I walked into the gym with my program in hand.

A comprehensive program from top to bottom: everything from big strength work to accessory lifts; mobility and correctives; sprinkled with some core stability and some bicep pump work, cuz hell, why not?

Sets/Reps/Tempo…A1) paired with A2), Tri-set with B’s paired beautifully together. I was an engineer and an architect; an artist with a perfectly equipped gym floor as my medium.

My client arrives!

“Hey I’m so sorry but I have to leave 20 minutes early today because I have to pick my kid up from daycare. So we’re going to have to move pretty fast”

*looks at beautiful program I won’t be able to do today..

“Ok well let’s hit the main points today..couple mobility drills, some strength work, and maybe some core work and call it a day.”


Another time…another program..


*walks onto gym floor..

Let’s barbell bench! Er…the bench press is taken, can’t do it first.

No worries, we’ll squat instead…

Squat rack has some knucklehead doing bicep curls in it.

Squats will have to wait..


You get the picture.

I used to think that personal training and S&C weren’t too different; that thletes and average Joe’s could all train in a similar fashion (both true and false).

In realty, personal trainers encounter speed bumps that the collegiate weight room guys don’t necessarily have to deal with: the “real world” of private training.

In a perfect world I always have all the equipment I need when I need it. My clients always come in fresh, recharged, and ready to go HAM on some squats or deadlifts. In a perfect world they always show up on time, stay the whole time, and don’t ever travel.

But we don’t live in a perfect world, and that’s just fine.

Collegiate strength coaches also deal with this stuff, too. Athletes have their own set of issues: they’re not always fully recovered from their workouts and practices. Athletes have relationship issues, schoolwork, and other life stresses just like anyone else.

What separates a good trainer and coach from a great trainer and coach, is their ability to “roll with the punches” that is life and training.

How do you go about Programming, or NOT programming, in the real world?

The purpose of your program should be to help your athlete or client work towards a specific goal. For athletes: get them stronger, bigger, and faster so they can outperform the competition.

For clients: lose 10+ lbs to fit into that beautiful dress; improve cardiovascular fitness so they can run the Music City Half;  look good nekkid or in that bikini for their vacation in the spring.

In a perfect world this program would address clients’ needs as well, like mobility and flexibility so they move and feel better.

This program would also utilize periodiziation, which is just the planned organization of training phases. For example, you might focus on fat loss for a 8-12 weeks, then muscle hypertrophy for another 8-12 weeks, then absolute strength for 8-12 weeks.

For the purpose of this blog post, don’t get hung up on the periodization part. It’s far too complicated a topic to cover in this blog post, just know it’s basic definition.

Let’s get to meat and potatoes shall we?

There are 5 basic movements that every program should have (in no particular order):


Hip Hinge



Carry (core stability)

That’s it.

Were you expecting some “super program?”

It doesn’t exist.

All we have are these basic, but awesome movements.


If you implement a program that covers all five of these movement types, you’re going to be better off than 99% of all the gym bro’s hogging the squat rack with bicep curls.

Whether this program is physically written or up in your head somewhere doesn’t really matter. In the real world of personal training in a community center, big box gym, or other commercial setting, you’re rarely going to perfectly execute your written program.

For one reason or another you’ll make changes, sub exercises, deload on a particular movement because your client didn’t sleep well, or spend more time on recovery methods because they’re sore from hiking all weekend.

Roll with the Punches

It’s not what you want to do, it’s what you can do.

–Mark Sutton, my mentor

Coach Sutton has wise words, and I think about this all the time while I’m working with clients.


So that guy is still doing bicep curls in the squat rack, and you need to get some real work done. You can’t Barbell Squat. But you can Goblet Squat.

Hip Hinge

You can’t Sumo Deadlift because the platform is busy. But maybe you can Trap Bar Deadlift or do some Pull-throughs.


Everyone knows Monday is International Bench Press day. Maybe you schedule your bench press for Wednesday or Friday instead.

If you’re dying to bench press, you can always Dumbbell Bench, Incline DB Bench, or try THIS pushup, or THIS Pushup, or THIS Pushup instead.

Or maybe do a Barbell Overhead Press, Landmine Press, or even a DB Push Press.


Any type of row or overhead pull will do: whether it’s a DB row, TRX Row, chin-up, pull-up, or chest-supported row. Pick one based on your clients needs and abilities and knock it out.

Carry/Core Stability

Typically you’re not going to run into programming issues with this one; just progressions and regressions. Get creative and make it fun for the client. HERE is my playlist of some core exercises I really like to use.

Take home Message

Some trainers and coaches physically write the program down. They follow the plan to a T. Others wing it depending on what’s going on with their client and what the gym environment calls for.

I’ve done both approaches. I can tell you from experience that I prefer having a written program, but I will tell you I’ve been able to execute that program as written only a handful of times. Most often, I’m making on-the-spot changes. Winging it, if you will.

There’s nothing wrong with winging it so long as you take a systematic and educated approach to your program.

Whether you write the program down and follow it to a T, use a general guideline, or make it up in your head as you go doesn’t really matter.

What matters is that the exercises you choose for your clients meet a few criteria:

1) It’s an exercise that is safe for them to do (Cardinal Rule! Do No Harm!)

2) It’s specific to their goals and needs: burn fat and build muscle; improve hip mobility

3) It’s challenging so that it ellicits a response; i.e. makes your client stronger

4) Hits most, if not all of those basic movement patterns discussed above

Whether these goals are met by a beautifully crafted hand-written program or on the spot is up to you. Just be able to roll with the punches when you need to.

Andy Van Grinsven

About Andy Van Grinsven

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