3 Questions for Trainers Not Writing Programs for Their Clients

January 24, 2022

Guest Post By Mike Connelly

If you look at today’s landscape in fitness you will see several lines of division.  Social media is rife with arguments on just about every facet of coaching.  You have your implement zealots arguing over which tool is the best, your technique arguments, can the spine bend under load or not, and other things like foot position on squats.  You name it, we’ll argue over it.  That’s fine and dandy.  Maybe even healthy for us as long as we can remain civil and respectful (LOL).  But one line that I don’t understand is the one that sits between trainers/coaches that are writing programs for their clients and those that are throwing things together on the spot day in and day out.

For the first year of my career, I lived on the latter side of that line.  I was a young coach with no experience that did not yet understand the power of a program and it’s fundamental place in what we do as coaches.  

Did my clients work hard in the gym?  Absolutely.

Did they get some sort of results?  Yes, although because I did not keep records (programs),  I couldn’t tell you to what degree.  

Did I do well financially?  I did. 

Well, when I put it like that it doesn’t seem like there is much of an argument as to why I needed to change to writing out programs, is there?  I’m here to tell you that there is.

If you are on that side of the line where the program is non-existent, I want you to know that I’m not judging you.  I’ve been there and can understand where you’re at for the reasons above.  But allow me to ask you a couple of questions that might bring you to the other side.

What could you do with more efficiency and less stress?

You’ve mastered the great gym session improv!  Congratulations!  I’m not being facetious either.  It’s a tough skill to manage and stressful as hell at times.  You are greeting your clients, warming them up, and jumping into the great void of unknown as to what the next 50 minutes will bring.  You might throw some things that you’ve been doing in your training at the client.  Maybe a few things you’ve seen the really fit members of your gym do.  Your clients are sweating and out of breath.  They love it because “they really enjoy getting their ass kicked”.  

But it weighs on you.  You are banging out mental gymnastics all day long to put together smooth sessions.  And let’s be honest, they don’t always run that smooth, do they?  And as long as we’re being honest, is the big picture balanced and hitting all the points that your client needs to hit their goals?  The truth is, you don’t know.  You can guess, but you can’t really say.  That’s not a knock on you, it’s just a reality of the complexities of what we manage with each client we take on.  And with each client you take on, the complexities compound.  It’s too much to manage in your head!  

So let’s take some stress out of your life!  Let’s make your sessions more productive!  Let’s increase your ability to take on more business and manage it successfully to keep the clients coming back for more!  That’s what programming allows you to do!  

Writing out programs allows you to enter each session with confidence.  Without having to throw things together on the fly we allow ourselves increased bandwidth to actually coach.  Imagine that!  

If Steve Jobs went so far as to have worn the same outfit for years to save him the mental energy of picking clothes to wear everyday, maybe we should look into how we can save some brain power, no?  Think of it that way…. You’re pre-planning your days so that when you’re in the heat of the battle you can focus more on your client and what’s important.  

Do you want a better product for your clients?

I’m in this business to help people.  I hope you are too.  And nothing has allowed me to help my clients to the best of my ability more than dialing in my programming systems.  Each of my clients have a file folder and in that file folder is their story.  From initial interview to the last workout they did, it’s all logged by their intake sheet and their programs.  Each page building off the last to create that individual’s odyssey from seeker of help to champion of their goals and beyond.  Pretty romantic, right?!  

Let’s not underestimate the complexity of what we do with people should we be doing the right things.  It’s way more than we can keep straight in our heads.  There’s the medical history, initial fitness level, and info on their lifestyle; that’s our starting point.  We use that to make our exercise selections, set our frequency, and designate progressions and regressions should we need to make appropriate adjustments.  There’s set-backs.  Lapses in work.  Changes in schedules.  It’s a lot to manage. But don’t feel bad that you can’t keep this straight in your head.  Not even the brightest minds in our field can do that.  That’s why they use programming systems!  

Now picture this, a client of four months requests that you sit down and talk about their work with you to this point.  You confidently, and even excitedly, oblige them with a sit down.  You pull out their file folder and there it is.  You effortlessly walk them from their first day with you to the present, pointing out details of their journey.  You have documented where they need improvement and can show them the plan that you have to address issues and keep them on track.  You can show them where you encountered some setbacks and how you adjusted the plan.  Your client, while initially annoyed that their results haven’t been what they initially imagined, is relieved that you can show them why and that you have a plan to get them there.  Their confidence in you soars.  They refer you to their friends.  One of those friends is Dua Lipa.  Now you have Dua Lipa singing all your favorites to you while you deliver her to fitness glory!   

Now imagine how that conversation would go if you didn’t have programming systems?  You probably don’t have to imagine.  You may have been stranded on that lonely island trying to relay this information from memory.  Maybe it’s worse and you can’t really give them any answers.  No Dua Lipa for you! 

Do you want to continually get better?  

Let’s keep focusing on that cabinet full of beautiful file folders.  We’ve established how those folders will help you make your clients better.  Now let’s talk about YOU getting better.

I can’t name a  top-tier strength and conditioning coach out there that hasn’t changed the way they’ve done things over the course of their careers.  It’s part of our responsibility as coaches; to continually work to better ourselves and rethink our processes.  Well, how can we do that with ourselves if we don’t have any data to sift through?  

There will be times in your career where things seem a little off.  You might start to see or hear the same problems from clients.  You might recognize common problems achieving a certain movement pattern or similar plateaus that your clients are struggling to breakthrough.  

If you’re worth your stopwatch, you’ll not only recognize this kind of stuff but you’ll work to fix it.  It’s a lot to figure out at times and as Bushwick Bill clued us in so many years ago, your mind will play tricks on you.  

If you’re leaving it to memory, you stand little chance of figuring it out.  Buuuuuuuut, if you have a book of programs and notes to go through, you can probably easily identify common points.  From there you can give yourself enough information to recalibrate your progressions and regressions or your conditioning protocols or whatever it is that needs changing.  You have the means to make educated decisions as opposed to “well, let’s see if this is the problem”.  Or worse, not recognizing a problem at all and slowly losing business. 

So these programs serve not only as records of your clients performance, but for yours as well.  A diary of sorts that reflects how well your systems are working and when they could use a facelift.  It’s a resource that can allow you to figure out what your weaknesses and strengths are and help you figure out what knowledge you should be seeking out to immediately impact your clients and your career.  

I was excited to write this blog.  Nothing gets me going like the prospect of helping a coach that is in a phase of their career that I once navigated and helping them have the career and life that they want.  2022 is an exciting time for the fitness industry.  Ok, maybe it’s a little terrifying too.  But hopefully this has helped you decide to mitigate that stress. If it has, stay tuned!  The rest of the Strength Faction crew is right behind me to walk you further down this path.  They’re going to get into the weeds of this topic and give you some actionable steps on how to dial in your programming systems.  It’s going to take a little bit of work but if you love this job like we do, it’ll be fun for you.  A true growing process that will bring you to a book of business you couldn’t have imagined before.  Let’s go get it!  

I hope to see you at our Live event on February 19th & 20th in Niles, IL.

CFSC and StrengthFaction are teaming up for another education packed weekend on February 19th & 20th, 2022 
at Flahive’s Strength Training in Niles, Illinois.

The team at StrengthFaction will be rolling out their Program Design University live workshop on Saturday, February 19th. Learn their programming systems that will help you save time time and write more effective programs no matter what population you work with.

Our CFSC team will be holding a Level 1 course the following day on Sunday, February 20th. At CFSC we teach the complete coaching system used at Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning that has made it a world leader in sports performance and personal training.

We’re offering a special combo discount for coaches who sign-up for BOTH courses. Use the promo code “CFSCSTRENGTHFACTION2022” at checkout to save $150 on CFSC and $50 on Program Design University. You must register for BOTH courses separately for the combo discount to be valid.

Program Design University Live:


Hope to see you there!

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