4 Program Design Tips To Avoid Plateaus

We had some great answers to the little “quiz” I gave you in my last post.

If you haven’t read the answers, check them out as you’re sure to pick something up, especially from the doctoral thesis Danavir posted… ๐Ÿ™‚

In today’s article, I’m going to present some of the factors you must take into consideration when designing “Energizer” programs.

What’s an Energizer program?

Just like the Energizer Bunny, it’s a program that keeps getting results without stopping.

Hahahaha I’m so clever.

I’m also going to give you some of the thought processes behind it instead of memorizing “rules”, you can think things through on your own to choose the best method for your situation.

That old “teach a man to fish” thing…

Now it’s important to understand that nothing I’m talking about here exists in isolation – each factor overlaps and interacts with the others.

So it’s something you’ve got to read carefully, digest and synthesize into something practical in your own mind.



  • The exercise iteself
  • Reps
  • Weight / Intensity
  • Rest Periods
  • Sets

These are at the heart of strength training program design (PD) and are the first factors to learn to manipulate.

When manipulating these variables, it’s necessary to consider your overall PD.

Here’s a simple table you can refer to based on variables I use when designing programs:
[ws_table id=”2″]
These aren’t necessarily all straight from the textbook, but guidelines I’ve found effective when training my athletes.

The key to manipulating these variables is knowing your goal and understanding how the different goals build on one another:

Hypertrophy -> Strength -> Power ->Speed -> Endurance

Follow this simple template and you’ll take a lot of the guesswork out of designing your programs.

What you’ve got to ask yourself is, “What’s the ultimate result I want to achieve?” then you can assess and see what factor to work on first to achieve that goal.

NOTE: we’re talking about the neuromuscular system here; we’re not even going to touch the cardiovascular system in this article, we’ll get to that in the future.

Now, I’ve got some additional tricks up my sleeve to take it up a notch…



Now, one of the big guns – periodization.

It basically means how you plan your PD out.

If you ever decide to hire a trainer and he doesn’t lay out a plan that’s at least 4 weeks long in front of you, save your money, say, “Thanks but no thanks” and quickly walk away.

Unfortunately, most trainers are like this.

But it’s not always their fault – I used to be a trainer at a big-box gym making $20 per client and training 11 clients per day.

That doesn’t leave you a lot of energy or desire to write out 4-12 week periodized programs.

I quickly realized I would either burn myself out and stop caring, doing it just for money, or I’d have to leave.

I chose the latter and it was one of the best decisions of my life.

Anyway, a monster tip is to think backwards… Ask yourself, “What is the end result I’m looking for?”

Then plan backwards from that result and design the program accordingly.

Training fighters makes this convenient as the obvious goal is to be a beast in the octagon, so I can easily count the weeks backwards from there and put a plan into place.

If you’re not a fighter but you train MMA, train yourself like you’re going to fight and you’ll feel the power of this method.

If you’re into general fitness, set a goal, whether it be a body comp goal like dropping 10 lbs of fat in 6 weeks (or 20-30 lbs in 8 weeks like many of my MMA Ripped members) or a fitness goal like increasing your Back squat strength by 30 lbs in 4 weeks.

Whatever your situation, you can create a periodized program based on it to get the best results.

Manipulate the acute variables as mentioned in 1 every 3-5 weeks (more advanced guys need to change things up more frequently) and you’re good to go.

It’s also vital to include lower volume/intensity weeks (deload) as you cannot simply push and push your body into making progress.

Rest and recovery are when your body adapts, so schedule them in and prioritize them.

That was a quick run-through of the basics.

Now, let’s get to a few of the tweaks that can take you from good to great



The order with which you perform exercises plays a big role in how much an exercise can cause adaptation.

The basic rule is that exercises performed early in the routine will have more of an effect than exercises later.

This is obvious as later on in your routine you’re going to have less energy to give.

HOWEVER, there are some non-obvious factors that you can manipulate to your advantage:

  • Pre-activation: an exercise done to activate a certain muscle group before another exercise where that muscle might not normally work due to inhibition
  • Pre-fatigue: an exercise done to pre-fatigue a certain muscle if you want other muscles to work more during a certain movement; can be used in conjunction with pre-activation
  • Potentation: an exercise done to "charge" the nervous system before another exercise to improve performance in the 2nd exercise

These are very powerful tools in your program toolbox that can be used depending on what you need to do.

For example, if you, like many, have sleepy glutes, doing a pre-activation exercise like a Hip extension before doing Squats will help you fire your glutes better when squatting.

Or doing a power exercise before a strength exercise can help recruit more muscle for your strength exercise, as long as you don’t drain yourself too much with the power exercise.



This is topic that can get a little “science-y”, but I’ll do must best to keep it understandable.

There are 2 types of neuromuscular coordination: INTERmuscular and INTRAmuscular.

INTERmuscular coordination happens between different muscle groups – for example, coordination all of the different muscle groups involved in the Squat.

INTRAmuscular coordination is the coordination within a muscle group, for example, how advanced lifters activate a higher % of their muscle fibres than beginners during a simple exercise like a Biceps curl.

Now, to enhance both of these types of coordination, it’s necessary that you repeat an exercise over and over as opposed to changing it too often.

This is the problem with the theory of “muscle confusion” – change a program too much and you’ll never improve your coordination.

If you don’t improve your neuromuscular coordination, you’ll never develop long-term performance improvements or changes to your body.

Even with hypertrophy training, which is more muscular than neuro driven, improving coordination through repeated exposure to the same exercise improves the % of muscle fibres firing, which increases the # of fibres that have the potential for growth, helping you get bigger.

When it comes to INTRAmuscular coordination, greatest improvements will be made when you’re fresh, so early on in your workout and taking lots of rest will give you the best results.

With respect to INTERmuscular coordination, the same rules apply, but the improvements you make will depend on the complexity of the exercises you perform.

A simple exercise like a Bicep curl requires a lot less INTERmuscular coordination than a more complex movement such as a Back Squat.

But if you’ve been Squatting for years, then you may be ready to take it to the next level.

That’s where the Snatch and Clean and Jerk – the Olympic Lifts – come into play.

These exercises require POWER (you can’t perform them slowly) AND concentration on proper technique, building new neuromuscular pathways in the process.

A month or so ago, I conducted a poll where I asked, “What is your experience with Olympic Weightlifting?” with the following results:

86% of respondents wanted to learn how to safely and effectively perform the Olympic lifts.

So if you’re reading this, you’re probably in that boat.

I even ran a webinar where I broke down the Snatch, but I knew that for most, that wasn’t enough to go out and start hammering out the O-lifts with confidence.

That’s why I’ve gone ahead and created a program designed to take the raw beginner to confident execution of the Snatch and Clean and Jerk in as little as 3 weeks.

Clean and Jerk

I gives the peoples what the peoples wants. ๐Ÿ™‚

Just like how I summarized program design in this post in a way that will have all you trainers and guys who write your own programs designing better programs than the majority of trainers who make $60 per hour.

TOMORROW, I’m going to show you how to simplify the complex and learn the Olympic lifts even if you’ve got no experience OR confidence.

So if you’re like the confused monkey above when it comes to the Olympic lifts, you’re in for a treat.

And if you’re the intelligent type who knows when a little guidance and coaching is beneficial (like when trying to learn highly technical exercises like the O-lifts), this will be perfect for you…

… especially if you’re not ready to shell out a few hundred bucks or even a thousand bucks for personal training sessions.

Again, that’s coming tomorrow, so stay tuned if you’re ready to learn how to properly perform the most eXplosive exercises on the planet.


Olympic Lifting Mastery Course


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Joe Chandler
10 years ago

Nice breakdown Eric I have been a trainer and instructor for 30 years and I liked the way you laid it out. Love to see people like you that are bridging the gap for martial artists and athletes to and with functional training. The one thing I noted was you cited the problem with “muscle confusion” and I agree in the way for instance P90X does it. It was not laid out non activity based or and without functional purposes. But also I ask for clarification on you saying changing the program to often doesnt improve coordination. Do you mean a specific phase like the strength training portion or within the entire scope of a program. I train a lot of untrained and people from different walk of life and skill sets. I have found that variations on functional or sports specific exercises with in complex programs help people adapt… Read more ยป

10 years ago

Lookin forward to tomorrow I’ve been trying to make gains for the last couple of months with a little success but not what I was expecting. I think that this will help a lot. So thank you.

10 years ago

Can’t wait for tomorrow, I couldn’t access the webinar for some reason.
BTW that’s an Orangutan not a monkey, trust me I’m a zoologist.