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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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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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Tim’s Training Tips #1-5










Over the past several months I have been posting some training tips on Facebook.  People seem to like them and I have gotten lots of requests to condense them.  To that end I will put a collection of tips together for easy reference and post them as a blog post.  We’ll start at the beginning (where else would you start?) and I plan on this being a continuing series.

Tim’s Training Tips #1: Rest Periods

How long you rest in between sets is a very important variable and it will vary based on your fitness goal.

If you are training for STRENGTH, you want to have full recovery between your sets. For most people this is 2-5 minutes of rest (use the lower end for smaller muscles/easier sets, the higher end for bigger muscles/harder sets). Advanced lifters on crucial sets may want to rest 5-8 minutes between sets.  The basic idea here is to allow your creatine phosphate and ATP stores to near fully recharge and not to be in oxygen debt at the start of your set.  A simple tip for observing complete recovery is when breathing returns to normal.

If you are training for SIZE you want near full recovery between sets, but not full recovery to force the muscle to use additional fibers.  Generally start the set about 30 seconds before you feel totally recovered.  For most people this is about 1-2 minutes of rest. Don’t rest so short that you can’t continue to lift pretty heavy, however.

Note: some recent research shower better gains with longer rest and I think it is very important to still allow the client to lift heavy.  For beginners and early intermediates, since they are not very strong anyway, the longer recovery helps promote going heavier.  But once one has more experience, keeping the rest a little shorter than desired I believe is ideal.  I do believe there is something to the idea of “getting a pump” for muscle growth and the pump tends to dissapate with very long rest times.


If you are training for multiple set ENDURANCE or conditioning, you want the rest to be quite short. For most people this is one minute or less, :30 seconds works well in most scenarios.  With these workouts you will really be huffing and puffing.  Expect performance on each set to be well below maximal because of the very limited rest times.





Tim’s Training Tips #2: Total Exercises for Strength

If you are training for STRENGTH, generally you want to use 4-7 resistance training exercises in each workout.

If you are using more than that, it is possible you are sacrificing quality for quantity.  In addition because of the needed rest times the workout will be really long and remember the added work will tax your recovery ability.

If you are using less than that, it is possible you may not have a complete program or you may not be addressing all areas of strength development.  The big exception to this guideline is if you are performing multiple training sessions per day, in which case one will likely do 1-3 exercises per session.

Exercise selection is hugely important in developing strength, so pick the most important exercises for you and focus on them.  For more detail about exercise selection, see my “Which exercise is best?” series which starts here with a list of the best chest exercises for size, strength, and endurance.


Tim’s Training Tips #3. Exercise Selection for Strength

If your goal is to improve maximal strength, exercise selection is very important. Remember that strength is a specific skill, it is not a general trait. In order to make sure the strength you are building in the gym is as transferable as possible, use this litmus test.  Select exercises that allow you to go as heavy as possible while simultaneously requiring a high level of skill (coordination). It is important that both of these criteria be met.

For example a leg press uses a lot of weight but it doesn’t involve much skill, it likely will not build up your strength as well as a squat.

A pistol squat standing on a bosu ball requires a good amount of skill but the weight used is too light to appreciably build maximal strength, both requirements need to be satisfied.

In general this means that barbells, dumbbells, and challenging body weight exercises should form the bulk of the program for those individuals looking to build strength.



Tim’s Training Tip #4: Exercise Selection for Size

While exercise selection is not quite as important when training for size as it is when training for strength, it is still very important.  I like exercises that build size to meet the following standard.  Select an exercise that allows you to use a large amount of weight combined with the most isolation on the muscle.

When training for size it is important to feel the muscle working in the exercise, particularly during isolation (single joint) exercises.  It is likely that getting a pump in the muscle is helpful to promote muscle growth (and if you never get a pump in the muscle then you may have poor nervous control of it).

Barbells and dumbbells are still good options when training for size, but other implements such as the smith machine, hammer strength machines, and cables become much more viable options.

For more information on how to chooses exercises, refer to these two tnation articles.  The first gives guidelines on training for size and strength:

The second provides an extensive list of all the common exercises with the muscles working in each exercise:


Tim’s Training Tip #5: Pre-exhaustion

In the last tip I mentioned it was important to feel a muscle working if you are training for size. Sometimes individuals have a hard time feeling specific muscles working.  When this is the case it might be prudent to try pre-exhaustion.

Pre-exhaustion is when you perform an isolation or very strict exercise before a compound or less strict exercise for the same muscle group.

For example if a client wanted to feel their glutes more in a squat, you can perform hip thrusts before the squat; if they wanted to feel their chest during the bench press you could do pec flys before the bench.

To perform pre-exhaustion choose 1-2 isolation exercises and do 3-10 sets on that exercise.  Heavy weight is not the goal, fatiguing the muscle is, as such don’t allow for full recovery in between sets.  Then move on to your main compound exercises after that, expect that the weight you are lifting on the big exercises will be noticeably lower.

Pre-exhaustion can also be used in the following situations:

·         The person is lifting so much weight you don’t feel you can safely spot them

·         You only have access to limited weight (for example DB’s only go up to 70 lbs or something)

·         A newbie trying to learn how to contract a certain muscle

·         An individual trying to get a pump in a certain muscle

·         A bodybuilder trying to ensure a certain muscle receives more work or they want to bring up a weak point


Common examples of pre-exhaustion include the following:

     Chest – Pec Flys, Pec Deck, or Cable Crossover – then followed by the normal pressing exercises

     Back – Straight Arm Lat Pulldown or Pullover Machine – then followed by the normal pulling exercises

     Delts – Lateral or Front Raises before the Overhead/Military Press

     Biceps before back or very strict bicep exercises (Preacher Curl, Incline Curl, Concentration Curl) before less strict exercises (EZ Curl, Power Curl, DB Curl)

    Triceps before chest or very strict tricep exercises (Tricep Pushdowns, Skull Crushers, Kickbacks) before less strict exercises (Dips, Closegrip, Pullover Skull Crushers, DB Pullover Tri Extension).

     Glutes – Hip Thrusts or Bridges before Squats, Lunges, Leg Press

     Quads – Leg Extension before Squats, Lunges, Leg Press

     Hamstrings – Leg Curl (any variation) or GHR’s before RDL’s, Stiff DL’s, Good Mornings

     Erectors – Hypers (any variation) before Deadlifts (any variation) or Good Mornings

There is often some confusion around the use of pre-exhaustion.  Whatever muscle you train first (the muscle you initially – pre – exhaust) that is the muscle that works the hardest in the subsequent exercises.  It is the true the synergists make attempt to take over for the weak muscle and occasionally clients will feel those muscles, but the muscle doing the most work and receiving the most stimulus is the pre-exhausted muscle.

Because of the low weight used on the compound exercise, pre-exhaustion is generally not ideal when training for strength.  It is also less effective if the client is already quite weak and can’t lift much weight on the main exercises when they are fresh.


The goal of these tips is to provide you – the trainer, the serious lifter, the fitness enthusiast, with some actionable tips that are easy to incorporate into your workout and that will make a noticeable difference in your results.  I hope you find something useful in them.








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Some Pretty Good Stuff

                We have put out some pretty good stuff in the last couple of weeks – stuff that I strongly believe will really help you as a trainer make your clients’ programs significantly better.  To that end, I wanted to compile those various charts and handouts into one easy to find space.  If you are looking for more detail about each one of these things or if you want to download high quality versions of the media, simply click on the specific link to take you to that article.


First, we put out the Hierarchy of Strength, which attempts to rank the key variables in building strength in order of importance.  It also attempts to highlight how important each variable is:


Then we composed program design charts for the Big 3: The Squat, The Bench Press, and The Deadlift.  The idea here is that once you know which level a client is on the chart (most clients will be beginner, a few intermediate, advanced will be a rarity among normal PT clients) you can then select an appropriate weekly volume for the lift.  It is suggested to start with the minimal suggested volume and work your way up from there.  Sample programs are included to help you see these charts in action.


Squat Article:


Bench Article:


Deadlift Article:

If you find this information useful, feel free to share it with your friends and colleagues. 


Don’t forget to check back periodically to our Coming Events section to see the new CEU’s we are offering, we update that every month or two.


Remember, if you refer a friend to NPTI you receive a free CEU of your choice, a value of up to $300!

Keep learning, keep studying, applying the information in the gym on yourself and on your clients, and keep moving forward to become the best trainer you can be.


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Sleep is Overrated


                Here is a brief story I’d like to share with you.  Several decades ago – I was probably ten or so – one night I walked into my grandfather’s bedroom (kids weren’t allowed in his room so it was sort of a special occasion to be in there) to watch a baseball game with him – he was a big Mets fan.  I didn’t really like baseball but it was fun to spend time with him, I only saw him once or twice a year.  We were talking, I don’t remember the conversation but I said something about how much I love sleep.  I have always been a deep sleeper and as a kid I would just sleep and sleep and my parents would have a hard time getting me up and ready for school.  My grandfather replied that he hated sleep.  His reasoning was as follows: Think what you could get done if you didn’t have to sleep?  Since his opinion was so opposite of mine it stuck with me and I have found that as I have grown older, I have started to come around to his point of view.

        You might not expect this post from a fitness professional, but I am going to go ahead and say it.  Sleep is overrated and often a significant waste of time.  You can’t store or save up on sleep once you have fully rested.  Extra sleep is just like pumping gas into an already full tank, it spills out – in this instance as wasted time.  What if you got a decent amount of sleep but then spent that extra time doing something that you believed to be productive, imagine what you could accomplish?

                First, let’s get some definitions straight.  The general recommendation is for Americans to sleep 7-9 hours a night (1), so let’s average that and say the recommendation is to sleep 8 hours a night, or one of third of every day.  If we sleep an average of 8 hours a night each night of the week (8×7) that is 56 hours we are sleeping every week. 

                Here is my observation and a subsequent suggestion.  The human body is extremely adaptable.  If you condition it to function on lower levels of sleep it will learn to accept that as the norm, just like you can get used to drinking less than a gallon of water a day or eating only two meals if you want.  My suggestion is to learn to operate well off of 6 hours of sleep each night.  If you feel it necessary, add in a couple of extra-long nights of sleep to play catch up.  You’ll still come out way ahead in the end.  Let’s do the math:

                                                   Person A) Sleeps evenly 8 hours a night, 7 days a week.  56 hours a week spent sleeping

Person B) Sleeps 6 hours a night 5 days a week, and then has 2 catch-up days as needed with 10 hours of sleep a night.  50 hours a week spent sleeping

If person B has just one make-up day a week then they spent 46 hours sleeping each week.


In our example the person just gained somewhere from 6-10 hours a week of time to do whatever they wish, and this isn’t even an extreme example.  And 6-10 hours of time is very significant.  Here are some things you can do in that time:

  • Follow a very comprehensive, intense, effective exercise program
  • Read all of the technical data in your field (research suggests if you read 1 hour a day in your field for 7 years your knowledge will be equal to that of most world experts [2])
  • Spend time developing/mastery a hobby (writing/painting/gardening, etc)
  • Work a part time job (to illustrate the point if you were a personal trainer and you just trained 2 clients a day twice per week – for example at 7 and 8 am on Tuesday and Thursday mornings – you could make an extra 5-20k per year working just 4 hours a week).  Imagine if you put that money into a savings account or a stock portfolio and saved for several years, think what it could turn in to?
  • Volunteer in your community – you can do a world of good giving 5 hours a week to your community


                Just to use myself as an example, I would say on average I spend about 6-10 hours a week both exercising and writing.  In the past 10 years I have been able to maintain a reasonably high level of fitness and I set some records I was going after, as well as write two in-depth books (All About Powerlifting and NPTI’s Fundamentals of Fitness and Personal Training) that I am very proud of, with another novel on the way.  In addition I have probably written 150 fitness articles on various sites (most of them I was paid to write).  Many of those things were bucket list items.  I could have spent that extra time sleeping and maybe I would have had one less cold or not had the flu in certain years, but looking back on things – with the information I have now, would I trade in those accomplishments for extra sleep?  No frickin’ way, it is not even close.

                Of course if you are going to lose sleep you want to do something productive – watching reruns on TV or surfing your social media feed for one or two hours a day likely isn’t going to be very fulfilling long term.  Keep yourself focused on a task, use a time journal if necessary to adequately chart your time on various activities, and see what you accomplish.

                One of the keys to this method is that you can have an occasional catch up day and it is no big deal.  In my opinion you’ll get far more out of one long day of sleep where you get 10 hours or so rather just adding an extra hour to most days a week.  But the time you gain by sleeping a bit less on those other nights really adds up. 


Why We Sleep?

                Surprising as it is, there doesn’t seem to be a super clear answer to the question of why we sleep?  You’ll hear answers such as it is safer at night to sleep then explore your environment; we conserve energy by sleeping; it has a restorative function; it helps with brain plasticity (3).  My pet theory (which is just that so take it or leave it) is that we sleep so we can take our nerves off line and repair them so they can continue to function optimally.  We can’t make new nerve and brain cells so we have to repair them. 


But I am So Sleepy          sleep-deprived1

                Our bodies and even our physiology get very used to routines.  My wife tends to go to bed right at 10 pm.  At 9:45 she will seem alert and awake then suddenly twebty minutes later she can’t seem to keep her eyes open.  I am the same way only I tend to go to bed around midnight.  Once you have established a routine your body wants to keep it.  This can be a good thing or a bad thing.  Once you get in the routine of sleeping less you will find it much easier to maintain, but if you are used to always sleeping 8-10 hours a night in the beginning it is going to take some effort to adapt to a new routine.  It would be easy if you simply had to adapt, much like those in the military have to do, but when the option to sleep is there it can be hard to turn down.  This is why it is really important to get on healthy and productive routines.  If you start regularly including something in your routine that is less than ideal (napping at a certain time in the afternoon for example) it can be tough to rid yourself of that habit.

                I think using the example of hunger as analogy works well.  Our bodies get used to eating a certain times.  For example I usually have breakfast at 8:30 and then lunch at 11 am.  If 11:30 rolls around and I have not eaten my stomach will be growling.  But am I really hungry?  I just ate 3 hours ago.  I call these signals “fake” hunger.  Your mind is telling yourself one thing – you are hungry – but it is not a real sensation, your body is just trying to maintain homeostasis.  Even if I skipped lunch and dinner I wouldn’t “really be hungry” despite my cravings, people can go for weeks without food.  Those folks on Naked and Afraid or similar survival shows are really hungry, just because I consumed 1500 kcals instead of 2500 kcals that day doesn’t mean I am truly hungry.  Your body will do the same with sleep.  It will send powerful signals that you are sleepy or that you need sleep but it is just doing that because of your real routine.  Find something that will really keep you occupied or excited and get through that 30 minute window and suddenly you’ll discover you were not sleepy at all. 

sleep continuum

Should Everyone Sleep Less?

                Certainly there are going to be times to when you need to sleep more, and in general I would say trust your body.  The amount of sleep people get is going to be a continuum including amounts that are too little, just right, and too much.  In my opinion I think if you are regularly sleeping less than 4 hours a night that is likely to be problematic.  Iif you can’t stay awake or focused during the day that isn’t productive and of course if you suffer an accident because you fall asleep while doing something (say driving) that doesn’t help anybody.  I think 6 hours a night is a good amount to shoot for on a regular basis, sometimes you might sleep less and sometimes you might sleep more.  I think anything more than 8 hours a night is overkill on a regular basis unless it is a catch up and if you are sleeping 10 or more hours a night on a regular basis that is a giant time suckage, ask yourself if you couldn’t be more productive spending your time doing something else?

During the following times you probably need more sleep:

  • Young kids growing should get more sleep, the suggestion here is for adults
  • When you are sick or recovering from an injury or illness
  • If your immune system is suppressed
  • If you are experiencing the signs of sleepiness such as falling asleep at work or at the wheel or you can’t focus on your tasks (check diet and exercise as contributors to this as well)
  • Elite athletes might be willing to sacrifice productivity in other areas to ensure their body is adequately rested for their training/sport.

Other factors to consider:

  • If you have insomnia or other sleep disorders disregard this advice
  • If you suffer from chronic illness work with your doctor
  • Don’t double dip – if you already get a low amount of sleep and then you think “I’ll just cut another 2 hours out every night” that can quickly become problematic
  • Individual sleep requirements may vary – the trick is to find the minimum effective dose for you


                In the interest of full disclosure, I am simply sharing my opinion on this topic.  I am not a sleep expert and I have not studied the subject closely for many years.  Those two sentences alone may be enough for you to say – this is just one dude’s opinion and I really don’t give a sh*t what he says.  I am okay with that.  But most people want to be productive.  Most people wish they had more time, and the one thing they likely spend more time on than anything else – perhaps even work – is sleep.  Many people see the amount of time they sleep as some untouchable thing: ‘well of course I need 9 hours of sleep a night’ they say, but I would argue it should be the first place one should look to gain extra time.  I don’t think too many people lie on their deathbed and think “I wish I had spent more time sleeping,” but I do think lots of people would say “I wish I used the time I had more wisely and if only I had spent 5 hours a week every week doing something that I loved, imagine what could have been?”  You can either have sweat dreams with your head nestled on the pillow, or you can wake your ass up and make your dreams become a reality.  The time you are given is yours to spend as you see fit, but once it is gone you can’t get it back.  Spend it wisely and with no regrets.