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How to Evaluate Your Training Program

Bulgarian Split Squat. Romanian Deadlift. Arnold Press. These are just a few exercises whose names have been sensationalized by adding a historically strong country or lifter to the name. But in reality, this naming actually hurts us all; coaches, athletes, anyone involved in the fitness industry. Such terms do not really explain what the movement entails, such as a precise range of motion, or the equipment being used to accomplish such a task. Worse is the lack of respect for an industry inundated with infomercials and false marketing.

This reflection is important because we all share a common goal; to get ourselves and/or our athletes stronger, more skilled, and more resilient in their sport. This is a serious goal, not to be distracted with names like the Cuban Press or Nordic Curl. It is a difficult endeavor that requires objective prescriptions of exercises just like medicine.

We should all know what we are prescribing if we are to move forward.

Step 1: How to Choose the Right Exercises

I just got back from Arizona’s spring training, implementing our system within the Colorado Rockies organization. We had some great discussions about which exercises to use and which to avoid. This first step of selection is critical in order to track the effects of your program on performance and injury reduction. If there is no standardized approach, you cannot truly evaluate why things happen.

Initially, we started with many exercises that we use at Sparta, which took years of refinement. As a result, I received one of the best questions, “What exercises have we already tried that were not included?” One of the specific questions was the infamous Romanian Deadlift (RDL), or even a Good Morning exercise, which despite not being named after a country or person still seems to inaccurately convey the right message. The answer was simple, the exercises are objective in their performance. This definition means the range of motion is precise and can be performed in almost any environment.

Therefore, movements like the RDL was eventually dropped due to its difficulty in performing universally. Despite our coaching cues of moving the barbell from mid shin to mid thigh, some athletes stood straight up to finish and others descended to varying depths.

Another example was the Push Press. A true Push Press does not involve a re-bend of the knees after driving the barbell upwards. This re-bend actually signifies a jerk. This distinction is rather trivial in Crossfit, where the goal is to simply get the weight overhead. However, if our goal is to establish an evidence based training system, the prescriptions must be as precise and universal as possible.

Step 2: Naming the Exercise

After choosing the right group of exercises, we must agree on the naming. A February 2013 study surveyed 205 people, split relatively evenly among strength coaches, athletic trainers, clinicians, personal trainers, and academics. The authors found the only consistency was some combination between the equipment, specification, and exercise. Therefore, the recommendation was a naming pattern of “specification, equipment, exercise”, such as One Arm Dumbbell Row.

We agree with the naming from the authors with one exception; put the exercise first. The main rationale for this use is a simple alphabetical or categorical approach; call it obsessive compulsive disorder if you must. This naming has made it easy for myself and our partners using our software to find “Squat Front” or “Squat Back”. But we even take it further, “Squat Overhead 3” 6 Sec Hold” to indicate a 3 inch heel lift held for 6 seconds.

Step 3: Loading Scheme

The final part in order to track your program is the loading scheme, the volume and intensity of the movement. How much weight is being performed, the reps and sets, the distance, etc. For lifts, we use percentage of body-weight because it is more exact than percentage of 1 repetition max or 1 RM (see Sparta Point). This meritocracy is easy and more objective to track year round in a variety of exercises, not just the traditional lifts like squat, clean, or bench.

Skills and plyometrics are loaded through distance and repetitions. However, we still employ density training (see Sparta Point), so the intensity (speed in this case) is maintained while the distance or repetitions are increased.

Let’s be clear, I am advocating a standardized program, not necessarily our program. Like medicine, your training and the prescriptions for your athletes is not trivial, so choose the most objective movement, name it, and load it appropriately.

Jackson MC, Brown LE, Coburn JW, Judelson DA, Cullen-Carroll N. TOWARDS STANDARDIZATION OF THE NOMENCLATURE OF RESISTANCE TRAINING EXERCISES. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Feb 22.