Before You Build -- The Path to the Program

We are going back to the start.

No, not the 40-start. Not back to the basics, because you should never leave them in the first place. We are going back to the start because that’s one of the questions I get the most: Where do I start?

Before the mechanics. Before the reps, sets and times. Before percentages and proportions. We are going back to where it begins: program design.

“Everything is connected.”

In the next few weeks as I talk about program design, I want you to keep in mind that everything is connected. I understand you have preferences and may not like this or that. There are simply non-negotiables when it comes to designing a program – five main components that cannot be neglected – and I will touch on why each one is important.

Don’t worry, there will be flexibility in the process. It is an ongoing process of preparation and a key recovery component.

Those five main components are:

  1. Strength
  2. Speed
  3. Jump
  4. Nutrition
  5. Recovery

Anything you think is missing is likely a subset of one of these.

This is where we have to read the fine print. Is he going to say conditioning? You got it. It is the most important piece of the puzzle. This falls under the big three. Lifting, running and jumping will all have conditioning elements in a well-built program.

Conditioning is the glue that holds it all together. There are so many situations where conditioning is a factor in performance on both a physical and mental level.

So before we build, I want to explain this path to the program so you have clear direction.


There is some truth to the saying “only the strong survive.” The key there is that physical and mental strength are linked together, which adds to the total benefit of the individual person.

As more data has been gathered, it has become evident that strength training is about as much for reducing the risk of injury as it is for enhancing performance. That being said, on top of a strong body that has the best chance to stay healthy, you want your athletes to have the necessary strength to deliver the sport-specific skills they work so hard to acquire.

There are many sports where strength is devalued. No matter the reason, I am here to tell you, strength is invaluable.


Speed is the one non-negotiable component in program design most people agree on. There is no answer for speed except more speed. We all know there is a limit to everything, but the goal in speed training is to find the threshold.

One of the most common things you hear when an athlete advances to the next level is how the speed of the game changes. Just like with strength, you want your athletes to be able to deliver their skills at the speed of whatever level they are on.

When I was with the Cowboys, people would ask me about Deion Sanders’ speed ability. I’d simply tell them, “He’s fast anywhere.” Fast is fast. You don’t want to get left behind, and you don’t want to get fetched.


The Olympic motto since 1984 was “Citius, Altius, Fortius”: Swifter, Higher, Stronger (the IOC just recently added “Together” for unity purposes).

The “higher” jump encompasses plyometrics, explosive training, and just about anything else that gets you leaving your feet.

Jump has always been a misunderstood component. Typically, coaches and parents aren’t confident in how much is enough. I want to help bring clarity on where this fits in a comprehensive program.


Success with nutrition doesn’t happen by accident. Ask yourself, “Am I feeding my face or fueling my body?” Nutrition opinions are quickly approaching endless, and I will add mine to the pile. Ultimately, it is not difficult.


If you are going to be strong and in shape, recovery is essential for your body to “absorb” the training. Recovery comes in many forms. It involves mental, physical, and emotional elements. Yes, emotion now enters the picture.

Emotion is not new; it has always been there. However, with an uptick in media coverage highlighting difficulties for professional athletes, the conversation surrounding emotion continues to become more mainstream.

The point though is that recovery doesn’t happen by accident. It must no longer be an afterthought when it comes to designing a program. Overtraining is real, but preventable.

Back to everything being connected. If an athlete fatigues in competition, then all the needed abilities are compromised. Is the fatigue mechanical or metabolic? Because of this, each of the training components needs to be developed in conjunction with a well-organized and planned schedule.

And here we are, ready to build a program. The continuation of this series will detail each of these programming needs, particularly the what, why and how. Stay tuned and enjoy.


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