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Composing Fitness: How to Program Workouts

Composing Fitness: How to Think About Programming

Written by
May 28, 2015
Updated April 11, 2018
Category: Fitness

People don’t think of programming as beautiful. It’s reps and sets on a piece of paper or a Google doc. Yet, if you look at a score of music it isn’t especially striking either, lines and different kinds of notes in a specific order.

My mother is a professor of music at the university level and I never gave music any respect when I was younger and still don’t have the appreciation for it that many in the industry do. But music is much older than the performance sports science industry. It has had time to evolve.

First, let’s think about how young children learn music. They learn the notes. They learn to read music. They practice chords and simple songs until they have them down perfectly. They learn the fundamentals and then they layer on new skills. Now what if we had this same type of structure in physical education or even accepted privately across the country?

Yes, we have baby sports, dance, and gymnastics, but very rarely are these time commitments filled with movement fundamentals. This was probably the main reason the USSR was so successful in the Cold War Era – sports schools on every corner that built foundational general physical preparedness.

Now let’s think about how music is made and presented to the public at the highest of levels – the symphony. First, we have the composer who writes what instrument will do and when. This may be music written by a composer like Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, or Mozart, or it may be a new age or current composer.

Each instrument in the symphony has a different part to play and the composer’s job is to use each instrument’s unique abilities and allow them come together to produce something delicate, forceful, and stunning.

“The composer must know the full capabilities of each instrument and how they must complement each other, not compete.”

-Elizabeth Swados

Furthermore, the first chair violin doesn’t have the same score of music as the fifth chair and hopefully they don’t bicker and slap each other with their incredibly expensive pieces of wood.

The director’s sole job is to keep the melody, harmony, and the peace – to direct who is to play when and at what volume. The director is also the leader and manager of this merry group. Sometimes the director may even compose music, but the director is far more likely to pick works of art that accentuate the group’s abilities.

Now what do we see in fitness? Everyone wants to play as loudly as possible all the time! Banging on drums and blaring horns with a lack of appreciation for practice and the fundamentals.

Tone deaf directors don’t respect the significance of athlete management and individuality. They don’t understand the fact that there must be crescendos and lulls in a performance, a training block, a year of programming, and even an athlete’s entire career. We have genius but relatively young researchers, scientists, and composers. It is a very new and noisy world and we have forgotten the power, beauty, and necessity of silence and individuality.

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”

-Aldous Huxley

Nothing about music on any level is easy. It takes constant practice and honesty with one’s self and the same goes for high levels of sport. Now maybe the ancients had it all figured out.

They moved throughout the day, hunted, carried, feasted, and then sat around the fire together singing and laughing. It may be great to go back to those times while bringing along items like the internet, free speech, and maybe even antibiotics. But we can’t.

We live in the now and thus our first job is opening people’s minds to the noisiness of their lives, the lack of harmony. As composers and directors, we have a responsibility to look at the parts of the whole and how they play together – this goes for teams and biological systems within each individual.

This job is much harder than writing something loud and random on a white board for everyone to do. It is about creating something delicate yet powerful, something forceful yet yielding, something beautiful that lasts.

Ben House
Ben House, PhD, CN, FDN, fNMT, NCSF, USAW LI SPC has worked as a Strength and Conditioning Coach and Nutritionist since 2006. House is currently the owner and founder of Functional Medicine Costa Rica. House was accepted to medical school without an undergraduate degree, but elected to finish his degree and pursue a career in the health and fitness sector. He is currently practicing Functional Medicine after finishing his PhD and a multi-year metabolic health study within the Nutritional Sciences Department at UT-Austin. House has numerous publications in peer reviewed scientific journals such as The International Journal of Obesity, has presented his work at multiple international conferences, and lectures regularly on health and nutrition at The University of Texas.

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