4 Ways to Write Training Programs Faster

programmingBack in the day when IFAST first opened, Bill and I were the first, last and only line of defense.

We assessed every client personally.

Wrote all their programs.

And obviously, did all the coaching to boot.

It was strange – I would be exhausted phyiscally at the end of the day (working from 5:45 am to 7:15 or 7:30 pm will do that to you), but mentally I had a ton of energy because it was so much damn fun!

I clearly remember sitting down one Friday afternoon, though, and realizing that I had over 20 programs to update that week.

Needless to say, when you have to crank out that volume of programming on a weekly basis, you get your sh*t in order pretty quick!

Here are four ways that you can increase not only the speed at which you write a program, but their effectiveness as well.

#1 – Outline Your Progressions & Regressions First

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said this, but I know people still haven’t done it so I’ll say it yet again:

Take 1 hour this weekend and write down all your progressions and regressions for the basic movement patterns.

If you need a starting point, here goes. You should have a progression and regression for all of the following:

  • Quad dominant lifts,
  • Hip dominant lifts,
  • Vertical pressing lifts,
  • Vertical pulling lifts,
  • Horizontal pressing lifts,
  • Horizontal pulling lifts,
  • Core training, and
  • Single-leg/split-stance lifts.

At the very least, this gets you in the progression/regression ballgame.

I’d also venture to guess this step alone get you into the top 10% of trainers out there, because more are either unwilling or unable to take the time to do this.

Obviously there’s more to it than what I outlined above. Eventually, you can take it to the Nth degree and have this for your warm-ups, plyos, metabolic conditioning, recovery work, etc.

But this is a great start.

If you take nothing else away from this post, please, in the name of all this is holy, write down your progressions and regressions ASAP.

#2 – Do NOT Try to be Creative

When you’re starting off as a trainer, I think we all want to make each program a Mona Lisa.

We want each program to be this wonderful and unique piece of artwork.

But you know what?

Most of our clients simply don’t need that.

Watch enough people move, and you realize very quickly that most people need a massive dose of the big, basic exercises.

Without time to really learn how to do these exercises effectively, they’re never going to derive maximal benefit.

Your average client also needs a lot of coaching on basic movement quality as well.

Watch most people squat, lunge, or hinge, and you’ll realize they don’t need 1,001 variations of a deadlift pattern – they need to actually learn how to deadlift!

Of course there’s a time and place for the Mona Lisa. I’d like to think I’ve written a handful in my day, but that was more due to the fact that I was working with an elite client, with a specific set of needs and goals that warranted that level of program.

If you’re writing straight-ahead fat loss or muscle-building programs, stick to the basics and milk those gains for as long as possible.

#3 – Have a Template for the Basics

When you write a ton of programs, you quickly realize how important it is to have a template with some of the basics already in place.

I think most of us who have been in the game 5, 10, or even 15 or more years have those programs or templates that we fall back on if someone needs to shed fat, build muscle, etc.

Dan John has the one-lift a day program, and Easy Strength, and a bunch of other awesome stuff.

Pavel has Enter the Kettlebell.

Hopefully you get what I’m throwing at you here.

If you work in a gym setting, the goal is to have a go-to plan or template for the standard programs you’re going to encounter.

What I did in this case was outline the basic movement pattern I wanted to use (i.e. hip dominant lift, quad dominant lift, etc.), but then had the following already pre-planned:

  • Sets,
  • Reps,
  • Rest Period, and
  • Weekly fluctuations in all of the above.

Again, the goal is to make everything you do more systematic and calculated in nature. Doing so will make designing your programs faster and more effective.

#4 – Batch Your Program Design

Last but not least, if you have 20 programs to write, it’s best if you sit down and write them all at once.

Imagine the two following scenarios.

Scenario #1 – You write a program.

Then you answer a phone call.

Then you write another program.

Then you do a training session.

Then you write another program.

How long is it going to take you to write all those programs?

And more importantly, how good are the programs going to be, since you’re constantly having to sit down and “re-start” your program writing engine?

Now consider the alternative.

Scenario #2 – You write a program.

Then you write another program.

Then you write ANOTHER program.

And then what? You write another program.

I’d liken this process to starting a car in the winter. Once you get the car warmed up and ready, you want to leave it on and keep it warmed up to make sure it’s running proper.

Writing programs (or doing any task, really) is no different.

Once you’re in the right mindset to write programs, you need to write as many as you can. This will make sure you’re doing it as quickly as possible, but I’d virtually guarantee you’ll write better programs as a result.


So there you have it, four simple ways you can make your program design faster and more effective.

And if you really want to step your game up, I’d highly suggest checking out the Ultimate Program Builder that I just released in conjunction with Tyler English.

This product gives you all of the following:

  • Four, three-month templates for fat loss,
  • Four, three-month templates for mass building and muscle gain,
  • A customizable warm-up template,
  • Metabolic training/conditioning templates, and of course
  • Progressions, regressions, and all the nitty gritty stuff you’ve come to expect from one of my products!

If you write a ton of programs on a monthly basis, or simply want to streamline your program design process, I think this product is a no-brainer.

That’s it for today everyone. I hope you enjoyed the post and make sure to use these tips next time you’re writing programs for yourself or your clients!

All the best


P.S. – The Ultimate Program Builder is on sale this week only for 50% off the standard retail price. Take a second to watch this short video and see just how easy it is to write customized programs for yourself and your clients!

Watch the Ultimate Program Builder video NOW!


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  1. Looks like a great program. Can you add exercises to the drop downs for each category like “hip dominant lower”?



    • Yes – I give a quick bonus item where I show exactly how to do that.

      You can edit sets, reps, exercises, etc. The template is just that – a template to get you started (although newer folks could use it verbatim as well).

  2. Mike,

    I would love to get the program. I only have Excel Starter which doesn’t allow macro’s. Do you know if this is compatible with OpenOffice?

    • Neal – I doubt it. After conferring with the people at FCG, it appears as though you’d need the current version of Excel on Mac for the program to work.


  3. Mike,

    In regards to modifying the template, is it possible to switch around the order of exercises (i.e. the video shows supersets (1A, 1B)) is it easy to change to tri sets or straight sets? Finally, can you change the order of movement patterns (i.e. change to a vertical pull before hip dominant)? There doesn’t appear to be a dropdown list (seeing from the video) to change this. Basically, I’m just curious how customizable it is. Looks awesome!

    • Brent –

      I created the templates – but I didn’t create the actual software. I’ll try and find who exactly to email a question like this.


  4. Mike, I’d like to know your answer to Brent’s question as well. Also, how would you set up a 3-day Upper/Lower/Full split? What would the order of the movement pattens be. If you find out how to make the changes to the template Brent was talking about, I’d like to add that Upper/Lower/Full option as well.

    Thank you!

    • Collin/Brent –

      Technical support questions need to go to Lee Ann, as I just created the training templates but not the software itself.

      As far as a 3-day split, that’s not really in the program but here’s an idea:

      Monday – Lower

      Split-Squat/Lunge Variation
      Ball Leg Curl/Glute Ham Variation

      Wednesday – Lower

      Horizontal Row
      Horizontal Press
      Face Pull
      Accessory Press

      Friday – Total

      Chin/Vertical Pull
      Single-Leg RDL
      Vertical Press/Push-up Variation

      Just a thought but that would work pretty well!

    • DJ –

      No clue if there will be another version (or updates for this one) just yet.

      I’ll keep ya posted, though.


  5. Hi Mike,

    Loving the ultimate program builder – I had a go
    At doing something like this myself a few years
    Back but had insufficient knowledge at the time to
    Do so and have been waiting for someone to
    Design it – it’s brilliant!
    Quick idea for you -is it possible to add a client
    Biometrics tab where we can input bodystat, calipers
    Resting heart rate, blood pressure readings etc?
    Plus be really cool if we could get photo diary added
    At somepoint with front side and back! I find it
    Really helps motivate my clients to show them theses
    Measurements and their photos but bd great to have
    All on one place and accessible whilst in session on
    The cloud – no more bags full of folders 🙂
    Oh and what about an FMS section to record scores
    And exercise suggestions – I’m going to have a go at
    Building the FMS section myself 🙂

    Fantastic tool – cant recommend it highly enough
    It’s going to sand me so much time as my budiness

    Thank you
    Kristian UK

    • Kristian –

      I really like where you’re going with this. Maybe we’ll do a Version 2.0 or expansion package of this one?

      Again, just throwing ideas out there. I’m just the day labor behind the templates for now 🙂

      Great ideas!

  6. Including FMS exercises, I will give a 2 thumbs up. It will be great that as part of Corrective Exercises to include SMR using foam roller and balls. To really make it an ultimate program builder, link it to videos so that clients who work out on their own at times will be able to see videos if they have forgotten about how to perform the exercises/

  7. I noticed in the weight loss section you only include A and B workouts. Do you only recommend programming 2 days/week of weight training for weight loss clients? Is there a way to add more days to the excel spreadsheet?

    • Nick – I typically just alternate between the A and B workout to make sure they’re getting plenty of reps on the core/key lifts. They can follow this 2, 3, or 4 days per week.

      Hope that makes sense!

  8. Great product Mike! it gives most trainers an idea of where to start and how to manipulate the variables during the training cycle. I would love to see some add-ons as Kristian mentioned above, there is a fantastic scope for a program like this! Thanks again.

  9. Hey Mike,

    as always a great product, too bad the interactivity does not work inside Apple Numbers and I don’t have Excel… So I only can use it every second week, when I meet a friend who has a PC with MS Office…

  10. Hey Mike

    Thanks for another great product. This software is an absolute godsend. It will pay for itself many times over.



  11. Hi Mike…product looks awesome. I’ve been away on vacation and only just seen my e-mails referring to the product so I missed the discount! I don’t suppose it will be back on sale any time soon?

    Thanks, Daniel.

  12. I’ll ask again.
    You write programs like Ian King, why should I buy this product over his?
    Thanks for avoiding my question the first time around.

    • Andrew –

      Not sure what you’re getting at here as I have hundreds of comments in my Spam folder, but I’ll definitely answer your question.

      Of course I’ve been influenced by Ian King – as well as tons of other coaches. These are my programs using my own progressions/regressions, set/rep schemes, etc. While influenced by many, again, these are my unique programs.

      I wasn’t aware that Ian King had a program builder such as this, so I’m not sure it’s an either-or proposition. If you want to learn how to design your own programs, definitely pick up his book – I’d highly recommend it.

      If you want something that’s done-for-you and allows you to quickly and easily write programs, UPB is a great choice.


  13. I paid for The Ultimate Program Builder Sunday night, May 5th, 2013. The funds were taken out of my credit card account on Monday, May 6th, 2013. However, I have not received access to the software program and was not directed to a link or page where I could get access. I would greatly appreciate your help. Thanks, Larry

  14. Are there any videos available for the exercises in the program. There are a few that I am unfamiliar with.

  15. That Mona Lisa quote is just what I needed. I’m just starting out and I’m trying to make the perfect program for each individual. It’s a good reminder that these programs take time and they evolve and change throughout the process.

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