Back to the Future: Successful Sessions Come from Thoughtful Programs

Kevin Mullins | 19 Jul 2015
Kevin Mullins Thoughtful Programs

One of the most important tasks for a fitness professional is developing the ability to look beyond today, acknowledge tomorrow, and plan into the unknown future. Honestly, being a successful coach requires your very own Delorean. You need to be in the past, in the moment, and in the future all at once.

What does this mean?

Why am I bringing up Back to the Future?

All of this points to the importance of developing a quality exercise program for your clients. A great fitness professional executes a thought out and unique plan instead of treating each workout as an independent event.

  • They factor in a client’s past, including the time spent with you the trainer.
  • There is obvious value in each session and no time is wasted.
  • Lastly, the future is never out of sight. Every session, exercise, set and rep, is designed towards pushing the client towards their ultimate goal.

What makes an exercise program…a program? Let’s do some defining.

  • A yearly Macrocycle is developed that serves as the summation of all of the training sessions that client will complete.
  • Multiple Mesocycles serve as focus points, or goals within the bigger goal. It is common to run three, but no more than four mesocycles per year.
  • Smaller still are Microcycles, which are often measured as weekly to bi-weekly programs that will ultimately build towards achieving the primary goal of the mesocycle.

Let’s examine program design from a different angle than is usually explored. Let’s crank this bad boy up to 1.21 Gigawatts and see the past, present, and future of exercise programs as it refers to your client!

The Past

It should go without saying that understanding your client’s medical, injury, and lifestyle history are critical to providing a safe and beneficial exercise program. Exercise history, nutritional intake, daily agendas, as various assessments also serve as building blocks for the program design.

Even with active clients it is important to remember that every second that passes becomes history. This means that you should be logging load, sets, repetitions, mileage, etc. every session so that you can track the progress of the program over time. This information is valuable feedback that allows you to judge your client, and your program, objectively.

Are you actively developing a history with this client that you can reflect upon, learn from, and rely on when describing your client’s progress?

The Present

This is what we do. The client shows up ready to work out and we deliver a service for the time that they have purchased. We always should be executing the next workout in that person’s program barring any unforeseen circumstances, or that sense that your client needs something different.

Otherwise, it is critical to stick with the program and work towards the client’s end goals.

 I personally believe that unless a specific modality is required for goal achievement, than it is acceptable to adapt the program day-to-day so long as your load, sets, and reps are the same. For example, if you have a client that wants to see a notable increase in their barbell back-squat weight, than you should be emphasizing technique, loading, and implementation of the barbell back squat.

However, if your client wants to lose weight and you know that they also need to increase the strength and conditioning of their lower body, than you have the freedom to adapt exercises to maintain program freshness and fluidity.

The Future

Exercise programs are ultimately about the future. You must develop a route for your client to travel that starts now and ends in eight to twelve weeks. Microcycles are purposely short periods of time so that a program can evolve in the slightest of ways to ensure that progress remains certain.

Experiment with exercise variations, loading schemes, and rest intervals until you find the optimal layout for each particular client.

What will you have accomplished?

Will your exercises, load, sets, and rep schemes make sense for the client’s goals?

Will you spend adequate time assessing needs that the client was unaware of, or did you compound dysfunction with stronger dysfunction?


Ultimately, exercise programming is what separates a quality fitness professional from the fluff. It doesn’t take long to see the differences in a trainer who is executing a plan versus one who is winging it exercise-for-exercise.

Your client’s goals are valuable and so is their time and money. Listen to their story, and plan for their future. Make each moment with you matter so that you can create your own history with the client, which builds to a better, happier client in the future.

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Kevin Mullins

About the author: Kevin Mullins

Kevin Mullins, CSCS is the Director of Product Development for The St. James in Springfield, VA. The author of Day by Day: The Personal Trainer's Blueprint to Achieving Ultimate Success is a former EQUINOX Master Instructor, Personal Trainer, and Group Fitness coach. He has presented for the NSCA, SCW Mania, and contributes content to PTontheNet, other websites, and his own page:

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McGee, Erin | 22 Jul 2015, 22:31 PM