“Each program I make is completely individual for every client,” said most trainers ever.
But were we all telling a little white lie?
What I’m about to show you is that it’s often better to give multiple clients the same program — and I’ll teach you how as well.
Think about it: you may well treat every new and existing client differently, however, I bet you use some form of template; a guide and general plan that you follow when it comes to writing a program. This is nothing to be ashamed of — you’re not cheating on that client by using the bones of another program.
You see, I do this and nearly always have done. It’s efficient and effective. Otherwise you may spend the majority of your time starting from absolute zero with each client, labouring over each detail and creating the master program (meanwhile weeks have passed, and they’ve lost interest). Or conversely, haphazardly pulling exercises out of a bingo roller.
Ever spent way too much time writing different programs for different clients?
It’s time consuming and energy sapping, right? Ever gone without programs and just went with a workout of the day style training? It can be fun and constantly challenging, but it can also be detrimental to progression and results.
The middle ground for the smart trainer is having a template that you can then tinker with for each individual.
This is a great way to program for your clients, especially if you have a niche or market that’s largely the same or similar. If you create a template that applies to the common traits of your typical ‘Bob’ or ‘Jane’, you can then alter and refine for the individual who needs more detail.
Of course, there are other times when this is not only sound time management but completely necessary, such as creating a program and product for sale, or in my case recently, a proper book.
However, it’s a case of putting some solid work into the initial template, considering all relative things so that you can then save yourself some time and energy down the line.
Important considerations to make in creating your template
1. Who is your client?
You may not have an answer to this. If that’s the case I strongly suggest you sit down and at least decide who you want your client to be, their traits and general info.
This is crucial and must be addressed first. Once you have an outline of who your client is — male/female, age group, body shape, experience, etc. — you can start to mould that clay and shape your template.
I’ll use the audience for my book here as an easy example to follow:
Bob is male between 30 and 45 years old. He works in a corporate environment and spends a lot of time in the office. He’s roughly 15-30 pounds overweight and struggles with energy throughout the day. His training history is inconsistent.
Of course there’s more, but we’ll keep it brief for this article.
2. What does your client want to achieve?
Now that you know the outline, you can move into what this population generally wants to achieve. Of course this will always be individual — some people might want to lose body fat just the same as the next person, but their motivations might be in a different area code. That’s fine. All we’re focused on here is the surface desire, i.e., losing fat. From this we can tell a lot and also program a lot, right?
So in my example:
Bob wants to drop the kilos he’s gradually put on around his stomach and upper body in general. He wants to see some definition in his muscles — arms, chest, and a flatter stomach. He wants to feel energetic through the day and have a spring in his step that shows in a subtle confidence. He wants to feel proud when he looks in the mirror (naked).
3. What does your client need?
This is when we put our coaching hats on and say, “Yeah, that’s all fine and dandy but this is what you need!” Remember, we do mostly know more than them, which is why they’ve come to us. So don’t be afraid to indicate exactly what this person needs that differs from their wants.
Ask yourself what the demands on them are — maybe Jane is a new mum who bends down a lot to pick up her kids plus endless toys. She needs to strengthen her mid section, her glutes and hamstrings, and probably have some fun. Maybe they’re elderly and need appropriate strength training.
In my book:
Bob spends most of his day in flexion sitting at a desk, so he needs to get into extension. He needs to strengthen his posterior chain, he needs to be able to fit it into his busy schedule, he needs to feel like he’s worked hard, but he also needs to work on his mobility and recovery.
4. What mobility and strength imbalance issues does your client have?
Like most things, this is always individual, however, it’s still possible to paint a ‘normal’ picture and go from there. You might work with younger women that lack in self-confidence. Often they’ll exhibit a noticeable hunched-over posture, almost as if trying to make themselves smaller.
If so, chances are they’ll have tight pecs, upper traps, and upper abdominals, while also having weak mid-lower traps, rhomboids, and rear delts, to name just a few. If you can work this out you can start to get a better picture for what you need to program in your template.
Old Bob over here generally has tight pecs, lats, hip flexors, hammys, with weak glutes, lower abs, hammys, mid-upper back, and finally poor posture.
5. What kind of general approach to exercise selection should you take?
For this think, “Should Jane be focusing on basic movements such as squat, lunge, bend, push, and pull or should she be focusing on hitting the pavement as her priority?” Conversely, if your client is a young guy wanting to put on size, then perhaps you’re going to prioritize single-joint movements. You should be able to figure out what approach will make up most of your template.
I want Bob to keep a good intensity while focusing mostly on bigger movements with some smaller ones added in. Bob needs to lose fat, maintain (at least) muscle and get stronger, so I know he’s going to be doing the basics with some accessories in there and some intensity work reasonable regularly.
6. How should you progress your client?
This might be different every time and will depend on their starting point. Again, if you know the rough training age of your client you can jump straight into this, however, if it’s an unknown you can easily figure it out.
Apply the basics in terms of movements and include specific and detailed loading parameters. That way, regardless if someone is a first-time-at-school-rookie or the Arnold, simply adjusting the weight and rest and a workout goes from manageable for a beginner to horribly challenging for a pro.
I had to assume a good amount of beginners would be reading and implementing the training programs, so I allowed for 18 weeks — 3 major 6-week blocks split into smaller, 3 times a-week chunks. The change from one 3-week program to the other in a 6-week block was minimal, but still allowed for progressive overload.
The movements were basic, yet can easily be progressed by more advanced trainers. For example, a kettlebell goblet squat for 3 sets of 10 reps with a 3-0-1-0 tempo and 90 seconds rest between sets can be altered to a barbell front squat for 4 sets of 8 on a 3-1-1-0 tempo with 75 seconds rest between sets.
7. What equipment is available to them?
Are they a gym user or do they train in the park? Do they go to a Crossfit club (or similar) or do they go to a large commercial style gym full of machines? This is a self-explanatory one, but will go a long way towards dictating exercise selection. Remember their needs in this one — they might love training outside, yet they need to lift heavy and get strong, so you might need to be flexible and work with them here.
Bob didn’t have much choice in my book; his needs and wants dictate that he gets to a gym that has barbells, dumbbells and cables. However, I did provide some training bonuses for Bob when he’s on the road for work, as well as time each week outdoors sprinting.
8. How much time does your client have?
Pretty simple — If they’re a student and have a couple of hours, then perhaps you can program less sessions but longer in duration, in which they’ll do much of their mobility work too. Or maybe Jane’s got 30 minutes to train in the lounge when she puts her baby down to sleep. Your client should have a pretty common ground here.
My Bob needs his program to be somewhat flexible on time, so that if he’s in a hurry he can get in and cover the main priorities. At most his sessions are action packed and intense, yet over in 45 minutes.
9. How often can your client train?
Similar but different from above; you might have someone who can train every day versus someone who only has 3 opportunities per week, or someone who only wants to do 2 per week. Taking this into account relative to your client’s details is a crucial factor to consider.
Bob is a 3-4 times through the week kind of guy with another on the weekend. Simple.
10. What’s the nature of your client’s day-to-day activity, movement and demands?
This is something I highly recommend separating from the other aspects covered so far. If your common client spends their day doing heavy labour then you’ll most likely have to alter their program because of the physical demands each day.
Conversely, if they spend it in an office, you might want to get them outside a couple of times per week by adding in some hill sprint intervals and general play. A busy mum might need a yoga class and a teacher might need some boxing – there’s plenty of room for scope here, but try to compliment how they spend the majority of their day.
I want to make sure he can get outside to train at least once per week. As mentioned, a lot of office time during the week requires getting some sunshine and fresh air. He also spends a lot of his time on details and very left-brain heavy tasks, so I want to template some more creative and proprioceptive tasks to switch him to some right-brain activity to snap him out of his normal pattern.
As you can see there’s some solid considerations to make when creating a kickass workout template. However, if you invest the time initially and put proper care and attention to these points for your clientele then you’ll save a load of time in the long run by simply making the personalised tweaks for each individual.
— A stitch in time saves nine —
Now you’re making specific programs for each client, while also able to account for a larger number or audience. As we saw in the example of Bob and my book, I had to take all of these into account in to create a program that’s not only going to be effective but appropriate and challenging for a large number of readers.
If you’re someone who has a large audience or is planning on putting together a training program as a product to sell or simply send to your database then creating a template that fits well with the common traits of that person is a sure fire way to save you time and help guarantee their success.
Of course you could just go on spending all your free time programming from scratch for absolutely everyone. Alternatively you can always close eyes and throw a dart at a list of exercises on a board and see what you end up with… (Don’t be that guy).
Effective programming means effective results, plain and simple.
I’ve been wanting to publish an article like this for a while because of how much I wish that I had templated my programming earlier on. Please avoid being annoyed and self-righteous saying that you make everything 100% unique. Be honest, nothing is 100% unique.
The best trainers pick and choose the best of what they’ve done before and apply it to a current program — Mike’s just laid it out in a brilliant and simple format above.
I had a preview copy of Mike’s book Unlease Your Alpha: Eat like a man, train like a beast, operate like a gentleman and become a legend and read it cover to cover. I highly recommend it both if you’re a man and want to become a gentlemen and also if you want to see beautiful template programming in action.
Copied below is my review of the book that I posted on the Amazon page:
First — this is a professional book. It’s self-published the way that self-publishing should be done with a professional editor and layout. No corners were cut.
Now on to the content.
Most books on the subject of being a better man are centered around getting laid more and most workout books are filled with superficial solutions and sold on fear and emotion. They’re directed towards the pick-up artist community and meant to be sold to 20 year old boys who aren’t yet men. This book is catered towards men who want to become gentlemen.
Mike doesn’t just teach you how to please a women in the *ahem* sack but also emotionally and psychologically. He teaches you how to build a meaningful relationship with one special woman. Page 171 is a section called “Developing Strong Bonds and Relationships” and goes over this before Mike goes over the finer points of being dapper on page 191 (“Your Inner 007).
Also an accomplished trainer, Mike provided a full 3-phase 18 week workout that goes from putting on muscle to becoming more athletic. The entire program is in the book in full (unlike a lot of books where the author tries to get you to purchase the workout after already purchasing the book). There are even videos teaching each exercise on a YouTube database that you get access to and templates to download from his site to follow on your own.
Now a workout’s cool, but the best workout program in the World pales in comparison to the one that you’ll actually do. So while I think that it’s great that Mike included an effective program, what I particularly liked are the tips and strategies on easing into a fitness and health lifestyle and meshing it with the rest of your gentlemanly ways.
Lastly, the nutrition part is cool. You might now know this but Mike’s nickname is “Meat Mike Campbell” because he had a previous blog where he tracked his journey of finding, cooking, and eating 52 different types of meat in 52 weeks. The nutrition guidelines for incorporating healthy eating into a great lifestyle are as good as I’ve ever seen.
One tip that I’ve decided to take to heart from Mike is to learn how to cook 3-5 dishes really well. This way you can get any women to swoon over your cooking abilities and impress any house guest.
In Mike’s words, “we men have bigger waistlines than ever, soaring rates of disease, and worrying statistics for divorce, job satisfaction, depression, and suicide” — Unleash Your Alpha is a major step to reverse this trend.”