Creative Program Design

Are you ready to think “outside the box”? Whether due to injury, boredom, or sticking point, allowing some creativity in your program design might yield very satisfying results. Most strength coaches and athletes base their programs around a combo of Olympic lifts and/or powerlifts. After all, the competitive lifts evolved into what we have today because they best represent a balance of strength, power, and athleticism. However, there will be times in your athletic career when it is appropriate, even necessary to alter these basic lifts, revered though they may be. How can this be done without totally abandoning squats, benches, deadlifts, and power cleans etc?

The following examples should help to get you thinking a bit. Remember, these “substitute lifts” are not necessarily meant to be trained indefinitely. The length of time spent on a particular program, the exercises in that program, and the weights lifted are dependent on the athlete, peaking considerations, injury history, sport /position, and perceived weaknesses.

When you’re training with wisdom, “NOTHING IS WRITTEN IN STONE”. A combination of experience, instinct, and science is necessary for success. There is no one way to train, or one strength coach who has all the answers. Strength and conditioning has evolved over the years, with each generation of coaches borrowing from the previous one, while adding some of their own concepts along the way.


Good idea to rotate foot spacing from Wide power style to hip width. These can be alternated week to week with power squats, or can be cycled for 5 weeks. If you’re a conventional deadlifter, hip width pause squats are a real find. Because your legs/feet are in more of a practical jump position, this lift offers additional benefits to an athlete. I find these squats far superior to box squats. No box to sit on demands more balance and stability while avoiding some of the vertebral loading associated with box squats.


Good for a change of pace, and particularly good to teach squatting with a neutral back while strengthening the muscle groups which allow a neutral back position while squatting.


This work for same reasons close stance paused squats do. As in paused squats, a training partner should count to 3.  All paused lifts should be done explosively.


I love these things. Many years ago, my training partner was Pat Casey. Some of you may recall that pat was the first man to bench over 600 (also the first to squat over 8oo & total over 2000) these lifts were of course done raw since powerlifting assistance equipment hadn’t been invented yet. Pat taught me how to dip. Once a week, we dipped heavy at Bill Pearls Manchester Ave Gym in LA, and I believe it was crucial to our benching success. At the time, Pat had the national heavyweight bench record, and I was fighting with Bill Thurber for the national middleweight bench record. If you think about it, dips are just as hard core and very similar to squats. The description of arm squats is not inaccurate, and If not done correctly, they can be just as dangerous. always take a closer grip as you descend, lean forward while sliding your hips back do not go below parallel keep weights up high and between legs lock legs around weight so it won’t swing in front of you.


Although not as well known, I find this lift just as useful as bar cleans and a lot safer. Same concept as bar cleans, but always keep a palms in position.


Same concept as DB hang cleans, except with this movement you dynamically lunge when you rack the DB’s, alternating legs. This exercise works particularly well for those athletes who must have that explosive first step.


Good to alternate with floor deadlifts, especially if you’re a sumo style puller. If you pull sumo correctly, your lower back isn’t getting a whole lot of work. Block pulls will keep your back strong. There should be a 2” clearance between feet and bar.


Another old time exercise that has been somewhat resurrected recently, although I’ve been doing them for many years. Unfortunately, most athletes do them incorrectly. Common sense might say to bend your knees when you descend, but common sense would be wrong In this case. The safest and most productive way to train this exercise is to slide your hips back as you descend. If you do this with bent knees, you cannot slide your hips back, putting the stress on your lower back rather than your abs and hamstrings where it is safest and most useful. Bar position on shoulders should be higher than squat. This isn’t a judged competitive lift, so only go to depth where hamstrings are safely engaged.


Whenever squatting, deadlifting, or doing any upright lift, breathe deeply in 3 stages (Pranayama). Fill stomach, chest, and all the way to your neck. Hold your air thru-out the concentric/eccentric motion, breathing between reps. If you have a medical condition that might contra-indicate this style of breathing, check with your physician.

Have fun. Train hard, train wisely…

About Saul Shocket 1 Article
Saul is the owner of Saul’s Elite Training System or S.E.T.S. for short. He is also the Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Brazilian Olympic Ice Federation. Saul began a powerlifting career nearly 45 years ago and has been a 7 times World Powerlifting Champion, 8 Times National Powerlifting Champion and holder of over 67 World and National Powerlifting Records. He is also the creator of the Pound-Per-Rep Method. To learn more about Saul please visit his web site or he can be reached at