Programming Like A Pro [Part 1]

How much thought do you put into your clients’ programs?

This may seem like a trivial question to ask trainers, but I’m constantly surprised to have clients tell me how much they appreciate the attention I give to programming.

It may not be rocket science, but putting together solid programs for clients should be one of our main objectives. Otherwise, it doesn’t really matter how well we connect with our clients or how well we market, if we can’t help them achieve their goals, it all falls flat.

How you choose to program for clients should take two variables into account: how is each exercise going to help my client achieve his/her goal and what is the risk-to-reward ratio for these exercises? The biggest take away here is that you should program for your clients’ goals, not your goals.

I think this is where a lot of trainers get stuck. They know how to get results for themselves and the tactics it took for them to get there, so it should obviously work for the client, right? In most cases, the answer is no. There are a ton of factors as to why, but in the simplest terms, they aren’t you.

Each person has their own needs, wants, history, work ethic, etc, each one separating their perfect program more and more from yours.

This is the point where we separate the true professionals from the wanna-be’s. How much time and effort are you willing to put into study and self-experimentation for different types of programming? As a professional trainer/coach, we should have experience putting different programs to the test so we have a good understanding of how it feels, how to tweak it, and hammer out the subtle nuances (hypertrophy training may look very different than fat loss training, which will differ from strength/power/sport-specific training).

Along the same lines, my ability to listen to my clients has always helped when it comes to programming, and will separate you from the pack. If you ask the right questions and really listen to the answers your client gives you, it makes the path to programming much easier.

As trainers, we tend to be high energy people with short attention spans. This typically makes us good with in-session interactions, but poor In the consultation/planning aspects. If you’re not a naturally good listener (which is fine, don’t feel ashamed), here are a couple tactics that can help put you in a better position:

First, find a place to talk to your client where there are few distractions. Someplace quiet where it can be just the two of you talking can make a big difference. This also typically makes your client more comfortable, being able to speak freely without the intimidation and noise from the gym floor.

Second, and I think this is important regardless of listening skills, is take notes. Take notes on everything. In the consultation, this gives you framework to build a program and not rely on memory. Within sessions this gives you the opportunity to see if exercises are working properly or things need to be adjusted. The more you write down, the better off you’ll be.

Start to implement these strategies right away and your programs should begin to reflect the goals of your clients better, producing more results and enjoyment.

Stay tuned for part 2, where I dive deeper into exercise selection and progressions.

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