Hats and hooks: an easy way to start planning a training session

Reading is pretty easy. Most of us have done it so long it’s second nature. But being able to read doesn‘t mean you can write a good novel. The same goes with training. Training is pretty easy. We‘ve all done physical activity our entire lives. But that doesn‘t mean every athlete can pull great training sessions out of their back pocket.

The good news is that it is easier to learn how to write a training session than a New York Times bestseller. Below are some ideas on where to start.

Starting with structure

I led a general-focus training group for citizen athletes and non-athletes for twenty years.  I wrote the session plans and my “Movement Pilgrims” showed up on time and did them.  When the COVID pandemic prevented us from training together, things got complicated.  Everyone was impacted differently by the lockdown; different training spaces and limited access to equipment made writing a single, one-size-fits-all session plan impossible. Instead, I decided to try to help individuals learn to create their own session plans based on their specific circumstances.

Often the gap between readers and writers, or athletes and coaches comes down to structure. Whether you notice it or not, there is a strong structure underlying good writing and good training sessions. Without structure, it is hard to know where to start.

Hats and hooks

I told my group to imagine eleven easels arranged around the floor of their training space, each with the number and corresponding movement category name pasted on top; and on each of these easels is a set of four hooks.  At the base of each of these easels is an upside-down hat and inside each hat you have cards with the name of a movement printed on each card corresponding to the movement category listed on the easel above the hat.

To create the training session, you reach into the hat at the base of each easel, pull out a movement card, and hang it on a hook on the easel.  Do the movement listed on that card.

Go to the next easel and repeat the process.

Continue around the circuit, pulling a movement card from each successive hat, hanging it on a hook at each successive easel and performing the movement on the card.

When you have finished one cycle around the circuit, you can simply repeat the circuit using only the movements on the cards you have already pulled from your hats (to add repetition and the comfort and confidence you can achieve by doing several sets of the same movement). . . or you can pull new movement cards from each of the hats at each station. Go around your circuit of easels four times and you will have completed a circuit of forty-four total movements and you will have trained for about an hour (depending on how much rest you take between easels).

It’s that easy.

Turning it up

Think of the easels as individual chapters of a book. What we’ve done above is outlined a lot of chapters. But how do they connect together? This is where the art comes into play. Consider this example of eleven stations:

  1. mini-band
  2. mobility
  3. squats
  4. club swings
  5. lunges
  6. pulling
  7. step ups
  8. rotation
  9. jumps – hops – bounds
  10. ground set
  11. pushing

This arrangement puts a non-leg-intensive movement between the squats / lunges / step-ups and plyometrics; so it will change the net effect of the session by giving your legs a bit of rest (while you focus on a different part of the body). It also alternates the different training tools you have available, to best optimize equipment and space. Don’t have Indian-Clubs?  Okay. Change that easel name to something else; dumbbell(s), perhaps, or medicine-ball. But you get the idea. The categories are examples, not a formula. 

The basic structure is also extremely flexible in allowing you to shift the focus of the session. Want to do more balance work? Choose movements from your boxes or hats that include balance–or change the movement on the card you choose by doing the movement balanced on one foot.  If you have a BOSU, change one of your easels to a BOSU station and pull BOSU-based movement cards from your BOSU-station hat.

The joy of planning

As you continue creating training sessions using this basic structure, you will learn how the different hats interact with each other and that knowledge will help you refine your process further.

You may discover that your balance suffers after thirty-five seconds of jump-squats, so you can choose to space the balance work from the jumps next time you train; or, you might decide you like the challenge of having to work to maintain balance under accumulated and accumulating fatigue and leave the balance station right where it is.

Like the painter, Bob Ross always said: “There are no mistakes, only happy accidents.”  By using this simple “hats-and-hooks” idea, you can create endlessly variable training circuits that will continually enhance your physical adaptability.  That’s a good thing.