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The Five Elements of a Good Strength & Conditioning Program

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The strength and conditioning world is changing right before our eyes. Because this is still a relatively new field, we’re seeing major advancements on a regular basis. If you’re looking for the edge you need to stay competitive and dominate your opponents, than you had better be proactive about your knowledge and consistently find ways to gain a competitive advantage. It’s almost cliché to say, but if you want to get better and be the best, you’re going to have to take the “1% better each day” approach. If you’re consistently working on improving yourself, your programs, your skill sets, and your knowledge, you’ll soon find yourself at the front of the pack. It’s true…most people just don’t have the diligence to be persistent enough and do the small things that it takes to be successful.

Some of the best coaches of all times became ultra successful by focusing on the basics and doing the little things to get better each and every day. Think about it…Vince Lombardi, John Wooden, and Phil Jackson have all had their fare share of success. These guys are absolute legends, and they all got there by working consistently and focusing on getting better each day. They focused on the fundamentals and they worked hard as part of a team to get them right. Essentially, they built a solid foundation, and then they continued to build from there.

As strength and conditioning coaches, we can still learn from the legends, but we have to adapt the process to our environment. The coaches I named above were all masters of the X’s and O’s within the sport. We need to be masters of the X’s and O’s in the weight room if we want to be successful. We have to focus on the fundamentals. We need to get our athletes moving well first, and then we can start stacking on the weights to help them get bigger, faster, and stronger.  We need a system!

That’s where Smart Group Training (SGT) and the Five Elements come into play. It doesn’t matter if you’re training a group of high school football players, a group of stay at home moms, or some old fogies down at the retirement community. The Five Elements are never going to change, no matter whom you choose to work with. These are the “fundamentals”. These are the things that we need to do on a consistent basis if we want to be the best. So, what exactly are those Five Elements?


Element 1 – Movement Screening

This is listed as the first element simply due to the fact that everything we do in the weight room or on the track, court, or field is based around a movement screen. It all starts with a screen!

It doesn’t really matter what movement screen you choose. There are lots of screens out there that will analyze movement and establish baselines. Pick the screen you like the best and run with it. The guys over at SGT have chosen to use the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), but that doesn’t mean you have to choose the exact same screening process. However, if you want to get the best results, make sure you’re following Element 1 and start screening your clients/athletes. If you’re familiar with the FMS, use that. If you’re currently using another movement screen, cool…stick with it.


Element 2 – Red Lighting

Now that we’re done with the movement screen, we need to use the information we have gained to help develop a personalized program for each person. This is where the term “red lighting” comes into play. This is the first thing we want to be aware of when it comes to programming. If we’re going to “red light” someone, it simply means we’re going to either eliminate or regress certain exercises within their program.

For example, if one of your clients or athletes has a terrible straight leg raise and can’t touch their toes, we’re going to pull deadlifts from their program. They haven’t proven to us that they should be deadlifting. If we were to do this exercise with them, we’d simply be asking them to do an exercise their body isn’t ready for yet. It makes more sense to save your effort and energy for training the things that they are ready for instead. To red light effectively, simply find the dysfunctional movement patterns and start to eliminate or regress those exercises within their program. Eliminate the bad. Exploit and challenge the good. Get amazing results!

Here is a picture of our Red Light Poster. These are the exercises we red light if we find dysfunction:



Element 3 – Custom Corrective Exercise

Now that we’ve taken the time to screen each client/athlete and adjust their program, it’s time to start fixing the dysfunctional patterns we found. In order to get the best results, you should only be focusing on correcting one pattern at a time, following a specific hierarchy of needs. Focusing on the weakest link in the pattern does two things.

First, it allows us to start correcting movement and improve efficiency without sacrificing valuable training time. If we were to focus on trying to fix multiple patterns simultaneously, we’d spend a good chunk of our training time doing low-level corrective work instead of building strength, power, speed, and explosiveness. This is unacceptable. When we’re working with an athletic population, we need both. We need our athletes to be strong and powerful, but we also need them to move well and be efficient with their energy. Since we only spend our time focusing on the weakest link, we still have plenty of time in the weight room to focus on developing strength and power.

The second reason we follow a hierarchy is simply due to the fact that it only works one way. If you try to reverse the hierarchy, it doesn’t work. Mobility comes first. We need to clear mobility issues off the table before we progress to stability issues. If the body can’t move the way we’re asking it to, it’s going to be hard to see any results. Clear any mobility issues first, and then move on to stability. Now that the joints can move, we want to make sure the arms and legs can move without having to compensate from the trunk. Finally we’ll tie mobility and stability together and focus on big, global movement patterns like squatting, lunging and deadlifting.

Step One: Clear Mobility (ankle, hips, T-spine, and shoulders)

Step Two: Clear Stability (deadbugs, birddogs, and push up planks, etc…)

Step Three: Clear Global Movement Patterns (squatting, lunging, deadlifting, etc..)

This is a major oversimplification of the process, but hopefully it will help shed some light on how you can fix dysfunction and get your clients/athletes moving and performing better. The takeaway from that final point is to ignore trying to fix squats and deadlifts if there are mobility issues on the table. Remember that it only works one way. Take the mobility issues off the table, and the squat may just happen naturally. Mobility. Stability. Movement.


Element 4 – Progressions & Regressions

Now that we’re at element four, we’re starting to get pretty deep into the program design aspect for our clients and athletes. This is where it starts to get fun. Element 4 is all about finding the right progression of an exercise for each person. In order to be successful here, you need a good understanding of exercise selection and how to adjust certain variables such as weight, tempo, and recovery. Each athlete is different, so it’s silly to think that all of them should be doing one specific exercise.

For example, let’s say the programmed exercise for the day is front squats with a barbell. Athlete A may dominate the bar and do an amazing job. Athlete B, on the other hand, struggles to move much weight and his/her form looks god-awful. Assuming that both of these athletes are cleared to squat, it becomes apparent that each athlete is built a little differently. If you’re following element number four properly, your program will have Athlete A crushing some weight with the programmed exercise, the barbell front squat, while Athlete B is crushing a respectable weight with the Goblet Squat. Now both athletes are squatting with good form, and they can both train with some intensity.

If you’re programming for an individual, simply find the best exercise for that particular person and plug it into the template. However, if you’re programming for a team or a group of people, you’re going to have to take it one step further. Programming for groups takes a little more time since you should have a built-in list of progressions and regressions to ensure all athletes cleared to train that pattern can work at a level at which they can dominate. Try to make sure you have at least three levels to help people progress when needed, but also have levels designed to regress when appropriate. Train smart. Train Hard.


Element 5 – Over-delivering

The first four elements are all about developing individualized programs designed to help the client/athlete perform better and get results. The fifth and final element isn’t technically made up of our X’s and O’s of programming. When we’re talking about over-delivering to our clients/athletes, we want to make sure we’re doing the little things necessary to ensure they’re happy, motivated, and excited about training.

This may mean taking some time out to ask them how their day has been. It could be giving a compliment on something the athlete is doing well. Maybe you share an article on leadership or some other cool story designed to teach a lesson with them. There are literally thousands of things you can do to stay engaged with your clients/athletes. We all get bogged down with work, training, and other things in life that tend to pull us in all directions. So we felt it was important to incorporate element five into our philosophies.

If we’re constantly thinking about how to deliver the 5 Elements to each athlete that comes our way, we’re going to be light years ahead of the competition when it comes to training in the weight room. SGT has developed a solid system designed to individualize the training experience for each and every person. A one-size -fits-all approach no longer works, so if you’re looking to gain a competitive advantage when it comes to strength, speed, and power, look no further than SGT and the 5 Elements.



Do you train large groups?

If so, checkout this new resource that includes a step-by-step guide to running a group training program plus an entire year of done for you group training program design. Learn how to incorporate the Functional Movement Screen into small and large group training with ease. Get more details here: Smart Group Training System


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