Program Design 101

Program Design 101


How do I design my client's training program? This question goes through every trainer's mind when designing a new workout. If you like to ad-lib your training programs or need to spend 30 minutes designing each program, this article is right for you.

There are a lot of things to consider when designing a training program.

  1. Client goals
  2. Client capabilities
  3. Client injuries
  4. Client availability
  5. Client mood
  6. Client experience 
  7. Available gym equipment 
  8. Your experience 

What are your client's goals?

This might seem like a simple question, but there are a lot of trainers that forget to ask their client what their current goal is. Sometimes, your client's goals change. Your client might want to switch gears from working out to feel better to get ready for a beach vacation. Keep your training programs relevant to your client's goals. Keep asking your clients what their goals are.

What are your client’s capabilities?

This is a question that gets answered by doing an initial fitness assessment as well as training your client for the first 3-5 times. Both of these will give you a basic idea of what your client can and cannot do. For example, you’ll know if your client can do a barbell back squat or goblet squat or if you need to teach them how to do a squat without hurting themselves. 

After training your client for a while, you should have a good idea of what your client’s capabilities are, and you should know if you can go heavy on deadlifts, military press, lunges and so on. You should also have a good idea of what exercise your clients like and dislike. Do they hate kettlebell swings, or do they always hurt their lower back when doing leg drops? When possible, do exercises that your clients like and stay away from exercises that your clients hate and or causes injury. The best way of doing this is by always getting feedback from your clients. Keep asking your client: How does this exercise feel? Do you like doing this exercise? What’s your favorite exercise? Keep probing until you get your client’s feedback. 

Do you have experience training injured clients? 

Training injured clients is very tricky to handle and will play a huge part in how you design their training program. They might need some rehab and mobility exercise, so this is when you play a little game of giving them what they need and what they want. 

Create a training program that starts off with mobility, stability movements and myofascial release. Then, add the big compound movements and finish them off with some of their favorite exercises, like HIIT-type circuits so they can leave the session feeling good. 

It’s a good idea to include most of the “what they need” in the beginning of the session and "what they want” at the end of the session. 

What is your client’s training availability?

How many times do you get to train your client? Are you training them 3 times a week or once a week? This makes a big difference when designing training programs. If you have a dream client that trains 4+ times a week, there is plenty of time to train every single body part. But if your client only comes in once a week, you’re going to have to prioritize exercise that will help your client reach their goal. Compound movements should take priority when building a program for clients that are coming in 1, 2 and even 3 times a week. For example, if your client that wants to get buns of steel and you see them twice a week, you should create a training program that emphasizes deadlifts, squats, lunges, step-ups and hip thrusters. After you have included the priority exercise is when you can start adding core, upper-body and mobility movements. 

Giving your clients homework is another great way of getting your clients to hit their goals faster, and it also adds value to your services. Give your clients training programs that fill in the gaps that you weren’t able to cover during the training session, like cardio, mobility drills and single-joint exercises.

What is your client’s current mood?

Sometimes, your client is ready to kick ass and hit a new PR. But other times, life happens, and they are stressed out over work/family/finances or just didn’t get enough sleep the night before. This is when asking your clients for feedback really comes in handy. Always ask your clients how they are feeling. Is something bothering them? Sometimes, you can tell if they are distracted. You have to be able to read your client’s mood and see if there is a way to get them to focus on the training session. 

What is your client’s training experience?

Has your client worked out in the past with a trainer? Did they play a sport in high school or college? Or is this the first time they have ever stepped into a gym? The answers to these questions play a big part when designing a training program. Sometimes, we get clients that have no body awareness, can’t handle complicated movements or simply forget what exercise they did 5 minutes ago. 

Every client is different. For some, you can design a program in 10 minutes, and others require 30 minutes. Getting your clients’ feedback is crucial to your program design, so keep asking your clients questions about how they like the training so far. How do they like the exercises? Or just ask them if they have any questions in general. You might not get a question right then and there, but when they do have questions, they will feel more comfortable asking. 

What kind of equipment do you have available?

Are you training your client at a full gym or at their house? Programming is a lot easier if you train someone at a full gym, and programing if you’re training your client at their house with limited equipment is a lot tougher. This is when owning your own equipment really comes in handy. Go get yourself some training equipment that you can travel with, like a TRX, mini bands, exercise bands with handles, jump ropes, cones and so on. 

How much experience do you have?

Have you ever trained for a marathon? Do you know how to train someone with a knee injury? Have you ever trained someone to do a bodybuilding competition? All trainers have to start somewhere, and if you don’t know how to handle a special situation, learn how to handle it. Ask another trainer, read an article/book written by a specialist trainer or go for a special certification from your personal training certification organization. Once you do this and if you feel confident, you can train your client to go for it and do their best, BUT if you don’t feel that you’re qualified to train a client, you might want to consider referring the client to another trainer. One day, the trainer will repay the favor.  

These are some of the lessons I have learned as a trainer in the past 10+ years training all types of clients in NYC's Upper East Side. And I want share my experiences with you guys, so I’ll be posting some more program development articles, infographics and videos on how to create effective training programs. 

Coach Hector


Aug, 11, 2017