Program Design Hacks for Personal Trainers – Spend Less Time and Create More Effective Programs

Program Design Can Be Very Simple…

Program Design for Athletic MovementBut, creating an easy program design strategy requires thinking differently about fitness and the human body.

At the most basic level, movement is life. The human body was meant to move and is an incredibly complex “system of systems”.

Through the science of motor learning, we know that the complex movements we perform in daily life (walking, climbing stairs, lifting things from the floor, carrying or moving items, etc.) are learned through “motor engrams” or “chunks” of movement.

We often refer to these as “Functional Patterns” “Primal Patterns”, or simply “Movement Patterns”.

Yet, when we look at most fitness exercises and workouts, the program design is typically based on individual muscles

If you’ve ever written a split program broken down by body part (i.e. chest/triceps/, Legs/shoulders, Back/biceps, Abs, etc.) you’ve succumbed to the “muscle myth”. Don’t worry, we’ve all done program design like this at some point.

My goal with this post is to inspire you to think differently about fitness program design and the resulting workouts.

The key to providing a more effective training experience for your clients is to teach movement first and design programs based on foundational movement patterns.

This is actually quite simple, but it requires thinking about fitness in a different way that you were likely taught in your certifications.

You see, the modern health club industry evolved from bodybuilding in the 1950’s and ‘60’s. It was based primarily on aesthetics and isolated muscle training.

In the past 10-15 years, we’ve seen a massive shift to what most people would call “functional” training (more about that distinction and what it actually means in another article). Common examples of this “functional” style of training include:

  • Crossfit
  • Body weight and HIIT circuits
  • Sport/Athlete training
  • OCR style programs
  • Kettlebells/TRX/BOSU/VIPR/and many other tools

This transition has been fantastic in a number of ways…particularly if you are a physiotherapist!

However, one key component has been missing from this transition.

Trainers (and clients) are rarely being taught to MOVE properly, most trainers still think in terms of muscles, and program design is usually based on specific muscle groups.

For example, squats and shoulder presses while functional are typically lumped into the “legs/shoulders” day for programming.

Additionally, exercise intensity and volume are winning over quality of movement. Too many people are stuck on finding the “best exercises” for their goals, whether that is fat loss, muscle building, or “toning” a specific body part.

Many of you reading this will say “Of course, I train functionally and I’m VERY strict on technique with my clients”.

That’s great, but there is a distinct difference between teaching correct technique on an exercise, and teaching a client how to properly perform a foundational movement pattern.

Program Design for Functional Movement Coaching

Skillfully performing a foundational movement pattern transfers to a wide range of exercises whereas the opposite is not necessarily true.

As a coach, I believe our goal should be to drive home the fundamental cues, technique, and skills necessary to perform movements at the base level. This sets clients up for success in virtually any fitness or sport situation we can put them in.

Consequently, we must have a detailed understanding of how the body works.

Understanding the functioning of the component parts is great; however, it’s critical that trainers and coaches clearly understand how the human body functions together as an integrated unit. Not just the muscles, but the joints, fascia, other connective tissue, internal organs and more.

Effective program design and client coaching includes the mechanics of:

  • Breathing
  • Bracing
  • Dynamic movement
  • Muscle compensation strategies
  • Neural activation and potentiation
  • Joint integrity, mobility, and range of motion
  • Inertia, momentum, force application
  • And much more about the anatomy, physiology, biomechanics of human movement.

This isn’t as complicated or tough as it seems, yet very few professionals take the time to learn these areas.

A university degree will help you understand the foundational science, courses like FMS will help you assess movement within a standardized framework, and various specialty courses will teach you the mechanics of specific lifts or a particular brand of equipment in great detail.

Unfortunately, virtually none will help you break down the essential movement patterns of human movement and then tie it all back together into a highly effective, fun, and simple to design program.

That’s why I created the Functional Movement Coaching (FMC) courses.

I’m a firm believer that understanding the science is important, but that it’s even more important to be able to explain and demonstrate that science to your clients in a way that is simple, easy to comprehend, and extremely relevant to improving their life.

The posts I write on this site address and dive into key issues I feel are important for fitness professionals and the public to understand. As a result of shining a light on this situation, I believe we are helping move our industry forward and increasing our effectiveness with clients.

I hope you are able to take actionable tools into your next session, and would love to hear your comments.  

Yours in Health, Happiness, and High Performance Living

Tim Borys

Author, Speaker, Coach, CEO
FRESH! Wellness Group &

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