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Is Your Fitness

Programming Good
Enough?
Read 7 Principles to Stop Getting
Laughed at By Clients and Trainers
BY KEVIN MULLINS

In this guide, we’ll go over what a program is and isn’t. More importantly, you’ll discover
the seven principles to create the best workout routine and maximize your clients’
results, including the HIDDEN VARIABLE to change in all great programs.
IS YOUR FITNESS PROGRAMMING GOOD ENOUGH? 2

Introduction
You might feel like your fitness programs aren’t good enough and other trainers
know it. It’s not uncommon to be with a client in the gym thinking that all of the
other trainers are laughing at the program you chose for your client.

No matter how new you are in this industry, the last thing you want is to feel like
you’re that clueless trainer.

In this article, we’ll go over what a program is and isn’t, but more importantly,
the seven principles to create the best workout routine and maximize your cli-
ents’ results. You’ll learn:

• Why the first few minutes of each session are the hidden secret of all
great programs

• The two powerful non-negotiable aspects of every program

• Why programming around muscles is what bad trainers do

• The HIDDEN VARIABLE to change in all great programs

• What your client should always aim for

• The two most important variables every confident trainer uses in their
programs

• Why exercise doesn’t matter as much as you think and what does……

At the end of this article, you can get access to our handy programming checklist
to make sure all of your programs are on point from hereon.

We’ll get to all of the above bullet points, but let’s start with what a
program isn’t.

Your Client’s Program Is Never:

Cookie cutter: There is no one-size-fits-all program.

Rigid: You must consider the client’s fitness level, the goals they want, and how
they feel about training.

As you understand your client better, your programs for that client will improve.
This is the true value that we provide.

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resell. Find more free guides and articles by the world’s best coaches and mentors at ThePTDC.com.
IS YOUR FITNESS PROGRAMMING GOOD ENOUGH? 3

7 Programming Principles
The following seven principles are a good place to start sharpening program-
ming skills, my friend.

Principle 1
The Warm-Up Is the Foundation of the Session
Warm-ups help lubricate the body, mobilize your client’s joints, and activate the
muscles of movements to reduce chance of injury.

A warm-up should be eight to 12 minutes and include three to five movements.


Here are some examples:

World’s Greatest Hip Opener Ankle Mobility

This sexy stretch targets the hips, groin, obliques, Luka Hocevar from Vigor Ground Fitness laying it
lats, and allows for better breathing. down with some brilliant ankle mobility mobiliza-
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vrqXJXwxJo tions. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbN7nrSvHnM

Cossack Squat Cat-to-Cow

Andy Van Grinsven demonstrates the cossack Laugh all you want at the name, but it’s
squat, a great way to open up the hips and awesome for thoracic extension and flexion.
strengthen the leg muscles. Yoga With Adriene shows us how it’s done.
https://youtu.be/1uffqKtacDo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y39PrKY_4JM

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IS YOUR FITNESS PROGRAMMING GOOD ENOUGH? 4

Shoulder Dislocations T-Spine Windmills

Pat Flynn of Chronicles of Strength gettin’ that Here we have Andy Van Grinsven showing off
range of motion in his shoulders. Good stuff. how much range of movement you should have
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02HdChcpyBs with your thoracic spine.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41skzE3EkLU

Glute Bridges Planks

Now this is an effective way to kick your client’s Planks will never go out of style. Check the form,
butt into gear. You can thank Mike Robertson of courtesy of the awesome dudes at Calisthenics
Robertson Training Systems for that. Movement.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwNP1Ure28Q https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kL_NJAkCQBg

One question to ask yourself is:

Does my client need more than the basics due to injury, dysfunction, or lack of
fitness?

Some clients may be overcoming an injury or dealing with dysfunction in some


joints and require additional exercises and attention. This is something you
should’ve noted in your initial consultation and assessments with the client.

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IS YOUR FITNESS PROGRAMMING GOOD ENOUGH? 5

Key Takeaways:
• Warm-ups should be eight to 12 minutes long and include three to five
movements.
• If your client is overcoming an injury, they might need an extra exercise
or two.
• If you skimmed this section (I’m watching you ಠ_ಠ), here are four
exercises featured above with video that are the best bang for your
buck: planks, glute bridges, t-spine windmills, and cat-to-cow.

Principle 2
Train EVERYONE for Strength and Power

Nearly any client who is cleared to train hard can train heavy.

Power training means something different for every client. For an older individ-
ual, it could be a lightweight medicine ball toss or a squat-to-stand. Your football
player might do power cleans. It’s difficult to give you precise guidance since
every client is different, but here are some golden rules:

• Strength and power come at the beginning of the session, typically after the
warm-up.

• In a session with both strength and power, do power first.

• These movements require a bit more rest time between sets, about two to
three minutes between sets.

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IS YOUR FITNESS PROGRAMMING GOOD ENOUGH? 6

The power or strength section of a program should last five to 10 minutes, but
could also be the majority of a session.

As Louie Simmons, strength coach of Westside Barbell said,

“Even a marathon runner has to sprint to the finish line.”

Key Takeaways:
• Everyone should train for strength and power, even your sweet ol’
Gramma.
• Absolute strength and power-related exercises belong at the beginning
of a session, typically after the warm-up.
• If you do a session that has both power and absolute strength
exercises, do power exercises first.
• These movements require a bit more rest time between sets, typically
two to three minutes between sets.

Principle 3
Build Around Movements, Not Muscles
Your client’s time is as precious as yours.

For greater efficiency focus on compound exercises, not single muscle groups,
to work the client’s whole body over the course of a training week. Most clients
just aren’t aiming to be bodybuilders, and compound movements are likely to
give the results they want, making you look good in the process.

In every session emphasize these eight major movements patterns (with


examples added for clarity):

• Squat: goblet squats, barbell front/back squats, bear squats

• Lunge: reverse lunges, lateral slider lunges, lunge jumps

• Hinge: Romanian deadlift, sumo stance deadlift, kettlebell swing

• Vertical push: barbell push press, seated Arnold press

• Vertical pull: pull-ups/chin-ups, lat pull-down, and pull-aparts

• Horizontal push: push-ups, bench press, chest flyes

• Horizontal pull: bent-over row, lat pull-over, reverse shoulder flye

• Rotation: cable chops, paloff press, medicine ball throws

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IS YOUR FITNESS PROGRAMMING GOOD ENOUGH? 7

Split these up according to how many times you see your client per week. Here’s
how you could train a client who sees you three times per week (substitute an
appropriate exercise for the movement pattern).

Day 1: Hinge, horizontal and vertical pull, stability

Day 2: Horizontal and vertical push, gait, stability, and rotation

Day 3: Squat, lunge, stability

A client who trains with you two days per week could look like:

Day 1: Hinge, horizontal pull, vertical push, stability, and rotation

Day 2: Gait, squat, lunge, horizontal push, and vertical pull

As you work with your client, be aware of which muscles are worked during a
session and in their overall programming and carefully consider your exercise
selections to give proper balance.

You don’t need to include every exercise for every pattern. Having both
a Romanian deadlift and a kettlebell swing for the hip hinge pattern isn’t
necessary, for example. You’d wear your client out.

Key Takeaways:
• If your client isn’t a bodybuilder, you’re better off focusing on
compound movements.
• The eight major movement patterns are squats, lunges, hinges, vertical
pushes, vertical pulls, horizontal pushes, horizontal presses, and
rotations.
• Choosing the right exercise for the movement pattern is more
important than adding every exercise possible.

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IS YOUR FITNESS PROGRAMMING GOOD ENOUGH? 8

Principle 4
Vary Your Client’s Resistance and Load
“Doing the exact same stuff all the time gets boring, and as your body becomes
more adapted to one particular stimulus, it stops responding quite as robustly
to it, but keep the parameters narrow enough that you’re not trying to make
your body adapt in a dozen different ways at the same time.” - Greg Nuckols

There’s no need to rewrite programs when things get stagnant. Simply vary your
client’s load and resistances, called undulating periodization.

Imagine undulating periodization (Learn more about undulating periodization


here: https://www.theptdc.com/2014/06/build-better-personal-training-pro-
grams/) as a wavelength that goes up and down: your clients do the same
exercises, but the amount of resistance and intensity may fluctuate throughout
the week or whole program. Perhaps your client starts with a heavy lifting day,
regresses to a moderately heavy, high-rep day in the next session, and keeps
things easy and light after.

When you periodize, or vary the load, you help your client recover better and
prevent injury.

Even the most athletic client can’t go heavy all the time and see linear results.
Your clients will fatigue, which can lead to a breakdown in form or soreness so
bad they run away from the gym forever. Not good for either of you.

Here’s how I periodize hinging, pulling, and rotation movements over the week
for my sedentary clients:

Day 1 Day 3

Sumo stance deadlift 6 x 3 (heavy) Dumbbell romanian deadlift 3 x 12 (light)

Cable hinged row with rope 3 x 15 (light) T-Bar row 5 x 5 (heavy)

Cable chop 2 x 20 with 2:2 tempo (light) Pallof press 3 x 10 (Moderate)

Day 2

Kettlebell swing 5 x 20 seconds (moderate)

Dumbbell single-arm row 4 x 8 (moderate)

Medicine ball throws 6 x 3 (heavy)

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IS YOUR FITNESS PROGRAMMING GOOD ENOUGH? 9

A standard program cycle lasting eight weeks would include a “deload” week on
the ninth week typically. During a deload week, you halve the intensity of the
exercises prescribed on the last week of the program. This allows your client to
still train, just with lower weight or volume (or both), but also gives your client a
chance to recover and minimize the risk of overuse injuries.

When figuring out how to vary programming load, ask yourself:

How can I challenge all aspects of my client’s fitness?

Key Takeaways:
• Clients can’t work out so intensely and heavy all the time.
• Rather than give your client a new program, vary the load and intensity
of the exercises through the week. This is known as undulating
periodization.
• An example for someone who trains three times per week: heavy day,
moderate day, and a light day.

Principle 5
Focus on Rep Ranges Instead of Exact Numbers
Is there really a difference between doing an exercise for three to five reps ver-
sus eight to 12 reps? A scientific study by Brad Schoenfeld, renowned researcher
and an authority on building muscle, says yes.

“The study showed a potential benefit to varying repetitions across a spec-


trum of ranges for increasing upper body muscle strength and hypertrophy,”
Schoenfeld wrote.

Here’s the breakdown of how those rep ranges benefit you and your clients,
based on Schoenfeld’s research:

For strength and power: 3-6 reps

For hypertrophy: 8-12 reps

For endurance and improving technique: 12+ reps

In a nutshell: the more weight, the fewer the reps, and vice versa.

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IS YOUR FITNESS PROGRAMMING GOOD ENOUGH? 10

This means that you must help the client pick a weight that’s challenging enough
for them to hit the rep range that’s appropriate for their fitness goal. If that’s to
build muscle, then they should aim between eight to 12 reps. Notice the empha-
sis on ranges, instead of an exact number.

There isn’t a magic number for results. Seven is not necessarily better than six.
Your clients shouldn’t worry about getting exactly eight reps if the reps before
looked half-assed. Always put great-looking form above hitting the rep number.

Key Takeaways:
• For strength goals, do three to six reps.
• For building muscle, do six to 12 reps.
• For endurance, do more than 12 reps.
• Don’t get too focused on the exact numbers. Rep
ranges are generally better.
• A good-looking rep is better than a sloppy, heavy rep any day.

Principle 6
Consider Intensity, Density, and Total Volume
Now we get into the sexy-sounding nitty-gritty of programming: volume and
density.

Let’s start with volume. Volume is important for your clients to get consistently
stronger, more capable, and bigger muscles over time. It’s defined by:

Sets x repetitions x load

That means a workout routine that calls for five sets of 10 reps on a 100-pound
bench press is:

5 x 10 x 100 = 5,000 pounds total, and 1,000 pounds of volume per set.

You manipulate volume by adjusting weight, total sets performed, or number of


reps. Typically, the more volume = more work = more rest.

There’s only so much volume you can pack into a session without sacrificing the
quality of your client’s workout plans. This is when density may come into play.

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IS YOUR FITNESS PROGRAMMING GOOD ENOUGH? 11

Density is the amount of work done over a period of time as opposed to a finite
number of sets. It’s defined by:

Sets x repetitions within a period of time

If you perform 10 sets of 15 push-ups within 10 minutes, then the training densi-
ty for 10 minutes is 150 push-ups.

In density training you might drop weights to the 80-85% while reps stay within
the two to four range. Then you set the timer for however many minutes and off
your client goes.

Do not confuse density with AMRAP (as many reps as possible). AMRAP is often
done with lighter loads and a reckless desire to hit the highest number of reps
possible--form be damned. Density emphasizes doing these exercises with per-
fect form (as perfect as the client can do, of course).

The idea behind volume and density is essentially: If you push your client too
hard, or not hard enough, then you may risk hurting your clients or come up
short in results, respectively. So, next time you sit down and design your client’s
exercise program, ask yourself:

How hard can I push them without making them resent exercise or need them
to take too much time away from the gym to recover?

Rotating volume or density on a biweekly basis is safe for a regularly training


client.

Key Takeaways:
• Manipulating volume helps your clients grow stronger and build more
muscle over time, without burning them out.
• Volume is defined by sets multiplied by repetitions
multiplied by load.
• More volume is not necessarily better.
• Density is the amount of work performed within a set
period of time.
• Density is defined by sets multiplied by repetitions within
a period of time.

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resell. Find more free guides and articles by the world’s best coaches and mentors at ThePTDC.com.
IS YOUR FITNESS PROGRAMMING GOOD ENOUGH? 12

Principle 7
Stop Caring So Much About Exercise Variation
Exercise variation matters far less than everything else on this list.

Variety might keep things fresh for your client, but a horizontal row is still a row
whether it’s with two dumbbells or one, a T-bar, or a cable fixture. Same with
the squat. Simple, quality adjustments are enough. How you decide ultimately
comes down to what equipment is available to you and what you are comfort-
able with. Ask yourself:

Why is your client doing the exercise and does it actually lead to progress for
the client?

And,

Are you just trying to impress a client, or are you genuinely challenging them to
overcome a sticking point that you feel is keeping them from what they desire?

Key Takeaways:
• The variety of the exercises itself is not as important as getting the
major movement patterns down.
• The exercises you choose should actually lead to progress for the
client.
• Would you rather impress your client with fancy exercises or get them
real results?
• In addition to the above, have a little fun with your fitness program
and client. Just make sure you are still observing the science and
honest desire to improve your clients.
• Even the best workout program can feel stagnant after a while, but
careful manipulation of any of the variables we’ve discussed can make
something old feel new and bring even greater results.

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IS YOUR FITNESS PROGRAMMING GOOD ENOUGH? 13

Feel Like You Don’t Know


Enough About Programming?
Here’s a 10-Point Checklist
The last thing any of us want is to be that irresponsible trainer who creates
a program that ends up hurting someone or gets made fun of. Make sure
your programming hits each of these points so that you feel confident in your
programming, can justify your training rates, and earn the respect of your peers.

1 Never give a client a cookie-cutter or rigid workout program.

2 Warm up clients with three to five mobility and activation movements and
should be eight to twelve minutes long.

3 Require strength and power exercises in every program. Start


the session with strength exercises, or if there are power exercises,
do power first.

4 Give your clients two to three minutes of rest between sets


of strength exercises.

5 Focus on compound movements for more bang for your


client’s buck.

6 Do compound strength movements before isolation exercises, which can


be done toward the end of the session.

7 Vary your program’s load and intensity (undulating periodization)


throughout the week and program to help a client recover properly.

8 Emphasize repetition ranges, not hard numbers. Nine nice reps > twelve
ugly ones.

9 Ramp up (or down) volume and density every two to three weeks,
depending on how your client is handling your program.

10 Ensure that the exercises you’ve chosen help your client’s progress, not
just because you like the exercises.

Want more copies of this checklist?


DOWNLOAD CHECKLIST

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