By following some sort of training plan you elevate yourself from someone who simply works out, to someone who trains. The plan is usually in the form of a routine or programme, terms that are often used interchangeably, but I think they describe different things. In this article I will explain the distinction, and why a good plan, needs a bit of both.

The other week, I saw someone stretching out their shoulders, so I asked besides the obvious, what they were doing it for. They explained they were hoping to improve mobility so they can get into a better position when they squat. I continued my line of questioning and asked why the squat is so important. He said if he could become more athletic it would probably help his performance during five a side. Like an exasperating toddler, I asked ‘why’ again. He somewhat impatiently told me he plays football once a week to help keep his weight down. Assuming I was now at risk of being punched, I cautiously continued quizzing him to find out why he thought he was putting on the weight. It turns out, after football he always goes for a pint, and a bite to eat with the lads and that amongst other things, was starting to catch up with him… Aha!

If for a moment we ignore the irony that going to football and then taking in so many calories probably muted the effect he wanted, we have not only discovered that he didn’t particularly want to have more mobile shoulders; nor was he that worried about improving his squat, he didn’t even care about being a better footballer for that matter. He just wanted to lose a bit of weight. This was the real goal, and yet for some reason, this guy was spending a big chunk of his gym time loosening up his shoulders.

‘People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.’
Theodore Levitt, cited in: Clayton Christensen (2016), The Clayton M. Christensen Reader. p. 46

This was not a stupid person by any means, and I’m not trying to tease him with this example. Everything he was doing was justifiable and improvements could be seen within each of the tasks he was doing. The problem was, even though the sessions were feeling very productive and that he was taking action, he was not moving closer to his goal as a result of all these efforts. He had become lost in the details and becoming task, not goal orientated.

This person was following a routine but was stuck in the moment, reacting to every bit of information, feeling and fluctuation that happens during a set or in a session. There is no filter, no way of knowing which of these details are important ,and which count as inconsequential noise that should be ignored.

This is why a training programme is important. It provides a birds eye view free from distraction. A clear image of where a person is, what they need to achieve and how they should go about doing it.

Following a programme means you can keep sight of where you are and what you need to do in order to achieve your goal.

When we apply restraints upon ourselves that channel our activities towards our higher goals we reach heights that would have been otherwise unreachable.-Diagonese

So what’s the catch, there is always a downside, right? Yes of course there is. You see making a masterplan is all well and good, after all, an idea is great…whilst it is an idea.

Just because we have a plan, it doesn’t make it reality. Further more, looking only at the end goal provides a flawed, reductionist view. There will undoubtably be various difficulties and complications that were not considered from the outset. With so many variables we cannot predict everything and it would be foolish to ignore the little cracks that get discovered. Planning does feel constructive, but we don’t learn from this process, the lessons come from the doing.

‘Plans are worthless, but planning is everything’
Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1957

If we focus solely on the routine and the tasks at hand we can put in a lot of effort where it may not be needed. Some inadequacy that once had great utility may have increased to the stage where it is good enough, further increases produce at best, diminishing returns. Here the routine would have served its purpose and need changing.

Focusing only on the end goal can leave you as a dreamer, not paying attention to the little details that are holding you back and just repeating the same thing day after day, year after year and satisfying yourself with glacial progress. Maybe to relieve boredom one routine is swapped for the next dealing with knee jerk reactions but there is no real strategy here.

Neither the programme or the routine complete the process but both help shape one. As you follow your programme tasks will change, during the routine the tasks will get completed The programme needs the routine to perform tasks, gather information and get the job done. The routine needs the programme to decipher the intelligence gathered, decide how far tasks should be taken and assign new ones when the time comes.

The routine focuses on what you’ve done, the programme looks at what you can do better. This could be seen as the routine finds problems and the programme is left to sort them out. I see it as the programme coming up with a theory and the routine being the testing ground. Once the results are in then new theories can be tested and so on. We need this constant feedback so we can keep pressing closer and closer to the goal we had in mind.