Episode 299

How to Fix Your Program Design Systems with Pete Dupuis

In this episode, Pete Dupuis joins me to talk about how to fix your program design systems.

[00:00:00] Hello, my friend on today’s episode, I’m speaking with Pete and we’re talking about how to fix your program design systems. We speak to many gym owners all the time who have very unscalable, complicated program design systems that are costing you time and money every single day. So we walk through our program design pyramid and teach you how to build a scalable, effective program design system from the ground up.

So if that sounds useful. 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.[00:01:00]

Hello, fitness, business nerds. What’s up. Welcome to another episode of the business for unicorns podcast. It’s the new year and I’m back with Pete Dupuy. Hello, my friend. It’s good to be back. 2024. Let’s do it. Yeah. What are you looking forward to in 2024? Uh, our new podcasting protocols. We’re going to be crushing this podcast even harder in 2024.

So to answer your question though, I’m, I’m excited about Austin. I got to book my flights this afternoon. So. Let that be your launching point if you want to talk Austin. Good transition. Look at us. Podcast is already crushing it with a clear transition. Before we dive into today’s topic, which is really how to streamline and scale your program design systems is I want to give you a quick reminder that we have a retreat coming up.

It’s in Austin, Texas. It’s March 2nd and 3rd. It’s really only for Unicorn Society members. We’ll be open up 10 spots for non Unicorn Society members. And if you let us know you want to come before January 14th, you get some early bird pricing. It’ll never be cheaper. So go ahead and DM us on Instagram if you want more information, but all you need to know is that the whole retreat is [00:02:00] going to be about marketing and sales.

You’re going to learn how to create high quality leads, how to effortlessly convert those leads. You’ll learn how to grow your revenue month over month. You’re going to connect with like minded gym owners. We have a special guest star, Jordan Syatt, who’s going to be there. And so it’s going to be an epic retreat.

Mark, I, the whole team are going to be there. So if you want to join us, head over to Instagram, let us know, and we’ll give you more information. That being said, let’s dive into today’s topic, which is all about how to make your program design systems not suck. So before we talk about the solutions and the things I think we can do to help y’all Pete, let’s just talk a little bit about your own experience at CSP and then talking to unicorn signing members, how much we’ve seen people have program design systems that just honestly don’t.

Talk to me about what you’ve seen in the terrible end of this pool. I think we’re giving too much credit in assuming that people have systems, period. I think they have, they might have an approach. But I don’t know that I’ve come across a whole lot of [00:03:00] people who can tell me that they have programming SOPs.

Or they have kind of foundational rules, they all, let me correct myself, they all have them, but they’re all in their own heads and putting things on paper that translate if you decided to say sell the business or hire a bunch of people very quickly to accommodate a huge influx of leads, there, there aren’t systems, there are just mental rules that need to end up on paper is how I’ve seen it.

Yeah, that’s the number one story I see with most gym owners is that the program design systems are a product of whoever the owner was and what their approach was to making programs. It’s mostly in their head. They may only hold on to this task for as long as humanly possible. And it’s because they do, I say this with love, my listeners, they It’s just a crappy job of writing down what they do, why they do it.

So they can delegate and hand it off to anyone else. So it stays in one person’s hands, which is just not very scalable. And then they are frustrated by wondering why can’t I get my trainers to, to do what I do? Why can’t I get my trainers to programming? Why do I have to do all the programming? So you haven’t made it a [00:04:00] system.

If it made a system that can be consistent and delegated and then have good quality control to make sure it scales over time. Yeah, I’ve seen that time and time again. We’ve had that issue at MFF. Uh, throughout the years, and I’ve seen it so many times with Unicorn Study members. Let’s talk about our solutions.

And we have a whole playbook for this for Unicorn Study members. And in that playbook is something we’re going to walk through today called the Program Design Pyramid. And really, this is just via foundational principles for how you create a program design system that scales. And then we’re going to go through this and talk a little bit about how CSP does this.

And hopefully, listeners, you leave here with an idea about how you can build a scalable program design system from the ground up. Yeah. And as we go through these kind of five components of the pyramid, the thing I want to stress to you is that when you decide all the answers to these questions I’ll have to ask, your team has to be very aligned on this, right?

If all of your ideas about programming are stuck in your head, you’re doing it wrong. And you might even need to trickle down to your clients. Your clients should know why you train the way you train. So let’s dive in before I keep going. So the foundation of this [00:05:00] pyramid is what are your core beliefs about training?

What do we mean by this are, what are your beliefs about your body, about nutrition, about. Movement, right? What are the things that you believe and don’t believe are true? And are those beliefs clear to everyone on your team? Yeah, so yeah, I know Pete, obviously at CSP, Eric’s philosophies about movement and fitness have really been baked into the DNA.

Can you talk a little more about that? Yeah, so we hire exclusively through our internship program. Puts us in a unique position there where I can ensure that if somebody’s gonna jump on the payroll longer term, they will have demonstrated 300 plus hours of competency and fit and a big part of that competency is a complete understanding of our approach to program design and appreciation for how to execute it with a client and how to cue them through it.

We’re admittedly not great about having a playbook per se internally. In the sense that I don’t have a PDF that I distribute to the [00:06:00] interns and say, this is how you’re going to learn programming. However, John has baked it into the curriculum over the course of a given internship. And so there are tons of programming touch points and we have a baseline framework as far as like the structure of a program goes, you know, what the template is that everybody understands and works off of beyond that, uh, there.

Every single person who interns with us sits in on assessments and they get the opportunity to revisit assessment findings with the coach after the fact, talk about what programming objectives might be coming out of it. But if you intern with us, you understand. What the guardrails are, I guess I’d say.

Sure. You understand what we consider to be taboo from a programming perspective. Exactly. We understand what the foundational movements are. You’ve seen them. You have an ability to emulate what you’ve seen. But the key is, I think you need to have A real feel for what your avatar is. And you need to have say three different [00:07:00] iterations of a baseline program for your avatar.

That could be a starting point and we can individualize off that. But the thing that people think if they haven’t been in a performance training facility like ours. And they hear us say, Oh, we do individualized program design. They think that every time we sit down to write a program for say, a Michael Keeler, we open up a blank slate and we’re like, all right, let’s like document.

What’s a one going to be? Let’s dream a little bit. And that’s just so operationally inefficient that it doesn’t scale in any capacity. So there needs to be an ability to make appropriate comps like understand this athlete looks like this athlete coming in with this similar injury history. Let’s start there as a baseline and build off of that.

If that makes sense. And I think you’re already talking about a point in a pyramid, which we’re going to even get to and talk about in more detail, which is having a proven kind of process for writing programs. But so I think that’s super valuable. But going back to the core question, which is like, what are the core beliefs you all have about training?

And I’d say that even Eric’s whole body of work, [00:08:00] every video and article and all that serves as like source material for how you all think about training. Working with your clients, which brings us to the next point in the pyramid, which is once you’re clear about your core beliefs about training, then what’s your approach like, what are the methods you’re using?

Right? And the way we think about this is what are the methods you encourage the training methods you encourage in your gym? What are the training methods that you discourage that you only frown upon? What are the training methods that are fricking banned? That if you see someone doing this kind of training in the gym, someone’s going to be pissed or in trouble.

And I think there’s some unicorns that are members. We know that also go as far as to having certifications they require for everyone on their team. And they have affiliations of a lot of unicorns. I remember that are, for example, like strong first affiliated, which means a certain percentage of their team has that certification.

So I think your core beliefs have to be backed up. By a specific approach that is consistent on the training floor. Yeah. So how would you describe like that approach for at CSP? You’ve definitely pointed toward the [00:09:00] fact that Eric inspired the initial kind of foundational approach to program design. So you’re, if you come into our gym, you’re going to see.

Exercise pairings and supersets, and you’re going to see it all flow a very in a specific cadence that we’re going to come in, they’re going to warm up, they’re going to do some movement training, they’re going to transition to the med ball area, they’re going to throw some med balls, they’re going to get into the weight room and they’re going to lift some weights, and then they might find their way back to the warm up area for some repeated mobility stuff or something along those lines on the way home.

It’s all informed by a program, a book Eric wrote called Maximum Strength back in 2006, that it’s amazing. The structure. Of a program in our gym hasn’t changed for almost 17 years and the content. Yeah, exactly. So there’s continuity across both facilities. And in fact, we just felt this because we had interchangeable clients during Christmas break.

We had a handful of CSP Florida clients walk through the [00:10:00] doors at CSP Massachusetts on less than three hours notice. And we had a handful of Massachusetts clients pull the same ridiculous move on Florida down there. And what happened was, if a client showed up without a program in hand, we have systems in place that allow us to access programming across facilities to print copies and iterations.

And from a client experience, They’re interchangeable down to the point where we equip our gyms the same way you should be able to walk into CSP, Florida as a Massachusetts client and intuitively understand where they probably keep the exercise mats where they probably have the dumbbells situated.

They are similar. They’re not there by no mean carbon copies, but there’s a logical approach to how the gym is laid out, and that actually informs. I guess you could probably say that the layout of the gym is informed by the programming philosophy. But yeah, I think it’s a perfect example of the kind of system that you’re building that it does scale across multiple states, [00:11:00] right?

And people can come in and both locations have a similar ish. Program design experience that brings us to the middle of our pyramid. So we talked about the base of the pyramid here is having core beliefs about your training that are clear to your whole team, which is then informs the approach that you take the method to use the methods you don’t use.

Then on top of that, it starts to get real tactical. We talk about next, like what is in your exercise library, like having an actual library of these are the exercises we do. These are the exercises we don’t do. And when we think about all the exercises in our library, here’s how we think about progressions and regressions.

Here’s how we as a team decide what gets added or removed from this library. And it’s like that tactical piece where I see a lot of gyms just are not on the same friggin page. And trainers can at any moment go rogue with any exercise they just learned on the internet last week. And then everyone else on the team has egg on their face when they get that program and they’re like, what the hell is this?

And you just gave some perfect examples of how you get everyone on the same page. By having clear templates, which is actually, I’m going to just move into the second, the next [00:12:00] part of the pyramid. Cause the next layer of the pyramid is what is your proven process for writing programs? And that’s when we get into having templates that are shared across every trainer that everyone’s working off the same format and structure, which as you said, has been the same as CSP for 17 years.

And it should be because it is the proven process that you use to get clients results time and time again. And every trainer has got to be on the same page about that. And. In our space, that is giving everybody access to everyone else’s programming efforts. It’s giving everyone access to everyone else’s assessment findings.

And so the, from a programming standpoint, a coach who didn’t evaluate an athlete or write prior programs for them, but has just interacted with them on the training floor, on short notice, can pull together a passable program. And I don’t mean not doing right by the client, but I mean pull together a program that is informed by information about the athlete that we have [00:13:00] collected and systemized as far as making it accessible to everybody.

I’ll tell you a funny story about the program template at CSP that I don’t know if I’ve ever told you. The book I mentioned, Maximum Strength, when Eric wrote that I was in graduate school, and he said, I’ve got a book coming out, would you like to be a guinea pig on the programming? I’ve got a couple of people giving it a trial run and you can give feedback.

And he sent me this atrocious Word document. It was, I opened it up and I was like, this is I can’t print this and carry this around a weight room. This is offensive. And I had, my training age was zero. I had never lifted weights in any capacity up to that point. And so in the back of my economics classroom during grad school, as I was getting my MBA, I mentally shut out everything that was being taught.

And I said, what would this program look like if I put it in a spreadsheet and the information flowed logically? And the exercise program template that you see in our gym and at this point in countless other gyms, when you think of CSP intern spin offs open their own places or [00:14:00] coaches from our internship program who went off to coaching college programs and built their own template, like this template that has become commonplace in a lot of spots and in Eric’s books were designed.

It was all designed by a guy who had never lifted weights before sitting in the back of a graduate level classroom. And I was just trying to make my own experience easier. But that is the entrepreneurial journey anyway. But whenever anyone picks up a CSP program, that was not a reflection of countless years in a weight room.

That was just logic from somebody who had not had their fingers in it before. Honestly, Pete, I love that story so much because it just shows the kind of rabbit hole that a lot of trainers find themselves in is because they’re such a, um, a student of the craft. They have a hard time pulling themselves out of it and be like, how do I make a tool that is helpful to A peat on day one of lifting weights, but the fact that you brought that kind of beginner mindset, those fresh set of eyes meant that you were uniquely qualified to make a tool that’s good for people who are just stepping into that program for the [00:15:00] first time.

And I think more of our listeners probably need someone like you, right. To take a client who’s brand new and be like, how would you organize this in a way that makes sense for you? Yeah. When I walked into the gym that night and Eric saw it, he said, what is that? And I said, this is maximum strength. And he’s, I’m going to need that.

file. I think I got a shout out in like the intro or something. That’s so funny. I love that story. I don’t think I heard it before. Let me just do a little recap. There’s one more kind of stack on the pyramid. So the bottom of the pyramid is clear core beliefs about your training. What do you believe about training?

Then the second level of pyramid is what is your approach to training? How do you translate that into like how you actually do the training on the floor? The third level of pyramid is what’s in your exercise library. Do you have a library that makes it clear the exercises you do or don’t do? Next level on top of that is what is your proven process for writing programs?

Do you have shared templates as your whole team on the same page about how the format and structure of programming is? And then the top of the pyramid is all this work you’re doing to create great programs for clients. Actually getting them results, [00:16:00] right? So are you actually following up with clients in the form of a check in sessions or goal setting sessions or monthly challenges or some form of accountability coaching is someone connecting with your clients to see, are you actually getting the results you came here for?

Cause if not, all that work we just talked about is for nothing. If it does actually translate to moving the needle for the people who are paying us, and how do you all make sure your clients are getting a good experience and getting results, Pete? We have the, I don’t, I wouldn’t say good fortune because it is probably my biggest headache in the gym, but the seasonality of my business requires that people come and go.

So we are able to re evaluate because it makes sense logically within the calendar. Typically two and sometimes three times a year. And it just, it forces our hand on that conversation. It’s hard not to say, what have we done in the past? What did you like? What did you not like? What can we change? What exercises gave you difficulty or did you feel pain?

What equipment [00:17:00] limitations did you have? And so these conversations have to happen for us to re onboard clients who are coming out of seasons. When they’re coming back to us with additional free time. So whether I want to do it or not, we didn’t systemize it. Cause we were smart people who were like, all right, this is how we’re going to keep our finger on the pulse of our effectiveness.

It was just the unfortunate reality of working with a very specific athletic population. Yeah. Honestly, listeners, you don’t have to have a seasonal athletic population to use that strategy, right? You can just build it in. You can say as a general pop audience, every spring and fall. Everyone in the gym does some sort of assessment.

Everyone does, whether it’s a in body machine or, or tracks the results for a week, or if people who want fat loss actually get on a, do a pictures like before and after pictures, there’s lots of ways to see if people are getting results. You could even just send a simple survey a few times per year, but it’s got to be some way where you close that feedback loop and say, okay, so what we’re doing for all of our clients.

Actually making the difference that they want it to make, that they came here [00:18:00] for. And if not, we’ve built a program design system doesn’t actually serve the people we want to serve. It’s like that last piece is really critical. All right. So that’s our program design pyramid. I think all the examples you gave Pete were really great, but anything else about simplifying streamlining program design that you want to share?

Maybe not so much simplifying and streamlining, but I want to make one very important point is that. You can’t treat this as one and done. So you can’t create your video database and then walk away from it. You can’t create your programming template or SOP and then walk away from it. You actually do have to have a scheduled approach to revisiting what is and is not working as a team.

And we, in our case, that means updating our video database two, sometimes three times a year. Because the reality is, if we’re doing a good job, we’re learning. And if we’re learning, we’re introducing new material and phasing out old material. But with two facilities doing that with two full teams doing that simultaneously, it’s almost impossible to have uniformity [00:19:00] in our programming language year round without working on it.

And so just in the last week, I got an updated video database link from Eric saying, can everybody up there agree to start using this one and, and we have to just. Stay on top of the terminology we use. We need to talk about what the team likes and doesn’t likes. Staff members are going to introduce training concepts that the other team members don’t always completely believe in.

We need to get buy in from the whole group. So, my point is just, this is something that needs to be structured in our approach to revisiting the discussion. And it’s an uncomfortable conversation. Sometimes I’m not going to say more often than not, but it is a challenge. No, it can be people have strongly held convictions and beliefs about what’s right, not right in training land.

If really for or against exercises or general approaches in general, we’ve had a lot of tension filled conversations at MFF. And we do something very similar, which is at least once a year, the MFF training team goes through all of our coaching [00:20:00] SOPs, all of our SOPs related to program design and how we serve our clients.

And we all as a team audit all of our SOPs kind of once a year, including. The ones for program design and staying on top of it is true for all the SOPs in your business. The SOPs have to represent your team’s current best thinking on any given topic. And I think program design, as Pete just said, is one of those topics where if your team is full of learners and lifelong learners going to conferences, doing certifications, their ideas about it are going to keep changing and evolving.

So making sure that your SOPs are not always changing, but changing in the most meaningful ways to represent everyone’s best thinking, like it’s critical. It’s critical and it never ends. It never ends. Let’s leave it there, even though it’s maybe a bummer of an idea. I think that’s the truth. We’ll leave you with the truth.

The truth. I’ll leave you with a good one. A tip that I saw learned in real time in the last I think two or three years, John showed up to deliver an in service and he was prepared to introduce some material to the interns. [00:21:00] And then our office manager said, Hey, so and so needs a new program. And it didn’t get put on your to do list.

They’re going to be here in the next half hour. And John looked at the interns and he was like, Hey, this one’s kind of more important than the continuing ed in this given moment. How do you guys feel about me putting it up on the big screen and I’m going to write a program and you’re allowed to ask me questions in real time about where my head is going with it.

And so they were all like, okay. And so John wrote a program with the projector going basically. And in some circumstances they ask questions and others, he said, no one’s asking this, but here’s why I’m pairing this with this. Based on whatever it is his existing knowledge of the client and he finished got the program done in time And he said to the group.

He’s hey, i’m sorry for throwing you guys a curveball today Did you guys like it? Did you hate it? And they, as a group said, if you did this for every in service for the rest of the time we are interns here at CSP, we would find it valuable. It’d be worth it. And I can’t say that he’s built it into a constant routine, but I [00:22:00] know that one of the best ways to teach is by, by doing.

In front of other people and then allowing to say, pause, what are you thinking when you do that? So something to think about in your own space. I think it’s a great story to end with, right? It really speaks to the idea of like you as the owner, if this is all stuck in your head, you got to get it out. And that’s a great example of how to get it out and shared into conversation.

So awesome. Thanks, Pete. A great conversation as always, dear listeners, we hope you’re walking away with some solutions for how to simplify and streamline and build sustainable, scalable program design systems. And as a one final reminder, if you’re listening to this podcast before January 14th, go over to our Instagram and let us know you want to join us in Austin.

We’ll give you more information about Austin and we hope to see you there at the retreat. It’s going to be badass. Be there. Thanks for a great call, Pete. See you on the next one. Talk soon.