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©2020 by Jonathon Reid

  • Jon Reid

Programming Signatures and Training Philosophy

Updated: Oct 17, 2018

“Do all of your clients do the same exercises?”

Sweat was pouring down my face. We were in the midst of a Scottish-Summer heatwave (the temperature dial was teasing 19°) and the fiery heat of battle was palpable.

“No, the training is all individualised… it’s personal training.”

I took a swig of water, poured some on my face and turned my attention back to the task at hand…

“So how do you decide what to do with each client?”

This wasn’t the time -- we were mid-way through the inaugural (and so far only) game of the MSTFL (Meadows Summer 2 vs. 2 Touch Football League)…

“Assess their movement capabilities and goals and then make a plan from there.”

An idea that I was sure would get us a touchdown was on the tip of my tongue, but before I could speak…

“But how do you decide the plan? Do you have a process or type of training you believe in?”

We were 5-2 down.

“Now probably isn’t…”

“Do you have a ‘training philosophy’?” (Rob made the classic air quotation marks gesture.)

I was a little taken aback.

Partly because I didn’t think Rob would have been interested in what training related philosophical thoughts I might have, but primarily because of what this question represented: a clear lack of focus on the plight of the newly formed (and now defunct) Edinburgh Dragons Touch American Football Club.

So, after a moment spent looking up at the clear blue sky, feeling the 18° heat on my sun-starved Scottish face and breathing in the marijuana-tinged meadows air, I responded:

"Rob, we’re 5-2 down here, concentrate on the game.”

Rob doesn’t know what my *air quotation marks* training philosophy is, nor does he know if I have one.

I do have a ‘training philosophy’, it just wasn’t the right time for Rob to be enlightened…

But thankfully the stars have aligned and now is the perfect time to philosophise…

What even is a Training Philosophy?

Some people use the phrase ‘training philosophy’, some say ‘programming signature’, and others will claim it to be their X500 Training System™️.

Essentially what we’re all talking about are the thought processes, principles and beliefs that guide you when planning training programs.

What makes training programs identifiable as yours? What shapes them? What influences your thinking? What’s out there? Who’s watching? Exactly what do you believe in!?

Over the last few years I’ve thought about:

  • The commonalties among what I consider to be high-quality athletic performance training

  • The recurring themes that appear to be as important for a child starting their athletic journey as they are for an athlete going for their next Gold medal, and

  • The key principles behind the training programs that I design.

Whilst my musings and philosophies about physical training are unlikely to feature as a bonus chapter in any future additions of ‘A Brief History of Time’, encapsulating my training theories has been very useful for me…

Formulating a ‘training philosophy’ has helped me to:

  • Create simpler, more time efficient and effective programs

  • Eliminate unnecessary over-thinking.

  • Assess athlete and program needs more systematically

  • Develop guiding principles that I can refer to when faced with a training related quandary

  • Facilitate the achievement of the larger goals of the athlete

I’d highly recommend that coaches take time to develop their own guiding principles, write them down, refer back to them and continually refine them.

What is your Programming Signature?

My ‘programming signature’ is continually evolving. It's not set in stone and can be applied to any fitness related goal…

The guiding principles that form the foundation of thought behind my programs are:

  1. Quality Movement Patterns

  2. Task Specific Intensity

  3. Keep It Interesting and Challenging

  4. Never Neglect Conditioning

Quality Movement Patterns

I prioritise the development and monitoring of quality movement patterns above all else. Sets, reps, load and intensity are irrelevant until we’ve got good patterns.

I like how Gray Cook puts it: “move well, then move often… don’t add fitness to dysfunction.”

It seems obvious but it’s not as common as it should be: movement quality has to be considered before load, speed and/or fatigue. Moving well will keep athletes strong and healthy.

The movement patterns I focus on are the usual suspects — the foundations of general athleticism: squat, hinge, push, pull, run, jump, throw. Developing smooth and powerful movement in these patterns will help any athlete. Thus, striving for optimal movement in these patterns is of first and foremost concern.

Task Specific Intensity

Task specific intensity is about adaptation, execution and the ultimate training goal.

Put simply, it’s about making the nature and intensity of your training tasks specific to the desired adaptation, and to the demands of your performance tasks (your sport, event or reason for training.)

Put even simpler: Usain Bolt didn’t become a super fast sprinter by swimming slowly.

We could leave it there, but I’m a talker…

The Task, in Task Specific Intensity, refers to:

1. The training task (the exercises)

2. The performance task (the sport, event or reason you’re training)

Specific refers to how closely the training tasks match up with…

  1. The adaptation you’re seeking from any given exercise (speed, power, strength, endurance)

  2. The demands of the sport or the environment/nature of your performance

Intensity covers two bases (one of the bases is a big base):

  1. Execution of movement (if your training task is a speed exercise, you better be moving speedily)

  2. Training variables such as heart rate, load, rest periods, durations (this is the big base as it accounts for the intensity of all the appropriate training variables.)

When thinking about Task Specific Intensity I ask myself:

  1. Are the chosen exercises, and the way they’re being executed, going to lead to the physical adaptations we’re seeking?

  2. Can we make these exercises and intensities specific, or more specific, to the performance environment?

Task Specific Intensity: Your training should be specific to the desired adaptations and the requirements of your ultimate performance task.

Keep it Interesting and Challenging

I love training. Lifting weights, running, cycling… it’s all fun to me. (I like training so much that I started writing about it.)

But even I — as someone who thinks training is the best thing ever — have days where I’m like “meh, I’m not really feeling it today” or “I’m bored of Olympic lifting”…

Athletes can be no different.

Some athletes will love strength and conditioning, some will loathe it and some will do it simply because it’s valuable… or maybe their coach says they have to!

You can be sure, however, that most athletes would prefer to be playing their sport…

Quite frankly this is totally understandable. I doubt, as a child, Jonny Wilkinson dreamt of setting a deadlift PR. He more likely dreamt about kicking a winning drop kick in a World Cup Final. (Dreams do come true, so dream big.)

Regardless of what Jonny Wilkinson dreamt about as a child, physical training needs to be kept interesting and challenging. Doing so ensures that motivation is as high as it can be, particularly for those who have been training for many years.

Interest and challenge can be manipulated in many different ways. Changing equipment, movement pattern and loading structure are just a few ways to make a ‘regular’ exercise more interesting and challenging. Slight changes can also provide engaging movement skill challenges, provide new stimuli and help avoid overuse injuries — there are loads of benefits to keeping training fresh.

So, making training interesting, challenging and fun is definitely in my mind when planning sessions and programs. If an athlete is looking forward to and ‘up’ for their session, they’re going to get more out of it.

Never Neglect Conditioning

The technical and tactical abilities were the same, but the Edinburgh Dragons had superior conditioning. Thanks to this superiority, they turned their 5-2 deficit into a 7-6 victory (Rob Kettle with the winning touch-down).

Different sports require varying levels of aerobic and anaerobic endurance, but I can think of very few for which having a buffer of conditioning would be a bad thing.

Yes, conditioning should be task specific (see guiding principle 2!), and whether dedicated ‘conditioning’ sessions are necessary, or whether conditioning should come solely from playing the sport itself, is up for debate.

All I know is that in my experience, both as an athlete and as a coach, dedicated conditioning work, or structuring strength sessions to provide a cardiovascular effect, can be hugely beneficial.

Knowing you’ve got gas in the tank for the whole game and more is a huge psychological boost and advantage.

I’m not saying strength-power training should be switched for marathon training, but as a strength and conditioning coach, it’s important to be aware of how much gas your athletes have in their tanks.

No one likes facing the athlete, or team, that just keeps going and going — it’s demoralising. Conditioning makes you the demoraliser, not the demoralised! Neglect conditioning at your peril.


I’m fascinated with the ‘why’ behind training and why strength and conditioning coaches take certain approaches, adopt certain strategies and who or what has influenced them.

I guess it all ties in with being super interested in what goes in to elite-level performance and what goes on behind the curtains. I want to know it all!

I highly recommend that aspiring coaches take time to think about why they are using exercises, modalities or programs and to formulate a thought process that guides their coaching.

I’d love to hear if coaches out there have their own ‘training philosophies’ or ‘programming signatures’, we can learn from each other.

For now, my guiding principles are:

  1. Quality Movement Patterns

  2. Task Specific Intensity

  3. Keep it Interesting and Challenging

  4. Never Neglect Conditioning

Thanks for reading and look forward to hearing from you! If you liked the article then definitely share it… Thanks! Jon