All good programs have a number of attributes in common with each other. That said, even good programs can go bad if a number of different things happen as a result. It’s helpful to enumerate the signs of a bad program or a program gone bad so that we can keep any eye out and adjust when necessary. Here are 5 signs that you should look out for while running any program.
Not Making Progress
This is the mother of all signs. If you’re not making progress given an appropriate period of time, something is WRONG. This goes for athletes of all levels. I understand that at some point gains slow down significantly. I understand that often athletes will toil for months on a program and only come out with a gain in five pounds. If you’re not making progress the warning lights should be flashing!
I feel like I am personally able to speak to this one because I have experienced long interrupted periods of time without any PRs. I still made “progress” in the sense that I was able to increase the weight from week to week. But the lack of PRs should have set off warnings signs. Often the lack of new PRs/consistent progress over time is due to some of the next few signs.
Feeling Beat Down ALL The Time
Most programs will be quite difficult at times, perhaps even downright HARD. But most good programs utilize some form of periodization, that is, periods of time that are harder and periods that are easier. If you are feeling beat down all the time, though, this is a huge warning sign that something is wrong in your program.
Feeling beat down indicates that your fatigue level is high. Again, most programs will have periods of time with higher fatigue and lower fatigue. Higher fatigue is associated with higher levels of volume. This is of course necessary to drive progress. Resist the notion that if you’re not being buried by the levels of volume that you’re not working hard enough. There are plenty of ways to make progress without being pummeled by the amount of work.
Injuries are part of Powerlifting. They’re one of those things you have to accept as part of the game and do your best to mitigate throughout your time in the sport. What should be a warning sign is if you’re running into the same injuries over and over. This indicates some aspect of your program is overstressing some part of your body whether that’s through frequency, exercise selection, etc.
A common example of this is sore elbows from squats. Often times those individuals who Low Bar Squat more than a few times find that their elbows end up pretty sore which subsequently starts to affect your Bench Press. Some people solve this by stopping Low Bar Squat. Another, potentially better option, is to decrease your frequency of squatting. A good program will adapt to prevent these recurring injuries.
Lack of Motivation
Motivation might feel like a very esoteric concept when speaking about a Powerlifting program but they are actually quite related. Good programs have to take into account the pyschology of the lifter. If you’re someone who craves variety but your program is rigid and doesn’t change very much you’re motivation to continue training is going to be very low. If your program doesn’t take this into account it sucks.
Motivation also has a lot to do with the level of fatigue you are carrying. When you’re fresh it’s easier to be excited about training. When you’re carrying a lot of fatigue it’s harder to find the energy and commitment that hard training needs. As mentioned in an earlier part, there will probably be periods where motivation is lacking due to fatigue or high-specificity. But good programs will also include periods where you should feel fresh and ready to training.
Lack of Flexibility
The last sign that your program sucks is a lack of flexibility/adaptability. It’s almost a cliche to say that no program works forever. That’s why a good program will adapt to the changing circumstances of strength and life. WHEN injury happens your program needs to be flexible enough to work around the injury, whether that’s by substituting exercises, temporarily dropping frequency or any other number of strategies.
Your program also needs to be flexible to the changing needs of the individual. When a certain exercise/level of volume that used to work no longer works your program needs to be able to change to accomodate the new requirements. If the response from your coach or the individual who designed the program (maybe even you) is “you’re not doing it correctly” you might be running a bad program.
So those are 5 signs your program sucks. You can make a good case that they’re quite interrelated which makes sense. To have a good program you need to balance a lot of variables that interact with each other. Hopefully this article can help you understand the warning signs of a bad program.