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Be a Chef Not a Cook

How to create the perfect training program for you.

There’s a big difference between the line cook at the local breakfast joint and a chef. The cook follows a recipe, throwing some eggs, ham and peppers into the pan and producing a decent-tasting omelet. The chef, on the other hand, creates his own recipes combining ingredients that his experience tells him will complement each other. While the cook can create the same mediocre food over and over again, it takes a culinary artist to create an outstanding dish.

This is a perfect metaphor for creating training programs for yourself or your athletes. A good coach (or athlete if you are self-coached) is a chef, adding exercises in the right amount at the right time to create an award-winning dish.

Becoming a chef does not happen overnight, it comes from years of trial and error, studying, and learning.

Keys to Becoming a Chef

There are some hard and fast laws of training that must be followed. It is within these laws that the variation in programming can take place. The 7 Granddaddy Laws according to Dr. Fred Hatfield (Dr. Squat) are as follows:

1. The Law of Individual Differences: We all have different abilities, bodies and weaknesses, and we all respond differently (to a degree) to any given system of training. These differences should be taken into consideration when designing your training program.

2. The Overcompensation Principle: Mother Nature overcompensates for training stress by giving you bigger and stronger muscles.

3. The Overload Principle: To make Mother Nature overcompensate, you must stress your muscles beyond what they’re already used to.

4. The SAID Principle: The acronym for “Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands.” Each organ and organelle responds to a different form of stress.

5. The Use/Disuse Principle: “Use it or lose it” means that your muscles hypertrophy with use and atrophy with disuse.

6. The GAS Principle: The acronym for General Adaptation Syndrome, this law states that there must be a period of low-intensity training or complete rest following periods of high intensity training.

7. The Specificity Principle: You’ll get stronger at squats by doing squats as opposed to leg presses, and you’ll get greater endurance for the marathon by running long distances than you will by (say) cycling long distances.

Identify Weaknesses and Overcome Them

A key to becoming a chef is being able to identify missing ingredients and fix the recipe accordingly. In other words, finding weaknesses and having the knowledge to know how to combat and attack these weaknesses. If strength levels are lagging in one lift, why is that? Is it technical? Is it programming? These are things that you must be able to figure out.

An understanding of cause and effect is a major component of identifying weaknesses. For example, if you’re coaching someone who is consistently dumping snatches out front you need to be able to figure out why. A cook, without the knowledge of cause and effect, may tell the athlete to pull the bar back more. While the chef may see that the athletes’ first pull is not being performed correctly, which in turn is letting the bar drift out away from his body and is ultimately leading to missed lifts.

Know What Ingredients Go Together

As coaches we all have our toolbox of training modalities. The cook’s toolbox is much smaller and exercise prescription is usually based on a template that he uses for all athletes. Since the first law of training is the law of individual differences we know that this is no way to create champions.

The chef’s toolbox (or list of ingredients) is much larger. And his exercise prescription is individualized from athlete to athlete. As a chef, you must rely on your experience and your enlarged list of ingredients to successfully prescribe exercises, sets, reps, rest, etc.

No great coach has ever been a cook. Sure, you can get decent results being a cook, but the coaches who create champions are chefs. There is a reason some coaches have success year in and year out.