5 Programming Principles

Below are what I have found to be the five most important concepts to exercise programming. They are our launch pad. These principles are:

  1. Wolff’s Law.
  2. Specificity.
  3. Overload.
  4. Progression.
  5. Measurements.

Wolff’s Law

One of the most important concepts for you to know and understand is Wolff’s Law. Wolff’s Law states that those things subject to a force will respond by growing stronger. That simply means that when we add external weight to a movement it loads the bone more than body weight alone and the bone responds by getting stronger. The same is true for jumping – loads the bones.

However, there are obvious boundaries to the physical realities behind Wolff’s Law. We cannot simply subject the bones to forces and expect a positive outcome. We need to be specific and thoughtful in our actions.


The key to effective program design starts with specificity. The specificity principle states that the muscles worked during an exercise will respond according to the specific training demands. In the field, specificity simply means setting goals first and then choosing exercises that align with those goals. As easy as it sounds it is your most daunting challenge.


For workouts to be effective muscles must be overloaded. Muscles must be subjected to mechanical stress beyond the activities of daily living. They must be subjected to forces that cause them to respond physiologically. The most common ways to overload muscles are to increase the weight a muscle must lift or increase the speed of an exercise like turn walking into jogging and then into sprinting.

A critical distinction we need to cover up front is overload versus overtraining. Overload is thoughtful and reasonable demands to stress a system without breaking it. On the other hand, overtraining is simply overdoing it, breaking the system down to the point where something positive like exercise is now an attack on the system.


In order for Wolff’s Law to stand the test of time, you have to progress workouts. The work must get more difficult over time. The suggested programming guidelines for progression are 5 – 10 % increases in weight and/or cardiovascular intensity and/or duration per week. So a strength training example would look like this:

Week 1: 5-pound lateral raise.

By Week 4: 7.5-pound lateral raise.

I estimated based on what you are most likely to have available in the gym (5 and 7.5 weights). The key here is gradual and steady progression. Do not get caught up in the details.


Measurements are as important to programming as design and implementation. However, they do not have to be complex and require advanced technologies and software. In the elite athletics training program, you will see I used my finger over the carotid artery to measure heart rate, in a world class training facility nonetheless. A scale is fine to measure weight. Skin calipers are acceptable to measure body composition. One rep max or sub-max measurements are fine for strength measurements. Standard endurance measurements like max push-ups are fine too. The key is to decide on your program’s goals first and then choose measurements that align with those goals before you get started. And be consistent – use the same measurements, equipment, and tester (person) every step along the way. This minimizes error.






Step-by-Step Programming Introduction

“Easy doesn’t mean cutting corners or not making the cut – it means working smarter, not harder and longer for the same outcome!”

~ Dr. Amy

Here are five quick programming tips:

  1. Start with a focus on the end goal(s) and outcomes.
  2. Simplify the process by narrowing your options to what you have available to work with and what is easiest for you.
  3. Stick with the 1st three weeks of programming only (duration of initial program set for you).
  4. Set your frequency of sessions.
  5. Establish your rest periods, both in session and between session.
  6. Choose your mode(s) of exercise for each session.
  7. Set your volume (how much) goals.
  8. Set your intensity (how hard) goals.
  9. Develop a few quick modifications in advance – obstacles will arise!

These are just a few tips to get you started with easy, safe, and effective programming. More to some soon!

~ Dr. Amy


The Secret Life of Muscles

Your muscles lead a secret life. Each one of your 600 muscles has a molecular clock that communicates with the other systems of the body and the outside world. And your muscles get confused just like you do. And all of this happens at a molecular level and impacts every single aspect of your life.

The newest thing in fitness and sports is taking programming to the molecular level, literally! My mission is to tell you how to maximize gains using the secret life of your muscles to your advantage.

Before we start, there are five guiding principles that make-up molecular programming that we need to cover. These are:

  1. Molecular clocks are the answer to fitness and sports success.
  2. The time of day and type of your workouts must be aligned with your individual sleep-wake-activity patterns, your chronotype, for optimal results.
  3. Your molecular clock(s) and body systems must be synchronized to maximize gains.
  4. Rest and recovery are equally important to your training sessions.
  5. To truly change, there will be pain (and you will get through it and emerge stronger). Programming is tough, tedious process that I love!

More to come on how to program using molecular clocks and anticipation training….


How to use exercise to overcome abuse and bullying and heal your brain

Most therapists, doctors, and mental health professionals recommend exercise to combat depression and anxiety caused by abuse and bullying. However, at no fault of their own, they rarely offer a specific plan. That is because until now it has not been out there. But that has changed recently. For the first time, we can align exercise routines with mental health issues for recovery. We can align changes to the brain that occur with specific mental health issues with specific movements designed to heal affected brain areas and make people feel better.

In this case, we are focused only on the long-term effects of abuse and bullying on the brain and how to heal the brain using a specific exercise routine. Chronic abuse shrinks or thins out the prefrontal cortex (front brain) and medial temporal cortex (deep, center brain) regions of the brain. This causes long-term emotional, social, and cognitive impairment. People who have been abused face problems that include difficulties planning, making decisions, and moderating social behavior. This causes a lifetime battle with anxiety and depression.

The first thing for anyone who has been victimized by abuse or bullying to understand is that the changes that occurred in your brain were the direct result of what someone else did to you. These changes in your brain are not your fault nor were they under your control. They were natural defense mechanisms. But the good news is that we now know exercise positively affects these same structures (prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) that abuse and bullying hurt. Regular exercise increases the thickness of these thinned brain areas, healing the brain. But, here is the critical point – different exercises affect the brain differently and it has to be a specific type of exercise structured in a specific way to help you. To combat the effects of abuse and bullying we have to use a specific exercise plan. Outlined here is an easy program to help you get started and use for however long you would like. Follow these steps for immediate results that will add up over time.

Step #1: Choose one exercise from the list below

  • Walking, jogging, and/or running
  • Stepping
  • Bicycling
  • Elliptical training

You are probably asking, why these forms of exercise only? The reason is that they are simple, rhythmic exercises that use patterns. The abused brain needs a consistent and predictable environment to heal. Additionally, as we will see later, chaotic and high-intensity exercise produces stress chemicals that actually cause anxiety!

Step #2: Get started

Literally, just start moving. You might be uncomfortable at first. It is normal. Most everyone is, and that is because during the first two minutes of exercise your heart and body are adjusting to the exercise. During this time your brain is beginning to respond to the pattern of walking, jogging, or stepping. Give it 10 minutes and the endorphins or feel good chemicals will kick in making it easier. By 10 minutes the oxygen-rich blood has made its way to your brain. The prefrontal cortex (one of the areas affected by abuse and bullying) relaxes, creating a controlled environment abused brains crave. You’re in the “zone” and need to stay there for about 20 minutes. This is when your brain begins to heal.

Answers to your common questions:

  1. How fast should I go? A moderate, comfortable pace. You should be able to talk, but not hold a detailed, lengthy conversation.
  2. What if I cannot complete 20 minutes at once? Stop, rest, focus on your breathing, and start again. Do not sit down!

Some of the effects of exercise are immediate. Things like the endorphin kick and the increased sense of well-being you can feel right away. You will also feel good for about two hours after exercise because your brain will be getting more blood creating euphoria and a more productive and creative environment. But for the long-term healing to truly take place, you will need to give it three to four weeks of four to five sessions per week of 20 minutes each. And you will have to keep it up. Just as muscles begin to lose mass after 48 hours of last activity, the brain requires constant engagement too.

One final note about exercise for recovery – we have all been told that we have to work out harder and follow difficult routines to see results. That is simply NOT TRUE! In fact, the opposite is true and we have had it wrong about the value of high-intensity exercise and programs that rely on “muscle confusion”. Prolonged high intensity, chaotic exercises that use too many different movements is counterproductive. These forms of popular exercise actually increase anxiety! They stimulate the release of pain and stress chemicals that cause worry. Having said that, that is why simple, rhythmic exercises like cycling are recommended to heal the abused brain. Just get moving – whether you take a walk outside or on a treadmill take that first step to realizing the happiness that you deserve!