How to Get Better at Writing Programs

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Q:  What are the best resources for getting awesome at writing programs? Besides CPT textbooks?

I remember watching a movie a few years ago (okay, a lot of years ago) – I think it was either Finding Forrester or Dead Poets Society (or something that was equally as likely to lower my sperm count) – where one of the main characters, a writer no less, asked his mentor a simple question:  “How do I get better at writing?”

“Simple,” the man replied, “you write.”

In much the same way, the best way to get better at writing programs is to……wait for it……….wait for it………………..WRITE PROGRAMS!

Sorry if you were waiting for something profound, but really, it’s as simple as that.

Lets be real for a quick minute.  There are plenty of internet gurus out there, living in their mother’s basement, with over 10,000 posts on 17 different forums who can quote the likes of Mel Siff, Yuri Verkoshansky, Vladmir Zatisiorsky, Tudor Bompa – or anyone else who’s a lot smarter than any of us will ever be – like it’s their job.  Guess how many people these gurus train?  I’m willing to bet, zip, zero, nada.

Taking it a step further, and maybe throwing a little tough love your way, you can have all the book smarts in the world, and could very well be a walking encyclopedia of knowledge bombs, but if you’re unable to actually apply that knowledge to an actual real-live person, then what’s the point?

Reading about program design is a helluva lot different than actually siting down and writing a well-thought out, and structured program.  You know, much like reading about driving a car is much different than actually sitting behind the steering wheel for the first time; or how reading about asking a girl out is a walk in the park compared to the real thing.

*enters time machine, and travels back to 1997*

Me:  Hey

Girl:  Hi

Me:  Okay, good talking to you.

In all three scenarios, until you actually do it……a lot, it won’t get any easier.   And, if you ask me (and you did), that’s the quintessence of program design – just doing it.

Which isn’t to say, that there aren’t any valuable resources out there that can help.   There are plenty.  Some that quickly come to mind would be things like Mike Boyle’s Functional Strength Coach series vol I, II, and more recently III, Mark Rippetoe’s Practical Programming, Charlie Weingroff’s Training=Rehab, Rehab=Training dvd set, or even Assess and Correct will undoubtedly lay down a solid foundation – a blueprint if you will – for designing programs.

Even still, none of the above, alone, are going to end up being the panacea of program writing ninja awesomeness – because writing (good) programs doesn’t come down to ONE book you read, or ONE dvd you watched.  It comes down to experience.

If you had access to my laptop right now, you’d easily find 500+ programs I’ve written over the years – some good, some bad, but mostly good (at least I think so).

I look at programs I wrote when I first started in this industry, and I can’t help but wonder: what the hell was I thinking?????  I feel like I should go to an AA meeting for bad program writing.

Hello, my name is Tony Gentilcore, and yes, there was a time where I used to write leg extensions into my programs.

At the time, I’m sure I thought I was the mack daddy, but in reality, I just didn’t have much experience.  Since then, I’ve worked with everyone from professional athletes to 85 year-old grandmothers (and everything in between, including teenage girls, soccer moms, and weekend warriors).

I’ve worked with fat-loss clients, powerlifters, people with chronic back pain, obese clients, and have even trained several women through their pregnancies.  All of which had different goals, needs, injuries, weaknesses, strengths, imbalances, you name it.  Either way you slice it, that’s a lot of programming, and I feel fairly confident that I could write a program for a one-armed Centaur coming off an ACL injury if I had to.

So, in closing, here’s what I’d do if I were you.  Sure, you could buy any one of the resources I mentioned above, you could read blogs, articles, books, whatever.  All of those will definitely help.  Please, read to your hearts content.

But the real dealski is this:  just practice writing programs.  Ideally, you’d be writing programs for actual clients, but you could just make up crazy scenarios and see how you would program for each one.  We do this all the time with our interns, and they love it.

Case in point:  Twenty-four year old male, former college football player, just diagnosed with a disc bulge at L4, AND has a sports hernia.  What would you do?

Time to get started.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.

Comments for This Entry

  • Michael Gray

    Winning! Nice work Tony. The fact that you program completely different than you used to brings up a great point. Part of writing good programs is letting your programs evolve as you evolve as a trainer. I know trainers who "programming" the same way that they have for the last 10 years and they're not getting any better results than they did 10 years ago. If you get stuck/set in your ways with program design, your clients are going to suffer because of it. As always, thanks for droppin' knowledge.

    May 12, 2011 at 6:42 am | Reply to this comment

  • Michael Gray more Storm Shadow?? (sad face)......

    May 12, 2011 at 8:17 am | Reply to this comment

  • Domenic

    It all comes down to knowing your stuff. I remember years ago when you had a t-nation article with wall slides. I thought they were good for injured people. Little did I realize wall slides and other exercises like them would be what improved my upper body strength more than anything. Being experienced enough to recognize signs and symptoms of certain muscle, weakness, inhibition and inactivity is key. Once you get the body working properly programming becomes much easier.

    May 12, 2011 at 8:20 am | Reply to this comment

  • Gregg

    "If you had access to my laptop right now, you’d easily find 500+ programs I’ve written over the years - some good, some bad, but mostly good (at least I think so). " So when are you going to write a book? I've bought books from Cressey, Waterbury, Wendler, and Rippetoe, and still don't understand why I can't add your name to that list. I'm starting to think you have a lazy streak and that's why you haven't dead lifted 600lbs yet either :)

    May 12, 2011 at 10:05 am | Reply to this comment

  • Stephane

    Well said Tony! I will admit that I used to think that I knew everything, but over time I've realized that It seems the more I learn, the less I know. As for your 24-year old in question, I would just send him to you.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:23 am | Reply to this comment

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