Find the Right Strength Program for You

Jesse Irizarry


Strength and Conditioning, Strength Training


If you live in or around a populated area, there’s probably no shortage of general gyms or CrossFit boxes you could join. If you’re a beginner, the different programs offered by these gyms may look about the same to you. But after a year of consistent training, you may see your progress stall. Then you have to decide if you're going to stick with the programs and coaching at your gym, or if you need a change. If your goal is long-term strength development, you may need to be more selective in where you choose to train and who you let coach you.


The problem you face as you transition from beginner to intermediate lifter is that non-structured strength training no longer provides adequate stimulus to force strength adaptations. Instead, you need a structured progression, even if it’s very basic, to cause a sufficient overload. If you take the average CrossFit class, for example, anyone participating may see great improvements for a while due to the novelty and intensity. But because many boxes focus their programming for beginners, workouts are not necessarily repeated and built upon. This poses a problem for the intermediate athlete who needs this focus. 



If you are serious about becoming a strong as possible, you need to be very selective in choosing a gym and in choosing a coach to help guide you. Here are some things to consider when shopping around. 


Look for Experience

Whether you’re beginning a strength program at a CrossFit gym with a new coach, or looking for a personal trainer at a health club, you need to make sure this person is worth listening to and that what they are selling is worth your time. 


Your coach does not need to be a record-holding powerlifter, but they do need to have the right experience. Make sure to find a coach who has been dedicated to the pursuit of strength for a substantial length of time. Without the right set of experiences, the coach cannot create the culture you need to succeed. 


Exclusivity Helps Community

If you’re like most, you want to feel as if you’re a part of something exclusive. Why does everyone want to train at Westside Barbell? Because so few really can. A dedicated strength program or gym will really push you if it’s filled with like-minded individuals. Before you join, check out the community and train with them a couple of times. See if this is a group that really pushes one another with a positive attitude or if they’re just happy to go through the motions. 


Strength programs that have a member cap tend to have the best community because the athletes take pride in being a part of this exclusive group. Finding something like this will undoubtedly help you achieve your goals.




coaching a back squat

If the community isn't a good fit for you, it won't help your progress. [Photo credit: Jeff Nguyen]


Basic Is Effective

When starting out, make sure the program, gym, or coach places an emphasis on the basics. Learning the Olympic lifts is great, but if you haven’t mastered the squat, press, and pull, you may not want to join an Olympic weightlifting class. You will see the greatest level of success if you stick with training the basic powerlifts and work to develop general strength for a while.


Check into the programming being offered by the gym or coach as well. You don’t need to start with anything too complex. Programs that focus on establishing and refining proper movements and simple progressive overload will set you up for long-term success. Cutting-edge methods look cool on Instagram, but building a base that can be built upon for years will bring you lasting results.


Learn the Why

Make sure that the coaches at your gym aren’t happy with making you a mindless drone. The mark of a great coach is that they teach you enough that you no longer need him or her. Be sure that your coach has some sort of educational component as a part of the training process. Although you may always have a coach and a group to train with, you will continually develop by eventually taking some control of your own training. Make sure your coach explains to you why you're doing what you’re doing. 


Progress Must Be Measurable

The program you’re on should have benchmarks to let you know what to expect from each week. If your coach has no planned testing period, plan a powerlifting competition for yourself at the end of a training cycle. Many trainees never set a physical goal for themselves, so they never make much progress, because they have nothing to compare themselves to or anything to track. Give yourself a goal to work towards and make sure you pick a coach and gym that will support this. If competitions aren’t for you, make sure there are still tangible goals for you to reach for within the strength program.


Before joining a gym or hiring a coach, make sure to be as selective as possible. Use these criteria to help make sure you don't find yourself spinning your wheels. You’ll save yourself a lot of grief and make much more progress.


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Jesse competes in the sport of Olympic weightlifting, and he was also formerly a competitive powerlifter. He was featured in main strength and fitness publications. You can read more of his work on his website.
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