Programmed for Success

Bob Wells | 22 Aug 2017

When you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

We all have, at one point or another, heard this simple, yet profound adage. As coaches, we are taught to drive home to our clients the message that planning, especially individualized programming, is a crucial part of the success rate of our clients. Programming, as we are “programmed” to say, plays a significant part of whether or not our clients reach their respective goals.

Therefore, it is to the surprise of no one that some of the most recognizable brands in fitness invest a significant amount of resources in their programming. For example, Equinox effectively tauts the efficacy of its 3-Cycle System.

“Cycle 1 is the time during which fundamental movement patterns are learned and a solid foundation for high-level training is set,” says Matthew N. Berenc, director of the Equinox Fitness Training Institute.  “Cycle 2 is where a higher level of stress is applied to the learned patterns and the participants start to engage in higher-intensity programming. Now more weight or volume of training is being used and the complexity of some movements has increased.”

“Finally, in Cycle 3, higher-intensity training mixes with higher skill-based exercises,” says Berenc. “In the study done in conjunction with the UCLA Exercise Physiology and Research Laboratory, not only were the participants pushed via strength, but also with power-based exercises.”

"The key variable we looked at was an increase in lean body mass," says Berenc."Second to that, participants were also tracked against improvements in strength, power and aerobic capacity. At the end of the study, compared to the non-training group, the members in the trained group saw superior gains in all measures."

However, Equinox is not the only fitness giant in the programming game. The National Academy for Sports Medicine (NASM) is arguably most famous for their OPT model of training.

According to, “The NASM Certified Personal Trainer Certification and Specializations are developed with NASM's exclusive Optimum Performance Training (OPT™) model, one of the industry's first comprehensive training system based on scientific, evidence-based research. It takes the guesswork out of program design and helps you produce consistent and remarkable results for your clients.”

“The OPT model was developed to concurrently improve all functional abilities, including flexibility, core stabilization, balance, strength, power, and cardiorespiratory endurance.”

In the OPT model, the client progresses through blocks of stabilization, strength, and power over five phases of training: stabilization endurance, strength endurance, hypertrophy, maximal strength, and power.

So, it seems clear from the research, and places like NASM and Equinox, that individualized programming is essential to getting the best results possible. However, Ryan Andrews of Precision Nutrition doesn’t see the benefit of a highly individualized/detailed program for everyone.

“It depends on the client. If we are talking someone who needs to peak for a physique contest, photo shoot, or athletic event, then programming matters A LOT. For more general health/fitness clients, I don't think highly detailed programming works to their advantage, rather, helping to teach them about healthy/proper movement patterns can go a long way. Just helping them move, have fun, and feel good is really important.”

While many trainers and coaches might scoff at the idea of having ‘stock’ programs, Andrews and Precision Nutrition find that they can be very useful for the client and the coach.

“At PN, we had 12 months of programming already set. And for some people, I think having some general stock programs can be really helpful (e.g., 6 months of muscle building, 6 months of fat loss, 6 months of muscle building with shoulder injury, 6 months of fat loss with knee injury, etc). Working programs in advance can save you some last-minute work. However, it can also prevent more spontaneity, which some clients benefit from.”

There are pros to each side of this issue, but if we remember the words of Andrews to first do no harm, then clients and coaches alike will be programmed for success.

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Bob Wells

About the author: Bob Wells

Bob Wells graduated from Duke University, where he studied Psychology and Biological Anthropology and Anatomy. He is the CEO and Founder of Bob Wells Fitness, and he is currently helping develop sports nutrition courses and material for multiple universities.

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