Introducing the ATSP Hierarchy – Training for Anything & Everything

By on September 23, 2020
The ATSP hierarchy

This is the ATSP hierarchy: a system I devised to train clients across a broad spectrum of disciplines, and as a guiding principle behind the notion of “SuperFunctional Training” and my own approach to working out and enhancing human performance. It’s something you’ll be hearing a lot more about in a future project that I can reveal very soon!

The aim was to develop a system that could be used to train a person “for anything” and to reverse engineer a diverse range of complex skills to output specific exercise and training recommendations. I wanted to be able to see something amazing on Britain’s Got Talent and then dissect the specific training that would lead to those abilities. Or to help train a client from any competitive sport, or facing any issue relating to their fitness, at any age.

The system applies to skills both mental and physical. It can also inform a personal training program toward a specific goal, as part of a larger system I call the Ability Tree. We’ll get to that in a moment.

ATSP stands for specific physical Attributes, Traits, Skills, and Proficiencies.

Functional training

A proficiency is a particular practice or discipline that you wish to excel in. For example: martial arts, acrobatics, archery, programming, surfing, running, baseball, public speaking, singing, painting, powerlifting, strongman, contortion, escapology…

Such a proficiency is normally comprised of various skills and techniques. For example: the martial artist needs to be able to perform a number of complex movements (roundhouse kick, cross, etc.), to dodge, and to maintain exertion for long periods. A programmer needs to think creatively, problem solve, and focus. They also need to remember a wide range of different commands and syntax rules. A powerlifter needs to be able to generate large amounts of maximum strength, particularly through predefined, confined movement patterns.

Each of these skills and techniques requires specific traits. A trait could mean cardiovascular endurance, or it could mean rotational strength.

Finally, specific physical attributes are the exact physical requirements necessary for that performance. For example, rotational strength is dependent on well-developed muscles that contribute to the serape effect: the obliques, rhomboids, and serratus.

Thus, in order to become a better baseball player (batter), we could consider the skills and techniques they use, and then the traits that underlie these: rotational strength, hand-eye coordination, grip strength, reflexes, calmness under pressure.

Traits can be broader or more specific. For example, “rotational strength” is a trait, but so too is “strength” or “explosive rotational strength.” The more you can narrow down the trait to what is specifically necessary for the desired skills though, the more benefit you’ll get from the exercise.

Now we know what the individual needs to “become” to achieve what they hope to achieve.

Finally, we can then look at the specific attributes that underlie such abilities: powerful obliques, rhomboids, and serratus anterior, as well as fast visual processing, strong forearm flexors, shoulder mobility, and even more obtuse elements such as low levels of cortisol/high quantities of DHEA.

Now we know what the individual needs to “become” to achieve what they hope to achieve. We can prescribe specific exercises to help them get there faster. We might get the baseball player to perform Pallof presses, medicine ball throws, reaction exercises, and vision exercises.

Important to understand at this point, is that this “pyramid” with proficiencies at the top and attributes at the bottom, actually works both ways. That is to say: practicing the proficiency itself and the skills that comprise it, will develop the necessary traits and attributes.

For example, a martial artist can increase hip mobility and rotational power to develop more powerful kicks. But likewise, practicing their kicks will naturally improve hip mobility and rotational power. Training does not replace practice but should be supplemental and aim to enhance strengths and fix weak points. Everything filters up the hierarchy and trickles back down.


Likewise, it’s important to underscore that attributes alone will not be sufficient to develop skills and proficiencies. There are other “inputs” beside that can enhance an athlete or individual at each level, these include. This is where the “ability tree” comes in, which is not simply for exercise and training recommendations. The ability tree outlines the following inputs:

  • Genetics
  • Practice
  • Study
  • Training
  • Lifestyle
  • Diet

However, it is not limited to just these.

For the baseball player, considering these inputs means we can also offer lifestyle recommendations, and even diet ideas to reduce stress and increase focus. We might suggest particular books to offer specific knowledge.

We can now observe any impressive feat or ability and break it down to the constituent parts we need to train to get there.

Goals and The Ability Tree

Ability Tree

The ability tree is a broader application of the ATSP hierarchy designed to provide wider-reaching suggestions for a broader range of interventions outside of training. So, in addition to taking into account knowledge and the additional inputs, we also place “goals” at the top of the pyramid.

In other words: why do you want to become adept at a certain practice? Do you want to win a gold medal? Become rich? Move abroad? Be happier? This then allows you to choose the proficiencies or abilities. If your goal is to become a famous author, you first need to write a book; then the practice or ability you need is writing.

Want to write a lot of words per day? Then we need to improve focus. And we might do this by looking at developing “executive control” regions of the brain, such as the anterior cingulate cortex. Meditation is known to increase blood flow to that area, so we might prescribe this as an effective form of brain training in service of that goal. We could also suggest a sufficient amount of sleep and nutrition.

But we also need to consider the other inputs at each level of the hierarchy: learning about writing, practicing writing, reading to increase vocabulary.

Training for Everything

But what if you don’t have a specific goal?

What if you want to be Super Functional? Ready for anything? A polymath with the full spectrum of physical capabilities we talk about on this channel? (Endurance, strength, speed, focus, intelligence, mobility.)

In that case, we work backwards: we work from the bottom of the pyramid up. We select the exercises and tools that provide the most different attributes, to offer the widest variety of skills, to make us somewhat proficient even in practices we have never had the opportunity to try.

SuperFunctional Training ATSP Hierarchy

This is why I build my workouts around “bang for buck” exercises, that provide the widest range of benefits. That develop multiple attributes at once, to deliver the widest range of different traits and skills in the most efficient manner.

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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