How to Write Better Programs for Your Clients (10 Simple Steps)
As trainers, we tend to major in the minors. We like to argue about intricate training methods until we’re blue in the face. But in reality, writing a good program can be pretty simple.
Some of these tips will seem pretty obvious, but I think they’re worth noting since they’re so important (and often forgotten).
Here are ten simple steps to writing better programs for your clients.
1. DETERMINE THE GOAL
…and to quote Dan John, “keep the goal the goal!”. Your goals are not your client’s goals. Figure out what’s important to them and why they want to do it.
I get it. You sit down with a new client to discuss their goals and…*cue crickets*. But here’s the thing – every single person who reaches out to you is trying to achieve something. So, to help them (and you) better understand what they’re aiming for, take them through the 7 why’s.
Basically, you keep asking them why until they
want to punch you in the mouth understand the meaning behind their goals. Here’s an example:
- Why did you reach out for training? I want to get in shape.
- Why do you want to get in shape? I want to look and feel better.
- Why do you want to look and feel better? I want my nice clothes to fit.
- Why do you want your nice clothes to fit? I want my wife to be attracted to me.
Boom. There’s the why behind the goal. And it didn’t even take seven why’s before uncovering it. Sometimes, it’ll take more. Sometimes, less.
Ask your clients why they want to achieve their goals and they’ll often have a stronger, emotional connection to them. This only helps you in creating programs they will follow through with.
2. DETERMINE THE STARTING POINT
You need to know where you’re at to know where you’re headed. Figure out where your clients are currently at with a good assessment and initial consultation.
3. DETERMINE THE TIME FRAME
It’s easy to procrastinate and put shit off when you don’t have a deadline. Determine when your clients should hit their goals. By doing so, programming becomes a lot more simple and your clients will work harder and be more consistent.
4. PLAN BACKWARDS AND EXECUTE FORWARD
Think big picture goal first and break that down into small, achievable goals along the way.
5. REVIEW CLIENT NOTES AND FEEDBACK
Two things you can do to immediately become a better trainer and write kickass programs:
- Take notes after every workout. You won’t remember what happened during your client’s session five weeks ago if you don’t record it. Maybe they were benching and their shoulder felt a bit off. Maybe they’ve been coming to their sessions with low energy for the past few weeks. By taking notes after every workout, you won’t have to remember these little tidbits of information because you’ll have a record of them.
- Get client feedback. You might want to send your clients a feedback form every month or so. In it, you could ask them questions like:
- What is your current (specific) goal?
- Are there any exercises/movements you are currently doing that you would like to change?
- Are there any exercises/movements that you would like to be doing that you are not currently doing?
- Do you have any recent specific physical issues or concerns?
- Do you feel like you are being pushed too little, too much, or just right?
- Do you feel like you are making progress towards your goal(s)? Please explain.
- How many days per week are you currently able to train?
- Is there anything I can help with?
I got this idea from Alwyn Cosgrove. Check out his book, “Secrets of Successful Program Design: A How-To Guide for Busy Fitness Professionals“.
6. “BATCH” WRITE YOUR PROGRAMS AND ELIMINATE DISTRACTIONS
Block off some time. Turn your notifications off. Don’t look at emails. You know, the stuff you tell your clients to do when they’re training 😉
Your programs will be better and you’ll write them faster.
If you want a good read, check out Cal Newport’s Deep Work. In it, he discusses the importance of deep, focused work and how to do fewer things, but better.
7. SAVE YOUR PROGRAMS AS TEMPLATES
Let’s say you train Susie. Susie wants to train three times per week and get stronger, and has some nagging shoulder pain. Start by writing the best possible program for Susie and save it under a “Program Templates” folder. Save the program as “3-Day Strength Split – Shoulder Pain”. Now, when you get a new client with pre-existing shoulder pain, you’ll have a starting point and can finetune it for them as you go.
8. COPY WHAT WORKS
Success leaves clues. There’s no shame in doing what’s already been proven to work.
If you’re a relatively new trainer, you should be copying other programs. You’re basically a cook following a recipe. And after a while, you eventually become a chef. Now you can start experimenting with different ingredients (exercises, training methods, etc.) and create your own recipes (programs).
9. USE INDICATOR EXERCISES
Pick 2-4 lifts or exercises and use them to gauge your clients’ progress overtime.
Performance-based goals lead to better training outcomes. They add intent to your clients’ programs. They give you direction. And they increase the intensity of their training sessions. They tell you whether or not the program is actually working! If your clients can lift heavier or successfully complete more reps overtime, then you’re doing something right. If not, it may be time to revaluate your training approach.
Ideally, you’d pick at least one upper body and one lower body movement to use as your indicator lifts throughout your clients’ program. This stops you from deviating too heavily into one direction and allows for a more well-rounded routine.
Examples of Upper Body Indicator Exercises
- Bench Press
- Floor Press
Examples of Lower Body Indicator Exercises
- Trap Bar Deadlift
- Box Squat
- Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat
10. HIRE A COACH TO WRITE YOUR PROGRAM
Trainers need trainers. Hiring a coach you already respect/follow is invaluable.
BONUS: KEEP IT SIMPLE AND COACH THE HELL OUT OF IT
At the end of the day, progress comes from simple things done savagely well.