By: Todd Bumgardner

Folks that own fitness businesses understand the positive power of systems. We have billing systems, marketing systems, and coaching systems—but what about programming systems? Many gym owners, and their employees, are writing programs from scratch each time—killing their efficiency and deluding their products. Programming systematization, however, produces a better product while also improving business function. It helps a staff read music from the same sheet. Here’s a simple why, and how, of programming systematization that will help your business and your life.


Having a solid why makes any task easier. The drudgery becomes, well, less drudge-filled. While the upfront work of developing systems seems like a pain in the ass, it’s totally worth it.

Here’s the first reason why—systems produce consistent products. Consistent products are usually better products, or, at least they have a better start at being better products. This might sound like crazy talk, but you’ll have an easier time selling a good product that you believe in and deeply understand.

Let’s also talk about freedom—it’s a big motivator for many a fitness industry folk. We become coaches to avoid cubicle prison and avoid a slow, 9-to-5 death one TPS report-filled day at a time. Then we take it to the next level by becoming fitness business owners in an ever-expanding effort to gain more freedom—to train as we see fit and run a business by our moral, and economic, compass.

But we also started our own businesses for freedom of time.

The self-direction of entrepreneurial pursuits is alluring to many of us who, ‘just don’t like being told what to do.’ But we’ve also reasoned that if we can develop a business that runs smoothly with separately developed, but totally integrated moving parts, we’ll have more time for our other shit—a family, a creative pursuit, a fucking walk in the morning.

Nailing down your programming system creates this freedom because the business doesn’t rely solely on you to get that work done—it can be replicated by any of your employees educated on the system.

A consistent, easily sold product that creates more freedom sounds pretty damn good to us. Here are a few tips on how we created ours over the past five years.

Where to Start

As it goes with all systematized endeavors, it’s important to begin efficiently. The best way to do that is with a systematic evaluation. Now, while it’s fun to be creative, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel with our eval—there are plenty of great systems that already exist. The FMS comes to mind…probably because that’s what we use at our gyms. We’re also beginning to employ the Functional Capacity Screen to get a handle on folks fitness needs so we can better streamline our programming decision-making.
Streamline is the key term. The FMS and FCS holler, “Hey, this is where you should start with this person, and it’s probably best if you leave these exercises and stressors alone for a while.” These types of brilliantly simple systems also allow us to develop simple progression and regression systems. Since we gain perspective on the best positions, and types of training, to use with our clients, it makes planning exercise progressions and regressions much easier.

These types of systems also come with an already-done-for you language that makes staff communication easier. And when you’re trying to get everyone to sing the same song, using the same language is a good place to start.

Here’s the deal—you don’t have to use the language of whatever system you choose. It does, however, make your life easier if you do. Reality is that you just need to be consistent. A supine leg lift this week can’t be a back-lying Spiderman kick next week.

Before we move on, I’m not saying that anyone has to use the FMS or the FCS, and I’m certainly not employed by the folks that developed those screens, I’ve just seen them work time and time again. I’ve seen what they’ve done for our programming system.

How to Get Everyone Singing the Same Tune

Like the cat that’s skinned a thousand ways, there are many paths to success with educating your folks on your programming system.

New hires are simple; they are indoctrinated as they’re brought on board. As you expose them to your culture, expectations, and other necessities that help them thrive in your dojo, you give them the goods on your programming system. Even if they won’t be penning programs right away, they need to understand the process so that they can communicate with clients and teammates.

But what if you’re attempting to systematize with a staff already programmed by habit to behave quite differently than you’d like them to? How’s that job look? It’s a piecemeal of consistent action that involves them in the conversation.

Getting people on board starts with giving them a voice. You, as the owner, have the ultimate veto power, but just simple stating “this is how it goes” creates a subtle, under-the-surface resistance in people. Besides, if you’ve hired the right people their creativity is a resource that you can tap into to develop a great programming system. Before starting the programming systematization process, realistically set your expectations. This is going to take some time and effort—and you’re likely to experience some push back from your folks.

Once you have yourself in the right frame of mind, begin systematizing one piece of the programming process at a time. Getting each piece in place could take a week, or it could take several months. Understanding your staff and your current situation is the key. We just can’t delude ourselves with thinking that we have a magic that’s going to make everything better over night. But here’s a timeline that could work.

The following process works by employing one or two staff meetings per week focused on your programming system. If that sounds unrealistic to you, remember that time spent on this pays dividends long into the future. Also, that doesn’t mean that all of your meeting time must be devoted to this. Just plan a percentage that allows you to still cover all of your other housekeeping.

First two weeks. Learn an evaluation system that makes objective sense and makes communication easy. Teach that to your staff.

Second two weeks. Name all of your exercises consistently. Create a document that everyone on the staff has access to and categorize it movement (hinge, squat, push, pull, etc.). Then make sure all of the exercises are named. You likely have a lot of this done already and just need to put it on paper. But it’s a worthwhile step. You’d be surprised at how many places I’ve worked where people were supposed to function as a team but were each calling the same exercise by three different names while writing programs.

Third two weeks.
Develop your progression/regression system. Find the most basic form of each movement that you use and start there, then progress to the most complex movement that you use. This doesn’t have to be elaborate; it just has to exist. Hell, you can use someone else’s if you need a good place to start—start being the imperative word. Just get a start; the system will organically evolve over time. But it can’t evolve if it doesn’t exist.

Fourth two weeks. Create your programming templates. Consult your already written programs and develop templates based on different goals. Have fat loss, strength, beginner, etc. at the ready. Keep the elements of each program that did their jobs and trim the other fat. These jump off points pump up efficiency and keep your product consistent.

Fifth two weeks. Develop your programming team. Even though you’ve just spent the past eight weeks educating your staff, and eliciting their input, on your programming system, that doesn’t mean that everyone has to write programs—at least if you’re functioning in the semi-private or group settings. In fact, it slows things down by adding more moving parts to the machine than necessary. Designate programming to a few people on staff—depending on the size of your business. If you’re super small, you might be the programming team. Have a ton of clients and a large staff? Your programming team will be bigger. At our gym, BSP NOVA, we service over 100 clients and currently only offer semi-private training. We have two predominant programmers and one other staff member that assists if a bottleneck is approaching. There are folks on your staff that enjoy the puzzle work indicative of programming writing. Work with them to develop their programming skills and a communication system that allows you to work efficiently. Then cut them loose and trust that you’ve developed a sound process.

Write a Song Everyone Can Sing

Much of this process seems easy and obvious. But as Jeff Olson puts it in his killer self-development book The Slight Edge, the things that are easy to do are just as easy not to do. Remember that a programming system is a constant evolution; this article merely outlines the raw materials to get you started. It’s important to keep systematization’s value in your awareness. Creating a programming system that gets your staff on the same page will help you create a better business and a better life.

Todd Bumgardner, MS, CSCS is a co-founder of Strength Faction, an online coaching program for strength coaches and personal trainers that helps fitness industry folks transform their bodies and their coaching. On December 12th, Todd and his fellow Strength Faction coaches are releasing The Strength Faction Super Simple Guide to Writing Kick-Ass Training Programs—a programming system that makes it easier to write great, results driven training programs.