What is Programming


This article is written as a basic introduction to programming for powerlifting. There are many resources out there by more qualified professionals who can explain programming accurately with scientific backing. Our article does not seek to replicate such affect, but to paint the core concepts of programming for the layman. Strange analogies will be used to depict the what and how of the mystic art of programming, and as such, some nuance and detail might be lacking as a compromise. If you do not find this informative, we hope that you might at least find this amusing to read.

What is programming? programming as way-finding

Programming is the process of planning your training such that you achieve sustainable progress. Let’s use an analogy for programming in general: way-finding. Navigating your neighbourhood is akin to using an online program. Say you wish to get to 482 MacPherson Road, from Point A to Point B. We need to first gather information: current location, time needed for travel, mode of transport. They serve as inputs for online tools, Google Maps & Street Directory, to generate a travel plan. These tools and plans are generally reliable, frequently appraised, and get you where you need to go. They don’t emote much, and you often don’t learn how to navigate through the traffic signs or learn the roads. There’s simply no need to, given the easy online tools and the straightforward route. In powerlifting, these are your online programs. They tell you what to do from Week 1 to Week ‘X’, without teaching you how they were crafted.

After some time, you want to personalize and optimize your training – you are travelling in a foreign country. Trusty G-Maps is still there, but now you want to enjoy the sights at multiple places, and perhaps learn more about the local culture and history. The route isn’t as simple as before but there are still popular options. Call a Grab, hire a tour guide or, if you are truly blessed, have a friend who shouldered all the tickets, accommodations, packing list and itinerary. Please bow down and show that friend all the gratitude you have in your soul. Whichever options you choose, they help you navigate a foreign land, though hiccups frequently happen – miscommunication, getting scammed, or getting lost and having a good laugh after. In powerlifting, these options are your coaches. They run the gamut from the disassociated, transactional interactions of hiring a tuk-tuk, to the best memories you can have with a friend in a different land. Your coaches teach you how to navigate through training, help you through various plateaus, and encourage you through tough hurdles. At this stage of your powerlifting career, the sport is less about the destination and increasingly more about the experience.

Instead of relying on others to guide your training, you want to explore on your own. You are now that friend who tanked all the travel planning. You want to navigate on your own two feet and wits. You like organizing and hunting for the best bargains. The trips aren’t always fun, unexpected things start popping up, and sometimes you land in a country at 2am with all modes of transport shut down. But it’s all part and parcel of the experience. Nothing beats the excitement of setting out on that trip you’ve been planning for months and reaching the summit at the top. Along the way, you learn to avoid the common pitfalls. Some of your friends start asking you for tips. In powerlifting, this is akin to programming for yourself. Also, give the article – The Coach: What is He/She – a read if you are wondering about the difference between programming and coaching.

So why should you care about it? Frankly, you don’t have to if you stay in one place your entire life. Programming as way-finding is a navigation tool for you to experience more sights and sounds in the sport of powerlifting. It gets you through your first plateau, your first injury. Understanding it means you can no longer use the phrases,

The programme didn’t work.

Going off-programme won’t affect me.

I don’t need a programme.

This perspective changes how you view training decisions and consider their effects, because it will be akin to saying that the travel plan didn’t work, isn’t necessary, or that going off the route won’t be a big deal. Sure, getting lost on a trip is part of the experience and can yield its own moments, but too many such moments will start causing unnecessary stress and snowball on the itinerary. We all know that one person who is incredibly strong without a programme, one person who gets jacked just by looking at a dumbbell. They are not exceptions to the rule, and will one day have to navigate out of a ditch too. Finally, this helps you to align your goals and training decisions. You won’t need an itinerary and packing list for the nearby pasar malam, and you won’t use Google Maps to explore the Mariana Trench, the same should apply for matching your training to your current goals and level.

Now that we have established the what through way-finding, let’s take an abrupt turn and explore the how using the analogy of essay writing.

writing an essay - the big picture

In school, essay writing is the mystical beast that everyone has to tame. Here, it is our analogy for programming. An essay consists of an introduction, several points and a conclusion, all serving to tackle a topical question, such as:

Does school adequately prepare you for life?

The same idea is applied to programming. Your topic is always on powerlifting, so maybe your questions would look more like this:

Do muscles adequately prepare you for life.. I mean, powerlifting?

Essay Programme
Introduction - Yes, school is 10/10 sufficient Intro Week - Yes, muscle is life
Point 1 - Agree Week 1 - Muscles
Point 2 - Agree Week 2 - Muscles
Point 3 - Agree Week 3 - Muscles
Conclusion - wow much agree Maxout - wow much muscle gainz

“Your essay is too one-sided”, your Sec 2 English teacher screamed. Your thighs are big like Zangief’s, but your squat technique is crap and your reps are inconsistent. After reviewing, you decide to include more points that give a more balanced and complete answer. You stick in a short section to pivot and differentiate the stances. There is now more space and flow to your writing. Your training is now periodised to include various forms of stimulus for more holistic growth. The next edition looks something like this:

Essay Programme
Introduction - School helps and family helps too Introduction - Muscles help and technique helps too
Point 1 - School helps 1 - Muscles
Point 2 - School helps 2 - Muscles
Point 3 - School helps 3 - Muscles
Point 4 - School helps 4 - Muscles
However, school cannot completely fulfill all the needs of a growing individual, so family as an institution is required to... Pivot/Deload
Point 1 - Family helps 1 - Technique
Point 2 - Family helps 2 - Technique
Point 3 - Family helps 3 - Technique
Conclusion - wow much prepared for life Maxout - wow much gainz
A block in programming is the length of time you spend squeezing the gains from the chosen stance. The first block focused on muscles, and the second was on technique. So how long should each stance be? A plausible approach is to take a stance and flesh out as many points as you can. Exhaust your ideas on how school prepares you for life and eventually, you would reach the maximum number of quality points. In powerlifting, this would be when your lifts start stalling, you live in perpetual soreness or you experience spontaneous combustion upon seeing another set of 10 rep front squats. This helps you determine the appropriate number of weeks in each block.

Writing lives and dies on their hypotheses, so they should be clearly fleshed out in the beginning. The more sculpted the question, the more focused the hypothesis will be. In powerlifting, the questions tend to be broad and vague like this:

How do I get a bigger bench?

The programme then becomes cluttered with trendy exercises and RPE 10 intensities. Another approach would be to list out all the information and assumptions present and see what you can do thereon.

How do I get a bigger bench? I have 9 weeks, my sticking point is an inch off the bottom, my chest is tiny and my right shoulder hurts when I get too sore.

Start at the end and work backward. At the end of 9 weeks we know there will be a maxout. What comes shortly before a maxout should be specific to the task. Sprinkle in some heavy singles, doubles or triples in your competition movements and equipment. In school, this would be the assessments, tests and dreaded preliminary exams leading up to the final exam. They acclimatize you to the stress of performing the specific task required.

Work on your weaknesses. Your sticking point is at the bottom, and that you have a small chest. Match a solution to an issue, and stick with it until you improve. You have determined that big pecs equals big paychecks, so you devote yourself to the paragons of pectoral perfection in pursuit of pressing power. Some possible solutions can be long paused bench pressing, Spoto pressing and tempo pressing for the first issue. Dumbbell bench pressing, feetup bench pressing and adequate volume could fix the second issue. In school, you could be having issues generating points, so practise sketching them out like a mindmap. Read other people’s works specifically for their points. Overcoming your weakness empowers you when it is no longer one.

Differentiate your blocks based on intended outcomes. A block should have one hypothesis which drives subsequent decisions. Why do singles in the muscle massing block when it’s planned in the next block? Will they help you get to the intended outcome? Don’t put the conclusion in the middle of the essay, and don’t go off-tangent with your examples. Otherwise, your writing will get confused and your intended point will disappear.

Punctuation is key. Writing a block of training is like writing a sentence or paragraph. End it when it needs to and move on. You know to end it when it starts getting unwieldy and you only have 2 paragraphs in your entire essay like the time your friend asked you to read their work and your eyes start to water before you reach the end of one sentence in the introduction and you realize the first sentence is also the first paragraph. Don’t be that guy. The same happens when your right shoulder starts getting irritated. Don’t be afraid to pivot early if you need to.

There are many ways you can manipulate the 9 weeks. In terms of muscle-pivot-technique blocks, here are some different permutations:

Muscle Pivot/Deload Technique
Weeks 4 1 4
3 1 5
4 2 3
2 1 6

BAM. That’s it. There are many styles, formats, stances, points, etc which shape each individual essay and programme. Your skill will improve with each piece of writing and review, and your perspectives and arguments will grow with every new exposure to other writing. The literature available informs you of best practices and evidence, and over time you sieve out what works what doesn’t.

You have reached the end of the what and how of programming using absolutely unnecessary and absurd analogies. Ultimately, this article hopes to offer some clarity and perspective: programming is to get you somewhere in one piece. Now, go explain it to Mum.

Further questions? Feel free to contact us at [email protected].