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What’s a little chaos (programming)?

We all have our “ways of doing things”.

What happens when we look to separate from our norms? What happens when we step away from the things we are comfortable with or the things that have worked in the past? Sometimes it feels we are living in chaos (or at least at first) when we take those steps into the unknown.

I asked myself this and just like anyone who thrives on a little chaos, decided to go out there and "risk it" and try something new in my Olympic Weightlifting programming game.

Programming is both quintessential to long term athlete developmen --we all know this. I've have been fortunate to have been taught programming by some of the greatest coaches out there (in my opinion, at last). I've also been confident enough to sit around a table in other countries not only debating, but also holding my ground with experienced (way more than I am) senior coaches because my mentors were so helpful.

So, what happens when you want to forge new plans, try different things, and test other approaches to get more out of your athletes training? Is the risk worth the reward? Is what works fine something to stick with or do you push envelope to see what else is possible?

You have to be hella comfortable with the idea that everything you have done up until this point is ok and clearly has gotten you to this point. You also have to be willing to accept that what you are about to explore may end with failure and wasting gobs of time. To be blunt that's fucking terrifying as a coach AND as an athlete.

Unfortunately for the terrified: A ship in harbor is safe, but that's not what ships are for".

I made the decision to change programming between a mix of studying up on some gymnastics coaching material as well as working with an amazing coach from Colombia: Carlos Andica (go look him up). I liked the movement based principles of “must be right to move on” (thank you gymastics coaching world) in part, because I feel the USA lacks in discipline in its coaching community. On top of that, the coaching I was getting from Carlos was peaking my interest. He programs on a base of "build to" style then asks for drop sets with the goal being movement refinement, not necessarily hitting a specific percentage come hell or high water.

I dug into gymnastics programming methods because gymnastics is a sport respected by all others due to its principal skills - flexibility, coordination, balance, repeatability, and literally the demand for every little finicky detail to be perfect...nothing should be different about our sport.

Weightlifting depends on athletes pushing themselves physically and mentally while also respecting the "form" the movements should be done in. How many times have we felt like a thousand bucks, but because the programming didn't call for us to go heavy we didn't and missed out on an opportunity? Or vice versa - we felt like crap or were undercovered and we dropped some rough looking reps on a heavy day just to get through the numbers?


This “open sourced” programming style relies on two variables to get on it as far as I have established.

  1. Athlete understands good vs. bad movement patterns

  2. Athlete is extremely disciplined as to not go up when not needed/not moving well

The other key ingredient is the coach controls the intensity ONLY when he feels he needs to protect the athlete from overwork or injury and/or wants something drilled more specifically...other than that it is more or less “suggested programming” with the ability to go up or down daily and then refine movement.

It is best described as "51% on the athlete and 49% on the coach" and this is polar opposite to how many coaching styles out there.

So what does this look like?

Here’s an example week from Kaitlyn Cooper who after many months of programming hiccups due to pushing too hard OR playing the percent game OR not pushing hard enough led us to want to do something better. We tried this style and saw fantastic results, including our first 100kg snatch as well as 120kg clean and jerks becoming the norm on training days.

I have also started incorporating this method with two extremely consistent youth athletes and will be integrating it into some of my senior, more experienced athletes, as well in the coming months and I am excited to see the results.

One added benefit is the program actually helps and encourages athletes to "listen to their bodies." By letting them partially set the loads themselves as to what was "relatively heavy" for that particular day's double should assist in them in finding out what is "actually" them being physically depleted vs. mentally not there vs. being physically or mentally ready to go. We all know sometimes we feel terrible until we get into the gym and start moving, so this forces them to really be self-aware and check-in.

Assisting athletes in learning to "self" de-load should help them be injured less and not push poor movement patterns for the sake of the programming. It encourages strong decision making keeping in line with the coach/athlete's goals for the whole cycle. If the athlete decides to be an asshole everyday and just "go heavy" for the sake of doing it they will not be able to train at the level of intensity they need to maintain good movement. They also won't get the physiological benefits from the training. It is on the athlete and helps instill discipline--which we know every athlete needs practice at!

One of the favorite secrets all the greats learn to realize is that sometimes if you just simply outlast your competition because you are healthier more often then them, you will continue to rise to greatness...

This style of programming is not for everyone (coach or athlete) and definitely needs to be tested more. But for now, it is producing results on a base that can be tested, adjusted, and re-tested. which is something we want. I encourage you all to not get “stuck” in the same programming plan forever and be open to new things.

I’ll actually say one of the greatest all time successes of 4 Star is that there are different styles of coaching here across all of our coaches. And while even I don’t agree with every little things, fully I do love that my coaches and athletes can explore the sport in an environment where they know they can test it if they want. If we, as a country, continue to test and retest new methods determining if they work or not rather than just doing the same old thing we will continue to push forward as a nation.

Sometimes throwing a little chaos into the mix of something truly untested and different can produce some amazing results.

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