I struggle with writing long-term training programs. I throw tantrums when I try to write season-long plans for whole teams. Frankly, I’ve nearly come to tears over what I should do on the track myself on any random Wednesday.
See, programming is hard. Oh, it’s pretty simple. Good programming just depends on the season schedule and the annual plan and the cycling of loads and building of qualities and peaking and competing. Yeah, there are variables to be managed, but that’s not why it’s hard. The things that make programming hard are the reasons you’ll never be your own most effective coach – AND why your coach will always have to adjust the daily plan, well, daily.
An aside: clichés abound about the “Perfect Program.” They range from ‘the one you’re not doing’ to ‘it doesn’t exist.’
There is a grain of truth in all of them. I’ve had athletes say to me, two or three days after one of our sessions together, “Wow, that workout was just what I needed. I didn’t think I could do it, then I did.”
I smile, chuckle, make some vague joke about how incredibly smart I am and about how they should pay me more.
In my head, I’m knocking on wood and walking around the ladder and running across the street from the black cat, desperately hoping I’ll get that lucky again.
Hey, I’m just being honest: coaching and programming is simply a series of lucky breaks regarding exercise selection, explanations, demonstrations, and motivational tactics.
Where is this going?
A coach’s job is to tax you to the limit of your physical and mental abilities, then allow you to recover, then tax you to your new limits, and so on until the predetermined date on the calendar on which you unleash your greatness upon your opponents and storm home with an easily-won trophy and valiant victory story. That’s what makes programming hard.
The limit of your abilities is a constantly varying, mythical terminal point. It changes from 7AM to 9AM to 6PM, it changes from Monday to Friday, it changes from spring to fall, and it changes from 2015 to 2018 to 2045.
Your capacity to coordinate movement, to process metabolic waste, to circulate oxygen, to tolerate temperature changes, to adapt to passing clouds overhead – they all change from day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute.
And that’s all physiological. Your capacity to clear your mind, to focus, to forget a bad rep, to apply a coaching cue – that varies from second to second.
You honestly expect that you can be objective enough to manage these things yourself, while also having the mental energy to go beyond pain and set personal records? (Just close your eyes and lean… the ground will catch you when you fall.)
There has never been and will never be one training program that works for any two people from its beginning to its conclusion, simply because no two people are exactly alike at any single instant. One program will work for exactly one person… One time. Perhaps just for one day.
So when I write training for a whole team, I might spend an hour actually writing. (That hour, of course, will reflect the last 8,000 or so hours I’ve invested understanding all the moving parts of training for sports, but that’s another topic.)
I’ll spend another solid hour fretting over how this exercise, that stretch, and this sprint aren’t right for Jane, Jenny, or Jackie.
I’ll spend another 30 minutes thinking through my adjustments for all those athletes before I finally send out the week’s work…
Then I’ll sit, anxious and concerned that, after a cursory glance at the plan, Jordan will hate the whole thing, assume I don’t know what I’m talking about, and dismiss all my subsequent work.
I know that one generalized training program – even if it closely matches the demands of the sport, time of the competitive season, level of progress expected from previous weeks of work, goals for the year, universally available equipment, and level of movement proficiency of the team on average – will never be exactly right for everyone.
You know the general program may not be exactly right for you. But the real issue is that, even with the program that’s exactly right for one person, it still may not be right right then.
Every training plan from a magazine, from a subscription service, or designed for a team has this fundamental flaw. The only way to overcome it is to work with a coach one-on-one.
But don’t take offense if I send you your Super-Awesome, Custom-Designed, DNA-matched Optimal Training Plan for World Domination and you show up on the Tuesday of summer solstice during a lunar eclipse when the tide is high after sitting in crazy traffic cussing your crazy boss, then I scrap the whole thing.
Take a breath.
I have the perfect program for you, just your size, because I’m a super-genius at this whole coaching thing and you should pay me more.
It just may be a different perfect program every day you see me.
If you trust me enough to share your athletic goals, to take my advice, and to work hard, stop stressing about whether the training program is “perfect.”
I’m clearly stressed enough for both of us.
And it will be “perfect” tomorrow – if we’re lucky.