Program Design: Embed Testing

Embedding testing in program design can be used an assessment of progress.
Are you improving or staying the same? …fear staying the same. 
  • 3-10 RM testing
  • Perform sets to own volition (example: perform sets of 3 until client chooses to stop or can’t maintain) 
  • Density blocks: Number of reps within a timed set or number of sets within a specific duration
  • Open set: client performs reps to own volition
  • Set duration of time and record distance completed on mode of fitness equipment (example- distance in miles completed in 6 minutes on airdyne)
  • Set specific distance and record time to completion (example- time to climb 300 feet on versaclimber) 
  • Record vertical jumps in warm-up routine
  • Timed circuit: record total volume or time to complete 



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A model allows you to have a structure and framework for decisions within various contexts. Drawing out your model can guide program design, assessments, exercise selection rationale, and outcome goals for the client/athlete.

Models are adaptable with new information and will be refined overtime. Models can also provide commonality in language between staff members and incorporation of core values.  

MBT Model Explanation.

It starts with the client. The client will have both session experiences with the coach and a physical goal. The intent and strategies chosen will be in relation to the desired outcome of an experience and goal.

Client experience includes coaching style, types of hard work, and learning.  The client’s personality and temperament will be related to the adaptive personality of the coach as a strategy in achieving the outcome. The coach will utilize values and concepts that are important to them within communication (language used) and exercise selection in order to achieve the desired experience. Exposure and learning various types of hard work including both physical challenge and awareness should be experienced. 

Session experience should include enjoyment in relation to the client’s wants, weight room perception, and adherence to the program. The inclusion of these variables will allow for empowerment, meaningfulness, and acknowledgement of progress. The coach will review and reflect upon client experience and adjust according to the results. 

The physical goal of the client should relate to desired structural and/or functional adaptations.  Assessment should be related to the goal and valued to track progress of the goal. The assessment should direct coach to the starting point for programming in relation the client needs within health and performance based variables. 

The goal of the client should provide purpose to both the client and coach. The assessment should also assist in maximizing strengths and addressing constraints. The variables and goal should be reassessed and adjusted accordingly based upon the results. 


Program & Sequence Concepts

Program concepts and sequence exercises that build on those concepts. Reinforce by using the same cues with sequential pairings; everything we do is everything else we do.

Whatever concepts that are important to you, have a plan to teach them. I use and build my program design based on concepts I value in performance such as loading a hip, rotating a thorax over a pelvis, centering, and loading & propelling. I can build on these concepts during the year through coaching tactics and being creative with exercises.


  1. Designate a concept as a focus of a microcycle.
  2. Sequence/pair exercises using the same cues and that build upon the previous.
  3. Add cues or details progressing from weeks 1 to week 4 in your coaching.
  4. Be creative with exercises. Does an exercise fulfill the concepts that you value in performance and health?


“Not being understood may be taken as a sign that there is much in one to understand” -Alain de Botton, 2004

I’ve been thinking a lot about not what I want to be (position, title) but who I want to be (value system). Your value system may be conditional on your immediate environment, the people you interact with, and what you read and listen to. Confidence in who you want to be can be challenging in environments and cultures that condition us to value the pursuit of status (may be judged as success) or to desire the emotion of happiness. I desire the ability to responsibly use a position and establish meaning in self exploration.

We are susceptible to the influence of external voices about what we require to be satisfied and what to aim for so as to flourish as human beings (Alain de Botton, 2004). Do you know yourself enough to know what you want to become? Learning from others can be your greatest asset in understanding yourself.

Be observant of other people’s behaviors, the qualities they display, their choice of words, their view of the world, their conquest of status over others (how do they use that?), and their genuine expression of care for others. The intent isn’t to understand others but to discern interactions, elements of anxieties, and virtues of character so you can use them in molding who you want to be and who you don’t want to be. You can’t do this without experiences and interactions followed by reflection.

Putting these thoughts into building my personal training/coaching model would be making training and interactions with others meaningful, being responsible for a position of influence over others, considering the impact of word choice, questioning ideological statements within our professional field, questioning the environment you place yourself in, and maintaining an awareness of your ambitions in what or who you are trying to be. 


Shifting Perspective with Continuing Education

“If you’re not understanding, you need to understand enough to formulate a question” –Bill Hartman

When we leave the academic system we know how to speak a certain language using specific words based upon a curriculum (most likely outdated). In relation to specific degrees such as Exercise Science the curriculum is based upon an accreditation program, guidelines, or certification. In many Exercise Science or Strength and Conditioning programs these include:

  • American College of Medicine (ACSM) professional practice guidelines
  • Accreditation standards are outlined by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education programs (CAAHEP)
  • Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certification from the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

There are specific terms and definitions utilized within an overarching language of these structured curriculums. Language involves a method of communication by structuring the words in a specific manner and sharing common definitions to create a common understanding. Sharing the same language is important in communicating with other professionals. Even though each coach has a unique way in which they view the world based upon education (explicit and tacit learning skills), past experiences, and values, a common language connects coaches.  However, the academic system is after all just that, a system.

In the higher education system we focused on specific variables related to the execution of  specific exercises; mostly the ‘Big 3’: clean, squat, bench. I will also refer to these as the sacred cows of S&C. I used the term sacred cows as these movements are not questioned in relation to building variables of strength and power. The exercises are exclusively associated with the acquisition of a specific variable. For example, “we need to hang clean to acquire power…”

We associated performance variables, such a strength, power, and flexibility with very specific exercises:

  • Strength- Back Squat, Deadlift, and Bench Press
  • Power- Olympic Lifts
  • “Flexibility/Mobility”- Stretching (with associated sensations)

Assessment of performance ability was revolved around moving a weight from point A to B. The weight room revolved around the ‘Big 3’ without questioning the relevance to performance. These exercises are required in the sports of olympic lifting and powerlifting.

This was the model for performance within the system. Performance variables were defined within the constraints of the system and commonality of language:

  • Strength: “the maximal force that a muscle or muscle group can generate at a specified velocity during strength testing” (Baechle & Earle, 2008).
  • Power- “the time rate of doing work [product of the force exerted on an object and the distance the object moves in the direction in which force is exerted]”  (Baechle & Earle, 2008).
  • Flexibility- “measure of range of motion [has static and dynamic components at a specific joint]”  (Baechle & Earle, 2008).

Movement ‘limitations’ were referenced in relation to a ‘tight’ or ‘weak’ muscle. The solution was foam rolling, stretching, or strengthening. The curriculum viewed the body as a lever system with regional independence of movement. Program design was referenced to periodization of the ‘Big 3’ lifts. Progression and success of a program was related to increased loading. We discussed the use of bilateral vs unilateral lower body exercises until we were blue in the face.

The intent was to create an environment that emphasized the importance of load progression. The execution was in the prescription of the ‘Big 3’ exercises and specific sets and reps within variable ranges.The desired outcome was assessing external load.

This isn’t wrong, it’s just a constructed system that utilizes a specific language and perspective.

If you never leave this constructed system, you will never be able to create your own world. With new experiences we can gain a different perspective on training, performance, and exercise selection. Seeking out opportunities to hear coaches share their perspectives may influence your own intent and execution of a specific exercise is related to a different desired outcome.

The pursuit of understanding and questioning is in continuing education.

I attended several courses relating to respiration, gait, and planes of movement in relation to movement restrictions, pain, and fitness. I began to see things in relation to those concepts. These concepts allowed me to question dogmas in the fitness industry, adaptation, and seeking answers to what the term performance actually means (the ultimate desired outcome).

Postural Restoration Institute Courses

Pat Davidson: Rethinking the Big Patterns

Zac Cupples: Human Matrix

My perspective shifted: I gained an appreciation for lower threshold activities to greatly enhance high threshold performance. These concepts provided a viewpoint to appreciate how consequences of training manifest. I saw movement limitations as respiratory driven and the position of bony structures. I thought about how these ideas could be executed in the weight room with creative positions (orientation of axial skeleton, pelvis, cranium) in relation to the outcome of improving performance. I used concepts of loading and propulsion within the gait cycle with the intent of improving performance variables.

This new information pointed me down a path of exploring our sensory systems, a deeper understanding of anatomy, neurology, the brain, and human complexity. I gained an appreciation of how our brain and sensory systems can change with training.  

I attended a few Dr. Ben House’s Functional Medicine Retreats and gained knowledge about lifestyle variables outside of training that could arguably be more important. I gained an appreciation for environment, purpose, sleep, stress, sun, nutrition, gut health, and community.

My perspective shifted: I focused athlete education on these subjects. I viewed movement ‘limitations’ as possible factors of past experiences, behavior, trauma, and autonomics. This experience truly allowed me to understand what the term networking meant and what having a community feels like.

I watched Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning course at the University of Toronto and explored books related to psychology, behavior and communication.

My perspective shifted: The most important aspect of being a coach is related to human connection. My coaching philosophy evolved into the statement of, be responsible for a position of influence. I become aware of being aware. I started to understand myself to a greater degree. I started to coach differently, with more emphasis on how athletes treated each other, discussing values, asking more questions about them, getting to know them better, placing more of an emphasis on being a good person and thinking about what that means; outside of sport. I started to question what was really important.

I recently attended Bill Hartman’s Intensive II event and now I see the splash of guts and fluids during movement. I see pressure moving down, rebounding, and moving upward with a counter movement jump.

My perspective shifted: I see creating exercises that are designed to move fluid and pressures in different areas based upon how the client manages internal and external pressures. I see the ‘Big 3’ in a different way. I see how a bench press can actually flatten the axial skeleton structure which changes pressure and airflow dynamics. I see how the squat can be used as a tool to teach people how to manage or mismanage pressures within their body depending upon the individual and variation of the exercise. I see movement ‘limitations’ as the inability to deal with internal forces. I understand more about what it is to be human: we are not a lever system, we are a hydrodynamic structure.

My perspective on performance has changed my definitions of the variables that we tend to value in our fields.

  • Strength: the ability to manage pressure
  • Power: the ability to rebound pressure and propel
  • “Flexibility/Mobility”: I do not use these words in my language, but they would be the ability to move structures through a range of motion without restriction. It’s the position of structures and fluid that may restrict joint movement, not the ‘tightness’ of muscle.  

I now see the solution to a problem as more than load modification. I now see an exercise, such as a split squat, as phases of gait and a loading and propelling side rather than something we do to acquire a vague variable such as strength. There is not ideal way to move and there is no ideal ‘movement pattern’. Within the desire outcome of performance there are so many considerations; organism, environment, task.

Question transferability. 

I see responsibility: “whether you like it or not it’s your decision of what strategies you want people to use.”                        – Bill Hartman

Continuing education needs to be more than attending a seminar. It needs to introduce you to something different and expose you to something that makes you question your belief system.  

Identifying events requires people you trust and valuing concepts over modalities. Dr. Ben House and Bill Hartman’s events raised the bar for continuing education by creating a shared experience, building a community, and creating opportunity for communication past the event. Dr. Ben House’s Costa Rica retreat was full immersion in a unique environment and created an emotional attachment to the experience and other professionals in attendance (who I now consider great friends).


Continuing education opportunities taught me a different language and provided me with a different perspective of myself and what I do as a professional. New experiences provided a cycle of self-improvement, which did involve some chaos and transcendence. Information that challenges previous knowledge can be threatening and push you into a state of chaos. It should make you question yourself, not always reinforce what you already know. Each person is different in their openness to chaos and ability to prosper from it.

With each experience and new information, you have to both dig deeper for yourself and combine explicit learning with tacit learning. Utilize the new knowledge.

  • Explicit learning- information, data
  • Tacit learning- experience, thinking, competence, socialization, sharing experiences, observing which requires discussion, mentorship, apprenticeship, and application

I don’t let other people’s perspective bother me at all, neither should you. We all have different experiences and perspectives. You can’t blame someone for something they have not been exposed to, but sometimes we can find ourselves speaking a different language within the same profession.

More experiences will create more questions:

  • Is chasing a number in the weight room strength? What does that mean?
  • What is performance?
  • What does all of this mean for this specific athlete?
  • More isn’t necessarily better.
  • More flexibility isn’t better
  • Maybe how we view athletic ability is changing. Can changing an client’s structure and ability to accept and propel pressures make them more powerful and better at their sport?

We make things too simple. Humans are complex. We need to keep exploring deeper.

Question what we learn in the academic system, explore new areas such as physics, behavior, psychology, etc. Keep pursuing education rather than accepting the ‘known’….because nothing is known.

I have been able to build my model with these experiences in establishing commonalities and filtering. Commonalities of experiences include the importance of teaching both load acceptance and propulsion in training and being a good person as a coach. The power of language and word choice is everything when interacting and connecting with others.

The power of commonality in language also provides professional communities with shared experiences.

Read. Network. Experience. Seek Opportunities. Explore Novelty. Reflect.  

You shouldn’t fear failure, you should fear staying the same.


Baechle, T.R, & Earle, R.W. (2008). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. Third edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Book Review #4: The Body Keeps the Score.

“It is not that something different is seen, but that one sees differently.             – Carl Jung

The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. By Dr. Bessel van der Kolk. Penguin Books, New York, NY. (2014)

The most effective coaches are those that have the ability to connect with others, understand the importance of psychology, and value knowledge about human behavior. You cannot have physiology without psychology. There is information out there about coaching tactics for personality and temperament (Brett Bartholomew), neurological profiling for program design (Christian Thibaudeau) , and targeting neurotransmitters for adherence.

These can be important considerations for training and coaching, however humans are extremely complex and there is always a deeper level. When you interact with others, that deeper level may include understanding how trauma can manifest itself in the body.

We all interact with people who are in pain (not just physical). Trauma doesn’t have to be one event, it can be the inability to cope with a perceived threat at a young age, in which coping strategies become ingrained in our physiology and neurology. These strategies can be teeth clenching, breathe holding, curling toes, and tightening of abdominals (More Information).

Our current behavior and our response to stress is created by past experiences. Our behavior is based upon prediction, in which we will revert back to the behavior from past emotional or physical stressors. As coaches, we need to acknowledge feelings, create body awareness, appreciate the impact of our clients past experiences related to their current behaviors (this includes creating a referral network), and changing our own behaviors to best interact with that client.

As human beings we belong to an extremely resilient species. Since time immemorial we have rebounded from our relentless wars, countless disasters (both natural and man-made), and the violence and betrayal in our own lives. But traumatic experiences do leave traces, whether on a large scale (on our histories and cultures) or close to home, on our families, with dark secrets being imperceptibly passed down through generations. They also leave traces on our minds and emotions, on our capacity for joy and intimacy, and even our biology and immune systems.”

– Dr. Bessel van der Kolk (p.1)

The Body Keeps The Score

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk is the founder and medical director of the Trauma center in Brookline, Massachusetts. In his book, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk shares his years of clinical practice and scientific literature in relation to how trauma can reshape the body and brain (whole body response). He presents treatments such as meditation, sports, yoga, and self expression for recovery.  

Traumatic experiences physically affects the brain and the body, causing anxiety, inability to concentrate, and the inability to feel sensation. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk explores the complexity of the mind, structure and function of the brain’s emotional pathways, the ways in which humans are connected and attached to each other, and how emotions/behavior are reflected in movement.

Trauma (which can be solely unconscious) can literally change the structure and function of the brain, increase stress hormones, create hypervigilance to threat (real or imagined), restrict movement, create sleep disturbances, oversensitivity to touch or sound, and increase the perception of pain. These experiences can occur as a baby and contribute to the emotional and perceptual map of the world in the developing brain.

“We have begun to understand how overwhelming experiences affect our innermost sensations and  our relationship to our physical reality-the core of who we are…[Trauma] changes not only how we think and what We think about, but also our very capacity to think.”

Big Hitters:

  • “Social environment interacts with brain chemistry” What is the environment that you are trying to create as a coach? How are you making people feel?
    • Emotions assign value to an experience.
  • “In many places drugs have displaced therapy and enabled patients to suppress their problems without addressing the underlying issues.”
    • “The brain-disease model takes control over people’s fate out of their own hands and puts doctors and insurance companies in charge of fixing their problems.” (p.37)
    • “Half a million children in the United States currently take antipsychotic drugs.”
    • Can coaches and exercise have a greater impact than prescription medication?
    • Do we care enough to find a different solution?
  • Activities such as breathing, moving, and touching can be used to regulate our own physiology.
  • “Being able to move and do something to protect oneself is a critical factor in determining whether or not a horrible experience will leave long-lasting scar.” 
    • Physical movement and emotional expression are valuable for overall health and healing.
  • “Realizing that other people can think and feel differently from us…”
    • WE ALL PERCEIVE THE WORLD DIFFERENTLY. You are coaching others with their own perceptions and constructed view of the world, not yours.
  • “Without flexible, active frontal lobes people become creatures of habit, and their relationships become superficial and routine.” (p.60)  
  • “Grounding” (related to treatment) means that you can feel you butt in your chair, see the light coming through the window, feel the tension in your calves, and hear the wind stirring the tree outside (p.70). This is sensation.
  • Our physical shape (body language-nonverbal expression of emotion), tone of voice, and facial expressions feed our emotional pathways (and vice versa) and provide communication and intention to others. This is the body-brain connection.
    • We can experience physical pain from emotions.
    • The heart, guts, and brain are connected and communicate via the pneumogastric nerve. Mind and body are indistinguishable.
    • You’re inability to digest your food can be related to your emotional state (possibly due to exposure to stress).
  • Sense of purpose involves both movement and emotions. Making things meaningful and providing others with a sense of purpose or importance is one of the most genuine things you can do as a coach.  
  • Social support. “Our culture teaches us to focus on personal uniqueness, but at a deeper level we barely exist as individual organisms. Our brain are built to help us function as members of a tribe. We are part of that tribe even when we are by ourselves…” (p.80)
    • “Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect…safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.”
    • “Most traumatize people find themselves chronically out of sync with the people around them.”
  • Exercise and movement provides body awareness and increased capacity to manage stress.
    • The “core of our self-awareness rests on the physical sensations that convey the inner states of the body. ” Physical self-awareness provides the ability to release the tyranny of the past and provides a sense of self.
    • Practices such as movement therapy and yoga can be used as sensory experiences by exploring trauma’s deeper impact on the body (neuroscience of self-awareness). Simply noticing what you feel fosters emotional regulation. Sensory (and motor) experiences are important…
    • The flip side is exercise addiction, which can be sensation seeking.
  • “Nobody grows up under ideal circumstances…every life is difficult in its own way.” (p.306)

“When we cannot rely on our body to signal safety or warning and instead feel chronically overwhelmed by physical stirrings, we lose the capacity to feel at home in our own skin, and by extension, in the world.” (p.307)

Overall Score: 8.6/10

When you are a coach, you have a responsibility for a position of influence. I often observe the dehumanization of athletes in relation to the avoidance of human connection. Today, we limit social interaction with the use of technology and often breed a superficial environment. Coaches have the ability to positively impact other individuals but there needs to be knowledge of human behavior (including the information presented in the book), communication skills, and acknowledgement.

We are all different. We all perceive the world differently from past experiences and temperaments. Remember this when you are dealing with others (position of influence).

Have compassion.

This book is dense and emotional at times, however ever since I read it a few years ago it has been in my list for top 3 favorite books. The information presented is invaluable in appreciating behavior, past experiences, pain, and relationships. It is close to a ’10’ because it’s an exploration of the complexity of the human species, and that’s quality to me.

Related Recommended Resource: Seth Oberst, DPT, SCS, CSCS and his Stress, Movement & Pain course

Up next: We shall see….

Hard Work

Hard work is the basis for everything you desire to achieve. It is applying your ability with focused attention and the exclusion of other abilities. You must know the purpose or intended outcome of the work especially in relation to the type of person you desire to be.

Types of Hard Work
  1. Physical Savagery: 

    • Primitive instincts of hunting and killing
    • Suffer, Competition
    • Do you know what a 10 out of 10 feels like?
    • You will need to train at the level you are going to compete at, its called preparation.
    • Get comfortable with being uncomfortable


  2. Physical Awareness

  • Sense of Self/Body Awareness
  • Can you feel muscles working?
  • Learning, Variability
  • Can you be thoughtful about instructions and the details when you need to be?
  • Internal & external standpoint
  • Be aware of how your actions effect your surrounding environment

3. Humility & Gratitude

  • Show appreciation and return kindness
  • What type of person do you want to be? If you don’t know that then who are you?
  • Humans require social connections so build them
  • Make things meaningful

4. Perspective

  • What you do during the other 23 hours of the day outside of the weight room dictates success and adaptations
  • Manipulate the environment around you towards your goals and values
  • Address social relationships, sleep, nutrition, habits/routines
  • Seek out things that you lack=reflection


Saying you haven’t gotten better at something is basically saying you didn’t work hard to get better at it. Some people have no idea what it is to work hard or have a distorted perception of what hard work is. If you want to improve you need change. 

At the very heart of complexity. Bill Hartman’s Intensive II.

At the very heart of complexity. Bill Hartman’s Intensive II.

  • Personal and professional changing experience. I say experience as it was not another seminar that you just come and go.
  • Bill Hartman has created something special that will blow people’s mind.
  • I wanted a deeper understanding of what it means to be human and I got that.
  • There is a saying that you should never meet your mentor as they will disappoint you, but Bill Hartman was not that. He was very genuine and welcoming.

Complexity arises from Simplicity: The Human Matrix Seminar

Take the blue pill and get to….

Zac Cupple’s Human Matrix: The Code for Maximal Health and Performance

  • “Come up with your own stuff, I’m just giving you principles” : Principles and concepts are more valuable than modalities in seeking continuing education
  • Intent- execution- outcome
  • Decisions start with intent
  • There are two types of variability, 1) coordinate and 2) endpoint
  • Heuristic III- place body in positions it struggles to achieve
  • We need testing to understand how movement becomes limited
  • Zac Cupples is not only a leader in the industry, he is also a great human being.

I highly recommend his seminar. See Link above for dates and locations.