There is no place in high quality programming for randomness. Random reps, movements, circuits, sessions, and cycles yield short-term gains, but long-term stagnation. More importantly, randomness is a sure tell for lazy programming and coaching.
Still, coaches and training programs often promote the idea of their sessions being random from day-to-day or week-to-week as a major selling point. They talk about muscle confusion and preparing you for all manner of end time scenarios because their program is so varied. They talk about random variation being functional in the real world, because the real world is random, and so random programming is the best way to tackle the randomness of life. What they don’t talk about is how they just slap a bunch of movements together on a board 15 minutes before you get there and call it good programming. It doesn’t get much more random than that.
A GRAND DESIGN
But where is the thought process? Is the only value in this randomness the purported benefits of preparing you for the randomness of life? Shouldn’t the person given the privilege of making you physically better demand more of themselves?
If there is a thought process, then it is one with a limited view. A long view, a grand design, is awfully hard to keep track of with randomness. Randomness, one may argue, is its own grand design. Yet the data doesn’t bear this out. And it’s not enough to rely on anecdotes and conjecture when often the athletes who are most exposed to random events rely on their body to have a career or their recreation: fireman, soldiers, guides, and law enforcement on the career side; martial artists, mountaineers, and runners on the recreation side.
SCHEMA AND SKILL ACQUISITION
Let’s continue looking at athletes with the highest probability to be exposed to randomness in their real life. Even a cursory examination of how these professions and sports train for mastery reveals that randomness has no place in their professional development. Instead, they work in scenarios to develop schema in order to isolate and solve variables. These scenarios may be chaotic, but the training is deliberate, purposeful, and progressed.
The schema – patterns of thought – developed in high order training are the confluence of mental and physical skill. Skill acquisition in any endeavor is a function of time; and the quality of acquisition results from the frequency and quality of repetition, of practice. Put simply, practice makes permanent. As such, how can random training produce permanent skill acquisition? Without permanent skill acquisition, how can you improve that skill?
Imagine for a moment that you’re a third grader, learning addition and subtraction, and your teacher walks in and starts teaching multiplication on Monday, then subtraction on Tuesday, then trigonometry on Wednesday, then addition on Thursday, then algebra on Friday. Then, the following Monday, gives you a test on geometry. How do you think you’d do? Probably not well. Not only have the skills required for geometry not been taught, but the very mathematical foundation for geometry is missing at your level of development. What good has the randomness of this lesson structure done for you?
The design of structured curriculum meets students at their level (exactly like the path we offer new athlete members). The purpose is to scaffold cognitive difficulty while students are gaining comprehension so that there is a gentle release of the intellectual burden from teacher to student. A training program’s structure should follow a similar, if not exact, logic. The gentle release will not occur in random training. Instead, a vacuum of skill will be created between the ceiling of an athlete’s current level and the coach’s errant floor of expectation, sucking the hope, motivation, and trust from the athlete’s mind.
A purposeful training program – where every element is weighed and measured, where design differentiates to ability at an individual level, and where progressions make sense – produces powerful results.
CONTINUAL IMPROVEMENT APPLIES EXPERIENCE
But, here’s the thing (a quick reality check): we know this because we’ve programmed random sessions and cycles. In our earliest days as coaches, it was more important to smoke athletes now than prepare them for later. Every session stood as it’s own entity (hell, we even named them individually), without context of a larger scheme. We thought muscle confusion was a real thing (it’s not). But we quickly learned. We started to apply proven principles of great strength coaches and of other influences that mirrored our chosen industry, like education. We tested and retested. We tried and failed. We developed and revised. Always with an eye towards a better process of design. And it is in the element of continually improving our process that we strive to separate ourselves from the crowded world of strength and conditioning - where every hotshot with a six pack and an empty warehouse or a youtube channel can call themselves a coach.
Our latest cycles, Maximum Overdrive and Mandatory Fun display the level of our intent. Together, they are two parts of a three-part, 18-week macrocycle that will increase all attributes of a hybrid athlete. They're great together or individually as standalone cycles, and are examples of our purpose in action.