Developing a Training Philosophy...Do you need one?

When I got started in strength and conditioning (back in the late 80's), what now seems like a life-time ago, I was always amazed how the "gun" coaches of the day (Charlie Francis, Kelvin Giles, Charles Poliquin v1.0...when he coached NHL athletes primarily) were so clear on what needed to be done with each athlete.  Maybe more than that, I was always perplexed by how they were able to synthesize all the available information into singular, cohesive thought process.  Mind you, at that time the only real sources of information were from a handful of journals that you either read in the library or photocopied for later.

These days with the prolific explosion of social media into our lives, I genuinely feel for the young coaches of the 2020 plus, as they are constantly bombarded with information that is diverse both in it's quality and source.  No matter the medium (Facebook, Twitter etc) the volume of information is simply staggering.

With this plethora of information at our finger tips, the ability to synthesize information into a usable format is paramount to success as a coach.  The number one question I get repeatedly asked is "How do I put it all together?".

Here is the advice I give every time...Develop your own Training Philosophy!

Think of a Training Philosophy like the operating system for your computer (Microsoft Windows, macOS or Linux).  It runs all the basic functions and keeps things working efficiently.

An app or program may be downloaded to your computer to serve a specific function, and deleted or retained for future use as necessary e.g. Excel, Matlab, R etc.  Consider training concepts e.g. Interval Training, MAS, Cluster Training, Velocity based strength training etc etc... simply as "programs" that you might run within your operating system (Training Philosophy).

As most people would know, there is solid, reliable software from reputable companies and there is also shoddy, rubbish software that causes you nothing but grief.  There are programs that are nothing more than a blatant rip-off of classic, established software, and for those of you really dialed-in, there is the possibility to write your own code which is designed to do exactly what you want.

As you gain more experience with apps / programs you decide on the ones you want to keep, you update them, and you inevitably become very skilled in their operation and biased toward their abilities (kinda becomes a bit of a ingrained part of you...Ford vs. Holden, Mac vs. PC, Elvis vs. get my drift).

In a nutshell your Training Philosophy becomes the center of your universe.  It is the filter through which every decision you make is passed.  It is WHAT YOU BELIEVE TO BE TRUE!

In my mind's eye, I always visualize this concept in terms of Arnold Schwarzenegger's view in TERMINATOR.  He sees something, evaluates it's properties, matches it against what he wants, needs or understands, then makes a decision to use it, leave it...or in Arnold's case blow it the f$%k up!

Just like in TERMINATOR, creating a more advanced operating system (Training Philosophy) allows you greater capacity to make decisions and a broader field of view through which to filter incoming information (programs, methods etc).

Building a Training Philosophy is a life long journey, and not one I believe that is ever complete.  Just like an operating system needs upgrades, so does your Training Philosophy...and to be clear here, an upgrade does not constitute a complete rebuild.  Adding, subtracting, tweaking, contextualizing, optimizing, individualizing are all methods of upgrading your Training Philosophy.  Never throw the baby out with the bathwater!

Here's a practical guide to building your own Training Philosophy...

  1. Write down what you believe about everything (training-wise)!  Committing views to paper gets you off the fence (kind of like voting).  Make a decision about what you think.  If you don't know enough about a subject to commit to a position...go and find out...but get an opinion - QUICK!.  Acknowledge you may be wrong, so always be prepared to update.  That said, if you have an opinion you are in a position to discuss and debate...thereby you may end up learning more or, helping someone else out.
  2. Paraphrase it down to concepts, patterns and thought bubbles that you know you can keep on you at all times.  As you get more experience these concepts become easier.  Don't walk around trying to recite research.  Learn the patterns of movement and loading.  Become a pattern-recognition specialist like a chess Grand Master.  Build a body of knowledge that allows your unconscious mind to efficiently "thin slice" chunks of information, pattern sequences and scenarios (see below).
  3. When you coach, constantly assess what you are doing at every moment against your Training Philosophy (just like Arnie does!).  When watching an athlete execute a task, simply ask yourself the question..."Do I think that is right?"
  4. If you find yourself or one of your athletes doing something outside of your Training Philosophy...STOP.  Assess whether the activity needs to change or you need a little upgrade.
  5. Assess all incoming information against your Training Philosophy (again...just like Arnie).  If the new information (research, observation, social media...all just incoming signal) is of value, run it and see how it goes.  Good = keep, Bad = discard. Learn to value information from sound sources.
  6. Continue to re-address the document from Point 1 until the day you start "pushing up daisies".  You will need to make less adjustments over time and inevitably younger coaches will get annoyed with you because they don't get what you are doing or what you are seeing.  But be patient, because we were all young coaches once too.

    Thin Slicing

    In his book "BLINK" Malcom Gladwell describes the critical component of rapid cognition known as "Thin Slicing".  Thin Slicing refers to the ability of our unconscious mind (preferred term of psychology professionals to subconscious) to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very thin (rapid or incomplete) slices  of information.  These "thin slices" of information are compared back to what we know and have experienced, often creating biochemical responses (nausea, tingling, sense of foreboding etc) which may be interpreted as intuition.  Despite the scientific community not being able to measure it in absolute terms, the unconscious mind is generally considered to have a capacity for data processing that far exceeds that of the conscious mind by an unfathomable margin (one estimate places the unconscious mind at 500000x the processing power of the conscious mind). 

    Therefore the greater the depth of data that both the unconscious and conscious mind is comparing to (experience and models = Training Philosophy) the greater chance you have of solving complex problems quickly and accurately.

    Invest in documenting your own Training Philosophy today!



    We cannot teach people anything; we can only help them discover it within themselves. Galileo Galilei
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    Thank you for this amazingly helpful and inspiring article. I have been thinking about writing down my philosophy for quite some time now; just didn’t know where and how to start the best (even though that often just starting is all thats needed). With your practical tips I will start straight away- thank you. Highly appreciate sharing your experience and taking time to write this article and make other people life’s and work better??

    Corey Green

    Great article, with a clear message. I love the analogy of having an operating system you upgrade via apps based on the current, valid and reliable information available. I discovered this article from listening to Episode 207 – Strength Coach Podcast (Mike Boyle’s podcast), thought you may like to know.

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