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Athlete-Centric Program Design

In today’s age of the quick fix, everyone seems to be searching for that magic bullet or “one weird trick” that will get them to the next level of performance.

The truth is – there are no shortcuts.

I’m a firm believer in the need for an individual and holistic approach to training. I liken this approach to that of a sniper rifle, much more accurate and precise to specific areas that you want to improve or focus on – rather than the ‘throw-shit-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks’ model heavily relied upon by group fitness classes, generic fitness blogs and training templates.



In simple terms it means that the athlete’s training is determined specifically by their individual response to training, nutrition, environment, recovery and lifestyle.


This goes far beyond just looking at the weights you lift (although that does play a role). We monitor both objective, and subjective feedback mechanisms, sleep, appetite, HRV, blood pressure, waking heart rate, energy levels, blood glucose and more.


Anyone who plans out months and months of training sessions in advance probably hasn’t worked with a real person. Humans are complex and factors ALWAYS change, they might pick up an illness, injuries, travel, miss some sessions and what happens to your intricate progression, or volume measurements?


This is where blog-based programming, generic programs and templates all fall down. They simply cannot account for the nuances of the individual humans that follow them, and likewise don’t factor in the huge myriad of individual components that could mean the difference between success and failure, between stimulating adaptation or maladaptation (something I’ll be covering in an article shortly).


I approach the data-driven program design as a three-phase process:




This is about getting to know the individual, discovering their priorities, goals, and more about them as an individual. It’s also during this phase when I’ll gather information on their biological age, training age, lifestyle, environment, breathing, nutrition, stress levels, sleep, recovery habits, hydration, training background, injury history, movement and postural analysis and much more.


“Designing a training program without this information is the equivalent of a doctor prescribing a drug without having ever assessed or diagnosed the patient.”


Both the doctor and the coach are looking to make the body adapt in some way, whether to improve the performance or fight off an infection. In order to provide the correct stimulus to create the adaptation, we need to know the starting point AND the other variables that feed into adaptation.


Based upon the information above, and an initial consultation with a client I’ll then devise a testing phase that will last anywhere from a week to 3 months to identify where they currently sit.




After the initial testing phase, the coach and athlete meet up and spend some time discussing the results of the testing phase, what the results mean and how they will influence their future program design and nutrition. It’s important that the athlete understands the reasons why their training is structured a certain way in order to empower, educate and motivate them.


It’s also an opportunity to start to make small, sustainable changes in lifestyle, nutrition and other habits to help support recovery from, and adaptation to training.



“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth” – Mike Tyson

Iron Mike’s words of wisdom ring true here. Having a plan is key, but remaining flexible and fluid to be able to adapt that plan to the individual needs of the athlete is even more important. I often see athletes who want to improve their squat decide to complete a cycle of Smolov (a notoriously difficult 13-week squat program), where in many cases their focus should be on correcting asymmetries or improving the technical aspects of their squat, rather than adding more and more weight onto a suboptimal movement pattern.


It might also be the case that an athlete doesn’t respond as favourably to a certain movement, rep range or tempo and adjustments need to be made.


This model and process is cyclical in nature – it’s an ongoing continuum of feedback, analysis and adjustments throughout each training cycle. Everyone will respond differently to a given training stimulus (it’s true, you ARE a unique and special snowflake!).




If you’re serious about your performance then you need be 100% certain of your starting point, your path and the steps to get you from where you are now, to where you want to be. Getting clarity and focus on this will set you on the right track to achieving your goals.




You cannot achieve something as significant as improving your health or athletic performance by accident. Nobody ends up on a podium by chance because their daily group ‘WOD’ had prepared them OPTIMALLY to compete in their sport.


Take some time, write down 3 things you want to achieve in the next 90 days, then 3 things you want to achieve in the next 12 months.


Are you taking CONSISTENT DAILY ACTION towards achieving these goals?


If not – why not?




Now when I say goals focused, I don’t mean to have tunnel-vision at the expense of other areas of your life. If training and achieving peak performance is of high value to you, then you need to prioritise it. Have a plan to achieve your goals – and execute it! Focus on the steps you need to take and the consistent daily action and behaviours that will lead you there.




Knowing your numbers, how they relate to your performance, your strong and weak points. How to address these within a daily/weekly/monthly/yearly plan to make progress and move forward as an athlete. You cannot improve what you don’t measure – keep a detailed training log and use it to track your performance AND inform your program design.


Want us to guide you through this process? Complete the form on this page to request a FREE consultation with our head coach where we’ll dig into your background and goals, and give you clarity and focus on how you can start heading in the right direction.

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Improve Your WOD Performance Part One: Breathing