Programming Principles

03 Jan, 2017

Jeremiah Chapman CSCS, SCCC, Pn-1

Over the past few weeks, as we have outlined the process of developing an Annual Plan (here and here), we have been asked questions from various coaches about programming. How and when to use percentages with athletes, what form of periodization works best, and how to develop cycles within different training phases. As usual, in the world of strength and conditioning, the answer always seems to be “it depends” and is widely debated. In this article, we will try to give you an idea of how we utilize percentage based training with our advanced athletes and how to periodize your weekly and monthly strength training templates.


Know why you’re doing what you’re doing! What response are you trying to illicit and why? When in doubt, stick to the principles listed below and allow your athletes to master the fundamentals. “As to methods, there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS)

GAS was made known by scientist Hans Selye in his research on stress and how the body adapts. He noted that there are 3 stages of adaptation: 1. The “Alarm” stage caused by the initial physiological stress placed on the body, 2. Resistance stage when the body adapts to demands placed on the body, 3. Exhaustion stage, when the stimulus remains too high and eventually leads to decrease in function. This is known as overtraining in sports performance.


By understanding GAS, sports scientist started to understand the importance of cyclical training programs to avoid burnout in their athletes. This lead to what we now call Periodization. There are numerous ways to periodize workouts and this topic alone could be its own article. The easiest way to think about periodization is how you organize your training within a given week, month, or year to avoid the exhaustion phase and allow your athletes to continually improve.

For high school athletes, we are going to stick with basic Linear Periodization. Begin with lighter loads for more reps and gradually decrease the volume (reps) as the intensity (%/weight) picks up. This may be an oversimplified way of looking at it, but again, with young athletes it shouldn’t be too complicated.

Side note: Linear Periodization does not mean you can increase the load continuously and expect your athletes to adapt. There will need to be periods that will give the athletes time to recover and deload. Think of it as an ascent up the side of a mountain with a few stops at base camp along the way to recover and rest before resuming the climb.

Cycles and Phases

Macrocycle- this is your annual plan and your big vision for the year. This will entail three phases throughout the year, the preparatory phase, competitive phase, and the transition phase. The preparatory phase is the off-season plan we have discussed. Training will start out broad and narrow in focus as the season approaches. The competitive phase will occur during the season and allow you to continue to build your athletes as you work around games/competitions. Lastly, the transition phase refers to the downtime after the competitive season and allows for regeneration after a long season.

Mesocycle- this usually last 3-6 weeks and is focused on increasing specific qualities during each cycle.

Microcycle- this is your weekly training plan that should fit into the overall goal of your annual plan.

Progressive Overload

Quite possibly the easiest principle to understand and the most important. Progressive overload simply means you are doing more over time. This could mean more reps, more weight, more distance, or just getting more done in less time. These are ways you can continue to make progress and steadily improve your athletes over time. Make sure as you program your workouts this is being accounted as you move throughout the off-season.

Milo of Croton 6th century BC wrestler and strongman.

SAID Principle

Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. As the name implies, this simply states that the human body will adapt to any demand you place upon it. Any stressors on the human system, whether biomechanical or neurological, over time, will be changed and improved by the body. This comes back to the adage that, “You get what you train for.” Be sure you have a purpose and know why you’re training certain movements in the weight room and on the field. If they do not have any carry over to your sport, then you need to cut them out and move on.

Percentage Based Training

Percentage based training for young or untrained athletes is not recommended. For many beginners simply increasing the volume one or two reps every week will be enough to ensure progression. The other option would be to increase the weight 2.5 to 5 pounds per week and gradually decrease the reps over time. Both options allow the athlete to gain movement competence and increase their confidence in these movements.

Once you have established a solid foundation and your athletes can perform the basics, percentage based training will certainly benefit them. Using percentages allows the coach to prescribe weight based on the athletes one-rep max and will allow the athletes to continue progressing over time. Aside from the benefit of proper periodization and increasing strength over time, this also provides an accountability component for the athletes. They must follow their assigned percentages instead of randomly putting weight on the bar determined by how they feel that day.

Utilizing Prilepin’s Chart

Developed by A.S. Prilepin, a Soviet Sport Scientist, this chart gives you rep recommendation per set, an optimal training volume, and an ideal range that each percentage would fall under. For example, if you were programming a lift at 75% the optimal reps would be 18 and fall within the 12-24 rep range for total volume. This can be achieved in several ways; 3x6, 6x3, 4x5, 5x4, etc., you get the point. Utilizing the chart, an actual training session for Front Squats may be 1x6 @ 60%, 1x6 @ 68%, and 3x6 @ 75%. After a couple of warm-up sets the athlete would have performed the optimal number (18) of reps at 75%.

Use Prilepin’s Chart to make sure you are staying within recommended ranges and not setting unrealistic expectations for your athletes. If you asked your team to perform 5x8 @ 80%, aside from getting some crazy looks and running the risk of injury, you would more than likely have athletes failing to perform after one or two sets. Use this chart as your guideline when setting up your workouts throughout the year.

Side note: Prilepin developed this chart based on studying Olympic lifters. The recommended reps for each set may be slightly lower than we would use for other traditional barbell movements. Also, if interested, consider the Prilepin Number of Lifts Score (PNLS) and calculate the daily and weekly training volume to be sure you are not overtraining your athletes.

By understanding and utilizing the principles above, you will have a solid understanding of how to program your annual plan from start to finish. When in doubt, keep it simple. Push, pull, squat, lunge, do something explosive and have your athletes become brilliant at the basics.