WED: Why Programming Cycles are Superior to “Constantly Varied”
Programming is a lot like pizza. You think it’s all the same, mostly great, some maybe slightly better than the others, each with different variations that ultimately don’t matter a ton because it’s pizza and it’s all fucking awesome.
That is until you finally have a slice of heaven. That Lou Malnati’s Chicago style deep dish and then, you suddenly realize that maybe Little Caeser’s hot and ready isn’t all that great.
Here’s the deal with programming. We all think that we have the best. None of us really do. Too many variables unique to the environment to quantify it, so I am not here to tell you how to make your programming better in the micro (though maybe later), nor is my goal to come off like our fitness is superior.
Today, I am here to offer you some perspective in the macro and how you view your programming holistically.
For more than five years, our programming was irregular. I hesitate to call it random because it wasn’t, but by no means was it structured and traditionally periodized. In those five years, folks saw some amazing results as I imagine folks at other places have seen with a constantly varied approach.
Constantly varied is not void of efficacy nor is it some haphazard Russian roulette as it’s often portrayed by purists. I just believe it to be inferior to a program that’s based on preparation and guidance.
Over the last two years we have made the switch to a more structured approach and both the superficial and deeper nuances of the results have been significantly improved for the following reasons.
Objectivity Has Replaced Subjectivity
The goal with programming is to make the subjective objective. With a randomized approach, this is not possible. Sure, you can perpetually exist in a generally prepared state, but structure and periodization also yield a ready state that I would argue is better than one void of purpose.
The idea that removing organization from the training somehow makes you more prepared does not make any sense.
Somewhere along the way, someone said that wandering into the woods without a map or compass was more effective. It isn’t. If you can name me any pursuit on Earth where his concept is true, I will mail you a five dollar bill.
Fitness is not the outlier.
It’s incredibly easy to allow yourself to write subjective training. Hell, it exists everywhere under the guise that a lack of predictability prevails over progressive overload.
Create cycled objectives and your people will be better off mentally and physically.
Sense of Purpose
To give you some context, we feature two lifts for a period of 4 – 8 weeks (last year was eight weeks, this year we are testing four). One lift is on the absolute strength end of the spectrum (powerlifting), the other falls into the category of strength-speed (weightlifting). There are two consistent lifts in this given cycle, usually a day focused on muscle structure, a benchmark or two, and the rest of the training varied.
By doing so, we’re able to create a micro goal in the macro year.
It’s very easy for one of our members to see that we have four weeks of cleans coming up and establish a goal of increasing their PR by 10#, or shave eight seconds off their week one to week four 1,000m row (or some other positional goal that I am obligated to mention but not as fun as we all know).
The need to achieve finds its way into nearly all texts about human motivations and behaviors. It’s fundamental and innate. Don’t underestimate the power of allowing vision and goal setting to take place.
Working on your deadlift in a planned manner that allows for progressive overload every Tuesday for 4 to 8 straight weeks is more productive than working on it here and there over the course of a year.
Fine. I’ll elaborate only because I can hear those of you saying that not training the deadlift for 4-8 weeks while something else is being trained will be a “use it or lose it” scenario.
The reason that’s not true is a term I deem movement reciprocity (and a point of education in all of our Coach Academies). Movement reciprocity is a fancy way of saying that while your deadlift lies dormant in a cycle, the squat you are training will carry over to benefit your quad drive off the floor. The pull-ups will benefit your lat strength and grip, and the Bulgarian split squats will benefit the posterior chain.
It’s the fitness version of people helpin’ people, and why countless athletes at our gym hit PRs in something despite not training for it.
Exceptions certainly exists, but as a general rule don’t fear losing progress in a movement by walking away for a few weeks. Strength and power are global traits.
This part I want to make abundantly clear.
YOU CANNOT LACK STRUCTURE IN YOUR PROGRAMMING AND THEN ASK PEOPLE TO HAVE STRUCTURE WITH THEIR FREQUENCY.
If you’re going to be random and thoughtless with what you put on the board, then expect your membership to behave in the same manner when following it.
By organizing your training into objective-based cycles, you allow folks to see a training schedule and when rest days make the most sense for them. There is less anxiety over missing a day or two because they are able to understand the bigger picture for that particular cycle. It opens up educational dialogue, reasons the featured movement will benefit them, and you will find that people will be more open to movements they might otherwise avoid.
One of the single biggest improvements from our move to a more periodized approach is that all of the hard chargers who always greatly overdid it began to undergo a paradigm shift in how they viewed training.
Inactivity was no longer viewed as laziness, but smart and needed for adaptation to occur.
It’s hard to sell that when your product doesn’t clearly yield it.
Imagine an architect sitting down to show you the design to your new house. You are super excited. You’ve been waiting all week to see what’s in store so you can get a visual of how it will end up. You want to start picturing yourself in the new bedroom with the walk-in closet and the barbecues you’re going to host on the new patio you hope to see.
You show up to the meeting and there’s no blueprint. Nothing for you to wrap your mind around. He tells that it’s going to be awesome, and that you’re going to love it, and to take his word. It’s going to work out and be awesome.
You decide to see an additional architect for perhaps a second opinion. Only this time, she shows up prepared and maps it all out for you. You’re able to visualize the process and see how it will benefit you.
It’s rather obvious which architect you’d hire to build your house, so why are so many insistent upon operating as the plan-less house builder in their place of fitness?
Structure and periodization are wonderful tools that have been around for decades, long before constantly varied was a thing. There is no reason that you can’t have a heavy inclusion of random and varied while also providing some organization to your training protocol. It is not a one or the other binary rating. In fact, I personally feel that for the vast majority of the population who want to work hard and hit goals, a combination is the best way to go.
If you want it oversimplified, aim for structure in your strength and variety in your conditioning.
Ultimately, you’ll find that organization forces accountability for yourself. After all, which line of work allows any other form of operating?
More to come on programming.
-Dave the Camera Guy
First. For Strength
5 Front Squats
*OR work up to a 3RM
5×5” Negative Curls
Every 4’ for 20’ (x5)
Then. For Conditioning
3/s LM Rotational Lunge
6 DB Snatches
6 Push Up + Shoulder Tap
20 High Knees