Episode 275

3 Tips for Scaling Up Your Program Design with Ben Pickard

In this episode, Ben Pickard joins me to talk about the 3 tips for scaling up your program design.

[00:00:00] Hello, my friends on today’s episode, I’m speaking with fellow business for unicorns coach Ben, and he, in this episode, he shares three proven strategies for simplifying and scaling your program design system. So if you find that your program design systems are eating up a ton of time and energy and capacity in your business, those are great episode for you.

Keep on listening.

Welcome to the business for unicorns podcast, where we help gym owners unleash the full potential of their business. I’m your host, Michael Keeler. Join me each week for actionable advice, expert insights, and the inside scoop on what it really takes to level up your gym. Get ready to unlock your potential and become a real unicorn in the fitness industry.

Let’s begin.

Hello, fitness, business nerds. What’s up. Welcome to another episode of the business unicorns [00:01:00] podcast today. I’m back with Ben. What’s up, my friend. Hi everybody. Hi. Before we dive into today’s topic, which I’m excited to talk about program design, let’s give people a quick heads up about something very important, which is unicorn society enrollment is open.

And we are right now in the middle of our early bird enrollment period. If you’re listening to this podcast, when it was released and we only open enrollment for unicorn society, which was our core business coaching group twice a year. And this is a really important one because it’s our last time to join before the end of the year, won’t be a chance again until really mid 2024.

And we have some special offers. If you do it by what’s the deadline for early bird, Ben, by Sunday, November 5th. Yeah. So the link down below in the show notes or wherever you’re listening to this will be a link to find out more about Unicorn Society and raise your hand and apply. But if you do it by November 5th, you will save 1, 000 right on signup.

Plus they save even more money. How about that, Ben? Yeah, you’re going to save an extra 200 a month every month that [00:02:00] you’re a member. So that’s 2, 400 a year. Plus you get to save 1, 000 on enrollment. Plus in addition to that, you also don’t have to wait until January to get started, which is a huge perk.

Yeah. Get to start right away. Right away. You listen, we’ve been talking, we talk a lot about unicorn study on this podcast. We have an amazing community of gym owners that are freaking blast to be around and so fun to learn from really open to sharing how they do everything in their businesses. So if you’ve ever thought about joining friends, this might be the moment click the link wherever it exists.

Do it by November 5th. Yeah. Terrible with dates. Do it by November 5th, save a crap ton of money. And if you click apply and fill out the application, there’s no commitment yet. It’ll just, we’ll just have a conversation to see if you’re the right fit and the conversation will be with Ben. So you get to chat with him and see if Unicorn Society is actually the right fit for you and your gym.

So we hope you’ll apply and we hope you’ll do it before November 5th. Having said all that, let’s dive in. Let’s talk about today’s topic, which is how to simplify your program design. [00:03:00] Processes and systems. We see all the time and generators that we have to work with. They make this part of their business really fucking complicated.

And it’s important because a lot of you opened your gyms because you love training. You love programming and your science nerds and you have all the certs and you get even more starts every year. And you want to incorporate all those ideas into how you train your clients. Uh, and I love that for you.

Keep on learning, keep on being passionate about It’s important to have a system like this in your business, be one that really scales. That’s not overly burdensome. That creates a great experience without having to take hours and hours to spend programming for all your clients. So anyway, let’s talk about it, Ben.

What are some thoughts that you have about how to streamline program design? Yeah, the first one is exactly what you said. I think there’s value in acknowledging that if you’re anything like me or Mark from MFF, probably less so for you, Michael, you came back from like You started your business out of a passion for training and for helping people and just doing a really fucking good job because there’s [00:04:00] so many gyms out there that do atrocious to mediocre and God damn, we’re not going to be one of them.

And what works really well when you’re an independent trainer with 10 to 20 clients probably doesn’t even scale at that point, but definitely doesn’t scale when you want to then give this to your team. Because the first point here is. You need to have a standard for this is how we do programs here.

Unless your dream in life is to be the only person who ever programmed designs in your gym, and you’re never going to delegate it or let anyone else do it, which probably isn’t going to happen. Yeah. There needs to be an established set of rules of this is how things are done here. It’s the same principle of what color shirt do you wear?

Does it have your logo on it? How do you greet clients? What songs are allowed on the playlist? And to get that established that if this is how we program, there needs to be some sort of system. It can’t just be, you talk to your trainers and overlook every program. So step number one is acknowledging that [00:05:00] you can have a system that will be repeatable and scalable.

Without massive compromises on quality, just because it’s not truly a la carte every time does not mean it’s bad. Yeah, I just want to plus one that we at MFF, we’ve gone through a long journey of program designing for our ninjas, AKA clients. And over the years, we’ve gotten much more general in our programming and the results have not waned.

People are not getting less results because our programming is less customized over time. And it takes us way less time and energy to do and the results are the same. I think the only exception here is that if you are out there really working with like high level pro or semi pro athletes, um, they might need something a little more specific and custom.

But for most of you working with youth athletes, gen pop, What you’re selling here is customized coaching. It’s the experience of actually interacting with your client, your coaches on the floor that is customized, but the program [00:06:00] itself to Ben’s point can absolutely be something that scales. And as a gym owner, if you want any freedom at some point in your life from working on your business all the time, you have to build systems that don’t require you.

Yeah. So I love that first one, Ben is just acknowledge the fact that you need a system that scales and quality won’t have to be sacrificed if you do it well. Totally. And I know that can be a hard pill to swallow sometimes. So I, I mean it with love. I’m not accusing if you’re in the same boat I am because for years, my system was way too fucking complicated.

Yeah. What else? So that’s the first thing that what comes next? So step two is to design. A series of programs based on your avatar. Who is your ideal client? If you could clone one of your clients to have 150 of them, or whatever your magic number is. What’s that look like? And if you’re in gen pop, this is relatively straightforward, no injuries.

And then maybe you could have a template for with injuries. And if you really want to get in the weeds, you could do shoulder injury, back injury, knee injury. I would argue that’s probably [00:07:00] a little bit too deep for people right off the back. Bat, sorry, but you know, that most of the people coming in are probably what your most popular membership is at my gym is two days a week for you.

Maybe it’s two or three, you know, what most of the problems that are coming in are, you know, what their goals are. So you can build a first phase. And I’m a big believer personally when I built my systems out that the first thing we’re working on is work capacity, is GPP. If you haven’t exercised consistently for a very long time, we don’t just want to make you get sweaty, but you also just need to build some conditioning so that you can handle a volume of work that’s going to get you the results you’re looking for.

Yeah, for sure. So, so there’s a couple of different ways to look at this. The one that I would probably recommend most is to do it based on goals. If someone comes in and their top goal is fat loss, what does the first three months of fat loss programming look like for your avatar? And then maybe their goal is strength training or muscle building.

What are the first 12 weeks of strength training or muscle building for your avatar? From there, you’re going to have a fat loss [00:08:00] stream, and you’re going to have a strength stream. And for everyone who doesn’t fit neatly in one of those categories, they probably lean one way or the other. Because I’ve yet to find a human being who doesn’t want to lose a bit of fat, or get a little bit stronger.

They might phrase that as… I need to reduce my back pain or get my core stronger, or I want to improve my shoulder mobility, but we all know that a lot of that is going to come from strength. So once you’ve built out those streams, so again, maybe three, four week programs for each stream, then from there, it’s just coming up with what are the progressions and regressions that are going to work with your avatar, because obviously not everybody, in fact, very few people will fit beautifully into that program.

But you can probably off the top of your head know, it’s gen pop, so I’d probably start them with a goblet squat. And a regression of that might be, I’m going to do a goblet squat to a bench, or a bodyweight squat to a bench. And if they’re already pretty fit, maybe I’ll do a two kettlebell front squat, maybe even a safety bar squat.[00:09:00]

So I think of this as, what’s like your goal exercise, and then a minus one and a plus one for each category. And if you map that out in your programming templates, when you give this out to your trainers, It’ll be very clear based on their movement assessment or whatever type of evaluation or screening you do that, hey, this person’s advanced with squatting.

They’re not advanced with squatting. This person has no core control. They have lots of core control. So you’ll be able to start that initial program. Like pretty straightforward. Yeah. Does this make sense to you, Michael? It makes a ton of sense. It’s like a non programming guy. Yeah, seriously. As someone who’s not a trainer, even I could understand that.

I feel with enough practice and training, I feel like if there was a really solid template, I was walking someone through and I can see that they weren’t doing so good and their mechanics weren’t so hot. Let’s try it. Let’s try this exercise instead. It doesn’t have to be rocket science, but I love the fact that what you’re doing here is you’re centering this on your avatar.

Who are the most common kinds of clients that come into your gym? Let’s build a few tracks for those most common kinds of. Clients and let those [00:10:00] templates do most of the work of customizing what they’re gonna do next. And then in advance, thinking through and training your team to really focus on a few core progressions and regressions.

I think one of the things that comes up at that step, Ben, which I know you and I have talked a lot about with Unicorn Center members, is that sometimes they’re exercise library, all the things that they, all the exercises they possibly could choose from. is so stinking big that it doesn’t make any sense that you can have two coaches on the floor programming training clients on the same templated program, but because they’re allowed to choose maybe any exercise in a vast library that those workouts can look too different.

So when that comes up and people have to edit down their library, what tips do you have for that? I’ve been exactly there. And we had a. Beyond exhaustive exercise library, the way I did it probably wasn’t the most time efficient, but it was effective. And that was meeting with the trainers and systematically going through the categories because pre having a system, I still had it broken into [00:11:00] squat, hinge, push, pull, core mobility, just because that’s the way I was raised with programming.

And we were just looking at which of these do we use all the time? Which of these do we almost every, almost never use. And anything that was in the almost never use category, we just started to delete. So our exercise library was actually a process of systematic removal of the like 5 percent things.

Yeah. They just don’t get used very much. And then from there, we implemented a system where if we want to add something to the library, A coach has to put it in Slack with a video and get approval via consensus from all the other coaches that this is a valuable addition. Cause let’s be honest, there’s an infinite number of ways to improve shoulder mobility or to train core.

Yeah. We don’t need every single variation. No, especially if you factor in things like. Slowing down the tempo or adding a pause or adding more sets or adding more [00:12:00] reps. We all know frequency intensity type time. There’s lots of ways to make an exercise harder that aren’t giving a different exercise. And I’d argue for a lot of our clients, there’s a balance of, we need to make it fun and give them some stuff they want to do.

But if they’re going to stick with us longterm, we need to give them what they actually need. And sometimes what they need is. It’s a thinly veiled way to make them do the things that they need to do. That’s it. I think that’s the balance we’re all looking for, right? Is we want enough options that there’s variety and you can meet each client where they’re at.

They feel like they can try new things and you don’t want so much variety that your trainers can’t possibly know how to train and all of those exercises as well. You don’t want the impossible task of having a thousand exercise library or even a eight, 500 exercise library is probably too much that having as your team grows, having a whole team was trained on how to execute coaching on all of those.

It’s an impossible, unnecessary task. So let me see if I [00:13:00] can recap what you’ve shared so far, which is number one is recognize that you need a system for program design. So it’s consistent and it scales. Number two is you start to build some templates based on your avatar so you can really narrow down, okay, if someone wants fat loss or strength gain over the case, maybe that there’s some templates that go out for several weeks in advance, they can use and part of that might include needing to narrow down your exercise library so they can have clear progressions and regressions that your whole team can consistently follow and choose from.

Did I miss anything yet? Oh, you nailed it. Yeah. Great summary. I think those are really great. Anything else when it comes to simplifying program design that you’ve found really effective for your teams? Yeah, absolutely. What, one of the things that seems simple, but made a big difference in time for us is we typically structure programs roughly the same way, right?

When somebody’s A2, A3, and they’ll do that block a couple of times, a B1, B2, B3, they’ll do that block a couple of [00:14:00] times. As they progress, we might add the density block of conditioning at the end. As people get stronger, we will have the main strength with an assistance exercise and maybe some hypertrophy work and a finisher.

But I bet as I’m thinking through this, you’re probably thinking in your head, yeah, a lot of my programs do follow the same structure. So the tip for you is to pre format and whatever, if you use Excel like I do for programming, pre format your spreadsheets with those structures. Because one of the biggest time sinks and where you can have some differences between how people program is coming.

They’re spending time like adding rows and putting in borders and adding sets and reps and all sorts of Excel or Google sheet stuff that if you can build the structure of, we literally go to the tab of the structure we want, duplicate that tab and then fill it and not having to fuck about with formatting is massive.

Now I’ve realized this probably doesn’t apply to all the like folks who use programming software out there, but even in those, I bet there’s a way that you don’t have to start from a blank page. Yeah, [00:15:00] 100 percent using true coach or trainer eyes or any of those, most of them allowed you to pre make templates.

And I think Ben’s point stands here, which is they should all, all have consistently throughout every template for every avatar should have the same format, the same format for how the workout gets structured to the minute you’re getting crafty with the structure of the workout. You’re going to have too much variety to do quality control for.

So there has to be some consistency there to really create a system that scales. And my kind of parting thought on this is I feel you, I learned directly from Stu McGill. I was skipping school in university when I was doing a kinesiology co op degree to go to the L. E. D. FTS compounds to learn from the best in the world to go to perform better.

Like I have a really high standard for quality. And what I learned is the cost of having that perfectly customized program that like just fills your nerdy programming cup with joy [00:16:00] is one. You’re stuck doing it and it’s burning you out. And two, even though it’s super custom and you feel like it’s perfect for their goals, the cost is another trainer.

Who’s not you being like, Hey client. So I’m not a hundred percent sure what that is. So we’re going to do this today instead. And there’s nothing that erodes the trust of a member when it looks like your team doesn’t actually know what’s going on when in reality it was just a difference in nomenclature or wording.

Not something that you didn’t know. So by standardizing this, you’re going to save on those costs. Conversely, if it’s worth you to burn out and have your trainers look foolish, I guess that’s okay too, but it’s not, it took me far too long. It’s not, that was tongue in cheek. I like it. I like it. It took me far too long to learn that.

And I had, I started on day one, I would have saved myself hours and hours of programming that I could put into marketing to growing revenue, to sales, to those other projects you have in mind. Or just being with your frigging family so that running a gym doesn’t burn [00:17:00] you, consume you. Yeah. Yeah. I said, my friend, I think that’s, it’s so smart.

I think it’s these kinds of efficiencies that, that really give us kind of long term joy. In running kind of a lifestyle business, or if you want to do this until the day you retire, even if you want to sell someday, the people who are going to care about that are people who want systems in place at scale.

And so I think learning to do this compromise where maybe you don’t get the most complicated program you could possibly make, but you get one that’s good enough because people great results that you can scale and teach your trainers like that’s the sweet spot here. That’s a sweet spot. Yeah. Thanks for sharing this, Ben.

I think it’s a great topic and I think it’s one that a lot of our listeners will want to act on right away because I know a lot of the program design process out there are really complicated. Good topic. Friends, thanks so much for listening. As a reminder, go click the link below and… Apply for Unicorn Society.

Come work with Ben and I. You can continue this conversation and one on one coaching with Ben. You can jump into his office hours every week and talk about program design and changing your program design [00:18:00] system. So if you want to work on this or literally anything else about your business, um, please apply for Unicorn Society and do it before November 5th to save literally a thousand dollars up front, plus a million other perks that Ben mentioned before.

Uh, we hope to work with you. Uh, thanks for a great conversation, Ben. See you on the next one. Thank you. Bye bye.