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Practical is the New Functional

I love innovation.

I love new exercise variations.  I love learning new methods.  I love new technology.  It’s fun for me to watch new trends come and go, and I enjoy trying to predict what’s coming.

Over the past year, however, it’s been hammered home time and time again that practicality is one of the most important – and neglected –  factors to consider in programming.  This is especially true when working with groups, which I do a lot.  You can design the greatest program in the world, but if it isn’t practical – if it can’t be implemented – it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.

Here is an example.  I’ve had a few young coaches contact me about looking at their programs for high school teams before they implement them.  I’ll see stuff like this:

Power Clean 5 x 5  HS Weight Room 4

Front Squat 5 x 5

RDL 5 x 5

Bench Press 5 x 5

Barbell Row 5 x 5

Machine Front Neck 2 x 10

Machine Back Neck 2 x 10

packed 2At first it looks OK, but things start to look a lot different when I find out there will be 40 guys in the weight room and there are three racks, five barbells and one neck machine.  There’s going to be a line out the door waiting for a barbell or the neck machine.  It’s going to take two hours to get through a workout that should take 45 minutes.  It’s not practical.  It’s going to be a mess and the coach is going to look like a total amateur.

I also look at that workout and think about where the coaching energy is going to be placed.  I would consider every one of these a “high coaching-demand” exercise.  High school kids are going to butcher most of them, so you’re going to be running around trying to correct poor form all day.  You’ll have no time to help them understand how to progressively overload each movement or motivate the kids.  It’s a recipe for disaster and will become a complete cluster.  It’s an example of a good program that’s not practical.

Early in my career, I always wanted to come up with new stuff and show off my creativity.  HS Weight Room 3I prided myself on being able to come up with a great workout no matter where I was.  While I still think that’s important, this year (as I get older and older) I’m more drawn to fundamentals than ever.  I see so many young coaches trying to make their mark on this field by coming up with something new instead of mastering fundamentals.  What I’ve learned is that, without mastering the fundamentals, there is no basis for innovation.  It’s almost like saying “I’m not very good at the basics, so I’ll come up with something different so nobody will notice.”

I don’t need 50 variations for every movement.  I need a couple and I need to understand the most important concept in strength training – systematic & progressive overload.  Pick a movement, and get stronger with it.

The basics are not broken.  They never were.  We’ve just become so used to being entertained, that we’re constantly looking for something new.  Our athletes aren’t bored.  We are.  And, who cares about us?  We’re not the focus of the training – our clients are.

If you and your athletes aren’t exceptional at the fundamentals, take a step back and think about what you’re doing.  You owe it to yourself and your clients to help them develop a sound foundation before moving on to new tricks.

In my world the most important program equation now looks like this:

Practical = Functional

Jim Kielbaso

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