Once upon a time, programming for each of my clients was a time-consuming process. I remember working in the gym all day and spending evenings at home, “off the clock,” planning out what my clients were going to do next, and what they would do after that, and what they would do after that – literally scripting out weeks of exercises and specific volume for each workout. I did it because I had been trained to do it that way, I loved spending those hours deeply engrossed in the process, and I truly believed that’s what my clients had hired me for.
I was wrong. I was wasting my time. And if you’re spending hours each week creating detailed programs for your clients, I hope to give you some freedom and the ability to reinvest those hours into something more worthwhile, like personal and professional development, or even reinventing the wheel.
Before you gather a bloodthirsty mob of old-school personal trainers and hunt me down with torches and pitchforks, let me address some items of concern.
First, safety is a must. And this includes performing a movement screening and PAR-Q for everyone prior to exercising with them. Don’t ever ask them to perform a movement that causes pain. Refer out if the individual needs treatment before fitness.
Second, while I’m encouraging you to ditch writing specific programs for every individual you work with, I’m not suggesting that you assign every client the exact same exercise, reps, and load. That’s about as smart as eating raw chicken.
Third, what your clients do in the gym should absolutely match their goals. Period.
Changing the way you program
If you train the general “healthy” population, you’ve likely noticed that each of them has two legs, two arms, and a torso. No doubt you’ve also found that most of them have very similar goals: lose fat, get strong. With these commonalities in mind, we’ve found that most of the workouts we deliver can be templated based on movement pattern while still respecting the client’s goals, restrictions, and ability level. In fact, the top personal trainers on the planet have already been doing this for years.
Since most of our clients have similar goals and will be performing the same basic movements (since they’re human), writing individual programs and unique workouts with exotic exercises for each and every client is a waste of time. In fact, if a trainer brags that each and every workout they deliver is unique (like I once did), one might wonder how effective they actually are (or what species they’re training).
Scripted programming also lacks the ability to adapt to the individual client’s changing needs on a daily basis. As trainers, we might preach that our clients should be lifting heavier or performing more reps every time they’re in the gym. However, the reality for the general population is this: day to day, things change in their lives. Kids get sick, getting enough sleep can be a challenge, stress at work and at home can take a toll, and workouts get missed. This means that your best laid workout plan will often go awry. Plan. On. That.
Handing a client weeks or months worth of scripted workouts is literally setting them up for failure, unless they live in a bubble (in which case they may have more important goals than working with you).
Benefits of a system
This article isn’t intended to be an ad for any particular system. In fact, I don’t have one. We’ve now decided to outsource the process in order to save our leadership team even more time. However, as an individual trainer and as a team leader, I can tell you that using a system based on templates has been a game-changer.
When we started using a templated system, we had more time to find new clients to train, our staff was much more confident during sessions, we could put more focus on the experience we were delivering, and trainers could spend more time working on professional development. Templates started an upward spiral of success for us.
If you aren’t using a templated system for generating client programs, do your future self a huge favor by investing some time in setting one up. Get in touch with an experience fitness pro that you respect and ask for their advice. If they are worth their weight in kettle bells, they are already using templates.
If you are a team leader, this is the first step in moving your staff into a place where they can spend more time prospecting, engaging customers, and growing as professionals. Putting a templating system in place will give you confidence, knowing that everyone on your team is using sound principles in designing workouts for your members. It will also unite your entire staff when it comes to terminology, elements of the client experience, and ability to deliver the results that your members came to you for in the first place.
I may have been the only one who was late to the show, but just in case I’m not, feel free to download some examples of some simplified templates we’ve used in the past with our team: CLICK HERE.
If you do some research, consult with other successful fitness pros, and still aren’t willing to ditch scripted programming, ask yourself: How is spending all this time and effort in programming really serving me? What do I have to lose by adapting to the industry standard movement-pattern-based approach?
Answering those questions honestly may give you an opportunity to get out of your own way and enjoy more freedom, flexibility, and opportunity. Maybe now is the time to do so before you burn out altogether. It will also help you to get out from behind the spreadsheets and workout logs and deliver something even more valuable to your clients: your mindful presence during their sessions. Give a client a solid reason to swipe right: prove you know what it takes to deliver results. This will also give you more time for finding new clients to train (and make more money) as you cultivate more meaningful relationships with other members of your community.
With all that can be gained through simplifying the programming process, it’s easy to see that some personal trainers are hiding behind an overly complicated process. They prefer to imagine their value is limited to the knowledge they share rather than getting out of their personal comfort zone and truly sharing themselves with their clients.
Let’s be real: a workout program can be discovered with a quick Google search or visit to bodybuilding.com. People need more than that. They need a partner in fitness and an experience that keeps them coming back. Only you and your heart can give them that.
Put your focus where it needs to be.
The bottom line
Using templates isn’t cheating. It is a prerequisite for success in an ever changing and demanding industry. And it just plain makes sense. As you shift to simplifying your approach to planning workouts for your clients you’ll have more time. Reinvest that time by focusing on your own growth and improving the experience you deliver to each of your clients.
If you and your fitness team have already discovered the benefits of using templates for programming client workouts, then I leave you with this question: What will you do next to become even better?
Nate Sleger is a coach, author, and the Director of a Personal Training department in Wisconsin’s lovely Fox River Valley area. He is also the owner and founder of Even Better Coaching, a company designed to support entrepreneurs in the health and wellness industry.