The Most Important Metric of a Training Program Is…

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[Cue EPIC drum roll here]

First…lets first delve into what’s not important:

  • Access to special, fancy schmancy equipment.1
  • Being anal about nutrient timing/intake.2
  • Posting a picture or video of every workout and every exercise you performed on Instagram.3
  • Following the programs elite lifters do.4
  • The whole BS notion that muscle confusion is a “thing.”5

Copyright: zamuruev

And Those Things That are Important. But Really Only Kinda-Sorta Important. Actually, We’re All Just a Bunch of A-Holes Who Like to Argue Over the Internet

  • Exercise selection
  • Exercise order
  • Exercise technique
  • Goal(s). Powerlifting vs. bodybuilding vs. OLY lifting vs. CrossFit vs. Fat Loss vs. Mechagodzilla
  • Training history/age
  • Past and current injury history
  • Ideal number of sets/reps
  • Time of day to workout
  • Length of workout
  • Best exercises to make your pecs cut diamonds

[EPIC drum roll is still cued]

man playing the snare drum on a beautiful colored background

Facetious tone aside, all of the things mentioned above are important and play an important role in program design.

However, there’s one metric that seems to always get overlooked.

And that is…..


“The most important metric of a training program’s success is…attendance. People need to show up”

You can write the most baller scientifically-based program addressing all the criteria listed above that’s based off block periodization with meticulous percentages written in, laminated with Vladimir Zatsiorsky’s6 chest hair, and none of it will matter if people don’t show up.

Make no mistake…getting people to “show up” is a skill in of itself.

Of course, the monetary commitment to hire a personal trainer or coach is enough to motivate most people to “show up.” But even then it’s often a crap-shoot, let alone entices someone to invest their time (and in themselves) long-term.

There are numerous, outside-the-box factors that often come into play:

  • The ability to listen to and validate someone. Are you a trainer/coach who likes to “win” or prove to everyone how smart you are and how you’re always right? Better, less uppity communication skills can have a profound impact on your sales and retention as a trainer/fitness business.7
  • It’s not about you. It’s about THEM. Get your clients to talk about themselves.8
  • Take the time to introduce your clients to one another. Maybe you have two clients who really enjoy squatting or, I don’t know, old-school Jean-Claude Van Damme movies. Either way, introducing client A to client B often helps build camaraderie and community.
  • With regards to program design: It’s not necessarily about choosing the best exercise possible to entertain people. Rather, it’s about choosing the most appropriate exercise(s) to better set people up for immediate and long-term success. These are really boring.
  • “Think trainer, speak client.”9You in your head: “Dan is really crushing his posterior Mediastinum on those squats.” You to Dan: “don’t arch so much in your lower back.”
  • Design for your space. You don’t always need all the bells and whistles to impress people. Audit your equipment. Almost always, the less you have, the better your programs will be. Most people don’t need as much variety as they think they need anyways.
  • Strive to make your clients autonomous.
  • Play more Wu-Tang. Just, because.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I do feel serves as a delicious amuse bouche in helping fitness professionals understand that it’s not always about credentials, certifications, and deadlifts.

Getting people to show up via other means is often the key to effective program writing.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.
  1. It doesn’t really matter. Barbells, you know, work just fine

  2. Speaking of anal (oh!)…you know it’s only a matter of time before someone takes things too far and invents a protein shake enema.

  3. By now we’ve all been programmed to think it doesn’t count if the internet doesn’t see it.

  4. NEWSFLASH: You’re (probably) not an elite lifter. And what you should be doing is following what those lifters did 10, 15, 20 years ago to become elite in the first place. As my friend, Mark Fisher, has noted in the past “ruthless savage excellence at the basics” is where most people’s wheel house should be.

  5. It’s NOT.

  6. Don’t know who that is? Tsk, tsk, tsk. Read THIS.

  7. The most cogent example here is if someone uses the phrase “I want to get toned” when asked what their goal(s) are. Yes it’s an eye-rolley, BS term. Getting “toned” is generally a matter of reducing one’s body-fat in order to “express” musculature. To do so doesn’t require a laundry list of exercises done for high repetitions with low loads. YOU know that, and you don’t need to go out of your way to explain that to your new client and to prove a point and to “win.” Just nod your head, say “that’s rad, we can totally accomplish that,” and move on.

  8. More importantly, their programs should address and reflect THEIR goals, not yours.

Comments for This Entry

  • chuck

    Amen! This is so true. Thanks Tony

    February 24, 2016 at 2:33 am | Reply to this comment

  • Jon Phillips

    Tony, this has been the biggest selling point for clients with me: "Strive to make your clients autonomous. Educate them. Tell them your objective is to make it so they won’t need your services." When people know you're teaching them to fish rather than giving them a fish the whole coaching dynamic is 1000% better. Thanks for saying this here.

    February 24, 2016 at 2:57 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Oxana @ PhysCult

      This is a good point. I am wondering whether the same applies to online training. These days, market is flooded with online training (customized and not so much) programs. And most of them have a limited duration. I am wondering whether the same approach works. Disclaimer: I am not online trainer, but I have used such services.

      February 28, 2016 at 9:10 am | Reply to this comment

  • Guzzy

    Ya know it's a good thing I love my trainer or I'd be a little offended at all the Ice Cream talk (yes I've read a couple of Dan John's books), but nonetheless awesome writing, valid points and so funny as usual Tony. Never stop writing. I think my trainer is coming to see you in Seattle in April!!!!!

    February 26, 2016 at 1:45 am | Reply to this comment

  • Steve

    Tony, I have been absolutely blessed with amazing coaches for the last 20 years of my lifting career, you included. Without a doubt, you are one of the best at making your clients feel like they matter. Not just from a business standpoint, you actually engage folks on a personal level that makes them know there're being treated as an equal, not a student. In my opinion, this personal connection will always yield the best results because people feel comfortable to share their insecurities and real life goals with you which enables you to get them on a effective, focused path faster. Miss seeing you buddy, keep doing what you do!

    December 3, 2022 at 10:51 am | Reply to this comment

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