There are benefits to having an intelligently structured exercise program. It provides stability and measurable, forward progress with each workout.

Goals and Purposes

Exercise plans are oriented around a goal. The exercise plan is the path to get there.

So when you’re saying “I need to start exercising.” Change that to “I need to start exercising so that I can ______.” It is more specific. If your goal is to walk 18 holes of golf without dying, then we have something tangible we can work with.

As a fitness trainer, I take that specific amount of work as the end goal, I look at the current scene and see how far off we are and then I make a program to get you there.

It All Starts With Assessment

Taking a look at the current scene can be an involved process.

If the person is unable to walk 18 holes, it may be due to excess weight, clogged arteries, smoke-filled lungs or a number of other things that could be major barriers that need to be worked around.

With many of my clients, I have them to go the doctor to get a physical and an “Okay to start on a guided exercise program.” And I also make sure that anything I need to know is written down like: “Check blood pressure before and after every exercise session” or “Pre-diabetic – he needs to keep an eye on his blood sugar levels.”

There are a multitude of things to assess:

  • Blood pressure
  • Heart rate
  • Flexibility
  • Endurance
  • Strength
  • Past injuries
  • Current pains
  • Current medications
  • Family history
  • Body composition
  • Weight
  • Age
  • BMI
  • Measurements (waist, chest, legs, etc.)
  • Posture
  • Balance
  • Coordination
  • Agility
  • Smoking history
  • Drinking history
  • Recreational drugs taken…

And the list just goes on and on.

There is a certain amount that a fitness trainer needs to know. I always try to get the most information so that I’m not caught off guard.

This data also comes in handy for measuring progress. It is an objective measurement that can be re-tested to show that what you are doing is working. I have repeatedly said “Man, I wish I had a picture of your posture when you just walked in” or “We should have measured your waist at the beginning.”

Sometimes the full measurement and interrogation drill creeps people out so I just skip it and get started. I’m there to get people exercising and if I know enough not to injure them, then I’ll roll with that.

But it is even worth hiring a fitness trainer for only a couple of sessions to do a full battery of tests and assessments on you, then you go do your own thing, then hire him again to test you again. If you’re a little more on the independent side, then feel free to use a trainer for that purpose.

A Well-Structured Program

Progressive overload is structured into any fitness program. This is true if you are trying to get to where you can walk 18 holes of golf or if you’re trying to bench press your body weight.

The amount that you overload yourself should be within a sane and healthy range as determined by the trainer or doctor or if you’re going this on your own – yourself. Rough estimates are to increase at a maximum of 10% per week in intensity, time or volume.

Your program will plan for and work around life situations like a business trip, a wedding, holidays or otherwise. You can set goals leading up to these periods and, if you want, reward yourself in some way.

But since the program has the wedding worked into it, there is no surprise or having to pick yourself up and get back on the plan. The mental derailment is more of a thing than you would think.

Keeping Statistics

Having a visual representation of where you are on a long term program is vital. You have a line and it increases over time. This line measures weight lost, strength gained or simply number of days worked out. I could work out a whole set of statistics for anyone to keep as part of their program.

In fact, here are a few:

  • Weight lost (or “weight gained” if you’re putting on muscle)
  • Strength gained
  • Number of days worked out
  • Days the diet was followed (this is a range graph that should always be 100%)
  • # Hours spent in the gym
  • # of fitness goals reached
  • # of miles run

You can measure whatever you want.

But the most important graph would be your primary goal with a line from where you are now to where you want to be and a line going from one point to another. That way at any point you can see if you are on track to make it.

Removing Barriers

So once you’ve worked out an exercise plan (think of it like an offensive move). You now need to think about defense.

Make a list of barriers to you achieving your goal. If your goal is weight loss, it may look something like this:

  • Friday night parents night with the other couples
  • After work drinks with the boss
  • Dinner meetings with the clients
  • Cookies from the fast food store when getting food for the kids
  • Cokes sitting in the fridge.
  • Beers in the garage fridge.
  • Sleeping in and missing the workout
  • When wife goes out of town, no time for exercise
  • Thanksgiving
  • Wife’s birthday in 3 weeks.

Don’t be ashamed to list it out. Just do a full dump and write every one of them down. Then work out a way you can do something about each of them. Get the beers and cokes out of the fridge. Work out a morning drill for getting yourself out of bed and making sure you go to the gym. Let your boss know that you value his relationship, but you’ve had it with your belly. Offer him to meet up in the gym and get started with you.

Often times, the fat person isn’t the one that needs his mind changed. It is everyone around him. The wife buys him coke because he asked for it one time. She wants to make him happy, but he ends up getting fat. It is up to him to fix it and it involves having a short talk with her. Simple stuff, but if you don’t do it, you’re liable to hit a landmine and get derailed.

A Detailed Approach for Specific Conditions

Sometimes I’ll have an ex-athlete on my hands that has an injury that needs nursing. Maybe he was a pitcher and tore his rotator cuff back in the day. Getting him to bench press his body weight is a bit more complicated than just training the bench press.

So we work out a program for it and do daily rotator cuff exercises on the correct gradient. The shoulder is a very shallow ball and socket joint that is held together mostly by muscle. There is a thorough assessment of where the pain is, what causes it and the structure involved.

There are very standard tests for determining which muscle is affected in your rotator cuff. You do the tests and stretch and strengthen the affected muscle with a very light touch.

This approach should be almost painless. If it hurts, I back off the weight or repetitions a bit and then carry on. It takes a lot of attention to detail and form and a ton of feedback from my client. But I’ve taken a person from shoulder pain while he’s sleeping or even reaching up to scratch his nose, back up to where he could bench press 200 pounds pain free.

You can do amazing things if you stick to easy gradients.

So here you would have as your main goal “To bench press my body weight” and a sub-program would be “To rehabilitate the shoulder so that it can take heavy weights again.”

Working both of these together requires a bit of research and any savvy person can do it, but if you would rather give it over to a personal fitness trainer, then go ahead. That’s what we are here for.


There has been a lot of talk about random vs structured exercise programs. All of them improve your fitness levels.

But what if you have that one goal that you’ve just always wanted?

Have you ever wanted to train the hell out of your weakness until it was one of your biggest strengths?

This is where super structured programs come in. When I’m cruising through life – mind is on work or family and I’ve got nothing major holding my attention – I’ll just do the group workout of the day and compete with others and my prior performances. It is a team building thing and going with a group makes me push myself harder.

But there are some things I suck at and I want to change. So I work out a detailed program from start to finish and I attack.

I find that this approach is best used for stamping out those things you suck at.

So what’s your weakness?

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