May 25, 2018
Developing a Philosophy
P.J. Gardner

Nearly everyone agrees that strength training is an important part of any high school, college, professional, or Olympic sport program. However, when it comes to the best way to go about strength training, there isn’t quite as much agreement. Many different philosophies — or programs — have claimed to be effective in improving strength, and throughout the years, journal articles and text books have been filled with discussions about the pros and cons of different approaches.

In this three-part series, we will take a closer look at what constitutes a strength training philosophy and examine several current approaches. Then we’ll take it a step further by helping you define and evaluate your own philosophy.

Let’s start at the beginning. When it comes to strength training, what exactly is a philosophy? defines philosophy as “the critical study of the basic principles and concepts of a particular branch of knowledge, especially with a view to improving or reconstituting them.” It also defines it as “a basic theory concerning a particular subject or sphere of activity.” Principles and knowledge are synonyms for philosophy.

In essence, your strength training philosophy is your strategy. It’s a combination of all the concepts and beliefs you hold about how to put together a weight training program to best increase an athlete’s strength in order to improve their athletic performance. (See table at end.)

Your philosophy of weight training consist of the specific lifts, progressions, number of sets/reps, and rest periods you prescribe for a particular sport throughout the season, off-season, and pre-season. The constant adjustment of the variables that make up the programs you implement are a reflection of your coaching philosophy.

When strength and conditioning coaches discuss philosophies, the goal is often to determine which approach is the very best. In this series, I’ll identify and discuss a few of the common philosophies strength coaches use to design weight training programs for athletes, but my goal is not to tell you which philosophy is the best. In fact, one point of this series is to show that several weight training philosophies exist and that many are scientifically sound in increasing strength.

The concept of a single best philosophy, in my opinion, is overused in the common vernacular of strength training. Every strength coach probably has one. Is one philosophy better than the other? Maybe, depending on several different factors. My personal belief is that there is no one weight training philosophy that is best for all athletes, and in fact, many work well.

I believe it is the responsibility of the strength coach to apply the philosophy that best fits the team or athletes he or she is training. This could be referred to as “sport-specific” training, and it may be one of the reasons you chose to become a strength coach in the first place — to use your knowledge and experience, acquired by many different means, to make athletes stronger in order to improve their athletic performance and reduce injury in their chosen sport.

It has been my experience throughout the years that the weight training philosophies coaches have are personal, woven together from their unique background and experience. In addition, a coach’s philosophy is rarely set in stone. Most of us change our philosophies over time as new research becomes available and as technology improves.

In the next two parts of this series, I will discuss the pros and cons of several current strength training philosophies. I will also help you discover and define your own unique strength training philosophy — and I will help you figure out whether it works.

What Is a Philosophy?

A strength and conditioning coach’s philosophy includes his or her beliefs about and approaches to all of the following elements:

Specific Movements, Attitude, Discipline, Work Ethic, Progressions, Lifts, Sets, Reps, Rest Periods, Phases, Goals, Core Work, Secondary Lifts, Order of Lifts, Max Percentages, Speed of Movement, Time Involved, Expectations, Responsibility, Team Work, Accountability, Self-Motivation, Honesty, Integrity


1. Boyle, Michael. Advances in Functional Training, On Target Publications, 2010.

2. Boyle, Michael. Functional Training for Sports, 2cd Edition. Human Kinetics, 2016.

3. Baechle, Thomas, R. & Earle, Roger W. (Eds.). (2008). Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. NSCA. 3rd edition. pp.571-573.

4. Fleck, S.J., and W.J. Kraemer. 1987. Designing Resistance Training Programs. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

5. Fleck, S.J., and W. J. Kraemer. 1996. Periodization Breakthrough! Advanced Research Press Inc.

6. website. Jan. 2018.

7. High Performance Sports Conditioning. Foran, Bill., Editor. Human Kinetics. 2001.

8. McRobert, Stewart, Beyond Brawn 3rd ed., CS Publishing LTD., Connell, WA 2012.

9. Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning website. 2018.

10. Next Level Strength & Conditioning website. 2018.

11. weblog. Jan. 28th, 2018.

P.J. Gardner, MS, ATC, CSCS, CES, PES, is Athletic Trainer at Liberty High School in Colorado Springs, Colo.

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