Planning the Strength Training – The Addendum - Complementary Training
Planning the Strength Training – The Addendum

Planning the Strength Training [Part 4]

The Addendum

Planning the Strength Training Article Series:

  1. Planning the Strength Training – Part 1
  2. Planning the Strength Training – Part 2
  3. Planning the Strength Training – Part 3
  4. Planning the Strength Training – Part 4


In year 2008 I wrote series of articles about Planning the Strength Training. It took me a while to finish it, but to be honest it was more for me than for the readers. Let me explain – every now and then I like to reflect on my knowledge and “philosophy” of training, and writing articles is a way of doing this. So, almost ten years ago I summed pretty much everything I (thought I) knew regarding strength training.

Back then, my “philosophy” (or should I say model of reality?) was (and I believe still is) highly influenced by Mark Rippetoe’s books: Starting Strength and Practical Programming. It made perfect sense and it represented reasonable model of the strength training process as a whole.

Years passed by, errors have been made, poor decisions have been done, injuries have happened and experience have been gained. Hence, I believe it is a right time to update Planning the Strength Training article series, or at least provide an addendum.

I have recently stumbled on Dan John’s books (even if I have read his book Never Let Go in 2009) and I must admit that this article/addendum was highly influenced by him. “When the student is ready, the teacher will come”. If you have asked me about Dan John years ago I might have quoted Albert Einstein: “Make things simple, but not simpler” and alluded that Dan John is indeed making thing too simplistic. But if you ask me about Dan John today, I might say that Dan John is providing training heuristics 1 (rules of thumb) that are more than applied in this complex world/endeavor. Just to be straight and upfront – I will heavily “steal” from Dan in this article. You can accuse me of plagiarism, but I believe certain things are worth repeating, as long as they are referenced and when credit is being given where credit is due. In short: Thank God for Dan John.

Hedgehogs and Foxes

Aware of it or not, we all use mental models to explain reality around us, and in this case training phenomena. We tend to rely on couple of models and we use those to deduct: predict what is going to happened and explain why things have happened (causality) according to the model assumptions.

My recent writings have been addressing this issues: “all models are wrong, but some are useful” (George Box), “and some are harmful” (Nassim Taleb). Once we acquire certain number of working (useful) models, we tend not to change them and update them based on the new evidence or new models, even if shown with the facts that certain models are wrong and not useful (even harmful).

So it is important, as Nassim Taleb would say, to be aware of our own ignorance, aware of the fact that we are using models and we are using assumptions of those models. “Map is not the territory”.

Based on the research of Philip Tetlock (book: Expert Political Judgement) some leaders use single models (hedgehogs) and some use multiple models (foxes). Hedgehogs are much worse in predicting things, but people are following and trusting them based on their confidence in those models and their own predictions.

I guess this is the situation we also have in our own domain. We tend to listen and follow personas that are so certain in their own models and spit out exact progressions, stages and so forth. We also tend to forge that these are just models.

Rather, we should acknowledge our own ignorance and rely on multiple models (or adaptive toolboxes) and use them as suited on a given situation. It takes time to develop these skills – one needs to be more familiar with the system at hand (the one we are trying to control and predict), context at hand and also multiple models and their assumptions, while also being more “hedgehog” so people will follow us and listen to us. It is tricky skill to have – acknowledging our own ignorance, wrestle with uncertainties, but at the same time being confident in our decisions and approaches. It is truly as skill of the great mind, or as Scott Fitzgerald have said: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function”. Maybe even more than two.

The Planning the Strength Training was written using model of progressions and stages outlined by Rippetoe and Kilgore. I still believe their model is very useful, but now I understand that it is one adaptive toolbox among the few that we should have in our toolbox.

For example, we might approach strength training using biological/biomechanical models, but also using skill acquisition models (see more HERE). But as always, there is “no free lunch” – one single model cannot show best performance in multiple situation and we need to “experiment” and adapt using our understanding of the system/context we are dealing with, objectives and models and their assumptions. There are no shortcuts to this, no “Follow this 12 steps program to elite lifter/coach”, no scripted roadmaps.

The question is why is this so? Because we are dealing with the complex adaptive system.

Cynefin Framework

I wrote about Cynefin framework in my Agile posts (especially THIS one), but I am sharing the great (and short) video below to save you the hassle:

According to John Kiely, periodization and planning of training is highly influenced by Frederic Taylor and his pioneering work on Scientific Management, which was aimed at improving manufacturing operations. Here are some of the key principles (taken from MindTools website):

  1. Replace working by “rule of thumb,” or simple habit and common sense, and instead use the scientific method to study work and determine the most efficient way to perform specific tasks.
  2. Rather than simply assign workers to just any job, match workers to their jobs based on capability and motivation, and train them to work at maximum efficiency.
  3. Monitor worker performance, and provide instructions and supervision to ensure that they’re using the most efficient ways of working.
  4. Allocate the work between managers and workers so that the managers spend their time planning and training, allowing the workers to perform their tasks efficiently.

Nowadays, Taylorism is a bad word, because even if it brought tremendous improvements in manufacturing it brought a lot of drawbacks (see comparison between Lean and Taylorism). One doesn’t need to look a lot to see connections between Taylorism and “periodization”.

One major issue with Taylorism is that it is used in “Ordered” domain (Simple and Complicated quadrants). Unfortunately, trying to apply it to Complex domain fails miserably.

And here is the key message: “Traditional” Periodization/Planning assumes we are dealing with “Ordered” system, similar to Taylorism. It assumes that there is a right way to do things, right progression, clear risks, clear cause-effect relationships. But we are not dealing with ordered system (at least not entirely) – we are dealing with a complex system, sometimes even chaos. Hence, the approaches designed to work in one system doesn’t work well in others.

The question is then, what works better? We need to perform frequent “inspect-and-adapt” processes, perform safe-to-fail experiments and find a balance between predictive (up front) planning with adaptive (just in time) planning. Industries such as IT have already embraced more agile practice (see for example Essential Scrum), it is time that we in performance domain start embracing it as well.


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I am a physical preparation coach from Belgrade, Serbia, grew up in Pula, Croatia (which I consider my home town). I was involved in physical preparation of professional, amateur and recreational athletes of various ages in sports such as basketball, soccer, volleyball, martial arts and tennis. Read More »

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