“Stick to the Recipe” Part III: our top 3 CFSC chef tips to whipping up a delectable training program

September 30, 2021

This post was written in conjunction with Ep. 319 of the Strength Coach Podcast

In part one of this series, Coach Dan McGinley discussed what is meant by “sticking to the recipe”, and he gave a brief description of each “ingredient” that makes up our training recipe at Certified Functional Strength Coach.

In part two, I shared how much you need of each of the 7 ingredients. As a reminder those 7 “ingredients” are:

  1. Foam rolling
  2. Mobility & stretching
  3. Stability & activation
  4. Dynamic warm-up and / or ladder drills
  5. Light implement power
  6. Strength
  7. And Conditioning

Today in our third and final part of this series I want to share with you our Top 3 CFSC Chef Tips to whipping up a delectable training program.

CFSC Tip #1 – Like a good chef tastes their final product before sending it out to the customer… Do the program you’ve written before you give it to someone!

There was a time I didn’t follow this rule. In a single workout, I programmed deadlifts, farmer carries, chin ups and rope slams for my clients. By the end of the workout, they could barely open their hands.

It was not an enjoyable experience for them, and I felt like a jerk. If I had done the workout, I would have experienced for myself what that combination of exercises does to the grip and forearms.

Now, I find myself reading programs and think, “Have these coaches done these workouts themselves?”

The answer is almost always no, because if they had, they would have never considered giving the workout to people who want to feel better, get fit and come back to do it again tomorrow.

If you want to genuinely relate to your clients, learn from my mistake and try your own programs first. You might find yourself rethinking quite a few of them.

CFSC Tip #2 – Like a good chef sometimes has to substitute for ingredients or methods… When programming “seek variation without change.”

Your focus should be on improving their proficiency with the fundamentals. To do this, they need to do the same exercises over and over. It’s not sexy, but it’s necessary if competency is the goal.

Once people demonstrate proficiency (usually after doing an exercise consistently for four to six weeks), progress them to the next version of that exercise by either increasing the load or changing the position.

This progression might look like a new exercise, but it’s the same movement pattern they owned in the phase before, with a slight increase in difficulty. This is what Charles Poliquin meant by “variation without change” and what Pavel Tsatsouline means when he says, “Do the same, but different.”

You need to find ways to keep your clients and yourself engaged in programming over the months and years you work together, but that doesn’t mean starting from scratch with each new phase. Take the movements they’ve mastered and challenge them in a new way and ask them to master it again.

Variation, not change.

Take the squat pattern as an example. In phase one, I start my clients with their heels elevated goblet squats. Once mastered, I may progress them to either a split squat or a rear-foot-elevated split squat (still the squat pattern).

I may choose to load any of those patterns using a sandbag, an offset kettlebell or a barbell. Or, I might have them perform lateral squats (again, still the squat pattern).

Once they’re proficient, I may move the pattern into the power or conditioning portion of the program, having them do squat jumps for height or time.

They’re all squats, just variations done at varying intensities.

Be careful to not fall into the “enter-trainer” trap. In my experience, we get bored with process long before our clients do. When done with purpose, building on the basics can provide all the adventure you need to keep your people engaged.

CFSC Tip #3 – Like a good chef doesn’t only cook the foods they like to eat… programming isn’t about what you like.

An initial conversation and assessment are the first two items on every new client agenda. Don’t make any programming assumptions until your clients have answered the following:

What’s your health and injury history? 

What’s your exercise history?

Why do you want to train?

How much time can you commit?

After you know their physical history, goals and commitment level, you now have the information you need to approach their training. However, many coaches train their clients the same way they train themselves.

I do CrossFit,® so your WOD today is…

I’m a bodybuilder, and Monday is universal bench day, so you’ll be doing chest and tris today.

I’m an Olympic lifter, so tomorrow you’ll do cleans and snatch-grip deadlifts.

I love how I feel when I train functionally, so all of your workouts are going to begin with foam rolling and corrective exercises; we’ll hit movement patterns every day, and always end with intervals.

I love kettlebells, so this week you’ll work on your snatch high pull, windmills and swing.

Yoga has changed my life, so today you’ll do downward dog, chaturanga and warrior pose.

It’s not irrational to think your way is the best way. You train the way you do for a reason: It works for you. It’s in our nature to believe “what’s good for the bee is good for the hive.”

However, you need to step back and see your client outside of yourself.

If your client wants to enter a bodybuilding competition but you only offer sports performance and yoga classes, your approach will most likely fail him or her for this particular goal. Sure, you could research all there is to know about bodybuilding and turn it into a side project, but are you truly the right coach for this person and this job?

If you let this question be at the forefront of each programming decision, you’ll help a lot more people reach their goals and stay healthy while saving yourself from some major headaches.

Sometimes the correct response is to give a referral to another coach. You need to know when it’s time to punt the ball. There’s no shame in punting if it’s the way you and your client (or would-be client) win in the end.

And there you have it! 3 CFSC Chef tips to an appetizing training program.

Thanks for listening to this episode of the “Stick to the Recipe” series presented by Certified Functional Strength Coach. For more information check out the article ‘Sticking to the recipe’ by Mike Boyle on

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