The first training programs I ever wrote was when I was 15yrs old working as an assistant Karate teacher in exchange for free monthly tuition.  I wrote drills and particular exercises to be included in the class and in some cases had people doing bodyweight exercises I’d found in Martial Art books (yes, I still own a decent sized of collection of Martial Art books as well.)

My assignment was to help improve competitors performance in fighting and forms divisions at state, regional and national level competition.  This meant carefully watching them in practice and competition, including in fresh and fatigued states against various opponents (bigger/smaller, aggressive,defensive,countering/opportunistic types, those that favored kicking/punching etc) and in performance multiple forms.

Although I didn’t know it, or at least couldn’t express it, training was athlete defined.  Whatever I did had to translate to improved and measurable athletic performance.


I couldn’t simply tell the Head Teacher that students were “getting better.”  He needed proof, and competition is the proving ground. In hindsight, I’m positive he knew how things were progressing all along, but as far as 15 year old me was concerned,it was either medals around necks or my body hitting the floor.

Despite my relatively young age I already had 10 years training experience and 5 years competitive history up the international level. I didn’t know I was being put in a developmental position and didn’t recognize the fact that I was the only instructor below the age of 20 until it was pointed out to me. I honestly didn’t want to let the team down, and put my heart into things.

I held my position as an assistant up until I left for the military.

Two years after joining the military I was assigned as a motivator to help others get in better shape.  With advancement in rank this later progressed to a command level position and helping people reach tactical levels of fitness, including preparation for highly demanding and selective programs such as Crash and Salvage, Fire Fighting and Special Operations Candidate testing. I was also fortunate to be employed as a part time Karate instructor during my off-hours and continued training competitors, and interestingly enough became a person that taught the instructors class.  The highlights being an instructor while living in Hawaii and Japan.

All that experience pre-dated my becoming a Personal Trainer.

In 2012 the game changed. I retired from the military and no longer trained exclusively competitive athletes, instructors and alpha-personality youngsters. I now had people coming from zero fitness levels, people with orthopedic/medical issues and some that just wanted to move around and get sweaty.

Everything up to 2012 had a purpose, and we didn’t do things just to them.  I still stand by that no matter who walks in the door, and I always have the ability to say “No” to a client.

SIDENOTE:  For trainers just entering the field, recognize when the time to say “No” is needed.  Too many trainers are afraid to refer out.  Referring out doesn’t make you a bad trainer, if anything it makes you a better professional.

Over the course of the next few months I would over-analyze program design. In my mind it had to be 100% on-point. To create otherwise would be a failure on my part.  It was as if I was designing tactical warfare plans or preparing athletes for International level competition.


Life became easier when I accepted a few things.    

Being able to accept 90%.  “Passes Muster” is what we are looking for. To reach 90% I believe the following must happen;  Having the ability to explain, and prove where the client was and they presently stand.  Being able to state in simple words why things are being done the way they are and having a logical and realistic plan in place per the individuals current ability.

Especially if you can explain,prove and defend those actions to a coach far smarter and experienced than yourself. 

SIDENOTE:  I’ve recently come to believe two things scare personal trainers.  (1) Being asked to demonstrate techniques under challenging loads in front of others that also know the technique and  (2) Having to explain and defend their programming and exercise choices to other trainers.  Why the fear? If I were to speculate, it is because both can expose weakness.

Everyone is brave and feels competent compared to someone with no experience in the matter.  I can assure you, if you are a coach or trainer, you are a leader.  Since you’re a leader, then EVERYONE is watching what you do, and you never know who is watching.

Every week this point is proved to me. I’m also watched and heavily judged when training with my gym Bro’s, most of whom are state or higher level qualified lifters.

Tips to help reach that 90%….

Know the progressions and regressions per fundamental movement. The basics have stood the test of time for a reason and achieving skill in the basics will only serve as a benefit.

Use the tools that you have available,and know how to use them optimally.  Remember that a saw makes a terrible hammer. (Yes, I know you could use a small axe, but its not as precise as one and somewhat limited with the other.)


One of these Acromion Types might not like putting loads overhead.

There are positions that individuals can tolerate loading, and positions they can’t. Pick the former.

Reps/Sets/Density and relative intensity. Wield the variables sensibly.

There are infinite number of exercises, but training principles are few. Rather than trying to amass a million first, try mastering the principles first. Once you have a strong grasp of the principles, exercises start becoming easier to learn.  (and yes, YOU STILL NEED TO PUT IN THE WORK LEARNING THEM.)

Opinions and personal philosophies change over time. In the words of Mike Boyle, I make no apologies for changing my opinion in light of new education.

Applied personal practice (AKA DO THE WORK) along with education helps shape you. Oddly, there are trainers that don’t even train themselves, or occasionally hire their own trainer.

No singular textbook is perfect. Read broadly, and don’t be afraid to question things. In my opinion, too many trainers never read.

For a large chunk of the population, programs need not be overly complex. Simple is good, and simple is sustainable.


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