The Iron Stronghold Method – Part one: Programs

Over the next few blog posts, I’ll be going into some detail on The Iron Stronghold Modus Operandi. How the warriors of the Iron Legion train and how I assist them on their journey. There are many aspects to a successful training environment and a victorious journey for members and as head Coach, a large part of organizing people’s training is based on programs. This is a schedule for their training, a guideline, a tome of knowledge that empowers people with the ability to grow stronger and journey towards their goals.

Let me start by saying that a program from The Iron Stronghold is not  just a list of exercises. It isn’t simply a sheet of paper with ” Bench press 3 sets of 15″ on it. If you want that you can just google search ” workout program” and there are millions of cookie cutter programs you can use. A program from The Iron Stronghold lists what exercise, how much weight, how many reps, accounts for a certain period of time and includes all progression that will be made during the program. All of this is based on which phase of training a person is at, their goals and any other individual details that may apply to a member that is utilizing a program here.

Over the years the method used in the programs has always been based on the same philosophies and ideologies, some of these being:

  • Keep things simple.
  • Progressive stimulus and adaptation
  • Lots of effort
  • Emotionless execution of the program.

Although the underlying principals have remained the same, the crafting, application, and delivery of the programs have been through drastic changes, like the waves crashing into the land and crafting the shores into a new landscape, a never ending cycle of the gains continuum, empowering all who ride its journey. A vision of power, from humble beginnings to advanced scientific orb gazing spectacles culminating in a return to the basics.

To give you an idea of why and how we do what we do, first, we must gaze into the crystal dumbell and learn of the programs of the past… In the early days of the Iron era, using Microsoft Excel I would write out 8-12 weeks worth of training for the Iron Legion  guiding them for the duration of the program.

Behold the first “Official” program I wrote according to my computer.


Jack’s program into GPC States 2014.

Simple, yet effective. This was a progressive program for Jack leading into a powerlifting competition. I wrote out each day over a 5 week time period and Jack worked his way through it under my watchful eye. This is how all the programs were written. In this case, it was 5 weeks out from a competition, but in general, I would write out anywhere from 4-12 weeks in advance day by day. I changed the presentation of programs a few times, to try and make it make it easier to read and follow.


Nik’s program after a back injury in January 2015 ” Someone call the fire brigade cos it’s about to catch fire in delt district”

At one point it was color coded and everything. As the weeks progressed it changed from a nice cool yellow to a hardcore extreme red. Signifying certain death. Neat.

From here I made a spreadsheet that automatically inputted a linear progression on the main exercises. It wasn’t overly laborsome but I would have to put in each person’s accessories and account for any differences that were needed and make my way through the duration of their program filling in the details.


Darcy’s 3 day a week program. Full body, three times a week. Brutal.

Next came a brilliant idea. What if I had a spreadsheet that I could input numbers and automate the filling out of the actual program down to the most minute detail. The following 6 months I poured countless hours into this master sheet. What started off as a way of quickly creating programs turned into an endless cycle of improvements, of automation, I could choose all the accessories for each day, change and add them, base them off a % of the main lift, calculate volume of each main lift, calculate volume of each lifts variations, graph them compared to each other over an 8 week period, fully customize weight each week as well as sets and reps, I could change amount of days people trained and all I had to do was change values in a sheet and it would be done. It was a masterpiece.

No longer did I have to write out 4-12 weeks of programming day by day, I could input numbers, play around, get it looking good and send it off in a nice clean watermarked spreadsheet. Beautiful.


A snapshot of some of the information in The Stronghold Excel Template


Nerae’s program all neatly laid out thanks to The Iron Stronghold template

Soon the spreadsheet became too powerful, it was taking over. I couldn’t stop it. I had to kill it. The system worked, but I spent more time making it than using it. Rookie mistake. I may revisit this method in the future, but for now, I must return to the past.

So we go back to the beginning. Keeping it simple, writing out each day for each person, but this time sending the program week by week. The years of experience of doing this allows me to be able to very quickly and accurately lay out the direction the person needs to go with their training and then carry out their programming for the week.

For members that are on a program, all you have to do is register an account on the website, wait for your program to be soulbound to you, then click on the “program” tab and your program will be automatically updated each week.

You will also be able to provide feedback on the program via the “Program page” to allow the program to be more accurate.

vic-programVictor’s program, soulbound to him, updated each week.

Why I don’t like programming so far ahead and then simply giving the member a copy of the program

So, why do I do it this way? Why have I thrown away hundreds of hours of work on an automated template for something so simple? Why don’t I just do 12 weeks in one go and give that to people?

When it comes to most things, a simple approach is best, and I believe this way allows me to give better value to the members currently on a program. Too often would people get an 8-12 week program and be sent on their merry way only to be missing reps after four or five weeks, or be doing sets of 15 instead of 10 if the weight was too light. I was unable to get a proper gauge of where the person was at during a certain period of time and was unable to effectively apply the coaching and ensure program accuracy because I was out of sync with the person’s training due to programming so far ahead.

Eventually, I went from doing 12 weeks for some people, down to 8 weeks and then reducing this to a month by month program. People would get 4 weeks of a program and be sent free into the wild to follow it. Quite often I would engage in conversation with the warrior.

” How is everything going?”

” Oh, I missed my bench and my deadlifts, but my squat was too easy so I just added heaps of weight to them, I also skipped all my accessories and maxed out all my lifts. I want to add cardio to my program but it’s not in my program so it would be impossible for me to do it even though I haven’t been following the program. The curls didn’t specify a weight so I just maxed out my bench. I didn’t mention any of this to you because I didn’t want to bother you. The close grip bench weight and reps were perfect,  thanks.”

” …”

This is a gross exaggeration as in the past I have been very accurate at determining the capabilities of the individual, especially those I’ve worked with over a longer period of time and everyone who trains here understands the importance of following the program (On a side not; never apologize for asking for alterations to a program. I do this because I love doing it, it’s my job and you’re paying for the service. It is not a hassle to me in the slightest). As witnessed by everyone who is training here this way does work, there is nothing inherently wrong with  programming ahead. But I’m after optimization. Optimization of my time spent writing programs and optimizing the individuals training and my ability to effectively coach the athlete. Currently, I will write out anywhere from 2-8 weeks of training establishing where I want someone to be at a specific time. But the program may change when I send it as they go through the weeks and find it too easy or too hard.

So what’s in a program?

When I look at programming I am first and foremost concerned with health and remaining injury free. I am concerned with long-term progress and training, not short term fixes. If someone needs to take a step back I will pull them back. If people need a push forward, I’ll push them. If someone requires an increase in cardiovascular health, they will be doing the necessary work to improve that. I try and work with people to ensure their training is ideal for them personally, that it reflects their goals and keeps them healthy and injury free whilst making maximum progress and encouraging them to train as hard as they are able. I’m also concerned with not trying to diversify too much and stay within my expertise and scope of practice. I’m not going to try and train someone to do a powerlifting comp, whilst training for an ultra marathon, whilst training for a bodybuilding show. I know strength. I make people stronger and by doing so they also get fitter, leaner, put on more muscle and feel better. But it all stems from laying a good strong foundation of strength.


Me coaching victor on how to assume the ” Iron Lotus” stance

The way I program people is simple and is no secret. I use a progressive system of training, it is not always linear and the rep ranges are 1-20 depending on where the person is in relation to their goals and what phase of training they’re at. I look at volume, exercise selection, weight, reps, sets and frequency for people to help them get stronger. I pay attention to the individual’s work capacity and volume tolerance to effectively gauge their training ability. We use free weights, strongman equipment, machines, dumbells, barbells, tires, sleds, cardio training and anything that can be utilized to improve performance.

A lot of times programs are similar. Everyone training will be utilizing some variation of a squat, push, pull, hip hinge and overhead movement, but this can be for different reasons. One person might be doing a Stiff legged deadlift because they’re trying to start a deadlift with their hips too low, emphasizing a higher hip position can re-program them to a better technique when they go back to a normal setup. The other person might be doing it simply to strengthen their posterior chain and put some slabs of meat on their glutes and hamstrings, both will achieve the same goals, but the application of the exercise, the end result, and the effect will be motivated by different reasons.

The application of the differences to the individual’s program makes all the difference.

I have to look at someone and take into account their unique strength’s and weaknesses and devise a plan to ensure that those unique attributes are being taken into account. Do they have technical weaknesses that a certain accessory can help address? Do they have weak hips or a weak back? The programs must ensure for a progression to allow adaptation based on these weaknesses or limitations.

A big issue arising with the old method was that due to programming ahead so often, necessary small changes, additions, alterations for the individual weren’t being made in a timely manner. Programming and coaching is a two-way relationship and although I would be in the gym, quite often things can slip through the cracks and go unnoticed whilst overseeing an abundance of members training, this is why communication is so vitally important. People can end up cruising without guidance, whether it’s due to a slight downfall in communication or not seeing the intricacies of the application of the training being done by the member. By doing things week by week I can make sure that the individual is being programmed accurately, based on feedback from the following week. The issue I was having doing programs that would be so long was that it wasn’t allowing me to do the second half of programming. Coaching.

I am also able to determine who may be having issues with training consistency; if someone doesn’t get in touch with me they don’t have a program for the week. If I notice that someone is missing training it allows me to communicate with them to see how we can put a better system in place so that they can make training a part of their routine easier.

But, a program is only as good as it’s guidance and execution. You can have a perfect program but if you’re not being guided on how to use it effectively then you’re missing out on progress. This is where coaching comes in…

Part two of this series, coaching, will be out soon! We’ll look into why I coach everyone that trains here and how I approach the coaching at The Iron Stronghold.

Thanks for reading, remember, your first session is free!

Click here to get in touch and organize your first free session.

Live strong and prosper.

Leave a Reply