Program Design – Picking on Exercise Equipment Selection

The primary goal of any program should be to keep the goal the goal.  One way to do this is to use exercise equipment for its intended use and not just because they are the newest thing.  Every time a new piece of equipment comes out, or someone posts something on Instagram with it, we become infatuated with this new piece thinking that it is the key to solving all our problems.  We attach results to the equipment and not to the methods and workout parameters that are responsible.

How often do you hear someone say “I want to try kettlebells,” or “I started working out with the TRX?”  The statements should read “I want to try kettlebell swings,” or “I started using a TRX for inverted rows.”  The kettlebell or the TRX aren’t the reason people are getting stronger or in better shape.  The principles of progressive overload, general adaptation syndrome and supercompensation are.  The TRX and kettlebell are tools that can be used and they are not always the best tool to be used.

I’m picking on these two tools but truthfully, I use them both when they are required.  If I don’t have a need for a piece of equipment in a program then I don’t use it.  I use the equipment that is most appropriate for the exercises that work for the goal of the program.

I’m not talking to the person who is working out at home and they bought a few kettlebells and a TRX.  Keep doing what you are doing and find ways to make this equipment work for you.  I’m talking to the crowd that believes that the equipment is the reason for the results.  Your muscles don’t know which implement is causing them stress.  Overload is overload.  The results come from effort.  Don’t marry yourself to equipment because it won’t always be the best choice.  Choose the equipment that is best for the exercise that works best for achieving the desired result.  Keep the goal the goal.

Anytime I make a program I come up with questions that someone could ask about each component or exercise.  If I can’t answer them then I take it out.  Working with a few hundred high school athletes each year and having teachers and coaches to answer to always resulted in plenty of questions to answer.  Answering my own questions about exercise selection and workout parameters while writing programs formed my responses ahead of time and helped with program buy-in.  Most importantly it eliminates the fluff in a program and focuses the training back towards the goal.

Next time you’re designing a program, for yourself or someone else, continually ask what the purpose of each component is.  Do this for strength training and conditioning.  Do this for exercises and sets and repetitions.

The last program I designed for myself was geared towards maximal strength development prior to Firefit season.  The conditioning component I designed included a day of High Resistance Intervals and a day of The One Minute Workout protocol.

The reasons?  HRI uses a high load and I chose weighted stair sprints for 10 second repeats.  It is specific to the first portion of the race but the short duration for HRI doesn’t derail the strength training focus.  If anything, it contributes to training the powerful fast-twitch fibers that are the focus of a strength-based program but develops the aerobic system because the duration of the rest period keeps the heart rate in an aerobic training zone – around 130 bpm.  I could have used a rower for this also but as fun as it is, the stair sprints made more sense in this instance.

I included the One Minute Workout protocol for two reasons.  I needed a training day that was very short so I could fit the workout in almost anywhere in the day and doesn’t interfere with “dadding”.  This allows me a day to sleep in and not have to wake up 2 hours before anyone else in my house.  This workout protocol provides the necessary aerobic improvements to maintain my fitness levels at a sufficient level before I get back onto the course shortly after this program is over.  The 20 second intervals just break into the anaerobic lactic zone but are still short enough to keep the volume low – not competing with the strength focus of this phase. It is a precursor to the more intensive lactic work to come as the season progresses.   As this component is included to maintain fitness levels the selection of equipment is not as important and I use my dual-action bike, which also afford my spine a break from loading.

If you’re past the point of any exercise is better than no exercise and have specific goals you are trying to achieve then you should be learning why you are training the way you are.  You can only claim ignorance for so long before it’s on you to do some research or pay someone to do the thinking for you.  There is no shortage of quality information on the internet these days if you are willing to look.   There is also a metric shit ton of useless garbage – it was measured.

Some may have the opinion that I overthink my programs but this way I don’t waste time in the gym.  The extra time I spend thinking about my program is won back 10-fold by eliminating time spent training un-needed movements while maximizing the results in the shortest amount of time.  If the TRX or a kettlebell can be used to work towards a goal of the program then I use them.  If I can’t justify their use, I don’t.  It all comes back to keeping the goal the goal.


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