5 Essentials to Programming for Fitness Instructors:

By: Mike Collette Owner/Head Coach of CrossFit Prototype
1. Keep it simple and have a system
2. The perfect program for your client
3. Goal and lifestyle specific
4. ROI (return on investment)
5. Plan vs. Execution


As a fitness instructor, programming or developing your client’s fitness plan has many different view points and philosophies. I am not going to debate what I think is most effective way to program as each client and individual is different. What I do believe is that programming often gets too complicated and distorted. With that said, if you think you know everything, you’re already wrong. Be humble and understand that there can always be a better program.

1. Keep it simple

One of my beliefs as a physical trainer is to create a system that will be effective for your client. Once the system is created, stick to that system and then be able to test the results of the program. To do this, the best method regardless of what your program is to always work backward and reverse-engineer your program. Start with the goal in mind, develop the plan to get to the goal backward and lay down the ground work. You need to understand your client first and foremost but also understand that it’s ok to make a modification if something isn’t working or if it turns out that it’s not appropriate. Keep the plan simple and effective. It is rare that a trainer or a strength coach sticks 100% to their plan. There are always small kinks as long as you identify those kinks and can modify accordingly.
Based on your client’s intake, assessment, movement screen and goals, we have enough raw data to start building out a plan of action. There will be certain things you should and should not do or things that aren’t necessarily appropriate for your client to do yet. Make sure you have a system of how you will implement the best bang for their buck and also how you will progress and potentially regress movements. At the end of the day, keep it simple. You don’t have to do crazy exercises because it’s “cool.” Create a progression and regression system of movements that you feel are the most important to your program and plug and play those movements based around the goal.

2. The (relative) perfect program for your client

First off, perfect is a relative word. My idea of perfect might be different than yours, but developing the relative perfect program for your client isn’t as difficult as it might seem. The reason why it might seem very difficult is that you have in your mind all these things you would love for them to be able to do but the majority of people can’t for reasons such as movement limitations, prior history of injury, motor control, age, strength, flexibility the list goes on. Let’s take a second and disregard this. What if you mapped out the perfect training program for your ideal client with the goal in which the client you are programming has. Let’s use weight loss as the goal (which is the majority of your clients goals), now you map out the system you would use for your perfect ideal client. I am talking about perfect diet, perfect sleep, perfect schedule, perfect workout schedule, perfect movement etc, now develop your plan. Once you know what your client CAN do, now we regress this “perfect plan” to make it suitable for them based on the intake, assessment and movement screen. You create the plan, use this simple system, it will save you a ton of time and headaches.

3. Goal and lifestyle Specific

After reading that last paragraph, don’t you think that we are developing “cookie cutter” programs for people. No. The art and science behind your programming still exists and this needs to be goal and individual specific. That is crucial. If you make a kick-ass program that doesn’t align with your clients goals and lifestyle its not going to work. You could develop the best program in the world, but without execution of that plan, it really doesn’t matter. You need to work with your clients on executing the plan you set forth and this has to work with the lifestyle they live. Say you are training a client that travels 3 days out of the week and can’t get to a gym. Developing a 5-day circuit plan with a ton of different exercises doesn’t seem realistic for your client. It might be your “perfect plan” but this is where we tailor it to the lifestyle and goal of the client.

4. Return on investment (ROI)

I briefly elaborated on keeping your program simple and effective. With the goal of the client in mind, we need to look at what is going to be at the heart of your program, how will you optimize the time of the session and which movements (specific to your client) will have the biggest ROI. If pressing overhead isn’t essential for your client and unnecessary for your individual client, then that can be something you can avoid and get out of your mind or create an alternative to. Think about what your “big bang” exercises are going to help your client the most. You can look at this from a strength and also a conditioning perspective (if that is necessary). Think “Big bang” movements and build around them.

5. Plan vs. Execution

Developing a plan is only a fraction of the equation to getting your client incredible results. I have had this conversation many of time with trainers and strength coaches on the impact you make on your clients. The role of implementing the plan as a coach/trainer goes beyond training. The plan you set has to be realistic for your client to follow through with and commit to. Part of your responsibility is to hold that person accountable. You can have the best program ever with poor execution and implementation and it will be worse than having a poor plan with perfect execution. Always deliver on your service and make sure your client is executing on what you put forth.