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The 3 BEST Ways to Get Clients in a Gym

personal trainer sales pitchGone are the days when a personal trainer walks up to someone in the gym, points out their poor form, and then suddenly gains a client because of that interaction (in truth that never worked all that well in the first place).  Finding clients is typically the hardest part of a personal training job.  If correcting gym members on the floor isn’t the best method, and I can promise you that standing with your arms crossed at the personal training desk isn’t the best method, then what can you do if you aren’t a marketing wizard or a social media expert to find clients?  The good news is I have a solution for you.

Offer a Mini-Workout

I just finished teaching my current class at NPTI the quads and hamstrings.  Typically once we learn all the ins-and-outs of a muscle group from an anatomy point of view, we go to the gym and we practice exercises that are beneficial for those muscles.  My students had already mastered the basics such as squats, leg presses, deadlifts, leg curls, leg extensions and the like so I wanted to show them something a little different.  And because I am normally working with 20+ students that are training to become personal trainers at once, I needed to set something up that works for a group.

To that end I created a short circuit for them to follow.  The goal wasn’t to kill or maim them (remember that) but to make them feel the muscles working and to show them something that was likely new to them (remember that too), and I wanted to have a little fun with it (key point #3).  Here is the circuit I created:



  • Banded Leg Press (8-12 reps)
  • Sissy Squats (8-12 reps)
  • Reverse Landmine Lunge (6-8 reps each side)

Repeat for 3 total rounds


  • Glute Ham Raise (4-6 reps)
  • Romanian Deadlift (8-12 reps)
  • Slide Leg Curl (6-10 reps)

Repeat for 3 total rounds

Quad Circuit:

Hamstring Circuit:

Each circuit was completed 3 times.  Just to make it easy, I had all the females start with the quad circuit and the males start with the hamstring circuit, and then once they were done they flipped.  For that sized group it took about 15 minutes to complete each muscle group.

I want to be clear.  The magic isn’t in the specific workout I created, the magic is in the little mini-workout and the effect it provides.  In my experience this is the easiest way to show a potential client what personal training is all about.

Imagine this scenario.  You have been working the floor for a few weeks and you now recognize some regulars.  You know their names (if you don’t – start learning them now) and you know their routines.  And over there is Mary getting on the elliptical just like she always does this time of day and she’ll go for a classic 30 min workout.  She can do better.  You know she can do better.  Approach her with a warm and friendly smile, greet her by name, and ask her if she has time and if she is interested, would she like to try to a quick 15-minute conditioning workout?  If she says no – no worries, leave her be.  If she says yes, great, now go show her a fun and effective conditioning workout.  It should be something she has not done before; she will feel while she is doing it; but it doesn’t crush her and she has fun while she is training.  When that is over tell her you enjoyed working with her and you’d love to sign her up for a full complimentary session where you can complete a proper intake and really understand her goals.

One of the best things about this method is even if a person says no, it is not a permanent no.  If you walk up to a gym member and say “Can I show you how to do this?” and they say no, that is a more permanent no.  They are really saying “please just leave me alone and don’t talk to me again, I don’t want to be bombarded with sales tactics while I workout.”  Once they create that wall it can be hard to get through it.  But with this scenario, when they say no they are just saying “I can’t do this right now.”  But the idea will fester.  While Mary is on her elliptical she’ll be thinking “I wonder if I should have accepted that offer – is there really a better way to do this?”  And if the gym members see you doing these types of mini-workouts with other members regularly they will be more receptive to it.

Certain workouts and setups work better for this method than others.  Teaching a novice how to properly squat with a barbell often takes more than 15 minutes and I don’t think that is ideal for this type of setting, you want immediate success here.  That is better suited as part of a true one-on-one personal training setting.  I think the following works very well:

Abs/Core – most people are bored with how they train their abs.  Pick 2-4 exercises that are new to them and hit the core in fun, effective ways.

Conditioning – get the person who only does cardio off the machines and onto the turf.  Have them use the prowler, battling ropes, med ball slams, and other low risk, highly effective conditioning exercises.  If they puke, you went way too hard.  The goal is for them to experience success, just get them huffing and puffing a bit, that is all you need.

HIT Cardio – If someone just loves their cardio but only does steady state, hit them up with some intervals, step, or repetition style cardio training.  You can finish the last 10 minutes of their regular 30 min workout like this.  Show them there is so much more to do on that simple machine and the workout would be so much more fun, if only you were around all the time to help them

Size – if someone is training for size, pick one muscle group and hit it hard and fast paced with some new twists for 15 min or so.

Strength – if someone is training for strength, pick one main exercise and come up with a creative and effective set/rep scheme for them to follow on that exercise.  Maybe try negatives or paused reps or the like and provide tweaks on their form as needed.

                To summarize this point, offer a short workout – 10-15 minutes.  It should be fun, they should feel it, but you should also leave them wanting a bit more.  Even if it is going well don’t turn this into a grueling 60 min session, just end it there and tell them you are available if they want to sign up.  I find this to be extremely effective because the workouts are easy to create, clients are willing to give it a try, even an initial no often turns into a yes, and the simple act of asking someone to do this is much easier than feeling like you are approaching someone with a quick goal of asking them for a sale.


Give Free Classes

The second best way to get clients in the gym is to offer free lecture style classes.  These are typically done in the group exercise studio but it can be anywhere that can accommodate the attendees and is reasonably conducive to you teaching about a topic.  Pick any fitness, health, or nutrition related topic you want.  Attacking myths or controversial issues works well, but so does simply addressing the basics.  Just because it seems super simple or obvious to you, a professional, doesn’t mean everyone knows it.

If you aren’t used to public speaking this can be a little daunting but suck it buttercup.  You are a fitness professional, you should have the ability to talk to a group of 5-15 people about a topic of your choosing.  If you can create a 1-2 page handout that is better for you and them.  Open it up to questions and the like.  When you do this you automatically create the impression that you are the expert, you are the one who knows the answers to the questions.  Gym members and class attendees will immediately turn to you for advice.  At the end of the seminar let them know you are a personal trainer and you would be happy to answer any questions that they have.

The educator and the teacher in me is hesitant to mention this but the most important factor in these presentations is NOT how factually accurate you are.  For the good of the nation and the field, yes, I implore you to do your due diligence on the topic; but the reality is you don’t have to be a foundation of knowledge or even master the basics of science to be good at marketing and to get yourself clients.  If this was the case the Food Babe and Tracy Anderson wouldn’t have much of a following.  If you speak with passion and authority and have any sort of results to back up what you are saying, clients will believe you.  I only mention this because you don’t have to an international expert or possess 10 yrs of experience in the field to give a presentation in your gyms group ex studio to 5-15 people.  Just get up there and do it.  If it sucks, cie la vie, you’ll get better at it the more you do it, just like you did with demonstrating exercises.  If it is great, now you likely just earned yourself a client or in more simple terms, you just earned the opportunity to make a few thousand dollars from someone.

To help ensure that at least a few people show up, especially to your first couple of presentations, feel free to invite friends, guests, etc.  No one wants to be the first person to sit down for a random lecture.  But if there are already 3-4 people there, then more will come in.  Of course advertise in the gym (over the urinals or in the stalls, plus at the front desk) about when the talk is, what it is, and why it would benefit someone to attend.


Become a Group Exercise Instructor

Group exercise is a great compliment to personal training.  I certainly don’t think that trainerone can become a good personal trainer by simply buying a book, doing some self-study, and taking one test on a computer – if I did I wouldn’t run a brick and mortar personal training school.  But I think for group exercise – especially after one becomes a personal trainer – that can be fine.  Become a group exercise instructor.  This will help you by:

 Adding to your toolbox various skills you can use with your clients

Make you more comfortable leading small groups for training

Revenue generation – you can teach a class in that session it was hard to fill with personal training.  Most group exercise instructors make $25-35/hr, on par with running a PT session at a gym.

Lead generation – each time you run a class you are in front of 10-30 people who like fitness, and you have a full hour to show them how awesome you are.  If you are good very often 1-2 of those people will come up at the end and pay you a compliment.  This is the perfect time to mention you are a personal trainer and you would love to work with them more individually.

Some trainers, particularly males, poo-poo the idea of becoming a group ex instructor.  I would strongly urge them to reconsider.  Indeed, because the vast majority of group exercise instructors are females, actually being a male would then be unusual and the trainer would stick out more in their memory, which is particularly valuable in this instance.  Showing someone you are not just a “meat-head” but you have a variety of skills can be just the icebreaker a potential client needs to start talking to you.

 All it takes is about 20 clients, working out two times a week, and you are a full time personal trainer.  In the DMV area a full time personal trainer with that book of clients is easily earning 50k+, and I’ve had lots of students in the 60-70k range with about 10% cracking the 6 figure number.  The clients are out there and need help, what are you waiting for?


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Why Being a Personal Trainer is Awesome!

4 students flexing NPTI logo

I am excited because today I get to share some information about a topic I am passionate about: Personal Training.  And I get to talk about why being a personal trainer is awesome!

When people think of having a job as a personal trainer, most people tend to think of the immediate benefits: a flexible schedule that you set; a very nice pay rate per hour of training; and a job that doesn’t have super high barrier to entry.  It isn’t as if you need to spend 8 years in graduate school and earn your Ph.D. to become a personal trainer, all it takes is 6-12 months of school to earn a good solid education.  Combine that with some hard work and you are ready to enter the field.  But I want to get a little deeper than just those surface things, and I want you let you hear what others – those have been there and done that – have to say.




What are the two most valuable commodities in your life?  The answer for you is very likely the answer for most people because deep down people want the same thing.  A long, happy, healthy life surrounded by family and friends.  Thus most individuals would say that the two most valuable commodities in their life are Time and Health.  Those two things rank even above money.  The time one has to live, and being healthy enough to spend that time the way you wish.  Take one of those things away and life loses a lot of its luster.  Even though money is highly sought after – particularly in our culture – take away someone’s health and they will gladly trade in that money and then some to feel better again.

As a Personal Trainer we get to give both of those things to our clients.  We get to give them time and health.  They gain time because they are stacking the odds in their favor that they won’t succumb to an early demise.  We also save them time because a goal that might take the client 6-12 months to achieve on their own, with our help it can be done in 3.  And they gain health to be able to spend the time they do have in the manner they see fit.



But those are not the only 2 reasons that being a personal trainer is awesome.  I asked former NPTI grads who have put their time in the trenches why they think being a personal trainer is awesome, and this is what they had to say:

  • It is awesome to see the change in my clients’ lives – Ronald Marshall NPTI Class of 2012
  • It is awesome to see their confidence grow – Tabitha Martin NPTI Class of 2011
  • It is awesome to see my clients get stronger and leave their pain behind – Traudelinde Pelletier NPTI Class of 2009
  • It is awesome to see the glow of my clients’ faces when they start making progress or learn new things – Khalia Williams NPTI Class of 2016
  • It is awesome not to feel like you are “at work” and it is awesome to wear comfy clothes all day – Ed Meija NPTI Class of 2015
  • It is awesome to meet and interact with a bunch of cool people – Rick Garcia NPTI Class of 2012
  • It is so awesome to get that look when they just did something they never thought they could – Katrina Nathaniel NPTI Class of 2009
  • It is awesome to be able to help people love themselves again – Krystal Horton NPTI Class of 2016
  • It is awesome to have a flexible work schedule, which is particularly great for stay at home Mom’s like me – Marian Rodriguez NPTI Class of 2008
  • It is awesome to see how strength gained in the gym bleeds into the everyday lives of my clients – Blanton Brown NPTI Class of 2006
  • It is awesome to see a computer jockey overhead press 135 lbs and feel like a titan and not a programmer, that is the glory of training – Joe Helein NPTI Class of 2014
  • It is an awesome job because you get to change people’s lives – Charles Anderson NPTI Class of 201614947625_1214867461885224_8931162166389675891_n




Being a personal trainer truly is an awesome job.  I am not claiming it is easy, or that every day is filled with nothing but joy – I am not sure any job can claim that.  But if you have a passion for fitness and you enjoy helping others, this is very likely the career field for you.

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The One Customer Service Rule You Can NEVER Break

Allow me to share a little story with you.Indulge me for a minute and I promise it will have a point.

4 bro


Every other year and my brothers and I try to do something special.This year we decided to book a trip to Florida, and we elected to go fishing for Tarpon while we were down there.We knew we needed a captain to take us out, so we did a lot of research, read a bunch of tripadvisor reviews, and interviewed several captains.We were looking for someone that knew their craft and would get us results because this was an activity we didn’t think we could do successfully on our own (sound familiar?).

When we thought we had found the right person we booked them for a full day of fishing.Charter fishing is pretty expensive, it is close to $1000 for a day on the water, but this was to be a once in a lifetime event for us and we were willing to spend the money.


The sun was just peaking above the horizon as we arrived to meet the captain.He was there, ready to go, although the boat was smaller than what he had advertised.As we got out onto the water his first words to us were “don’t ever buy a boat,” and then he went on to tell us about all of the unexpected expenses that came with owning a boat and how one of his boat’s engines had recently broken down.I asked him how many days a week he took folks fishing.He rolled his eyes and said “too many.”He talked about how he had to work 6 or 7 days a week to make ends meet and because of these extra expenses he ‘unfortunately’ had to work and book clients for an extra three weeks this season because he needed the money.


Do you see the error he was making?In his mind he was probably just venting or blowing off steam, but he was complaining about his job to me.He is in the customer service industry and he is complaining about working to the customer.That is something you simply cannot do. Ever.


This is what happens when you complain to someone about something.If they have a basic level of empathy they will feel bad for you and they will want to do what they can to not make it worse.But here is the key.When you are in the customer service industry and you complain about your job to the customer, they customer feels bad and doesn’t want to add to your stress.The easiest way for them to ‘help’ you is to not make you do any additional work, which in this industry means they will stop working with you.


It is really very simple.You can’t complain about your job when you are in the customer service industry.There is no situation where that works well for you.People either think you are a whiner (and no one wants to spend time with whiners) or they feel bad and try to reduce your burden.Since you are telling them your burden is work, they will either consciously or subconsciously seek to reduce that by working with you less.Would you send a referral to someone who was overworked and stressed about how many people they were already working with?


Do you return to that bartender, hair dresser, massage therapist, or doctor that complains continuously about the amount of work they have to do and the struggles associated with their job?


In the customer service industry complaints are a one-way street.The customer can complain or vent about their day and they may do that every now and again.But that is not an invitation for you to do the same.If you are complaining about any aspect of your job or about other clients you interact with it, you are in violation of the number one rule in the customer service industry.And if you keep it up, you likely won’t excel in this industry for any length of time.

tim with shark I know this was a story about fishing but hopefully you can see the parallels.Charter fishing is a high dollar luxury item where people have a certain set of expectations and desires and they are turning to an expert to help get those desires met because they don’t know how to do it themselves.Personal training is much the same, although the number of clients trainers work with is even less which makes every client all the more valuable.If you want to keep your clients coming back, if you want to become and stay a successful personal trainer, you cannot complain about your job (any aspect of it) to your clients.That is the number one rule in customer service, and it is a rule you must follow.

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The Most Glorious Smoothie

fair life milk

Most trainers and fitness enthusiasts consume protein shakes on a regular basis.  The shake is nice because it is convenient and reasonably healthy but more often than not the goal is simply to make the shake “not bad” instead of “really good.”  I am someone that wants to enjoy what I am eating, and I have found that if I don’t like the taste, I typically won’t eat it for very long.

Here is a video that shows how I make it:

I am excited to say I found a protein smoothie that not only tastes awesome but it is super easy to make.  Here’s what you need:

Milk – I like Fairlife Milk for lots of reasons.  It has 150% normal protein (so 8 oz has 12 gr instead of 8), it has no lactose, it lasts forever, and it has half the normal level of sugar.  You can get it at Harris Teeter and Walmart (at least in Virginia) so hopefully it isn’t impossible to find.  It is also super smooth and creamy.  But you can use whatever milk you prefer.

Protein – I like Quest Nutrition All Purpose Protein Powder.  I am allergic to sucralose which is found in many protein powders to enhance the taste.  This prodcut mixes easy, has no sweeteners, and I digest it well.  You can get it off of amazon or for a reasonable price.

Crushed Ice – about a handful

quest nutrition

Blender – you can use a fancy Vitamix or whatever blender you spent $400 on, I found the Hamilton Beach that was $30 at Walmart works just fine for this particular smoothie.

Here’s the deal

  •     16 oz of milk – I use Chocolate 2% milk from Fairlife
  •     1 scoop of protein powder
  •      Crushed ice

Mix for about 30 seconds or so

This smoothie yields the following nutritional information:

50 grams of protein
26 grams of carbs
9 grams of fat
358 cals

I have one of these a day.

Give it a try and see if you also think this is one glorious smoothie.


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How to Get Started With Online Personal Training

How to Get Started With Online Personal Training

As I alluded to in my last post, online training is an excellent way to broaden a trainer’s reach, help more people, and provide significant supplemental income to the current amount of cash a personal trainer is taking home each month.  Many trainers find they can earn another $1,000-$2,000 a month due to online training, working an additional 5 hours a week or less.

A trainer’s natural first question often is – how do I get started?  I know I want to add online training to my services, but what do I do next?  It is a good and very important question and it can be answered with another question.  When you knew you wanted to take the plunge and become a personal trainer, what was your first step?  What did you do to ensure that your career started off on the right foot?  You went and got educated in the field, correct?  You enrolled in NPTI, studied hard for 6-12 months, learned all about anatomy, nutrition, physiology and how to write great programs.  You pushed yourself in the gym and practiced training on your fellow students.  You turned in the projects, passed the tests, and when the time came you were ready to rock those finals and you earned your diploma in Personal Training.

Well, that same approach will serve you well if you wish to enter into the field of online personal training.  You need to get educated – not as a personal trainer, you already know all of that stuff.  But you need to learn how to run an online business.  You need to know how to find these clients, you need to know how to optimize social media to build your book.  You need to know how to convert the leads into sales, how much to charge, how to assess someone without being there in-person, and how to help improve adherence and general success with the workout plan.  You need to know which software to use for billing and how to create templates to improve your efficiency.  In short, you need to learn all of the ins and outs that are specific to online training.  You need to become certified as an online trainer.

NPTI is excited to announce a partnership with the Online Trainer Academy.  The OTA was set up to answer all of these questions.  Their goal isn’t to teach you how to become a personal trainer, they assume (and require) that you already know that stuff.  Their goal is to teach you how to successfully run an online personal training business.  Here is a video that goes into great length about the program:


The Online Trainer Academy is an excellent program.  I have thoroughly vetted the program personally and I am excited about how the information they provide compliments the education you get from NPTI so well.  The program comes with a comprehensive textbook that rivals NPTI’s book in terms of its depth as well as access to many online training modules and suggested study activities.  You’ll learn at your own pace in your own home (or your desired coffee shop if you prefer).  The course is broken down into 4 detailed modules, each of which is likely to take 8-20 hours to complete, and after successfully completing the 4 modules and meeting the requirements, you’ll receive your certification in online training.

Enrollment in this program is very limited.  Enrollment is open now for just a short period of time, and then it will open up again in November of this year.  You can receive a special discount of $200 off the total price if you sign up using this link by Feb 23rd.  

Just enter your email in the link that follows, receive a free eBook about online training and lock in your discounted price.

The program is a significant investment, in terms of both time and money.  The total price for the program is $1500, however with the special code above it drops to $1300.  If you want to pay in full that takes another $200 off the price bringing it down to $1100, or you can pay via an extended payment plan.  It isn’t cheap, most worthwhile things are not, but when you think about the adding the ability to earn an extra 12-24k a year to your earning potential, you’ll realize that investment in yourself is likely to be paid back pretty quickly, and it should be tax deductible for fitness professionals.

Because I believe in this program and because I want you to be successful, anyone who signs up with the Online Trainer Certification will receive a 30-minute consult with me.  We can talk about whatever you want: your business goals, training questions, how to smash that bench or deadlift plateau, how to get ripped, my thoughts on raising kids, how to save money, why battle axes are cooler than swords, which edition of Dungeons and Dragons is the best, whatever you want – it is your time.  We can do this face to face at my office in Tyson’s Corner, via Skype, or over the phone at a time that works for both of us.

If you want to help more people achieve their goals, if you are good at writing fitness programs, if you want to move closer to achieving financial freedom, or if you simply want to expand that resume and add another tool to the toolbox, I’d encourage you to register now for the Online Trainer Certification.  Use the following link to receive a special $200 off by February 23rd, and registration for this semester closes March 2nd.

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Why Online Personal Training is Pretty Cool


With the rise of social media and the feeling of connectedness individuals can have across significant geography, online personal training is an exciting new frontier for the fitness professional to consider.  And, in this author’s opinion, this is no fad – online training is here to stay.  There is good reason for this, as there are many different reasons why online training is pretty cool.

Broaden Your Reach – Online training allows you to interact with, and subsequently help, a greater number of people.  While I am a steadfast believer in face-to-face personal training and the positive impact it can have, the simple fact is through online training you can greatly increase your web of influence.  If you live in Virginia you can train individuals in California, Texas, New Zealand, Iceland – you name it, you can do it.  If they have a computer and you do, you can train them.

Enhance Your Experience – The more people you train, the better trainer you become.  Just like with any career, as your experience grows so does your skill set.  Online training allows you to interact with more people at once, which enables you to accelerate your learning curve in the industry.  Instead of 10-20 clients to work with and learn from, now you might have 30, 50, or even 100 clients that are you receiving feedback from and applying the principles of exercise science too.  More data, when the data is paid attention to, means a better trainer. online training

Greater Income Potential – Online training is a great way to supplement the income of a personal trainer.  Most full time (30 sessions a week) personal trainers in the DC Metro area will make about 45-65k a year, a reasonable income given the education required, time commitment per week needed, and overall difficulty of the work expected.  Certainly mainly trainers will make more than that, and some may struggle to make that if they simply don’t have enough personal training clients.  But let’s face it – who doesn’t want to make just a little bit more money every month?  Those same full time trainers can start online training and a very reasonable expectation is, after a few months of building one’s business, to earn an additional $1000 each month.  Think how handy that extra money would be, think of the freedom that would offer you?  And it really isn’t that hard to do.  Online training could be one’s sole source of income, but for most the idea is to supplement their in-person personal training income, be that a full-time or part-time job.


You get to be Independent – Most personal trainers will work for a fitness company or personal training company.  There are a lot of benefits to that – the company rents the space, draws in clients, buys all of the equipment, and deals with billing, customer service issues, etc.  But there are two major negatives.  First, that company is going to take their cut of the pay, and it will be significant.  Most trainers will charge $70-90/hr but they don’t actually make that much, instead they are likely to make about half of that, with the rest going to the gym.  Secondly when you work for a company you aren’t the boss, so you don’t get to decide how things are done and what the vision is.  When you are training online, you can set up things independently.  You can decide exactly what you offer, how you are going to offer it, the level of service you will provide, and what those services will cost.  If you do a good job your client base will stay with you and is likely to grow, if you don’t then they will look elsewhere.  Your success, or lack of it, is really up to you.  That is a fun but scary proposition, but in my experience most individuals that get into the fitness profession enjoy being in charge of their own destiny.  Even better, since the clients you are training online tend to live far away, online training is not likely to violate any non-compete you might have signed with your fitness company.

Can it Work – A reasonable question is, can online training really work?  But you already know the answer to that question.  Do you sell workout programs or nutrition plans to clients without actually training them in-person?  Do people read fitness related book or articles and then make significant physical transformations?  Of course they do.  Clearly in-person personal training is likely optimal, as the trainer can then see every rep and every set and provide immediate feedback.  And that is why it is much more costly, because it is more time consuming and it is optimal.  But don’t misinterpret something that isn’t optimal to mean it isn’t good, sometimes that is the case but in this instance it isn’t.  You can write programs, offer guidance, lend support, suggest modifications, help with nutrition – all those great things you do in person can still be performed with online training.

What Can I Expect – As with most things in life, there are no guarantees and what you get out of it is very likely tied to the effort you put into it.  But it isn’t that hard to find 10-20 regular clients that are willing to sign up for online training.  Trainers typically charge $50-250 for a months’ worth of online personal training (business tip: charge bi-weekly to make just a little bit extra income), so with that number of clients trainers can expect to pull in about $500-5000 each month.  A good trainer should be able to streamline their processes, but in general expect to spend 1-2 hours per client per month, perhaps more in the beginning when you are still establishing your business and you are getting to know the client, and less once you have ironed out the process and you already know the client well.


Put online personal training on your radar, it is coming and it is coming fast.  The good news is that part of the industry is still quite new and you can make a nice footprint as the field grows around you.  Then, in couple of years when it becomes more of the norm, you will already be well established and your business is likely only to grow over time.

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7 Steps to Writing Great Workout Programs

I’ve instructed over a thousand people to become personal trainers, and one thing new trainers struggle with is the act of writing out a personal training program.  I am not talking about trying to decide if a client should perform bench press or perhaps push-ups, or if lunges are better than squats?  I am talking about the actual mechanics of constructing a workout program that is time efficient, easy to follow, easy to modify, and let’s clients make sense of the directions the trainer is trying to give them.  This is particularly important if you engage in online training.  If you are looking for ways to enhance and expedite your program design process, I have a solution for you.  Follow these 7 simple steps and you will be able to create impressive and consistent workout programs that clients will be willing pay for.  To be clear this post is not about the why’s of how the body works or what types of workout programs are best for certain clients.  This post is about how to properly write out and design strength training programs.

Step 1: Get Their Goals

npti-textbook It is important to have a couple of clear fitness goals that you will construct the program around for the next several months.  Prioritize these goals – be sure to delineate a number one goal that is most important to the client.  For more details on setting goals, refer to chapter 4 in the textbook NPTI’s Fundamentals of Fitness and Personal Training.  In short, make sure the goals are SMART and that they relate to a component of fitness.  Improving strength, building muscle, and enhancing muscle endurance are some of the most popular resistance training goals that clients will have.

Case Scenario: Let’s say we are working with an intermediate level male client that is 180 lbs and 35 years old.  After talking things over with him you discover he has the following goals, in order of importance:

Increase strength – take bench from 240 to 275 in 3 months

Increase size – improve flexed arm measurement from 15 to 15.75 inches in 3 months

Increase muscle endurance – be able to lunge around a track without stopping in 3 months


Step 2: List the Key Exercises


The principle of specificity makes it clear that exercise selection is very important.  This is also clearly illustrated in my Hierarchy of Strength – exercise selection is one of the most important variables that a personal trainer will have full control over in the workout program.  As such, list 5-10 key exercises that you want to make sure are included in the program.  Don’t feel as though you have to list all exercises the client will do and don’t worry about the order, right now just jot the exercises down.

Case Scenario:  For our client let’s be sure to include the following exercises in the workout program:


  To Increase Bench   To Increase Arm Size   To Increase Leg Muscle Endurance
  Bench Press

Incline Press

  EZ Curl

Pullover Skull Crushers

Closegrip Bench





Step 3: Establish Training Schedule

This step is easy but important.  You simply want to figure out what days a week the client will train with you; or if you are just a creating a workout program for someone to follow figure out the days a week they will normally train.  Put this in column format as shown below.  For clarification purposes I am listing 3 options (a twice a week, three times a week, and four times a week option) but in real life you would just select the number of days the client is able to train each week and go from there.

Example 1:  Training 2 x week

  Tuesday   Thursday


Example 2: Training 3 x week

  Monday   Wednesday   Saturday


Example 3: Training 4 x week

  Monday   Tuesday   Thursday   Friday


Step 4: Set up Weekly Routine

Once you have the typical days each week the client is going to workout, now you want to decide what areas of the body or what movements you are going to train on those days?  Here you want to balance out two very important variables in a workout program: Frequency (how often something is performed) and Intensity (how hard is it).  In general those two terms have an inverse relationship.  If you can’t decide what to do, train everything twice a week.  If the person likes to workout a bit easier then go for 2-3 x week; if the person really likes to workout hard and doesn’t mind being sore aim for once a week.  See below for possible examples of how this could get fleshed out (there are many ways to do this and this is not the most important variable to consider, so simply trust your gut and go from there):

             Example 1:  Training 2 x week

  Tuesday   Thursday
  Total Body Routine   Total Body Routine


Example 2: Training 3 x week

  Monday   Wednesday   Saturday
  Push   Pull   Total Body


Example 3: Training 4 x week

  Monday   Tuesday   Thursday   Friday



Lower Back





Note: Core could be trained once or twice a week on any day during this routine


Step 5: Fill in the Exercises

Now take the columns that you have created and fill in the exercises that you selected in step 2.  Put them where they belong, and then fill in any missing blanks.  Don’t overload the client with a massive number of random exercises, think quality over quantity.  Generally you want to perform a least 4 exercises per session and you will usually not perform more than 10 total exercises, 6-8 is a very common number for a one hour session.  For more information on which exercises are ideal to choose, see the Best Exercise Series found on  If you want to worry about exercise order now, that is fine, or you can fix that in the next step.

Example: Let’s take option 3 from above and flesh it out with our sample client.

  Monday   Tuesday   Thursday   Friday



Lower Back







DB Incline Fly

DB Hmr Curl

Reverse Curl

3 Board Press

Tricep Pushdown







Pullover Skull Crusher

Closegrip Bench

DB Mil Press

Leaning Lat Raise

Cable Lat Raise


EZ Power Curl


45 Degree Row

DB Row

Strict Curl

DB Power Rear Delts

Smith Machine Shrugs


Note: The bolded exercises are the ones we listed in Step 2 as key exercises


Step 6: Fill in the Nuts and Bolts

The nuts and bolts of exercise program design are the specific variables you are going to apply to the exercises you have selected for the client to perform.  These variables include: exercise order, warm-up sets, work sets, reps, weight used, rest time, as well as any intensity techniques you might employ (supersets, drop sets, pre-exhaustion, etc).  For more detail on why certain variables should be set up certain ways, see this post:

Example: Let’s take day one and fill out the nuts and bolts for it:

  Monday   Nuts and Bolts

 Bench 3 w/u sets




DB Incline Fly


DB Hmr Curl


Reverse Curl


3 Board Press

Tricep Pushdown


95×12; 135×8, 155×6

175×8, 190×6, 205×4, 185×6-8


135×8, 145×8, 155×8







135×6, 165×6, 185×6, 205×6


Note: Italicized sets are warm-up sets

You would follow that process of filling in the nuts and bolts for each day and for each exercise.


7. Incorporate Progressive Overload

I referenced earlier that the principle of specificity is one of the most fundamental training principles that personal trainers must keep in mind when they are creating workout programs.  The other extremely key variable is the principle of progressive overload, which essentially states that you must make the workout harder over time to improve the client’s fitness level.  If you don’t follow overload, you will not cause the desired adaptations in the client.  Well planned out overload is the one of the key differences between simply working out and actually following a training plan that is going to lead you to a specific goal.

For the vast majority of clients, you want to incorporate overload in every subsequent session or at least on a weekly basis.  To help with this process, I like to think about where I want the client to be either at the end of the training program (mesocycle) or at the end of the month.  Then I will program backward to where they are now.  For example, we have our client benching 205×4 on the first day of the plan.  That should be quite doable for a client who can bench 240.  On that phase of the program, we can likely just add 5 lbs to each working set each week.  You can’t do this forever but it is very reasonable that we can do that for the first month, at which case the client is now going to do 220×4 on week 4 which is good progress and they likely can’t do that set now.

However you can’t just add 5 lbs a week to every exercise forever, often that rate of progress is not realistic.  For example if we did that to the incline fly that would put them at using 50 lbs for 8-12 reps on week 4, 70 lbs on week 8, and 90 lbs on week 12.  Generally you need to be benching well over 300 lbs to use 90’s on an incline fly with good form so that is not realistic for our client.

If the total weight used is lighter and/or if the rate of adaptation isn’t expected to be that fast, it is often ideal to add reps instead of weight.  This is typically done using rep range progression which is where the trainer picks a desired range of reps (that relate to the goal), the client starts out hitting the minimum number of reps and then builds up to the maximum.  Once the maximum number of reps is hit, a small amount of weight is added, the reps drop back down to the minimum and the process repeats.  This style yields small results initially but over time it can lead to very significant gains in strength.

There are many other types of overload including adding sets, changing exercises, decreasing rest time, and using intensity techniques – but adding weight and adding reps are the most common ways to introduce overload.  They are also very easy to measure and sure to produce results.

For clients following a take home plan, or for the trainer looking at a monthly progression, it is easiest to show this in table format.  Take the workout that was created and then create a column for week 1, week 2, week 3, and week 4.  Then fill in the expected overload.  You can’t always predict these things perfectly but a trainer will develop a sense of the type of progress a client will make over time.  As experience builds this becomes easier and easier.

Day 1 – Chest and Arms

Exercise Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
  Bench 95×12; 135×8, 155×6

175×8, 190×6, 205×4, 185×6-8

95×12; 135×8, 160×6

180×8, 195×6, 210×4, 190×6-8

95×12; 135×8, 160×6

185×8, 200×6, 215×4, 195×6-8

95×12; 135×8, 165×6

190×8, 205×6, 220×4, 200×6-8

  Incline 95×8

135×8, 145×8, 155×8


140×8, 150×8, 160×8


145×8, 155×8, 165×8


150×8, 160×8,


  DB Incline Fly 25×8

35×8 x 3


35×10 x 3


35×12 x 3


40×8 x 3

  DB Hmr Curl 25×8



35×10 x 3


35×12 x 3


40×8 x 3

  Reverse Curl 40×8

60×8 x 3


60×10 x 3


60×12 x 3


65×8 x 3

  3 Board Press 135×6, 165×6, 185×6, 205×6 140×6, 170×6, 190×6, 210×6 145×6, 175×6, 195×6, 215×6 150×6, 180×6,

200×6, 220×6

Tricep Pushdown 80×8 x 3 80×12 x 3 85×8 x 3 85×12 x 3


Day 2 – Legs and Lower Back

Exercise Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
  Squats 45×12, 95×8, 95×8, 135×8,

175×5, 195×5, 215×5, 185×10

45×12, 95×8, 95×8, 135×5

165 x 15 x 4

45×12, 95×8, 95×8, 135×8,

180×5, 200×5, 220×5, 190×10

45×12, 95×8, 95×8, 135×5

165 x 20 x 4

  Lunges 25×12, 35×12, 45×12 BW x 100 x 2 30×12, 40×12, 50×12 BW x 110 x 2
  Bulgarian Split    Squat 25×8

35×8 x 3

15×15 x 3



35×12 x 3

15×20 x 3


 Romanian  Deadlift 95×8, 135×8

165×8, 195×8, 225×8


155×20 x 3

95×8, 135×8

175×8, 205×8, 235×8


165×20 x 3

Glute Ham Raise BW x 6 x 4 BW x 8 x 4 BW x 10 x 4 BW x 12 x 4


Day 3 – Shoulders and Triceps

Exercise Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
 DB Military Press 25×8 x 2

40×8, 50×6, 60×4, 45×8-12

25×8 x 2

40×10, 50×8, 60×6, 45×8-12

30×8 x 2

45×8, 55×6, 65×4, 50×8-12

30×8 x 2

45×10, 55×8, 65×6, 50×8-12

 DB Leaning Lat Raise 25×8 x 4 25×12 x 4 30×8 x 4 30×12 x 4
 Cable Lat Raise 20×8 x 3 20×12 x 3 25×8 x 3 25×12 x 3
 Closegrip Bench 95×8, 135×8

165×8 x 3

95×8, 135×8

165×12 x 3

95×8, 135×8

175×8 x 3

95×8, 135×8

175×12 x 3

  Dips +20×10, +40×8, +60×6, +30×8-12 +25×10, +45×8, +65×6, +35×8-12 +30×10, +50×8, +70×6, +40×8-12 +35×10, +55×8, +75×6, +45×8-12
 Pullover Skull Crushers 50×10

80×12 x 4


80×15 x 4


90×12 x 4


90×15 x 4


Day 4 – Back and Biceps

Exercise Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
  Pull-ups +10×8, +20×6, +30×4, +15×6-10 +15×8, +25×6, +35×4, +20×6-10 +20×8, +30×6, +40×4, +25×6-10 +25×8, +35×6,

+45×4, +30×6-10

  45 Degree Row 135×8

175×8, 190×6, 205×4, 185×6-8


180×8, 195×6, 210×4, 190×6-8


185×8, 200×6, 215×4, 195×6-8


190×8, 205×6,

220×4, 200×6-8

  DB Row 50×10

80×8 x 4


80×12 x 4


90×8 x 4


90×12 x 4

 DB Power Rear Delts 30×10 x 3 30×15 x 3 35×10 x 3 35×15 x 3
 Smith Mx Shrugs 135×8

165×10, 185×10, 205×10


175×10, 195×10, 215×10


185×10, 205×10, 225×10


195×10, 215×10, 235×10

 EZ Power Curl 65×10, 75×8, 85×6, 65xAMRAP 70×10, 80×8, 90×6, 65xAMRAP 75×10, 85×8, 95×6, 75xAMRAP 80×10, 90×8, 100×6,


 Strict Curl


60×6 x 3 60×10 x 3 70×6 x 3 70×10 x 3


It is written weight x reps (x sets if multiple sets of that weight are listed)

Warm-up sets are italicized

Progression is estimated but reasonable.  If this program was followed for more than 1 month progression would need to slow at some point (for example go 8 reps, then 10, the 12 instead of 8 to 12 reps the next session)

AMRAP means complete as many reps as possible with good form

Format can get a little funky going from Word to WordPress for articles, so if this was a paying client’s program tighten up the format to make it look neater


The goal of this article was to show you the steps to follow in creating an exercise program.  We started with a simple idea – come up with a workout for a male that wanted a stronger bench, bigger arms, and better muscle endurance in his legs.  We ended up with a very solid one month plan that would likely yield very good results and be reasonably enjoyable to follow, all of which could be completed in 4 workouts a week, 60 min each.  Maybe after looking at all of that a trainer decides to go back to a push/pull routine.  You can simply take the exercises and then rearrange them to match that routine, not a huge amount has to change.

Trainers tend to spend a lot of time on workout program design, so when possible look for ways to become more efficient and streamline the process. Time is money, and when you can come up with the same end result in less time you just saved yourself some money.

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Should Personal Trainers Give/Receive Gifts During the Holidays?

The holidays are fast approaching, and a common question asked, by both trainers and their clients – is what should I do for my trainer/client during the Holidays?  Do I get them a gift or not?  Recently someone posted that exact question on Facebook.  I responded with a short answer of what I get my clients (gourmet fruit) and Jon Goodman, founder of and someone who has tremendous business sense and whom I respect a lot, said that he discouraged trainers giving consumables and presented some reasons why (outlined below).  This got me thinking – had I made a mistake by giving my clients gifts?  Was there a better way?

For Clients

Let’s start with the easy one.  Clients often wonder if they should get their personal trainer a gift for the holidays – a tip of sorts.  Personal trainers are in the service industry and it is reasonably customary – although not expected – to give gifts during the holidays to those that perform regular services for you such as garbage collector, postal workers, cleaners, and in this instance personal trainers.  If you google what a standard gift is for a trainer, it comes up that giving a gift the value of one or two personal training sessions is standard.  Anything valued over 2 personal training sessions would be very generous; anything less than one session would not be as generous.  To be clear it is certainly not mandatory to give a trainer gift.  It isn’t like stiffing a waiter and leaving no tip after your service.  However it is pretty standard, in my experience over the last 15 years about 75% of clients, with the percentage being even higher with long term clients, would give a gift at holiday time.

What to Give?

The natural follow-up question then becomes what to give?  You have a lot of options here.  Cold hard cash is always appreciated, although if you want leave a truly memorable impression you might select something else.  A gift card to their favorite restaurant or grocery store or something like Amazon works well.  If you want to give an item you can either get them a specific item or give them a gift card with the assumption they will get that item.  For example, if a trainer kept talking about wanting to get this specific outdoor grill they saw at Lowe’s, you could buy them a gift card for Lowe’s and leave a note that says “I hope this helps you get that grill you always wanted.”  This will leave a lasting impression and every time they use the grill they will think of you.

A Note for Trainers

There is nothing more annoying than someone that expects a gift.  It is true that around the holidays a full-time trainer with 20 or so clients can receive some pretty sweet gifts, but nothing would be worse than showing up for your last session before the holidays with your hand open saying “so what did you get me?” as your eyes sparkle greedily.  A gift is a show of gratitude, it isn’t mandatory and it shouldn’t be expected, even if it happened in previous years.  Also some people just give differently.  Some clients may be very generous (I have had clients give a full month’s worth of sessions; others have bought me plane tickets for my family) and others may not be.  Clients themselves can vary, one year from a very regular client I got a toy Model T car (he liked antiques so we talked about them during the session, although this was just a regular toy) and a candle holder.  I am not sure of the value of those items but it was likely less than $40 which is less than half of a session.  The same client another year gave me a gift certificate to take my wife out to a very nice, high class restaurant near DC, all expenses paid.  That would have been valued at over $200.  Not everyone gives the same way you will and that is okay.

If the client gives you a card in person I would ask them if they want you to open it right there or not?  Some might be embarrassed and might prefer you open it later.  I personally like to save my cards and open them on Christmas day.  But others might be disappointed not to see your reaction so they will want you to open it in front of them.  Just ask what they prefer.  Be sure to thank them later on for the gift, preferably more than once.  A hand written thank you note is always a nice touch.

If you work for a gym it is a good idea to ask if you are allowed to accept tips and gifts?  They should be in my opinion, so if your gym doesn’t allow it I would encourage you to suggest they do, but ultimately you don’t want to violate any rules and possibly lose your job over receiving a gift from a client.

If you are a Trainer

              On to the trickier situation.  If you are a trainer, should you get a gift for your clients?  If no, why not, and if yes, what should you get?  There are 2 sides to the story.

                As I mentioned earlier, not everyone thinks that giving gifts to clients around the holidays is a good idea.  They generally propose 4 reasons why that is the case.

                Frequency – if you give a gift to a person that centers around a regular event, then it becomes expected that in the future when that event occurs again, the person will receive a gift from you.  This can be problematic and it can be a long term problem.

                Raise the bar – it is natural over time to want to raise the bar and improve the gift.  This can be frustrating and costly if you feel as though you have keep “one upping” yourself every year by getting clients nicer and nicer gifts.

                Noise – many argue that during the holidays, or on someone’s birthday, is the worst time to give a gift because the person is getting many other gifts at this time.  Your gift likely won’t stand out and be that memorable and in some ways it defeats the purpose of giving a gift. 

                Might do more harm than good – sometimes giving bad gifts is worse than giving no gifts at all.  If you give a completely non-personal gift or a super cheap gift, it can be seen as an insult and it might actually damage the relationship.  In the podcast linked below he provides an example of an employee receiving a $15 gift card from the company for working there for 15 years.  That is just an insult and no gift would be better than that.

To be fair, the advocates against giving gifts around the holidays aren’t suggesting you never give gifts at all, they just don’t feel around the holidays you get a good return on your investment.  They do urge that you show your appreciation when you feel it, and I whole heartedly agree with this.  A random gift really stands out in one’s mind because it just doesn’t happen very often.  Imagine the impact it would have if you sent a client a nice gift “just because” in the middle of March when they weren’t expecting it.  It would likely make their day and they might even blog, post, or tweet about it and it will be really memorable to them.  I do encourage you to try to give random gifts to those people important in your life when you can.  That is something I want to do more of myself.

For more detail on why NOT to give gifts, check out this insightful podcast from Jayson Gaignard of Master Minds entitled: Why Giving Gifts this Holiday Season is an Irreversible Mistake:



While I can respect and appreciate the reasons presented for trainers to not give a gift around the holidays, I don’t agree with them.

A personal trainer can (read should) have a very unique relationship with their client.  It is very rare that a person will spend 2, 3 or 4 hours one on one with someone each week, for months or even years on end.  While the client may not become a ‘friend’ per se, trainers and clients can develop very close relationships.  I feel the advice above is better suited for big businesses and their clients, for example a doctor wouldn’t need to give a present to each of their clients at the holidays.  But your client will only have one trainer – you.  And you likely play a very important role in their life.  I don’t think it is wise for a trainer to skip out on giving a gift to a client, particularly a long-term client, during the holidays.  Here’s why:

You are probably going to get a gift from them.  I think it would be pretty awkward to get a gift from someone and then not return the favor.  Again you can do it randomly but they don’t know that and if you were planning to do something in the spring and they give you a Christmas Gift they might feel a little slighted.  It is like that person who gets you a Valentine’s Day present and you have nothing to give back to them.  Personally I could not handle that awkwardness of receiving a present but having nothing to give back.  I have had dreams – or more accurately nightmares – that it is Christmas morning and I forgot to buy presents for everyone and I have nothing to give them.  It is not a good feeling.

I personally like to give gifts.  In the book The Five Languages of Love there are 5 main ways to show love, and giving gifts is one of them.  You should get to know your clients very well and hopefully you can get them a special, meaningful gift.

I want to directly address the 4 potential problems raised by those that suggest one not give a gift and put them in the context of a personal trainer giving a client a gift.

Frequency – this one is pretty easy to solve.  If the person is a paying client they receive a gift, if they are no longer a client they do not.  It isn’t like a friend where you buy them a gift one year, then drift apart and you have to mentally calculate if you should get them a gift again?  If they are paying you, you get them a gift; if not no worries.

Raise the bar – I really don’t feel this is necessary, you don’t have to outdo yourself every year.  I have found that many of my clients were really excited about getting a gift even if it was a repeat of what they got before (more on that later).  I would suggest that you spend about 1% of what they pay you per year on a gift to them.  If a client spends $2000 a year on you, you spend about $20 on them.  If a client spends $10000 a year on you, you spend about $100 on them.  That way you are reasonably consistent and treating everyone as fair as possible.  If they buy a lot more training then you might increase the gift you give them, but if their yearly rate is about the same then the gift can stay about the same.

Noise – while it is true that the client may be receiving many overall gifts at that time, they will only have one trainer and they will only get one gift from you.  Just like a husband telling a wife “oh, you got so many gifts this year, I decided to skip buying something for you this year” isn’t going to go over well, you skipping them (when they got something for you) isn’t ideal in my opinion.

If you want to really set yourself up well you might give them a small gift 1-2 months prior to the holidays as one of those “just because” gifts.  This way you are addressing the noise problem and honestly most people operate on the tit for tat principle – if you give them a gift they are even more likely to give you a gift in return.

Bad Gifts – while it is possible you might give a client a bad gift that harms the relationship, really this should not be the case.  After training a person several times a week for several months or longer, you should really get to know that person quite well (this applies to members of your family as well).  You should know their favorite restaurant, the types of books they like to read, the kinds of movies they enjoy, what they are interested in.  If you need more inspiration look through their posts on Facebook.  When they are talking to you about something during the session, even if the holidays are months away, make a little note about it in your training journal.  When you can remember a comment a client made months ago about wanting a certain item or liking a certain thing, and then you get that for the person, that is a fantastic way to strengthen the relationship.  Acts like that make a great impression on clients and in turn will really help your retention of those clients (this applies to gifts given around the holidays or at random times). 

One way to make a client feel awkward is to give them a gift that is more valuable – in monetary terms – than the gift they give you.  If a client is going to spend $50-$250 on you, you’ll probably want to spend $20-$100 respectively on them.  They are giving you a tip or a gift thanking you for your service to them throughout the year, they are still the customer.  You are giving them a gift showing your appreciation for having them as a customer.

What to give Clients?

If you decide that you do want to give clients a gift, either around the holidays or at other times, then the question becomes: What type of gift should you give them?  When examining gifts, they tend to fall in one of two broad categories.  Consumables and non-consumables.  Consumables are something that is used up and then gone.  Giving money, a gift card, or an apple pie is a consumable.  Non-consumables are something that is not used up.  A T-shirt, a movie, an engraved knife are all non-consumables.


Gaignard makes the argument that non-consumable gifts are better, and I agree with him, although I had been giving consumables to my clients.  I don’t believe what I was doing was “bad” but I think there are times when you can do better.  The basic idea is that once you give a non-consumable, every time the person uses that item they will think of you and appreciate the act.  When you give a consumable, the person enjoys that for the moment but then it is gone and it was a one-time thing.


If you want to go the non-consumable route, consider some of these options:

A book – don’t just pick any random book but try to make it special.  Select a rare book, a book signed by the author, or one that is on a very specific topic you know the client likes.

A movie – as with a book, I don’t think just buying one basic movie is a great gift for a regular client, but if you bought a series or a group of movies with a theme that could go over really well.  Imagine training a 20-year old male client who loved lifting weights but who had never seen any of the classic Stallone or Arnold movies, so you put together a set of your favorite 5-10 movies from that time period.  I think he would be really stoked to receive that gift. 

overthetop pumping_iron conanthebarbarian rocky-1 predator-1987-1







                    This would be one awesome movie set to give a lifter

A picture – if you know your client well you can get a picture made up for them.  It could be of their family (particularly if they mentioned in passing one day how much they loved this certain picture), it could be of the two of you, it could be of them lifting or showing their progress, or it could be something motivational in nature.  Now with places like Snapfish and Shutterfly it is easy to customize pictures and do fun things with them (put them on mugs, mousepads, etc). 

Specific Item – if you know a client wants a specific item you could get that for them.  If a client is really getting into lifting then giving them a special powerlifting belt; or gloves; or training shoes; or a fitbit; anything like that should work well.  Maybe they need a new blender for their protein shakes?  Or a new heart rate monitor?  The more you can customize it the better.dream_motivational_calendar_print

 Calendar – A client might appreciate you making them a customized fitness calendar or a personal calendar.  For the former you can come up with motivational images and build a calendar for them; for the latter you can look through their Facebook and use pictures they like to build it.  I wouldn’t make a personal calendar for a client I had only been training for 2 months, but for someone that you knew very well and you knew the important people in their life, you could make them calendar like that.

Customized Workout Apparel – Trainers often like the idea of giving customized workout clothing to their clients, such as a T-shirt with your company’s name on it.  I think this is fine in addition to a more personal gift or as a random present that happens without a specific reason, but if all you give the client is just a T-shirt or a water bottle with your logo on it I don’t think that is an ideal present.  It appears to be too self-serving in my opinion.


As mentioned, I do think it is mostly ideal to give non-consumable gifts in most scenarios, but sometimes you may want to give a consumable or honestly it may just be easier.  If that is the case, then consider these items:

Gift Card – Try to make this as specific as possible.  For example, you could just give a gift card to Amazon and be done with it, or you could say “I thought you might be able to order those really cool running shoes we were talking about with this gift card, I wasn’t sure what size you were”.  That way they will associate the running shoes with you and it becomes like a non-consumable but it is more convenient.  Generally gift cards are not very personable so I would use this method sparingly.


Gourmet Food – If you give food around the holidays, the first thought might be chocolate or cakes or cookies or something, but to me it seems incongruent for a trainer to give a lot of sweets to a client.  What I ended up doing for most of my clients was I would have gourmet fruit delivered to them, either just once or sometimes once a month for a few months for my very serious and regular clients.  This is a consumable and I am aware that is a potential negative, but this did work out well for me for several reasons.

First, it was fruit so it goes with the whole “as a trainer I want you to be healthy” moto.  The fruit was very high end and usually super tasty, it wasn’t just a few apples and oranges that they could pick up at their local grocery store whenever they want.  It was also very seasonal so literally for only one or two months out of the year that specific fruit could be delivered (I typically ordered gourmet pears).  While it was consumable, it often lasted several times (for example a client might get 6 huge pears and eat ½ a pear at a time, thus enjoying the gift 12 times).  I had many clients tell me either how much they enjoyed it and/or how much they were looking forward to it if they were regular clients.  I used the company Harry & David and their system was pretty convenient.  The first year it took a while to set up but then after that I could just reorder the same gift or modify it, hit a few buttons and the gift was ready to go out again.  If you have 20 clients it is helpful if you don’t have to spend one hour on each individual client buying them a gift.  Many personal training clients are very affluent and as such they are sometimes picky about the gifts they get, but this company caters to those clients and the clients were almost always happy (for example if it was delivered but the client is on vacation they will just send another box free of charge when the client gets back home).


If you don’t want to go the fruit route you could also consider setting something up with a local or organic butcher if you know your client enjoys meat, or you could get them a fine bottle of wine (but make sure you know specifically the type of wine to get, don’t guess).

If you get your client a gift you want to avoid making it a bad gift.  Avoid cheesy gifts that in a week or two they will just throw away or have no use for.  Avoid going too cheap, for example if your client collects knives you could get them a knife.  However if you can only spend $20 on a knife and everything in their collection is $200 or more, they probably won’t appreciate the cheap knife very much.  I would try to get them a rare book about knives or a special light for their knife case instead.  Don’t give a client money directly, that is a definite no-no.

I certainly believe that gift giving when done well can be very powerful.  It can help cement current relationships and help build new ones.  In the ideal world gifts should be personable, they should show the other person that you care about them and that you take note as to what is important to them.  I also agree that it is ideal to mix up the traditional idea of giving gifts and to give gifts at more random times, with varying frequency.  However it doesn’t have to be either/or proposition.

You don’t have to be this cool gift giver who also forgoes all holidays and social norms, you can do both.  Remember, you are your client’s personal trainer.  You are not one of many or some random encounter they have such as a security guard at the front desk of their work place.  Apart from their family it is very likely that you are the most important person in their everyday life.  That is a very impactful position and as such I believe it behooves trainers to use social norms to strengthen that already key relationship.




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Workout Program Review: NASM’s OPT Model Phase 1 Template

I often tell my students that workout programs are like cooking recipes, it is impossible to know for sure what the end result will be unless you actually do the program or you actually cook the recipe.  However, just like an experienced chef might make a recommendation (you may not want to cook at that high of a temp, you may have used too much flour), an experienced trainer can look at a workout program and offer critiques.  They are not promises or guarantees, the principle of individual variation tells us that we can’t know for sure how one will respond to a certain type of training, but most individuals tend to have similar responses to exercise.

Recently a well-respected fitness professional, Brad Schoenfeld, posted up a picture of a workout on his facebook page.  The workout was a sample template for a theoretical client and it is found in the NASM’s CPT textbook (4th edition).  He posted this comment along with it:


Perhaps I’m missing something, but why in heck does someone with the goal of losing body fat need to do extensive core/balance training and stability ball exercises? And single-leg DB scaption to work the shoulders? Seriously?

Brad has a large following of fitness professionals, he has written several books and conducted much research himself, and his post generated a lot of discussion.  Many people piled on with the critiques saying the program was bogus, others defended the work, and others mentioned that without knowing more about the client no judgements could be made.  A few posters suggested that instead of simply offering critiques it would be more productive to offer substitutions and explanations instead.  I took that message to heart as I thought this could be a great learning experience for the students at NPTI and for budding trainers looking to learn more about exercise programming.

My aim with this article is to highlight what I believe to be the pros and cons of this program set-up, and then offer suggestions when I think there can be an improvement.  For any readers that don’t know me, I am the Director of the National Personal Training Institute which is a school for personal trainers.  I have personally instructed over a 1000 students to become a personal trainer.  That doesn’t mean I taught a one or two day course to those getting ready to become certified.  I am referring to guiding the prospective trainer through the full 600 hour, 6+ month long curriculum at NPTI.  As part of the program we teach the NASM’s material including the OPT Model and their way of doing things and the NASM CPT exam is included in the cost of the student’s tuition.  I have also been a personal trainer for almost 20 years, I have written over a hundred articles and 2 books on fitness including the textbook used by NPTI.  That does not mean what I say can’t be wrong or can’t be challenged, I am human and I can make mistakes with the best of them, but it does mean I am very familiar with the material.  I am also comfortable drawing conclusions from both academic sources and my own practical experience, some might say that is a weakness, I would argue it is a strength. 

First, a few disclaimers

  • This is not intended to be a full critique of the entire curriculum presented by the NASM or as an organization as a whole, this is a critique of a specific workout program.
  • It is true that it is difficult to know exactly how to set up a program for a hypothetical client.
  • There are many different possible routines one might reasonably establish for this type of client, that is the art and science of personal training.  The only true way to know for sure what produced better results would be to take a clone of that person through each of those routines, controlling for the confounding variables, and then measuring results.  Since that isn’t possible some assumptions have to be made.  Years of experience makes those assumptions easier but they are just that – assumptions. 
  • I firmly believe a big factor in how a client responds to a trainer is how the client ‘sells’ the workout to them.  You sell best what you believe in the most.  A trainer’s passion and enthusiasm for the program they put the client on will shine through, and I encourage trainers to find the types of fitness modalities that excite them and share that with their clients.  The Hierarchy of Strength suggests that belief in oneself is a key component to results.  If a trainer tries to use a workout program they don’t believe in, even if the program itself might be good, that often comes through and it weakens the experience for the client.


A little bit more about the NASM

nasm-opt-model-pic               To understand the background behind this program one has to know a little bit more about the NASM.  To be clear, I do not work for the NASM, however I do teach their material to our students.  It is not our primary resource, that would be our own textbook, but the NASM material is our main secondary resource.  The NASM is the largest personal training certification in America and it is a cert that is generally well recognized and accepted by most commercial fitness centers in the US. 

            The NASM can be a bit polarizing to some because their focus isn’t so much about teaching a basic understanding of fitness as might be the case with NSCA or ACE, instead the NASM has a very specific way of training clients and a very specific way of doing things.  To pass their exam you will need to know their way.  They believe the OPT Model – Optimum Performance Training Model – is the ideal way to train clients.  The OPT Model is a very convenient method for new trainers to use because it greatly simplifies exercise program design, it essentially makes it a ‘drop-down menu’ for trainers so as long as the trainer can accurately categorize what stage or phase a client is in, the template becomes reasonably easy to populate.  Some in the fitness world, typically those that are more comfortable creating their own workout routines, may find the template to be too rigid.  The other note about the NASM is they put posture, or at least certain areas of it, squarely in the scope of practice for a personal trainer, whereas most other personal training organizations do not.  The NASM tends to focus on a biomechanical view of posture and pain.   

          The OPT Model suggests putting clients into one of 5 phases, as shown in the chart above.  Each phase has its own specific program design considerations.  What is being discussed here is the sample template for a client in phase 1 – which is called Stabilization Endurance.  This is the phase that the NASM suggests beginners follow and essentially this is their version of a beginner program.  This leads us to the first issue and likely one of the sources of contention about the sample workout.

            As you can see from the template, the goal of the individual is fat loss, but then again this person is a beginner.  How important is a specific goal to address when training a beginner?  That is a good question and many good trainers may answer it differently.  At NPTI we would suggest that the goal really isn’t that important, if the client is truly a beginner they should follow a beginner workout which generally has the following goals:

  • To enhance the components of fitness (all of them – strength, muscle endurance, cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, and body composition)
  • To learn proper form on the exercises
  • To prepare the body for more intense work to become

                If a client approached a trainer and said “I want to become a bodybuilder but I have never lifted weights before” I don’t think it is appropriate to immediately throw that client on a bodybuilding style workout, instead I would advocate they follow the beginner workout for 2-3 months and then they can consider specializing after they have laid down a solid foundation.  The same is true for fat loss.  If a client wants to lose fat but really they are beginners, just getting them started on the right track is likely key and they don’t necessarily need to follow a more typical fat loss program that might be incorporated for a more advanced client.  Obviously if one strongly disagrees with that concept, then one’s conclusions may be different than mine.

The way I am going to organize this review is to simply go down the line and examine each main component of this workout in the order it is presented (and would be performed).  I will state if I have any significant issues with the set-up, and then offer my suggested substitutions and an explanation for them. 

First, let’s clarify the “sample client”.  As of now all we know is the client is John Smith and they have a goal of fat loss and this trainer put them on phase 1 of the OPT Model which is typically used for beginners. 

                Let’s make this client the average American male, which is 38 yrs old, 5’9.5”, and 195 lbs.  Let’s assume he has no major injuries and he is low risk according the ACSM risk stratification guidelines. 






Issues – None

My Personal Opinion – I don’t think it is very important for a client, particularly this client doing this workout, to do much stretching or foam rolling prior to exercise, but I would not have an issue with a trainer doing so. 

            My two rules of thumb are:

  •             If you can perform the desired exercise with good form without stretching prior, stretching before the activity is likely unnecessary.
  •             The more strength, power, and speed required, the more important the warm-up is.  Since this workout (and my substitute one) doesn’t require much strength, speed, and power, the exact warm-up isn’t that important.

            I do agree with the idea of doing some basic cardio work for 5 minutes (10 minutes is overkill and uses up too much training time) before starting the workout program.

            The NASM’s logic in starting with these stretches is that the foam rolling and stretching might improve the way the client moves.  If the goal is to get them to move better, one should start with that so they can move better through the entire workout.







Issues – Moderate

First, I don’t think it is a great idea to group these 3 things together, they are quite different.  I’ll address each one.

            Plyometrics – I don’t think a beginning client, particularly an overweight one, should be performing plyometric exercises.  While those exercises can be used to train the type II muscle fibers and ultimately they can be useful, I don’t believe the risk vs reward ratio is wise for beginners.  I also find it inconsistent that one of the justifications for the set-up of this sample workout is the client needs to address their weaknesses and postural issues before doing more traditional resistance training, but yet they are performing squat jumps?

            Core – I don’t believe beginners should train core in the beginning of the workout.  It does not provide much bang for the buck and I think it sends the wrong message to the client that this is our first priority and it is the most important thing to focus on. 

            I take some issue with the choice of their two specific exercises.

         A floor bridge is okay but from the client’s point of view it doesn’t involve the core that much, the trainer will have to educate them as to why they are doing that exercise.  It is also difficult to overload and to show progress on.


            A prone cobra, in my opinion, is a poor choice. 

The goal of both of these exercises is to improve posture and build core stability.  The NASM believes in insuring that the core can be held stable during basic exercises before it is asked to concentrically contract, but I don’t see this exercise really causing any noticeable adaptations nor do I see it significantly improving performance.  This is very hard to overload and most people that develop a base of fitness find they can do cobras reasonably easy.  I never had a client express to me that they enjoyed doing cobras and I haven’t had one that expressed pride in the progress they had made doing them (and for a while when I was first training I used them more). 

            Balance – If you want to include some balance here you could, the main issue is that balance is unfortunately task specific.  Most 38 year old males don’t have terrible balance, it is not a great bang for the buck use of time, and most clients after doing this for a week or two don’t really find balance work to be that fun in my experience.  Personally I would not employ this with a beginner client unless they really requested it or seemed to have a strong need of it. 

What did I like

            If one was going to do this set-up, I did like that they did this as a circuit.  That would contribute to the fat burning goal a bit and I could see the client huffing and puffing a bit.  Their legs might be burning just a little bit from the balance and the squat jumps, so that could have some merits to it. 

What would I do

    I wouldn’t do anything here, I would just skip this section and move to the next section.  I would not include any balance or plyometric work at all for this client, I would include some core which I would do at the end of the workout.





SAQ Training – Optional

Issues – None

       I agree, leave this section empty or optional for a beginner client.  If the client was more advanced and you wanted to do some sort of “conditioning” style speed or agility drills then I would do those at the end of the workout, after the lifting.  If the client was an athlete then this type of training becomes more important and one would likely start with it or at least perform it early in the session before fatigue limits performance. 






Resistance Training Section

Issues – Moderate to Significant

Exercise 1 – Ball Squat Curl to Press

 nasm-ball-squat-curl-to-press           I am not a fan of this exercise and I would use it sparingly.  I could see implementing some version of it to an elderly client, particularly at home with minimal equipment, but that is about it.

            A ball squat does very little to teach one how to squat, even with just their bodyweight.  This is a combination exercise and as such it is a “total body” exercise, but the problem with combination exercises is the load is invariably off.  The weight you can squat (with dumbbells) isn’t what you can curl and it isn’t what you can press.  If one loves this set up, you’d get much better results (in my opinion) by simply doing ball squats with the right load, then curls as a separate exercise, then presses as a separate exercise (you could still them do against a ball on the wall if one desired).  If one was going for the fat burning effect doing them back to back could work well, although that is not what I would do for a beginning client. 

            In my opinion this is an exercise that seems okay on paper and in theory but in practicality it doesn’t do much.  I personally would not attempt to include a ‘total body’ exercise for my client if they were a beginner.

Exercise 2 – Ball Dumbbell Chest Press

nasm-ball-db-press            The exercise is okay but it has a significant flaw in my opinion.  We are dealing with a beginner.  A beginner is already weak.  Performing a dumbbell press on a ball is less stable, less stable joints transmit less force, so we are putting a weak muscle in an even weaker position.  In addition there is the possibility that, while quite rare, the ball can burst resulting in significant injury. 

            I would substitute in the chest press machine (probably for the first week or two) and then dumbbell press, bench press, or another machine press like a hammer strength bench press instead of the ball dumbbell press.  Push-ups could work if they weren’t too hard (or too easy) for the client.

Exercise 3 – Standing Cable Row

            Here we have the same issue that we had with the ball DB Press and it is my main issue with phase 1 of the OPT Model.  Research is very clear.  Stabilization increases activation of the muscle, it doesn’t decrease it.  While it is true that distal stabilizers and possibly some synergists work harder when one performs an unstable exercise, the agonist and key synergists don’t work as hard.  Again we have a beginner and by default a beginner is weak.  I don’t want to put a weak person in a weak position, I want them in a strong position.  There is also the simple physics that one can only row so much standing up before the weight pulls them forward or before they are forced to squat very low and lean backwards to counterbalance the weight.  That is a significant negative.  I would simply use a v-grip cable row (seated) instead.

Exercise 4 – Single Leg Dumbbell Scaption

nasm-single-leg-scaption            I have a significant issue with this choice of exercise, particularly with the single leg.  Once again balance is very task specific.  A scaption (which is a hybrid between a front raise and a lateral raise – a shoulder raise at a 45 degree with the thumbs up) is a mediocre exercise to begin with, and performing it on one leg greatly reduces its benefits.  If a trainer really wanted to include balance at this point I would not suggest attempting a combination exercise (combining balance with lifting) but would instead suggest a superset.  Perform a normal scaption with the appropriate weight, and then perform a balance exercise such as the single leg reaching exercise listed previously.  Rest briefly and repeat.  That will at least allow the client to use an appropriate weight to stimulate the shoulder muscles and they can likely make the balance exercise harder, instead of using reasonably light weight combined with a balance exercise that ends up not challenging either the shoulders or the balance in a way that will force adaptation to occur.

            Personally I would not do any of those things.  If I was looking for more bang for the buck I would do a shoulder press of some sort (machine or seated dumbbell press), if I wanted more of an isolation effect I would perform lateral raises or perhaps a shoulder series of front, lateral, and rear delt raises all in a row. 

Biceps and Triceps – Optional

            I am okay with making these muscle groups optional.  For most beginners I would likely include them.  Stereotypically men like to work their arms although if fat loss is the goal it may not be as important to that person.  The time gained by not doing these exercises could be used to do other exercises which might have more bang for the buck.  What I did here would definitely be influenced by my client and what their secondary goals were (if they really wanted strong arms I would definitely include it here).  One nice thing about arm work is the client can usually perform them well (rewarding for clients that have poor cordination and may have been struggling with other exercises) and they “feel” the muscles working easily. 

            If I was going to train biceps my favorite exercises for a client like this would be cable curls, DB curl, and EZ curl.

            If I was going to train triceps my favorite exercises for a client like this would be tricep pushdowns (v-grip and straight bar), skull crushers, and DB tricep pullovers. 

Exercise 5 – Step Up to Balance

            This exercise is pretty good but there are other options to consider, particularly if we want to alternate exercises on each day the client trains.  Again I think balance is being overemphasized in this program and in my experience clients do not find excessive balance work fun.  Making training fun is very important with all clients but particularly beginners who may be ambivalent about working out in the first place.  Adherence is key, and if a client finds the activity enjoyable they are much more likely to stick with it. 

            A step up itself is okay but it is hard to load and hard to get an ideal range of motion.   Either the step up is too low and it is too easy or it is too high and the client has to shift their hips to get up on the step.  If you put the weights in their hands they often feel it more in their grip or their traps.  If the weight is on their back and they take a misstep they don’t have their hands to catch themselves.  And the falling issue is significant, as fatigue sets in they can easily step in the wrong place.  Step-ups tend to create reasonable cardiovascular fatigue, good in some ways especially for a fat loss program but less ideal if one is trying to train the musculature of the leg.  The unilateral work is nice to include and it will help a trainer see if one has a strength deficit in one side.

            This combined with the ball squat from above is an adequate leg workout, but I would not consider it to be optimal. 

            Personally if I wanted to perform 2 leg exercises, and I likely would, I would choose goblet squats and leg press.  The goblet squat is a great teaching tool to learn how to squat.  For beginners it is easy to do, it has a tendency to fix any form mistakes, and it is pretty easy to load.  Once a client is goblet squatting 40+ lbs they are usually ready to start squatting the bar.  It is very functional (in that transfers to other activities and real life) and it provides solid bang for the buck.  A leg press is great in that you can load up the muscles reasonably well in a safe environment and it is easier to do and requires less teaching and patience than a regular squat.  Clients are often pleasantly surprised to discover they can lift a reasonable amount of weight in this exercise and that can be empowering for them.

            Other options would be smith machine squats, regular squats if the client was ready for them, lunges, and step-ups as mentioned previously (with or without the balance component).  I would have no problem with a trainer including leg extensions and leg curls in this phase as well. 

            At this time in the workout I would add in the core training.  I would likely include one exercise for the “abs” such as a ball crunch, reverse crunch, clam, sit-up, plank, cable crunch, or something similar.  And I would likely include something for the erectors such as the lower back machine or hyperextensions. 

What did I like

           You’ll see the note “vertical loading” in the comments section.  Vertical loading means that the program is read vertically (as opposed to horizontally like a book is typically read) which essentially means this is set up as a circuit.  In the workout prescribed the client would perform one set of each of these 5 exercises with no real rest in between, at the end of the circuit they would rest 90 seconds and then they would repeat it.  I could see a client going through these exercises, getting a little out of breath, feeling like they are working out a little bit and believing they are working on their goals. 

            The workout listed is certainly quite easy, no load was given but due to the nature of the exercises selected it would be very light.  That can be appropriate for new clients, remember the number one reason why clients quit training is because the workout is too hard. 

What I didn’t like

           As previously mentioned I wasn’t a big fan of the exercise selection.  These exercises are not that easy to progressively overload for any length of time; they are likely not exercises that will be performed for an extended period of time during the program; and the total number of exercises is quite low (only 5 exercises total) with just 2 sets of 15 reps on each one.  That is pretty minimal volume which means not much total work is done and likely not much adaptation will take place.  For the client that is extremely detrained and sedentary and is literally scared of actually lifting weights this might be okay, but it would not be my go to standard template for a beginner client.






Issues – None

My personal opinion – the cool-down is fine, as with the warm-up 10 minutes is too long for a true cooldown, 3-5 minutes works best.  If I was going to do foam rolling and static stretching for this client I would include it here, at the end of the workout.  To me that has a more relaxing effect, signally a workout is over, rather than priming a client to workout.  I think this is particularly true for beginners.  I can understand that some athletes prefer to stretch prior to an intense exercise but in this case for beginners I think static stretching at the end is a good way to wrap up the session. 


Overall Thoughts

My first thought is something is missing – where is the cardio?  Beginners should be working on all components of fitness and establishing a cardiovascular base is, in my opinion, of paramount importance at this stage.  This would also be very helpful with the client’s goal of fat loss.

This workout is pretty short.  I think a trainer could take a client through this workout in 35 minutes assuming 5 min of cardio on the warm-up and cooldown (I would predict 10 min warm-up, 5 min core/balance/plyo, 13 minute resistance training, and 7 minute cooldown).  And just looking at that should highlight a problem.  Only 13 minutes of resistance training (remember it was just 5 exercises, performed as a circuit with no rest, for 2 sets) is not enough, even if the exercises selected were ideal.


What I would do?

I would do a more traditional beginner workout (traditional as defined by the ACSM).  That would include

  •             5 minute warm-up – likely on the bike, treadmill, or elliptical machine
  •             Approximately 8 resistance training exercises, 1-2 for each bodypart, 2-3 work sets, 10-15 reps, 30-60 seconds rest in between sets
  •             If appropriate some of the exercises could be supersetted or performed as a circuit (if the client was really weak or out of shape I would not do that)
  •             Shoot for 20 minutes of cardio after lifting (often start out with 12 minutes and then build from there).  The bike, a brisk walk at a slight incline, or the elliptical would all be good choices for this client most likely.
  •             Cooldown for 3-5 minutes and then perform some basic stretching and foam rolling if desired. 

Sample Beginner Workout

Exercise Intensity Reps x Sets Rest Progression
Treadmill 3-4 mph 5’ + .1 mph/week
Chest Press ~40-60 lbs 10-15 x 2-3 :30-:60 + 5 lbs/week
V-grip Row ~40-60 lbs 10-15 x 2-3 :30-:60 + 5 lbs/week
Shoulder Series

Front Raise

Lat Raise

Rear Delt

~5-10 lbs  

10-15 x 2-3

10-15 x 2-3

10-15 x 2-3





+2-3 reps/week


+ 2.5 lbs at 15 reps

EZ Cable Curl ~20-40 lbs 10-15 x 2-3 :30-:60 + 2 reps or 5 lbs
V-grip Tri Push ~20-40 lbs 10-15 x 2-3 :30-:60 Can superset
Goblet Squat ~15-30 lbs 10-15 reps x 2-3 :60 + 5 lbs/week
Leg Press ~45-135 lbs 10-15 reps x 2-3 :60 + 10 lbs/week
Ball Crunch NA 10-20 reps x 2-3 :30-:60 Add tube
45 Deg Hypers NA 10-15 reps x 2-3 :30-:60 Go to 90 Degree
Cardio – Bike L3-L6 12’ HR 60-70% Add 2-3 min/week
Cooldown – Bike 3’ HR < 60% – 3 levels from cardio workout
Foam Roll








Static or Partner Stretch Pecs







Follow for 2-4 weeks before adding in more challenging exercises


     For more information on how I would set up a beginner workout, including weekly progression and when to add to new exercises, please refer to Chapter 18 in the text NPTI’s Fundamentals of Fitness and Personal Training

It would be nice to know

    It would be nice to know the exact plan of progression for the client in the template.  If we assume the client is working out three times a week, it isn’t clear if this template workout should be repeated exactly as is for those 3 days or if 2 more workouts that are similar but different would be created?  That information would affect any reasonable review of the plan.  It would also be useful if more specific guidelines on progression were given in the template.  If the client performed this workout for 1-2 months, when should one progress each exercise, add reps, add weight, etc?  In the NASM text they do discuss how to add progression to the main exercises shown in the book, but as a trainer that was just starting out it would be nice to see that fleshed out a bit more clearly. 


It is always difficult to compare one workout vs another and the results are not guaranteed.  This is the mental exercise I do when I want to compare two workouts.  Let’s say you have two clients, client A and client B.  They are both essentially the same (same age, weight, gender, starting level, etc).  Client A will perform one workout, they will use the sample workout provided in the template, for 2 months (I understand that at some point different exercises might be introduced but for this example we keep everything the same).  Client B will perform a second workout, in this case the workout I presented, for 2 months.  At the end of 2 months the clients will flip and the client will have to perform the other client’s workout – the same weight, the same reps, same exercises, etc.  Who will have the harder time of it?  Clearly client A will get better at the workout they are doing, and client B will get better at the workout they are doing (principle of specificity).  It is my belief in this scenario that client B will also be able to go through client A’s workout with reasonable ease, and Client A is likely struggle to go through Client B’s workout with the same load and reps. 

            To me that means that Client B’s workout is better and more effective.  One caveat to this system.  You might just say make the client squat, deadlift, bench press, power clean, and run sprints from day one because those are some of the most effective exercises there are, and there is some logic to that.  But I would respond that if the client get’s hurt, or if they quit, then they lose.  Attempting to force a client on very challenging exercises right from the get-go is an easy way to either burn them out, scare them away, or set them up for failure.  If even 1 out of 5 clients quits in the first 3 months because of the training you are making them do, that is too high for my taste (and not good for your business).  Ease them in to hard training but on the flip side don’t baby them which I fear is the case with the sample workout in the template.  If a workout is too easy it won’t elicit the adaptations that most clients are looking for.

            Some may argue that what I propose – taking a group of people through one style of workout and a second group through another style, has already been done.  In the study entitled: COMPARISON OF INTEGRATED AND ISOLATED TRAINING ON PERFORMANCE MEASURES AND NEUROMUSCULAR CONTROL put out by the NSCA’s journal, they did compare a version of the OPT Model workout, called Integrated training to a more standard workout, called Isolated training, and the OPT Model produced better results.  While that research definitely falls in the NASM’s favor, it is worth noting two important things:

            First and most importantly, the workout in that research article is very different from the program suggested here.  That workout is much closer to Phase 2 OPT Model training and it did involve some pretty intense training (subjects performed 6-8 real resistance training exercises using 60-85% 1RM for 3 sets).  I hope to do a review of Phase 2 training as well but in short I personally think that is a much more effective way of working out for most goals.

            Second, while the study did show a positive influence in several aspects of fitness, they didn’t attempt to measure any changes in body composition, body weight, maximum strength or bone mass. 


Final thoughts

            Here is my philosophy in a nutshell.  If you don’t agree with this you might look at things differently and I can understand that, but this is how I look at it.

            Resistance training is the most powerful tool that a trainer has access to.  It is a tool that the trainer has almost full control over (nutrition is also a very powerful tool but trainers don’t really have control over that).  Progressive overload is the most important principle to apply to resistance training to make it effective and to cause it to produce results. 

            It is extremely important to make workouts fun at some level.  Many new clients, once they get through that first month or so of not really understanding what working out is about, often find they enjoy lifting weights.  Look at what most people do in the gym without a trainer – many lift weights, some do cardio.  Both have lots of benefits.  How many regular gym goers are doing floor bridges and prone cobras month after month?  Not too many.  How many regular gym goers are doing DB presses, cable rows, crunches, and bicep curls?  A lot. 

            In my opinion and based on my experience, the sample workout provided doesn’t maximize the role of resistance training in the workout.  It also doesn’t take full advantage of progressive overload.  Finally the workout provided may not be that fun for a client.  One of the reasons it isn’t fun is because completing the workout isn’t that much of a challenge and as such the reward for getting through it isn’t there.  I don’t believe this is simply my opinion.  Indeed one of the poster’s in the original discussion stated the same observation, I will quote him here (minor edits made):

If I could add my two cents–what I disagree most with this program design is that it is boring for the clients. We can talk about research all we want, but if our clients aren’t enjoying their program, then it doesn’t matter how evidence-based it is.  In my limited experience as a personal trainer, my clients did not enjoy stability work–and I remember this vividly when I first became NASM certified and jumped on the OPT model, my clients did not enjoy it.  In fact, I would say it had the opposite effect: they felt like the program was deviating from their goal, and they also felt bad about themselves because they struggled with simple single-leg balance exercises.  Keep the goal the goal.


            In the defense of this workout, while the goal listed at the top was “Fat Loss” and this program would likely burn little calories, build minimal muscle, and create no EPOC (thus being quite poor for fat loss) it is their version of the beginner workout.  They would argue that one needs to have a stronger, more optimally functioning core and one needs to be able to dynamically stabilize the entire kinetic chain in all planes of motion concentrically, isometrically, and eccentrically before performing any truly loaded movements.  Their phase 2 program – Strength Endurance – is a much more appropriate fat loss program because at its core the program is centered around pairing a basic strength exercise with a stabilization exercise for the same muscle as a superset, each for a reasonable number of reps with short rest.  While I still think the stabilization agenda is pushed too far in that phase, it would pass reasonable muster for a fat loss program in most instances. 

            But I am curious as to what you think?  If you were a beginner which workout would you rather do?  What do you think would get you better results?  As a trainer have you tried either one of these methods or both of them and what are your thoughts?  Do you do something entirely different with beginners?  Share your thoughts in the comments below, and let me know if you would like to see more of these type of Workout Program Review articles in the future?  If you have a specific program you’d like me to review, send it to me at and I’ll consider it.

           If you are a trainer I wish you the best of luck with your clients.  If you are thinking about becoming a personal trainer, I encourage you to check out the National Personal Training Insitute as your option for eduction in the fitness industry.  Don’t just get certified, get qualified.  Go to NPTI – The School for Personal Trainers. 

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A New Instructional Series



I am excited to announce the release of a new instructional series: The Powerlifting Video Bundle.  With the help of my friends at Fitness University, we have created a new video set that covers in detail how to execute, train, and improve the squat, the deadlift, and the bench press.

Here is a trailer for the videos:



                In the bench press video, Josh Bryant shares his best tips and techniques to build an impressive bench press.  Josh is a bench legend himself, being the youngest man in history to bench 600 lbs raw.  For 90 minutes, Josh explains his philosophy, his favorite assistance exercises, and how he programs the lift to make gains even at an elite level.

      the-squat-cover          In the squat video, Tim Henriques spends 2 ½ hours providing high level, point by point instruction how to squat.  Proper technique including foot stance, grip, bar placement, the descent, the ascent, muscles involved are all covered.  In addition he goes over his favorite warm-up strategies for the squat, as well as how specific assistance exercises improve certain weak points.  Tim Henriques has personally taught over a 1,000 people to become personal trainers and he is the author of All About Powerlifting.



   the-deadlift-cover             In this 75 minute deadlift video, Jordan Syatt covers the execution of both conventional and sumo deadlifts.  He provides many great tips and tricks to maximize your deadlift ability.  Jordan is part of an elite few that have deadlifted 4 x bodyweight.




If getting strong is a passion for you, or if your goal is to incorporate the barbell lifts into your clients’ personal training programs, these videos will contain great tips and cues to help you do just that.

The Powerlifting Video Bundle is available as a DVD set or as a digital download.  If you haven’t already picked up your copy of the 5 star rated book All About Powerlifting you can purchase the book and the DVDs together for the special price of $54.95.  That purchases also incudes the following:

  • All About Powerlifing Program Design Bible
  • 5 competition lifting bookelts
  • “Done-for-You” workout programs all in one bundle




To get your copy of these brand new videos, go here: