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Recommended Reading For Programming The General Population

"I'm wanting to do some more learning about programming, I feel like since I got my qualification I have bombarded myself with lots of other knowledge but I really want to get to grips with programming fundamentals for gen pop. Do you have any suggestions for books or articles that have really good info about it? It is a massive question requiring a massive answer. An answer I can't cover in one article so I'll provide you with some useful reading that explains my own thought process behind coaching and programming.

There are many authors and pieces of work which I have omitted for brevity but through many of the links I've provided, you will probably stumble into it anyway.

I'm going to cover this from a few different angles. I'm going to give you articles, videos, and books for this question and throw in some of my own ideas.

My own programming comes from a background of strength training, powerlifting, and bodybuilding. I work with amateur athletes who play hockey, netball, and football, and many of the concepts discussed today are used in their programming.

The Language You Use

What you say, matters. Tony Gentilcore shows us all the words we choose, the way we same them and the body language we put across are full of power. This power can be for good or bad.

For programming to be the most effective it can be, it's important to refine and perfect how we communicate.

You can read his article here.

Movement Screening

Before any training is performed a movement screen should be performed by a coach.

Every session is a movement screen and you should always be vigilant.

Hopefully, this goes without saying and you have an assessment which each of your clients before training begins.

HERE is a copy of the movement screen I work through with each of my clients. I adapt the screen depending on the client as some of the tests aren't suitable for people either from an inability to do the movement, for me fearing to make them look or feel stupid (never good in an early session) or from a safety standpoint.

Here are some links which helped me to create my movement screen:

What you say, matters. How you communicate with someone during an assessment can make them feel broken or empowered. Your job is to make it the latter.

Warming Up

Keep warm-ups short and sweet. If a warm-up takes more than 5-10 minutes then it's too much of a warm-up

Stretching before a session usually equals a reduction in power output.

The general population will often stretch places that feel tight like their lower back and hamstrings. Screen how they use their core. If they can't plank in a good position, it's probably their core that needs strengthening rather than hamstrings, lower back, or hips flexors that need stretching.

This isn't to say you should do lots of core work in a warm-up.

A small amount of planking (like 10 seconds,) bird dogs, side planks for short periods are great warm-up drills when used well.

Too much "activating" the stabiliser muscles in the warm-up achieve fatigue, not an increase in performance.

Asking questions and watching how someone moves can instantly change the flow of a warm-up. If someone is moving well, often a lighter version of their working exercise can be enough of a warm-up. This is a strong argument for a specific warm-up.

  • Goblet squats as a warm-up for a squatting session.

  • Light Barbell RDLs for a deadlift session

  • Floor Presses or light Barbell Bench drills for a bench session

Descending reps work well with warm-up drills.

When reps are involved, my favourite rep range in a warm-up is 5,3,1.

If timings are involved I like to use 15, 10, and 5-second intervals.

An example warm-up using this:

  • 5 bird-dogs each side

  • 15-second side plank each side

  • 3 bird-dogs each side

  • 10-second side plank each side

  • 1 bird-dog each side

  • 5-second side plank each side

I can't remember where I originally got this idea. I think it was from reading a combination of Dr. Stuart McGill in The Gift of Injury and John Rusin with his 6-phase 10 minutes warm-up.

Warm-Up Exercise Selection/Style

Here is a great paragraph from the first part which sums up my thoughts on the ideal strength training warm-up:

The point is that by using just enough repetitions in the early sets to get warmed up, the lifter arrives at the heavier weights prepared for the heavy weights without being excessively fatigued.

Lyle McDonald

Lower Back/Core

Echoing many fitness professionals sentiments, read the work of Dr. Stuart McGill. His warm-up exercises are often a great choice for the majority of people.



8 Prehab/Rehab Exercises For Bulletproof Shoulders- Here is an excellent selection of shoulder warm-ups you can use with your client where appropriate.

Warm-ups for sparing the shoulders- More Cressey, more shoulders, more awesome.

Main Workout Exercise Selection

Here is a fantastic series from Lyle McDonald called "Categories of Weight Training" which smashes the topic of program design out of the water. You can follow the link below for part 1. Be prepared for some reading, it's 15 part long.

Strength Training

Your Program Sucks By Sebastian Oreb- This is a brilliant 7 part series detailing how and why people can make even the best plans on paper completely suck.


West Of Westside Until this article, Westside was how I programmed powerlifting. After reading it, my ideas changed quickly.


Here is an article I've referenced before when programming Crossfit style sessions for the general population


Lyle McDonald Periodisation For Bodybuilders

Assault Course Racers

For me, training for an assault course is like training for the special forces without the prospect of being made into a killing machine.

During the assault course you will be required to run, jump, swim, pull-up, climb, do monkey bars, climb ropes, you get the idea.

That is what your training should involve.

With such a diverse spectrum of training to cover it is often wise to extend the training week to beyond the usual 7 days. This stops the average person from having to fit everything in every week.

A complete round of training may take anything to a month but it depends on a multitude of factors.

It can be tempting to simply perform Crossfit WODs for this type of client, but I don't feel like Olympic lifts transfer well to OCR type events.


Here is a good Q&A featuring Alan Thrall on Strongman programming. Strongman programming has a couple of concepts to keep in mind:

  • Practice the events coming up in the next competition

  • Use as specific equipment as you can

  • Have an incredibly strong posterior chain

  • Bench press isn't important for strongman


If you want to train triathletes, you have to check out the work of Alex Viada and Complete Human performance.

HERE is a great example of why that is.

Long-Distance Runners

So you want to run PART 1, and PART 2 by Alex Viada


Other Stuff

The best programming is the most adaptable programming. Always remember this.

If you keep seeing a particular injury happening to your clients there is something that needs to change with your programming.

It's easy to make strength training too " shouldery', 'elbowy' or 'hippy'.

Here are some articles which helped me adapt my programming:

There are loads of parts to this. I reread it every couple of years. Great stuff. Cressey has built on, changed, and adapted many parts of this series so further reading on top of this series is encouraged.

Hip Health


Lower Back

When introducing new movements, injury is more likely so keep the volume low. A great example of this is low bar squats.

When someone starts low bar squatting in combination with heavy bench pressing, pull-ups, rollouts elbow pain often results.

We see this, even more, when someone tries to grip the bar as narrowly as possible while in the low bar squat.

Tips For Programming The Beginner Low Bar Squatter:

  • Keep low bar volume low (3-10 reps during the first couple of weeks)

  • When introducing low bar, start with the hands in a similar position to the bench press and gradually work inwards over the weeks until you find your sweet spot

  • Wear a grippy top and never wear a shiny/slippy top for low bar squatting

  • Chalk the upper back and hands

  • Consider either going lighter or lower volume while benching around the time you first introduce low bar squatting

Programs I've Done That Taught Me A Lot

This is the best strength program I've done which is aimed at the general population. I still use the ideas, exercises, and structure of this plan to this day.

I learned a great deal about how NOT to program during this training block. As a coach, you often learn the most from plans that aren't suited to you or your sport, and doing this plan was one of those occasions.

All About Powerlifting I probably did a program from this book by Tim Henriques. I can't remember due to being too old.

Powerlifting To Win This is a highly underrated powerlifting book I took a lot of influence from.

The RTS Generalized Intermediate Program When first using RPE in my programming this was the program I used as it was RTS who pioneered it as a useful training variable.


Supertraining By Mel Siff This book is utterly horrible. It's the least readable, most inaccessible piece of literature I've ever read. I did learn a great deal from it and there are pieces of brilliance in there.

Many of the ideas within the book sound great but don't make practical sense when applied to real-life training (Lyle McDonald was the first person I heard say this, and I agree) but the book gives you many ideas and concepts you can investigate by yourself that DO work.

As you've probably guessed, I'm a massive Lyle fan. Why? I haven't found a bit of advice around training that hasn't made practical sense and each time I have applied some of his wisdom, it has made me a better coach. I highly recommend his work.


Cool Supersets


I believe this will provide you with a few weeks' of reading.

Enjoy my friends.

By Chris Kershaw

The Heavy Metal Strength Coach

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