Programing Secrets From Alanna Casey

The majority of athletes program for themselves. Sometimes this is a great thing, and sometimes it means that the athlete is cutting themselves short. I’d like to go over a few mistakes to avoid when programming for yourself.  The following seem to be common mindsets that will actually limit the development of an athlete. Do yourself a favor and give these a read.

1) “More is better.” More is not always better. Some athletes are what I like to call “punishers.” These athletes think that they must punish themselves with more sets and more reps. They have a fear that if they don’t punish themselves with more reps, then they are failing themselves, or taking the easy way out. No training session (save for event training or geared lifting) should take you more than 2 hours to accomplish. If you are at the gym for 3 hours doing 7 plus exercises for 5+ sets of 10 reps, you are likely doing too much volume. For athletes whose goal is to get stronger, it is really challenging to work for longer than a couple hours and still be able to produce work at an intensity high enough to yield maximal results. I like to complete 4 exercises each training day.

   – First exercise: Main strength movement. 3 sets of 3-5 reps. Example: Squat.

   – Second exercise: Main strength accessory movement. Movement that targets the weakest portion of my main strength movement. 3 sets of 5-8 reps.    Example:     Light resistance band squats, to help me drive out of the hole on squat.

  – Third exercise: Accessory movement. 20-30 total reps. Something to target a specific muscle group. Example: Leg extension

  – Fourth exercise: Stabilization movement: 20-30 total reps. An exercise to target the smaller, stabilizing muscles, which helps prevent injury. Example: Walking lunges.

This regiment usually takes 1.5-2.0 hours and for me, yields the best results.  

Example of a main assistance lift: banded box squats


2) “Focus on making strengths even stronger.” Nah, brah. Your strengths are the things that you are already good at. While you should train them, the majority of your attention should be focused on your weakness. Usually athletes avoid their weakness because completing exercises that highlight weaknesses aren’t especially ego building. However, doing those exercises that you hate because they are “hard,” will generally be a good thing. Developing weakness will help your placing a lot more than developing strengths.

3) “Rest is bad, it means you’re being lazy.” Au contraire! Rest is necessary in program development. I recommend taking a minimum of 7 days of rest prior to a competition, with a maximum of 14 days. I also will plan out my programming allowing for a few missed training sessions here or there. Sometimes your body just isn’t recovering as quickly as you’d like it to. In those cases, it’s sometimes good to cancel a training session or two. Every 3 weeks, I will cancel at least one training session because of stress, dehydration, lack of sleep, sickness, or general fatigue. This is okay and it’s healthy! Sometimes, your body will benefit more from an extra day of rest.

4) “Only stick to programming specific to your sport and avoid everything else.” I disagree. Of course an athlete will perform better if the majority of his time is spent doing work that is specific to his sport. However, it is beneficial to pull from other sports to aid in your programming. For example, tacking on a miniature crossfit work out at the end of your strength training session will likely benefit the athlete. This is especially true in strongman where conditioning matters. I’m not talking about a 30 minute crossfit session, I’m talking about a 5 minute METCON. Pulling from other sports and mixing your programming up a bit can benefit an athlete by keeping him well rounded and keep his body guessing.

5) “I don’t need a plan, I’ll just do what I’m feeling that day.” Wrong. While this may seem to work for some very advanced athletes, this practice generally doesn’t work for the majority of athletes. Truth be told, the advanced athletes that say they are approaching training in this method, usually aren’t. They are following a calculated program, it’s just that the program is in the athlete’s head and not on paper. For strongman, I like to be able to hit about 10% over contest weights at the conclusion of my programming. To do that, I have to work backwards from the date of my competition and plan out what numbers I need to be hitting each week to keep me on track. I increase my main work load by about 5% each week.

6) “PR city baby!” Ahhh kindaa. While it is practical to PR on cycled assistance work each week, it’s not usually best to try and make a new maximal PR each week, or even each month. If you are hitting a PR on your main lifts each month (and not a brand new lifter), you likely are not programming in a way to peak your performance for your competition. Just because you think you can complete a lift, doesn’t always mean you should. Focusing on speed and form will generally transfer over to a much higher PR come competition time. While youtube training videos are great, they actually don’t matter (at all). What matters is the performance that the athlete delivers on competition day. Trying to PR on your main lifts or strongman events each week will usually lead to injury and slow development. I do recommend a slight increase in intensity each week but, save “PR city” for your meet or competition.

PRs are cool but, small and consistent progression is usually best.


7) “I can program for myself.” This can be true and it can be false. I have been competing in strongman and powerlifting for about 4 or 5 years. I have only been programming for myself the past 2 years. For me it was more than beneficial to pay someone else who knew more than me to write my programming. There are many top level athletes who program for themselves and many who employ someone else. Neither way is wrong. Many high level athletes like being in complete control of their programming but, even more like to let someone else to the thinking for them. Getting someone else to do your programming means you have one less thing to worry about.  But, be picky about who you decide to get to do your programming. Make sure that person is reputable. Just because someone is a personal trainer, has a certification, or has “done programming before,” they are not automatically qualified to program for you. So, do your research.

That’s all I got folks! Revaluate your programming and make sure you are making these basic errors which are completely avoidable. Good luck.   

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