Sticking to Your Plan

Sticking to Your Plan

Feb 1, 2013

Sticking to your plan

By Tim Piper

Most athletes who train intensely for lifting sports spend a lot of time planning out their lifting routines.  Many coaches spend countless hours researching, experimenting, and planning training programs.  In spite of all this careful planning behind the program design there are times when lifters seem to ignore the best laid plans and make impulsive changes in their training.  While these changes may be well-intentioned more often than not they result in poor training practice as well as emotional stress. Coaches from all sports deal with athletes who think they know more than their coach.  In spite of years of experience, all the cumulative hours of reading, research, and planning, the young athlete will find a reason to veer from the training program.  Below are some scenarios of potential concern related to athletes veering off course of the coach’s plan as well negative consequences that may soon follow.

Scenario 1 . An athlete learns something new that they just MUST try out.  

This NEW information may have come from reading something in a magazine, talking to a friend, or simply searching the web and stumbling across the latest, greatest, revolution in training.  It is great when athletes become so interested in their training that they begin exploring for more information.  The problem arises when the main sources of information are nothing more than streams of opinions without any basis in critical thought.  Since anyone can post information on the web it is not unforeseeable that the sources are nothing more than random uneducated enthusiasts.  In fact, in college courses I have to routinely reject “articles” from students because they are from poor sources.  In one case I researched the source from one student assignments only to find out that the online “article” was posted by a 12 year old as a part of a junior high assignment!  Granted this 12 year old may have been the next up-and-coming strength and conditioning prodigy but, I doubt it.  Needless to say it is crucial that ANY information gleaned from the web is approached with a caution, and any claims should be backed with more than opinion.  It is the role of the S&C coach to filter through this information and make the athlete understand how this new information fits into the grand scheme of training.  In some cases the athlete may be able to discover new and highly effective concepts.  In other cases it may be the result of a 12 year olds junior high project.

Scenario 2.  An athlete begins to question the coach’s ability and then they train in ways that go completely against the coaches program or even philosophy.

This can result in major problems as the coach and athlete become adversaries.  Regardless of how much experience a coach may have amassed over their careers athletes will come along who feel that they must know more and therefore have no reason to listen to their coach’s advice.  While there may be instances where a coach truly does not understand how to train for his or her sport, the majority of coaches with any form of success record and longevity in the sport must have found a program or system that works.  Even if you spend time explaining your level of success from your years of experience many just choose to disregard the information.  This is why it is important to make sure that you get athletes on board with your program as soon as you are able.  It is also important to allow your other athletes to become involved in the day-to-day promotion of your system and philosophy.  If the athlete doesn’t respect the coach or does not understand the coaches philosophy of training the coach is responsible for making the program objectives and overall philosophy clear.

Scenario 3. An athlete feels the need to “test” themselves during training.  

This may be the result of witnessing others performing at higher levels than expected.  It may also be spurred on by peer pressure and ego-driven immaturity that leads to mini competitions in the training sessions.  These may at first seem harmless but if they go unchecked they can lead to problems.  Pushing too fast too soon can result in not only a detour from the best made plans but it can actually lead to increased risk of injury.  There is a reason that coaches plan specific exercises.  Some of the most critical exercises are often those that are designed to build the work capacity and injury resistance.  These are not usually heavily loaded, exciting, or even highly sport-specific on the surface.   These seemingly secondary exercises are what might just make the difference between record setting performance and the dreaded overuse injury.  Testing one’s ability at high intensities during a training day or period that is intended for recuperation, restoration, or anatomical adaptation could easily result in problems.  Making sure athletes stick to their program helps to prepare them for the ultimate goal of max performance on the day it really counts, MEET DAY!

Scenario 4.  The athlete is just “feeling good” and wants to push it as hard as possible RIGHT NOW!

All too often athletes get anxious and feel the need to push themselves because the workouts seem to be so easy that they are not productive.  In other cases the athlete may be just having a good day, everything is going so well in fact that their confidence shadows reason and they end up going well beyond the training programs intended intensities for the day.  In either case the distorted view of the days training will likely end in disappointment if they end up pushing themselves so hard that they fall short of their own expectations.  This failure may be both a physical and emotional issue.  If it is purely physical the effort may result in injury, such as failing under a squat because of using loads far beyond musculature limits.  If the failure results in affecting the lifter ‘s emotional stability (i.e. they become angry, frustrated, depressed, etc.) it could ruin their training for days, weeks, or even months.

Scenario 5.  The athlete has been feeling or performing poorly so they think that if they push harder they will improve and then that will make them feel better

It may seem counterintuitive but, many coaches have witnessed athletes who have gone through a training cycle without seeing the progress they expected so they begin to train longer and harder than ever before.  This increase in intensity and volume of training may at first be viewed as a very positive thing.  The athlete is showing awareness of their shortcomings, has decided on their own to train harder, and is highly motivated.  The downfall to this intense drive is the potential for it to lead athletes down some very dangerous paths.  One potential path may be the path of such great volume and intensity that overuse injuries develop, bringing an abrupt halt to gains.  This can lead to greater frustration, feeding into a cycle of greater intensity and further injury.  Another path may be the athlete seeking out new and radical methods and program designs.  There are many fine programs and training methods in the world but a coach chooses their particular program for very specific reasons.  You shouldn’t use them all at once and you can’t choose new programs or methods without some critical thinking.  In this situation it might be appropriate for the athlete to explain their frustration so that the coach and athlete can begin to deal with the lack of performance.  In many cases the coach can use this opportunity to explain the program in more detail, possibly show the athlete their true progress if the athlete is just not aware of it, or maybe the coach and athlete explore the problem and refine the program so that it fits the athlete’s needs more effectively.  A final path that coaches should be actively discouraging is the path of illegal substances.  Regardless of which sport or federation athletes compete in the use of illegal substances should be prohibited.  While this topic is one that often sparks heated debates the reality is that illegal substances are, by definition, against the law.  If a coach encourages the use of illegal substances for any aspect of training it can lead to fines, arrest, and potentially incarceration.  Yes you can train in prison but it may become more a matter of self-preservation at that point rather than training for the love of the sport.


While the focus of this discussion has been centered on reasons why athletes should avoid veering from their coaches program there are certain times where it might a quite necessary.  Any coach worth their weight is observant, open-minded, and responsive.   There are many cases when it IS appropriate to allow athletes to change their daily programming.  Obviously, it is important for the athlete to feel good about their training so allowing them to have input should always be received with an open mind.  In every scenario above the coach can use the event presented as an opportunity to help reinforce their philosophy and training design so that the athlete is a part of the process and has a better grasp on the concepts.  Most of the time motivated athletes who stray from their plan are seeking more intensity but in such cases overreaching (the short-term drop in performance, often confused with true overtraining which is much more severe and long lasting) results in lower performance than desired.  This is counterproductive but easily remedied by building in recuperation days/weeks into the program.  The current trend is to call these “unloading” or “deloading” training.  Regardless of your preferred semantics these recuperative days of training allow for much needed restoration of both physical and mental abilities.  Some program these recuperative workouts at regular intervals throughout a training cycle.  Other coaches prefer to have them held in reserve and implement them whenever they see the need for implementation.

One major reason for changing up a day’s training intensity might be the result of the athlete performing with such precision and almost effortless skill that they are in a state of “flow” or “in the zone”.  On these incidences, which can be rare for many, it might be wise to really push the envelope.  These training days result in not only great training adaptations but also an even more pronounced impact on the psychological state of the athlete.  Once they have accomplished skills, drills, or exercises at an all new level they are much more confident and more likely to repeat the performance when it really counts, MEET DAY!


In the end the training program is intended to be a template for your training.  While athletes should not be slaves to the program any changes should be made cautiously.  The coach has spent a lot of time and placed a lot of thought behind the program.  Coaches and athletes should learn to work together so that the best possible training can be realized.  A coach cannot force a person to train differently; they hope to write effective programs that will be most effective.  Athletes want results and they want them now.  Patience and perseverance on both the part of the coach and athlete are required.  Athletes, respect your coaches but don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Coaches, respect your athletes and don’t be afraid of challenges.  In a perfect training world mutual respect and support will get you more success than ANY training program by itself.


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