Is Your Gym Programming for You?

I started our gym with 10 athletes. Just ten people and two simple ideas:

  • get everyone stronger
  • coach individuals, not groups

Status Quo and Opportunity

“The existing state of affairs, especially regarding social or political issues”

I’ll spare you the talk on the benefits of getting stronger today but I do want to spend a little time focusing on the second idea, coaching individuals. Fitness has become larger than anyone could have predicted. A quick Google search will likely turn up no less than 10 gyms within a couple miles of your home. Your options for exercise seem to be limitless:

  • 6 Week Skinny Jeans Challenges
  • 6 Week Shred Challenges
  • Mobility Classes
  • Corrective Exercise Classes
  • Yoga
  • Boot Camp
  • CrossFit

There are of course many more options so what’s the consumer to do? Many people like to talk about “good” and “bad” training programs or “right” and “wrong” approaches. I think “good”, “better” and “best” are more appropriate descriptors of the situation. We think coaching individuals represents the “best” approach rather than treating everyone together as a homogeneous group (does everyone in your Group X class have the exact same goals, limitations, schedule, and training history?). The idea isn’t new or groundbreaking, personal training has been around for decades. However, we thought we could bring the energy of group coaching (good) and combine it with the customization of private coaching (better) to create a hybrid model (best). The idea was to tap into the potential of the group setting (high energy, support, fun) and bring the customization (exercise selection, intensity, volume) of private coaching. Let’s let the athlete work their program among their peers. The results have been fantastic.
Deb pulling 235 x 3
Brian hitting his first-ever 315 bench
Thad pulling 4×4 @ 265
Steve squatting his old 1RM (320) for a set of 8

Silly Bullshit

We have previously written on the values of tracking your training. Many people go to the gym and do whatever they feel like doing that day. I have a friend who used to tell me he was on the “whatever machine is open” program. We laughed about that but he was dead serious. He’d go into the gym and decide what he was going to do that day based on which machines had the shortest lines. His program lacked results. On top of doing whatever silly bullshit he wanted that day … he never tracked anything. He had no idea how strong he was in any lift. While this is completely acceptable for someone to do on their own time without professional guidance, it’s appalling to see it happening when someone is paying for “coaching”. Even the math averse can see the value in data, timely decision making, and progressive planning. Why then, are many gyms still running athletes through “one size fits all” programming and expecting individual results? “Good” seems to be a generous descriptor in this case.

The Best Results are only 85 Pennies Away

Back to those initial 10 athletes. To track their progress we used 85 cent composition notebooks. It was cheap, effective, and beautiful. The athletes came in, wrote down their sets, reps, and weights, along with any other pertinent information and went on about their day. It was like our secret … we were getting everyone much stronger by following simple programming and writing stuff down. It was our initial attempt at coaching individuals in a group setting.Training was great, results were great, the gym was great.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Three years passed and we were still using composition books to record our data. Life was still pretty good but new issues are starting to develop. Any coach that’s had 14 athletes dump their training book on their desk at 3 pm on a Friday knows what I’m talking about. The 85 penny system was effective but becoming unwieldy. Forget about mining useful data for the next block of training …. adults lack basic penmanship and trying to make sense of such gibberish will melt your brain. What started out as our best kept secret had become our bottleneck. I began to realize WHY most gyms don’t program for individuals.

After much experimentation, research, and soul searching we decided that coaching individuals was not only important, it was our most important asset as a business. We started to slowly replace the paper system and plug our athletes into an online training platform. Initially using the platform was difficult. Operator error was high and motivation to continue was low but none the less, we pushed onward. Not long after our first few blocks of programming we could begin to see the benefits. Athletes could now be “programmed” for in minutes and historical data was at our fingertips … making our awesome coaches, awesome programmers.

As an athlete you have many options in training facilities and coaches so it’s important to do your homework. Our system allows for us to program for individuals. We focus our efforts on their goals, tracking their attendance, and setting them up for the best possible chance at success. Here are some quick data points we review after every block of training:

  • What was the block goal (strength increase, weight loss, attendance, etc.).
  • Was the block goal achieved (if not, why)?
  • What changes need to be made for the next block (exercise selection, program template, schedule, amount of strength work, conditioning, etc.)
  • How was their attendance (do they foresee any upcoming changes)?
  • What is our timeline (are they training for a specific competition date, social event, or trip)?
  • What is the fatigue status of the athlete (did they leave 11 notes about how beat up they were or are they feeling good)?

These are just a few of the items that our coaches assess each time they program for one of our athletes. Of course this doesn’t include the “on the platform” expertise that our coaches bring to the gym every day. This attention to detail adds up, takes time, and reduces our ability to run bullshit programs like online coupons, and other cut-rate activities that boost short-term revenue and dump long-term community. Instead, we are building better athletes one block of training at a time.

We are set to open our second location in November of this year, it’s nearly twice the size of our original space. We now have a lot more than 10 athletes and a whole bunch of ideas for growth but two simple ideas remain at the forefront of our philosophy:

  • get everyone stronger
  • coach individuals, not groups

Good luck with your training friends!