Program Design Goes Beyond the Weight Room

One of the coolest things about being in the health and wellness industry is every day when you go to ‘work’ you have the opportunity to help people. Whether it be directly, hands on, or indirectly through an article on Medium.com, every fit-pro gets into this industry to help people. So when a former client asked me to come speak to her sorority, I jumped at the opportunity. I mean, it’s a room full of 18–22 year old girls, how could I say no?

When I started thinking about what I wanted to talk about, I spent hours putting pen to paper and kept drawing blanks. I wanted to keep the group engaged, talk about fitness, provide value, and also bring a little ‘wow’ factor and prepare the room for what it takes to be successful as a young professional.

Nothing was jumping off the sheet at me. Shocker.

As I stared at my sheet of paper I noticed that the content I was writing, although about fitness, started to take on a much deeper meaning. At that moment I realized I had stumbled onto a pretty damn good topic that I think could deliver to this group. A unique perspective that goes one dimension deeper than just creating a training program, but the parallels it has with being successful in your day-to-day ‘life program’ as well.

I just had to remember that the lessons in the weight room are always much larger than we initially perceive them to be.

Monitor your volume to avoid over training

Overtraining is a phenomenon that exists when an athlete or individual applies a workload to their body that the body cannot support. This doesn’t mean one workout is going to destroy you, but if you do it over and over again, over the course of time, bad things can happen. Symptoms often include a feeling of heaviness in their muscles, low energy levels, lack of motivation, depression, or even injury. Whether you are an average gym goer or serious athlete, one of the important things I do as a Coach is monitor the total work, or volume, prescribed to the individual. Athletes need to be fresh for their sport and the average person hates walking around with legs so sore it hurts to sit on the toilet. This is one of the most common mistakes I see people make in the weight room.

In our day to day lives this same exact phenomenon exists. Instead of excessive volume in the weight room it’s the excessive volume in your daily activities. We all have our ‘foundational exercises,’ the things we do every day like our go to work and spend time with our family. However, what we do in addition to our foundation adds up quickly. Video games, late nights with friends, going shopping, vacation and extra travel; all of these things are the additional volume that needs monitoring in our program. Just like one workout won’t crush you, one night out or a vacation isn’t going to be the end of the world. However, these activities can start to add up and now ‘overtraining’ starts to set in. Just like monitoring total volume in the weight room, you have to monitor the total volume in your life.

Identify your “big three”

When I start writing a weight room program for someone I always identify the ‘big three.’ These are the exercises that are going to be the mainstays of what my client is going to do in their workouts. Everyone’s ‘big three’ is going to be different. A powerlifter won’t have the same three as a college football player, who won’t have the same three as a skier rehabbing a torn ACL, who won’t have the same three as an account manager at the local bank, who won’t have the same three as a 14 year old who has never touched a barbell before.

I think you catch the drift here…

Everyone enters the weight room with a different agenda, various levels of strength, and with different backgrounds that might limit them in certain movements. But each person finds their mainstays. Whether that be squats, deadlifts, bench press, chin ups, push press, planks, people always find the movements that work best for them and hold on to them for dear life.

We must do the same thing in our day to day.

It’s often believed that we are a combination of the five people we surround ourselves with. I would like to take that one step further and think that we a combination of the three people we value the most. For me it’s my Mom, Dad, and Wife. What is important here, is that these three people you interact with the most be the most positive influences in your life. These are your mainstays, the staple to your program, and the foundation you are building yourself on. Do these people bring out the best or worst in you? Do they promote good habits or bad habits? How do they make you feel? If the answers to those questions make you feel uncomfortable then it’s probably time to write yourself a new program.

Be productive with your rest intervals

Whether I am working in a one-on-one or group setting I need to maximize my time and interactions. I plan out the session, prepare the facility, and map out my coaching cues. After all that, I then plan what I’m going to do during the rest intervals. In a 60 minute session I might have up to 15 minutes of programmed ‘rest’ time. Make no mistake, rest time does not mean dead time. Those 15 minutes turn into mobility and flexibility work, extra hands on teaching, verbal cuing, and yes, even time to grab a sip of water by the fan.

Now I ask, what do you do with your rest time?

We’ve all seen the breakdown of a 24 hour day. Let’s say we get 8 hours of sleep and then work for 8 hours. That leaves an 8 hour ‘rest period’ throughout the day. What do you do with that time? Are you binge watching a tv series on Netflix? Playing the new Call of Duty? Spending an insane amount of time on social media? Staying out until the early morning at the bar?

Listen, it’s your rest period and you can do whatever you want with it. But it is very easy to have your rest time turn into dead time which doesn’t contribute anything to your day to day life. I’m not saying you should sit in your house and pour over every Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuk, or Tim Ferris book. I’m also not saying it’s the end of the world if you go out and spend time with you friends.

What I am asking you to do is audit your program.

During my time as a Fitness Professional I’ve noticed that a well written program will put a client on the path to success. The client walks into the gym, crushes their warm up, trains their big three, adds the appropriate volume with some accessory work, and utilizes their rest periods. After all that they leave the gym feeling unstoppable.

The same format works with your day to day, too.

Wake up, prepare for the day, get to work (on time), communicate with your big three on a regular (if not daily) basis, and utilize your ‘rest periods’ to add the appropriate activities that allow you finish the day and go to bed feeling unstoppable, ready to crush the next day.

The caveat to all this is that a training program is never complete. It takes a lot of trial and error, learning from mistakes, as well as quality time and effort to make sure you stick to the plan. But what I can assure you is that the feeling you get when you stick to the plan, learn and reflect as you go, and find what works for you…that process will lead you to a better place in your life. That’s the message that I would want a room full of young people, but really anyone, to take away. You write your own program.