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Coach Caleb’s Corner
Stick with the Program!
Having just returned from an outstanding experience at the StrongFirst Level Two kettlebell certification in Toronto, Ontario, Kati and I are bursting at the seams with new things we want to share with our amazing trainees! We also returned with a reinforced concentration on all the successful elements that have got us and our clients so far already. We had the privilege to do a few days of very hard work with some strong and talented members of our school of strength and when we were tested, we were gratified to feel the power of ample preparation. On the way home it had me thinking about our now familiar process of setting a challenging goal; one that must be hit on a specific date, planning the training, executing the plan and achieving the desired result on the day in question. What a powerful experience! But how and why does it all work so well?
Have you ever had a goal in mind that seemed a bit unrealistic? It’s what you want, though, and you’re determined to just go for it? I’ve set a few goals like that over the years. Sometimes I was able to hit them, sometimes not. At first, it was hard to pin down the reasons why things would go well, and I would make some guesses, use more trial, more error… it was a laborious process. Fortunately, with the benefit of years of training logs and lots of good coaching and mentorship, the process is now a lot more like trial and adjust, with very few blatant errors. There is a clear system that works for hitting PRs in training and life and it can be summed up with a familiar phrase; “stick with the program!” When I review my training over the years, I can clearly see the phases when my biggest gains were made, and the phases that were less successful. So, now if someone asks me what stands out about the most successful training phases, I can answer without hesitation. Those successful training periods were phases wherein I adhered closely to the “big three” StrongFirst principles. I stuck with the program. It’s like a secret formula for accomplishing just about any goal, whether it’s related to strength and conditioning or something else.
These principles are: – Continuity of the Training Process – Waviness of the Load – Specialized Variety
For now I just want to focus on the first one because without it, the other two don’t matter. What is this “Continuity of the Training Process?” Simply put, if you only have a few exposures to an exercise or program, then your gains from it will be brief or insignificant. Also implied in this principle of continuity is that we are exposed to the exercise multiple times a week; possibly even on a daily basis. A program designed around 3 training days a week for 6 weeks will not work if we protract the timeframe to become one training day a week for 18 weeks! That’s not to say that you can’t make some gains training once a week (not ideal; better than nothing) but the programming needs to take that limitation into account. Optimal results are usually obtained from training 3-5 days a week, with multiple exposures to the “big bang for your buck” exercises (ie. avoiding random acts of variety). Hitting a plateau is no justification for switching out the system! Starting up a shiny new training regimen is the easy way out; it gives a false sense of immediate progress because it’s so easy to make initial improvements on something brand new, it’s entertaining, and it gets you sore. The real question is, does the new novelty training bring you any closer to your goal, or are you just going to switch it up again when it is no longer an entertaining distraction?
When Kati and I began preparing for the SFG II kettlebell certification, we eschewed all other training. We focussed only on the lifts that would be tested to pass the course, and on the associated strength and conditioning requirements. We trained 4-5 days a week, following the same program without any deviation. The volume, intensity and density of the work was waved (stay tuned for a future Coach’s Corner to get into more detail on that), but the same skills were practiced each week. I know that for most people the idea of the same training program, practiced 4-5 days a week for 5 months might sound tedious at best and outright boring at worst. Here’s what is not boring; results! Our inspiring Breakthrough members know all about this experience from participating in the Drop Two Sizes Challenge, or the Tactical Strength Challenge. Training for those events prioritizes certain objectives and focuses on hitting very specific goals, while other aspects of training are put on the back burner for a time. Thanks to this prioritization, the desired results are obtained; often exceeding our expectations!
When I started the SFG II prep, a single military press with the 36KG kettlebell was difficult, and by the end a single press with 40KG was manageable for a few sets in the same training session. The conditioning results were similar, as I was able to work up to keeping a pace of 20 snatches per minute with a 24KG for five minutes without it wiping me out. Throughout the five months I gained some new muscle, strength, conditioning and skills that I have never had before. Kati’s results were even better than mine, of course. Were there days when the last thing we wanted to do was that same program? Were there sets that we just wanted to cut sometimes? Were there other exciting lifts that we wanted to do instead to mix things up? Guilty on all accounts. We never gave in to the temptation, however, and it worked out quite well. By staying the course and sticking with the program we were able to hit the target with confidence when the time came.