Designing Effective Training Programs


Put positive actions in your programs. Cut the negatives and the redundant.

I put a great deal of thought into my athletes programming. In many cases, their program required me to dig into one, if not several of my books for guidance or to reference past case files I’ve assembled.   It is in these scenarios where having insomnia is not entirely a bad thing as I usually seem to come up with my best ideas when I should be fast asleep.  That said, I’ve also been able to put together programs in a matter of minutes.  Having time is always a good thing, but I am glad that I can operate quickly when needed.  It is poor program design, or the lack thereof that I take umbrage with many trainers.    


The Smith Rack Squat…the second to worst thing I like seeing in any Squat Rack.  #1 is barbell curling in the squat rack.

Design for reliability, safety and suitability.  It is my opinion that programs should be designed with a clear purpose that can be connected to the goals of the athlete.  Therefore, every exercise in the program needs to have a reason to be there.  That said, initial training with beginners is subject to some flexibility.   


If only warning signs were so easy to spot.

Back up your product.  Along with programming, knowing what you are talking is not a minimum expectation, it is the minimum-minimum.  I believe you should be able to communicate the reasons behind your programming and the component exercises on multiple levels.  

(1) At the scientific/academic level, including all the major muscles involved, direct application to goals and the current credible research supporting your position as if you were explaining things to a Physician, Nurse or competitive athlete. 

(2) At the performance level as if you are speaking to a competitive athlete or strength coach. In the case of athletes, the exercise must directly correlate to the needs of the athletes sport.  

(3) In the beneficial reasons as in sales. This comes up from time to time. If your technique, or version of the technique differs from what the client previously did they may very well ask.  

(4) In lay terms as if you are talking to me.

It always helps if you can explain things enthusiastically.  Trust me, you need this skill when explaining why burpees and squats (AKA stuff that sucks for most people) are good things.  Save your deadpan responses for things like hip adductor machines.

Basically, the better you know something the more simply you can explain it to others.  If for example, you know that the deadlift is an effective exercise, but can’t explain why it is considered such, or its direct application to real life then you need to truly learn the deadlift.  Your physical and coaching skills could be top notch, but it certainly helps to know the hows and whys behind anything in the gym.

If your the type that likes to up your personal challenges….Imagine you are in a live interview with a gym owner that will hire you for a $500,000 a year position provided you can lead and coach the owner through a workout.   Every question answered, every coaching cue given and every technical correction made is the difference between either you or the next applicant getting the job.  Trainers (largely) are naturally self-confident types, so this scenario requires you as the trainer to reflect and give an honest self-appraisal.   


Not tough enough you say?….OK

Imagine a room filled with 100 of the top trainers and strength coaches in your country.  Your job is to stand in front of the assembled group and explain your programming method, the reasons for each exercise and the results your clients/athletes have achieved.  It’s one thing to state your opinion in front of one person that may or may not know what you’re talking about, it’s a vastly different thing to speak in front of an audience that may know far more than you do.   


The Cardio Box

Think outside the box.  Cardio programming doesn’t always mean hitting the treadmills or Zumba classes yet that is what always seems to come to mind.  Despite my jokes, I have nothing against either the treadmill or Zumba classes, I just believe they are not always the best choices nor the most effective means towards a goal.    

3-16-2014 Cardio Workout

1 200yd 35lb Kettlebell Farmers Walk for speed.

3 200yd 35lb Kettlebell Farmers Walk with 10 Double Kettlebell Deep front squats every other house. (60 squats per walk)

4 200yd 35lb Kettlebell Suitcase Walks switching hands at the 100yd line

100 35lb Hardstyle Kettlebell swings

500 Speed Rope jumps. 


“Let me see here…should I use a hammer, or perhaps a slightly more blunt hammer?

Have a well-stocked toolbox. Don’t think your preferred way is the only way to get a job done.  If a machine does a better job at getting a result than a barbell then I’m all for it.  If jump roping is a better option than sprinting so be it. Remember, there is what you like, what needs to be done and what is the most effective way of getting there.  Yes, sometimes the hammer is exactly what you need.

A deconditioned 40yr old  wanting to lose 15lbs and strengthen the core doesn’t need to be doing a series of isolation exercises and split body part workouts over a 6 day period.  That may be what YOU love to do, but it isn’t what needs to be done nor is it the most effective way of getting there.

Remember that less is often more.  Take a hard look at your programming and omit the useless and redundant.  Keep things simple, Emphasize techniques that generate the greatest return on investment, that make your clients look and feel their greatest. 


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