Posted October 22, 2013

How to Write and Adapt a Program

What a weekend. Tony Gentilcore and I took a group of 20 fitness professionals through a workshop, cheekily titled “Dean & Tony’s Excellent Workshop High Five!!” here in Edmonton, and we covered pretty much everything under the sun relating to becoming a better coach: coaching the squat and deadlift, breathing patterns, why bosus and bands are not “corrective,” and a few dozen Star Wars and Lord of the Rings references (even one reference to how awful twerking is).


One concept both Tony and I hammered home is that there’s no replacement for strength when it comes to working on improving pretty much any aspect of fitness. Whether it’s gaining muscle, losing fat, running faster, throwing harder, or even rehabbing a shoulder injury, it typically comes down to getting stronger.

Your knee is sore and you say you need to strengthen your VMO? No, you probably need to strengthen everything. That’s just the first step.

In conjunction to getting stronger is getting into good (maybe not perfect, but good) alignment where you can take advantage of synergistic and co-contractile forces that work on a joint to maintain its ability to move. If the joint isn’t positioned properly (like with someone doing a round back row and their upper arm is driving forward into the movement, something technically referred to as anterior humeral glide), they will be predominantly using their upper traps instead of their lats, and as a result will wind up putting more stress on their anterior shoulder and rotator cuff than if they were to simply suck that bad boy back and down.

Because we spent so much time talking about how important alignment is, we also included a lot of hands on work looking at the specifics of alignment and positioning, right from the foot mechanics of correcting out of excessive pronation to packed neck positions and how they affect the lift. Here’s a few screen shots of the hands on portions to give you a glimpse into what we talked about.

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The focus on teaching how to coach these prime movements is to give the lifter the best chance possible to take advantage of their natural mechanics in order to do the movement well, with the least chance of injury or dysfunction and the maximum potential for improvement possible. If we didn’t focus on the alignment and mechanics of the lift, we would essentially let people train into misalignment. Stretching in misalignment creates instability in joints, while strengthening in misalignment creates imbalances.

Coaching is about teaching people how to move, not burying them with their workouts.  <— Tweet that.

In some cases, it even means pulling the plug on a specific exercise or specific technique used with an exercise. Case in point, I had a client who had a lot of pain whenever she tried to do a conventional deadlift, even if it was just a broom stick. She was young and strong and had no history of low back issues, so it perplexed me somewhat. One day we tried out sumo stance, and she had no pain or problems, and actually said she really liked them, so we decided to see what she could do safely and with confidence. She worked up to a single at 225, after not deadlifting for about a year due to pain. Like I said, she was strong.

In this case, we had to adjust the lift to the lifter, not vice versa. Too often I see trainers get their clients to do an exercise they’re not ready for, or that their body doesn’t agree with. In many cases, people have to earn the right to do a specific movement. It’s not an ego thing, but it’s a safety and performance thing. If they don’t have the right hip positions or lever length to take advantage of a specific movement without increasing the risk of injury, maybe it’s best to avoid that one and do something different.

So back to how to write a program.

In many cases, the program is written off the results of an assessment and what the clients specific goals are. From there, it comes to coaching. Most people, if they’ve never stepped foot inside a gym before, will have absolutely no idea how to squat or deadlift, which means I’m going to have to teach them before we start loading the heck out of them or looking for perfection. Sometimes I even have to go into the program and pretty much re-write it on the spot because stuff just isn’t working for the individual in front of me, and rather than try to squish a round peg into a square hole, I look for an easier way to accommodate the workout to their abilities.

There’s a lot of ways to write a program, but again it comes down to what they want, how their assessments look, and how well I can coach them on the movements required. The exercises, sets and reps are secondary to the ability to coach the movement.

That’s why I’m really happy to announce a very cool new product from Eric Cressey. Today Eric released the High Performance Handbook: 


Readers of this site are no stranger to Eric, as I’ve referenced his work before, and also talked about some of our conversations and interactions in regards to training, injuries and the fitness industry in general. He’s also the kind of guy to over-deliver on everything he puts out, and for this book, he’s outdone himself.

The book is sort of a “choose your own adventure” book, where you can do a very easy self-assessment to find out how you should proceed with your workouts, select the workouts based on your assessment, schedule, and equipment availability, and then go through a done for you 16 week program, complete with a video library of over 200 high quality coaching demonstrated exercises. These aren’t simply videos that showcase an exercise demo for 10 seconds, they’re videos that show Eric coaching the movement and giving you key points to be aware of and focus on during the set.

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Most commercially available program tend to suck excessive amounts of fail. They usually consist of 3 sets of 12 of pretty much everything, while touting their “ground breaking super secret science of awesome” that pretty much boils down to the same stuff that Joe Weider promoted when Arnold was training to be Mr. Olympia in the 70’s and 80’s.

They typically involve some odd combination of high-threshold exercises like supersetting back squats and deadlifts with max effort drop sets that smash your CNS. Following these workouts, instead of feeling like Superman you wind up unable to feel feelings, yet somehow inexplicably you can now smell colours. Instead of recovering completely you’re right back into it again tomorrow for 17 chest dominant exercises and one pull exercise. Nothing says impingement like Insanity!!

Conversely, this program actually teaches you how to move, how to get through common sticking points a lot of people get (hello breathing!!), while also making you get a training effect that doesn’t feel like you were just put through a meat grinder.

In other words, you get stronger, you feel better, and you move like a goddamn nimble cheetah.

The variety and customizability of this program is one of the main features that I really like. Since the program is directed off an initial assessment, the value of the program and its relation to the individual doing it is a lot higher than a simple one-size fits all program. Combine that with the exercise demos, and all the other adjustable elements, and you have a nearly one of a kind program that will make this the closest thing most people will get to receiving individualized training from one of the top strength coaches in the world.

Additional to the book with the workout programs, videos, and customizations, there’s a couple additional things Eric’s added into the mix. For people who pick up a copy today (October 22nd), he’s giving a few fast action bonuses. One is an all-expense paid trip to train at Cressey Performance for 2 days. Some others include a pair of New Balance Minimus shoes (quite possibly signed by Eric and definitely sniffed by Eric’s dog Tank), one of 5 Cressey Performance t-shirts, and a 25 minute video 7 Ways to Progress a Pushup. If you think pushups are boring, this would be a no-brainer to completely rock your world.


Get High Performance Handbook now

Now because I’ve had a chance to go through this product, loved the way the program was laid out, and I’ve seen some of the people it worked on after my recent trip to Cressey Performance, I’m willing to not only throw my name behind it, but I wanted to sweeten the pot a little for anyone who picks up a copy.

For anyone who gets a copy of the High Performance Handbook during this initial week (ending saturday night, October 26th), I’m going to throw in a few things.

First up, I’ll have a draw to give away a free 3 month distance coaching package with me. This is normally a $700 value, so it’s pretty significant.

Second, I’ll give away 2 distance coaching packages of 2 months, which again are worth about $460 each.

Third, I’ll give away 1-hour Skype calls to 3 different people, which each normally run $150, and we can talk about anything you want, go through an assessment to see if I can help you with anything, breakdown deadlift or squat technique, or just have a crazy dance party.

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6 people will have a chance to win, and the winner will be picked from a random number generator once the week is over and we have all the entrants in.

Here’s how to qualify:

1. Buy a copy of High Performance Handbook  –> Click HERE to get yours

2. Take a pic of the receipt. A screen shot works, or if you’re technologically deficient like I am, you could take a picture of your computer screen with your phone, then sync your phone to your computer, and have the picture you took of your screen with your phone on your computer, but that would be ridiculous.

3. Email the picture of your receipt to my assistant HERE. Make sure you block out any specific payment info if it’s not already blocked out. I don’t need you coming after me if someone hacks your credit card and starts purchasing Louboutin shoes in Kuala Lumpoor and have you blaming it on me, so block that stuff out, Kay?

4. Wait with baited breath for me to contact you and let you know if you won. I’ll only contact those who win, and I’ll also showcase it on my blog next week, so you’ll get some free publicity and probably internet hatred over getting free stuff.

To recap:

1. Get more awesome by getting High Performance Handbook

2. Take a pic of your awesomeness

3. Email me a pic of your awesomeness, preferably before Saturday night. I sleep in on Sundays.

4. I pick you and you get awesome to the awesome power

If you want your friends and family to get in on this sweet action, share this post through your social media channels to get more people involved.

Even if you don’t get picked to get stupid amounts of free stuff from both Eric and I, you’ll still have a pretty awesome customizable program that will get you fitter than a fiddle, while also having a chance to make others turn their heads when you walk by, potentially wanting to see you with fewer clothes on.

<–Get Your Copy of High Performance Handbook now –>

–> Click HERE to get it <–

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