S&C Programming: The Basics

This article is designed to provide a step by step process on the basics of strength and conditioning programme design. A common mistake I have seen practitioners make is prioritising what exercises will be included in the programme, then decide on sets and reps, and possibly rest periods. This is a problem because the purpose of the programme and the adaptations required to achieve this is not thought about in enough detail. It's also important to think about "overload", how are you going to stimulate an adaptation over a period of time without a plateau or decline in performance? All of this will be discussed below:


  1. Needs Analysis & Goals

  2. Understand The Adaptations Required

  3. Sets, Reps, Rest, & Periodisation Required

  4. Exercise Hierarchy

This article will explain the basic principles when designing your own strength and conditioning programme to maximise your end product. This should be done in a methodical order to make sure your programming is going to push yourself or your client in the right direction.

Firstly, you need to analyse the purpose of the programme. Why are you writing this programme? What are the key variables that need to be understood? For example, are you trying to improve performance in a specific sport? Or are you trying to improve body composition? This is the first step in identifying and analysing the underlying principles to the following stage of your programming. This stage can be as detailed as you like, the better you understand the purpose of the programme, the better you can then plan in depth content.

Now you have identified the purpose of the programme, what are the adaptations necessary in order to achieve the programme goals? For example, if you are programming for a powerlifter, more than likely the goal will be to increase maximal strength in either or all of the 3 key competition lifts. So the adaptation required is maximal strength in this scenario.

Once you have understood the adaptations required, you can then get into more detail with how you are going to achieve these adaptations. If we take the above example, to improve maximal strength it is widely accepted that you need to lift near maximal loads for 1-6 repetitions. You also need to plan your periodisation model, for example how are you going to overload your athlete within their training schedule? What rest periods are necessary to lift near maximal loads? All of these questions need answering in this section to make sure you achieve the required adaptations.

Finally, what exercises are going to be the most effective at achieving the above adaptations? For example, if we are trying to improve a powerlifters back squat, attempting to overload them on a leg press for lower body strength would most likely not be optimal. However, you also need to consider the individual the programme is being written for. The client in question may currently have a back issue, and therefore can’t squat and can attempt to maintain strength on the leg press while their back is recovering.

If you are struggling with your programming, we offer bespoke online programmes on our services page.


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