How to Write a Strength Program In 15 Minutes or Less
You show up to the gym and you think to yourself:
“Sh*t, I totally forgot to organize the program for today.”
You have less than 15 minutes before your clients walk through the door, expecting a workout that will make them stronger, faster, more explosive, and get them closer to their goals. You don’t want to do want to over-program and risk frying their nervous system, setting them back, and possibly injuring them.
You also don’t want your workout to go out with a whimper and waste a day of your client’s training.
And there’s so much to take account for, like the specific exercises you’re going to choose, the reps and sets for each exercises, the accessories, power movements, core training, the periodization model…
It’s a lot of pressure.
But take a step back.
Take a deep breath.
Because I’m about to show you how you can write a hard-hitting, effective, and technically sound program in just 15 minutes or less. And following this approach is going to be as easy as filling in the blanks, or plugging and playing,
It starts with just seven components.
By no means should you use this approach all the time.
This is just for when you’re in a jam.
In actuality, you should sit down at the beginning of the month and organize all of your clients’ programming at the beginning of that month. This way, you can take account for the assessments you performed with your client, the periodization model you’re using, their goals, and more.
If you’re not doing this already, I share my system for doing this in my Mentorship Program. You can get all the information about it here (half-off link, price doubling permanently soon).
Now, let’s get into the post:
Component #1: Warm-Up
The first, and maybe the most important, component of any strength program is the warm-up. And although you should have a standardized warm-up you perform before every session, regardless of who you’re working with, I figured I’d throw it in here.
The purpose of the warm-up is three-fold. The first purpose of the warm-up is to raise the body temperature. This gets your body prepared for exercise, helps with movement efficiency, and ensures optimal flexibility.
The second of the purpose of the warm-up is to raise alertness and get the athlete’s mind prepared for exercise. Chances are, your athlete hasn’t been engaged in too much activity before they came to see you. They’ve probably been lounging around the house all day or they’ve been sitting at a desk in school. The warm-up will lift them out of their daze, raise alertness, and get them mentally prepped for the activity ahead.
The third purpose of the warm-up is to dilate your blood vessels and ensure your muscles are well-supplied with oxygen.
As I said above, you should have a standardized warm-up you perform every day. If you don’t, here’s the one I use with most of my clients:
Component #2: Mobility
The next thing you want to account for is stretching, mobility, and activation. After the warm-up, I take a few minutes to address this area of performance. To be clear, I don’t stretch with my clients every day. It depends on their specific needs and imbalances. And most times, if I’m coaching a group, I skip stretching.
However, I always take time for mobility. Mobility is often undervalued when compared to stretching. However, mobility is the key to gaining functional range of motion. Whereas stretching does unlock new ranges of motion, it doesn’t give you control in those new ranges. That’s where mobility thrives.
One of my favorite mobility modalities for athletes is the controlled articular rotations. CARs are simply moving a joint through its full range of motion in a controlled manner. If you want to learn more about CARS, check out this post.
Then, there’s activation. Activation is used to turn on under-active muscles. Many times, crucial muscles for performance have their activity restricted by overactive, tonic muscles. These underactive muscles usually include the glutes, the core, and the mid/upper back.
To address these issues, I perform mobility on the joint, then use precise activation exercises to “wake up” the underactive muscles for the training session ahead. For example, I may use a single leg glute bridge to activate the glutes. I may also use some kind of band pull apart to activate the mid and upper back.
Component #3: Power
Next, we turn our attention to power. Many people ask me how to program power exercises, where they belong in the workout, and how many power exercises to perform each session. I want to knock each one of those questions off one by one.
First, you want to select your power exercises based on the quality you want to develop that day. If you want to focus on footwork, lateral power, and shorter ground contact times, you may select movements like skater bounds, single leg broad to 90 degree jumps, and lateral pogo jumps.
If you want to focus on horizontal power and hip extension, you may program broad jumps.
I think you get the idea – the movements you select are based on your goal for the day.
As far as where power training belongs in your workout, it should always be done first thing after the warm-up and your mobility for the day. Why? Because power exercises are the most neurologically taxing movements. That means they place the heaviest stress on the nervous system. And since the emphasis of power training should be on good technique and high quality movement, you want to perform them first.
Also, power is the priority for all athletes. Every sport requires some amount of explosive power, so it only makes sense that you would want to work on it with your athletes when they’re fresh.
Finally, how many power exercises you should perform in each workout? The answer is, it depends. It depends on how close you are to a competition or the season. It depends on the circumstances the athlete is in (are they in season, or in camp?). It depends on the periodization model you’re following.
As a general rule, you should stick with three to five movements based around the quality you want to train that day.
Sometimes you may want to perform more. For example, if the athlete is newer to training, you may want to get more volume in to get them used to performing certain movements. Sometimes you may want to perform less. For example, if I know I’m using French contrast training that day, I’ll only program one or two power exercises in this slot.
For more on power training, check out this blog post.
Component #4: Strength
Ah, my favorite. Strength. Strength should be the fourth blank to fill when you’re writing a program.
Strength is a complicated subject. There’s a lot that goes into strength. There are different kinds of strength, different sets and reps you should use, tempos you can use, and different methods to build strength.
For starters, we’ll do a quick rundown on the types of strength.
There are technically two kinds of strength. The first is absolute strength, which is the absolute amount of force you can produce. This is best exemplified by powerlifters, who don’t really care about how much they weight, how they look, or how they feel. They just want to move some damn weight.
Then there’s relative strength. This is often the overlooked, undervalued type of strength, but it’s critical for everyone… Especially athletes. Relative strength is the amount of force you can produce relative to your bodyweight. So if two guys weigh the same amount and they’re having a push-up contest, the guy who does more push-ups has more relative strength. In another example, if two guys weigh the same and they do a max vertical jump contest, the guy with the higher vertical jump will usually be the guy with more relative strength.
In this way, relative strength is a bridge to power when velocity comes into play, though both absolute and relative strength play a hand in explosive power.
There’s also eccentric. Eccentric strength has to do with the amount of force you can absorb. This is going to be critical for both displays of power and strength, as the more force you can absorb, the more you can produce.
Now, as far as this strength section goes, I’m talking about programming your compound lifts – your squats, deadlifts, and bench presses and all of their variations.
The number of lifts you’ll perform depends on the periodization you’re using.
As a general rule, select one to two compound lifts with the appropriate corrective exercises in between. An example of an appropriate corrective is a bench press paired with a band pull-apart, or a sumo deadlift paired with a glute bridge,
As far as reps and sets go, again, it depends. The standard parameters for strength training are between 3 to 7 sets of 1 to 5 reps, though there are cases in which you’ll go higher rep, like in the general physical preparedness phase of training.
For more strength training fun, see this blog post.
Component #5: Accessories
Next, you’ll want to program some accessory or auxiliary movements. Accessory and auxiliary movements are going to be smaller in scope in terms of muscle groups worked, and more focused than the core lifts I laid out above.
These movements should be selected with the intention of bringing balance to the body, hammering away weaknesses, and working on very specific movement qualities.
For example, if my core lift was a sumo deadlift, a hinge movement, I may select a Bulgarian split squat as an auxiliary to work the quads unilaterally. Or if my core lift was a bench press, I’ll have some kind of horizontal pulling movement.
In both of these examples, these movements bring balance to the workout and the body, they hammer away at deficiencies/imbalances, and they work on specific movement qualities.
Some examples of auxiliaries I like to use are: split squats, reverse lunges, lunges, single leg RDLs, RDLs, goblet squats, dumbbell rows, cable rows, face pulls, banded good mornings, various vertical presses, and more.
Depending on the athlete, you may perform isolation exercises for the arms and shoulders as well. Again, it depends on the athlete and their needs.
I usually select two to four of these movements per workout. The sets and reps can range anywhere from 2-4 sets of 6-15 reps.
Component #6: Core Training
Finally… The core.
The core is a critical muscle group for all athletes. The core is the highway for force production. Every time you perform a movement – a bench press, a jump, a sprint, throw a punch, go for a takedown – high amounts of force shoot through the core and out of the extremity you are moving. If the highway’s infrastructure is weak and brittle, you will leak force and your movements will have less power behind them.
However, if the highway’s infrastructure is strong, it will hold onto more of that force, and you will be able to produce more power.
As far as training the core goes, you want stability. Core stability refers to your ability to maintain tightness in the core, even when acted upon by outside forces. This starts with simple planks, side planks, and prone cobra holds. However, as you progress your training, you should select movements that train your ability to stabilize while moving dynamically.
You also want to train your ability to flex, extend, rotate, and resist rotation in the core. These movement qualities are critical to all athletic functions.
In general, you should choose about 1 to 3 core exercises. Program 10-25 reps, or between 45 and 60 seconds per movement.
To learn more about core training and the exercises I like to use, go here.
Component #7: Recovery
Recovery isn’t something many coaches program for, however I pride myself on being detail-oriented, focused, and giving my athlete every possible edge he needs to succeed. That’s why I always take time to program recovery modalities.
These modalities aren’t very complex.
You can perform some kind of stretching, foam rolling, or other mobility work to cool down, prevent soreness, and facilitate recovery.
Something else I like to use is breathwork. Specifically, box breathing at the end of workouts. Box breathing is a parasympathetic nervous system activating breathing exercise that accelerates recovery, enhances relaxation, and pulls the athlete out of fight-or-flight.
It’s performed by laying on your back with the knees bent 90 degrees. The lower leg should be resting on an elevated surface, or the feet should be flat on a wall. Breathing into the belly, inhale through the nose for five seconds, hold for five, then exhale through the nose for five seconds. Repeat this for five minutes.
Putting It All Together
- Component #1: Warm-Up
- Component #2: Mobility and Activation
- Select 1-3 Mobility and Activation Exercises Specific To The Training For the Day
- Component #3: Power
- Select 3-5 Power Movements Specific To The Quality You Want to Develop That Day
- Component #4: Strength
- Select 1-2 Compound Lifts With the Appropriate Correctives In Between
- 3-7 Sets
- 1-5 Reps
- Select 1-2 Compound Lifts With the Appropriate Correctives In Between
- Component #5: Accessories
- Select 2-4 Accessory Movements
- 2-4 Sets
- 6-15 reps
- Select 2-4 Accessory Movements
- Component #6: Core
- Select 1-3 Core Movements
- 2-4 Sets
- 10-25 Reps or 45-60 Seconds
- Select 1-3 Core Movements
- Component #7: Recovery
- Select One Regeneration Modality
A Quick Warning
As I said above, you shouldn’t rely on this “template” all the time. There are multiple reasons for this.
The first reason is, this training “template” doesn’t take into account the periodization model you’re using. The periodization model is responsible for delivering consistent gains, helping your client towards their desired goal, and avoiding overtraining.
Second reason is, one of the characteristics of a great coach is detail orientation. Scraping together programs last minute is the opposite of that. When you’re programming, you should put serious thought into your client’s strengths, weaknesses, goals, history, sport, and more to craft them the program that’s optimal for them.
Third, you’ll never be real difference-maker in your community if you take a short-term approach.
That’s why I recommend people learn strength and conditioning programming from the bottom up…
So they can be difference-makers.
Feel confident working with anyone.
Know HOW and WHEN to use advanced training methods.
You can find all of that in the Daru Strong Mentorship Program.
It’s available for half-off for an extremely limited time. And in a few days, the price is going to PERMANENTLY quadruple.
Hope to see you inside.