, squat, hinge, carry and some ground based core work will probably do the trick. We categorize exercises slightly different, but any well designed template will do, if you’re looking at it quite honestly.
Planning a week isn’t that hard, either. Different models exist, but daily undulating programming (2) is probably not a bad idea in most instances. The inherent variation of the training stimulus prevents monotony, boredom and possibly, early accommodation. When designing a training split, we usually pick two qualities that complement each other, such as power and strength, strength and size or size and muscular endurance. We might go to strength, size and muscular endurance for a three day split, or maybe power, strength and hypertrophy. I would hesitate to mix power and muscular endurance, but even that might have its use. For me, the risk of interference is just too high (3).
Things become slightly more complicated when designing a block of training, say nine weeks (that’d be a typical block in our system). Although very well researched progression and periodization models exist, they seldom factor in the human factor. Mladen and Ivan have recently investigated the effects of missed sessions in a periodized program (). The authors present different, very sophisticated theories on how to alleviate the downsides that come from missed sessions. The idea that made the strongest impression on me and really led to an adaptation of our system is as simple as it is brilliant:
Don’t break the chain
Our athletes work on a team setting. That having been said, everyone pursues his own training goals, whether that be power, strength, size, or muscular endurance. Also, we might get new athletes in the middle of a block, or an athlete might miss a random number of sessions. Imagine this in a scenario where we implement something like a 5/3/1 (5) for the complete team. Having someone drop in during the third week would result in them pulling 95% 1RM in the first session. An athlete that misses the third week might return after an off-week, just to join the team in their deload week. That’s probably a waste of time.
5/3/1 may still be a very feasible approach, though, when following the rule „don’t break the chain“. Imagine an athlete going through the full nine week block without missing a session. In that case, we’d establish the 1RM during the first, introductory week, and go through the sequence 3×5, 3×3, 5/3/1, deload twice. After the first four week cycle, we’d increase the projected 1RM by whatever number makes sense for the athlete. Personally, I like Dan Baker’s idea of simply adding 2,5kg per repetition above the repetition target. The original 5/3/1 uses a heuristic for the weight progression as well, so we might as well add in a measure of auto regulation.
Now consider the same example, but assume that the athlete misses week three. Instead of jumping straight into a deload, we’d simply have him start the chain with a 3×5 session again. It’s important to acknowledge that for most non-strength athletes, a 3×5 session will serve pretty much the same purpose as a 3×3 session, namely, an increase in FMax. The differences are most likely minute. Along the same line of thought, an athlete that joins during the third week will simply start a new chain with 3×5, while others may pull singles.
Of course, the same linear pattern can be applied to muscular hypertrophy training. In this case, the chain would consist of 3×12, 3×9, 3×6. Just as with Wendler’s program, the last working set of these sessions would be an all-out, AMRAP set that can be used for calculating the weights for the next chain. In a muscular endurance setting, the chain could be set to 30, 45 and 60 seconds AMRAP, respectively. Along the same lines, a power-chain can be designed.
During our summer program (July and August), we will experiment with this system and most likely come up with a polished version in the Fall, so keep your eyes open for updates. Until then,
Don’t get hurt
(2) Zourdos, M. C., Jo, E., Khamoui, A. V., Lee, S. R., Park, B. S., Ormsbee, M. J., … & Kim, J. S. (2016). Modified daily undulating periodization model produces greater performance than a traditional configuration in powerlifters. , vol. 3, pp. 784-791.
(3) A Nader, Gustavo. (2006). Concurrent strength and endurance training: From molecules to man. Medicine and science in sports and exercise. vol. 38. pp. 1965-70.
(4) Jovanovic, Mladen & Jukić, Ivan. (2019). Optimal vs. Robust: Applications to Planning Strategies Insights from a simulation study. 10.31236/osf.io/8n4jf.