Episode 47. The Art and Science of Program Design

Mar 13, 2017 | 0 comments

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Show Notes

With the launch of Scott’s Program Design Masterclass at programdesignmasterclass.com, we figured we would just do an episode all about what program design really is: why Scott believes there is an art and a science to it, what good programs look like, what bad program LACK, and that sort of thing. We mention a few specific exercise sequences and programs, scenarios, and what factors affect Scott’s program design decisions.

The Art and Science of Program Design

  • Scott believes there is an art and a science to program design. To him that means a workout is more than a collection of exercises, and a program is more than a collection of workouts.
  • In other words, what you do today is affected by what you did yesterday, and it will affect what you do tomorrow, and next week. The program you just finished a month ago affects the program you should be on now.
  • Scott got started in this way back in the early 1980s, partly when he got tired of trying to guess or just do what the magazines said, and started trying to learn more. There really wasn’t much on program design specifically, so he was reading a lot of actual physiology texts and articles, but one of the books that really stuck with him was Bill Pearl’s Keys to the Inner Universe.
  • Mike and Scott also discussed Scott’s process for designing a new program from scratch: he starts with the theme or purpose, then moves on to the structure, then the context, then whether or not (or how) to use planned performance training* or periodization, and from there this lets him determine the strategies and tactics, and what will be variable vs. constant.
  • The theme or purpose might be something like conditioning, or balancing conditioning with long term physique development goals, putting on muscle, developing workload capacity, and various combinations thereof. Context is a bit about the trainee, but in a general way, before the specific application. Structure is like “a 3-day program using quadplexes” or “a 5-day traditional bodypart split.”
  • That’s all the DESIGN of the program. The application of a program to a specific client or trainee is then about the 5-Part Training Model, which asks “Who is my client?” in terms of 1. Effort, 2. Training Strategy, 3. Workload Capacity, 4. Recovery Capacity, and 5. Internal Biochemical and Hormonal Environment.
  • In other words, Scott has a “collection” of hundreds of workout programs he’s designed over the years. Sometimes a trainee needs a totally new one, but often not: often Scott can just go into his collection, make a tweak here and there, and assign it. Sometimes it doesn’t even need a tweak — the customization will be in Scott’s email where he’ll say, “Look, here’s the program, pay attention to this, but watch out for this, this and this, and condition into it by doing this…”
  • Scott mentioned a part of the masterclass where he and Mike breakdown and compare things with color coding. This is so you can see some of the structure alluded to above. This gif is from that recently recorded breakdown:

  • * I think this comes from JC Santana – M

Scott and Mike referenced some slides that Mike made for the masterclass, to illustrate Scott’s process for designing a new program right from scratch:

Program Design from Scratch
The 5-Part Training Model
Who is the trainee?

Using 4-Weeks’ Worth of Workouts

  • Scott mentioned that one of the ways he could very quickly see if someone was taking his programs was they would come back with a four week cycle of workouts.
  • That is, Scott’s workouts aren’t periodized in terms of planned load percentages or anything, but many of them do have 4 weeks’ worth of workouts that you cycle through, so you do Week 1 of chest, week 1 of delts, week 1 of arms for the first week, then in the second week you go to week 2 of chest, week 2 of delts and so on, until you’d done all four weeks, and then you would start again.
  • Changes might be in exercise selection, rep ranges and loading parameters, or some combination thereof.
  • One of the reasons for this is making sure you hit a bodypart throughout its given proper ranges and planes of motion. You don’t just “do a bunch of back exercises,” you design a program where (for example) you train the lats in one range of motion heavy but the other range of motion much light this week, then next week you switch which one gets hit in the lower rep ranges, which one comes first, etc etc…


Free Downloads for this Week’s Episode

4-Day Hybrid Quadplex Bodybuilding Program – Day One

This is a good example of the kind of thing Scott discussed where the trainee gets to pick which exercise you can do, but the program still maintains a certain structure and balance throughout.

5-Day Hybrid Program /w 4 weeks’ worth of workouts) – Day One (Chest + Quadblasts)

Notice how the bodypart is hit in various ranges and planes of motion as you go through the four weeks’ worth of workouts, but also compare the rep ranges and the load demands. If you’re in the Program Design Masterclass, I’ve added this to the Program Vault, since you should also pay attention to how a given day of workouts fits in with the other days in the program. (E.g., maybe you can go heavier on the second week of Chest because you go lighter in the second week of Back…)

Find out more about the Program Design Masterclass


This is the website where we’ll keep all info about the Masterclass. 🙂