Guest Post By: Ross Oberlin
“I’d say, 2, maybe 3 hours per program”.
He said it with a proud smile on his face.
He believed we’d see it as ‘dedication to his craft’.
We saw it as crippling inefficiency.
I was attending my first Strength Faction Seminar back in 2016 and we were discussing how long it takes us to write a single client/member’s training program. And someone gave THAT as their answer.
I know the dude hoped to impress us, but he didn’t. Did that fella really need 2-3 hours to write a great training program for his client? Absolutely not.
When I’m writing a training program, I have two intentions:
To make it effective, I need to write a training program that’s going to actually improve my client/member’s fitness.
To make it efficiently, I want to spend as little time as necessary to make a great, effective program.
And yeah, that means way less than a couple of hours per program.
I currently manage 100+ training programs for the majority of our adult small group personal training members at my gym. The rest of our programming is managed by our other coaches.
That means I’m writing 100+ training programs every month. 100+ fully customized training programs.
If I took 2.5 hours to write each of those programs, I’d be spending over 8 hours a day, 7 days a week. Hard pass. Writing top-notch programs is one of my critical responsibilities for the business right now, but it’s not the only one and regardless, it just can’t demand that much of my time.
So I still want to write great training programs, but it can’t dominate my schedule. I believe with just a little prep work, anyone can pull this off in 10-15 minutes per program. Once you get your systems dialed in, you’ll be doing it even faster.
Here are my top 3 tips for leveling up your programming game
1.) Make an exercise menu.
A big part of customizing programs for our members is making sure that I’m selecting the correct exercises for them.
When selecting a ‘bilateral hinge’ exercise, a KB deadlift might be perfect for our new member who’s just learning. But a member who’s been here a few years is probably deadlifting on a trap bar or doing some other advanced variation.
If you gave me enough time, I could thumb through my mental Rolodex and pick the correct exercise for any movement pattern for any of our members.
But rather than spend (waste) all that mental energy, I can simply create an ‘Exercise Menu’ that has all of the exercises I might prescribe to my clients.
I organize them by movement pattern and put the most basic regressions starting at the top, then list them in order through our highest progressions of the movement. This makes it easy to find the exercises AND decide what the next appropriate progression is for them.
Quick decision-making and minimal decision fatigue.
This is how we crush the efficiency side of writing programs.
Pro Tip: When you make your exercise menu, only list the exercises you’ll be prescribing to your clients. This isn’t a list of every exercise you know. It’s a list of the actual exercises you’ll use when coaching. Otherwise, you’re gonna be wading through a bunch of ‘fluff’ to find what you need.
2.) Use Templates
“There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
I mean yeah, but there’s probably a best way to do that, ya know?
So when it comes to writing a training program, if two people come to me and they both say “my goal is to bench press 225”, my first thought isn’t to determine what nuanced differences they might need.
My first thought is: “ok, what protocol has proven most effective at reaching this goal in the populations I train? Have I coached someone similar to this goal in the past?”
If the answer is yes, then my first move should be to go grab that person’s program. From there, I can tweak or customize that program to the specific needs of my client.
If you’re like me and are writing a high volume of programs, I suggest you have pre-written templates.
Rather than go looking through another member’s program and copy/pasting, I start a “new” program from the massive selection of pre-written templates I’ve created. Each template/program has been split into 3 different fitness levels for more specificity.
This means that my templates are about as close to the finished product as they can be.
Pro Tip: With your templates, you’ll need to determine ‘how close to the finished product’ your programs need to be. I’ve seen this give trainers fits in the past. They miss the mark and are stuck working with a template that requires a ton of legwork, or they have to delete a bunch and backtrack. Neither is ideal.
If you want to write a more customized program, then maybe your templates should be a little further away from a fully finished product, with general guidelines of how you want a certain protocol to run.
If you’re training a bunch of people or even running a group format, then your templates are probably going to be fully complete as-is, because there’s not much you’ll be customizing.
3.) Create Deep Work blocks and Focus!
I’ve always struggled to focus. Writing programs isn’t the sexiest part of coaching, and it’s easy to let your mind wander.
But that’s a great recipe for taking over an hour just to write one gosh dang program.
To combat this, I now program exclusively in ‘deep-work blocks’.
I silence my phone, close all tabs on my computer, and I do ONE Single thing for that block: write programs.
These deep work blocks usually average around 2-3 hours for me (your mileage may vary). This is essential to my efficiency because after the first program or two, I start to build momentum and it takes me less and less time to write each subsequent program – without sacrificing quality.
You need to be all-in when you do a deep work block. If you’re not 100% clear on what you’re supposed to be doing, then everything will compete for your attention.
Sit down, and only allow programming to hold your attention for a couple of hours. You’ll be amazed at how much you can get done.
Pro Tip: If you struggle to focus like me, I suggest the concept of Deep Work. Don’t take my summary, go to the source and read or listen to ‘Deep Work’ by Cal Newport.
These are broad strokes, but if you can implement these three tips, you should start to feel some mastery of writing training programs and ultimately create a system that works for you!
As you audit your current programming systems, remember these two intents:
Build a system that works for you, and enjoy all the mental energy you’ll save! Writing great programs and still being able to focus on other parts of your business or personal life is a great feeling.
If you’re also managing a high volume of customized training programs, I’d love to talk shop with you!
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!