One of the most common mistakes I see clients make again and again is overthinking things to their detriment.
Firstly, let’s establish something:
Fitness isn’t rocket science, but it is science.
And there are more effective ways to do things, and by and large, we should try to enforce those more effective parameters. However, if designing training programs is science, it is equal parts an art form.
As a coach, it’s not just about understanding stretch-reflex action or antagonist pairing or force coupling to make that all work. That part is the science, and by and large doesn’t vary much.
The art comes in when you’re talking about individualizing things to your client–seeing their program through their eyes.
Do they train in a busy gym?
Can they realistically do that metabolic circuit you set up, or will it be impractical in their space?
Do they have TIME to execute the two-hour workout you masterfully crafted?
What’s their experience like?
On the coaches side, you need to consider all of these things and do your best to make it work.
On the client side, it is absolutely integral to trust the coach, and put your head down and do the work.
BUT—it’s equally important to realize that no matter how good your coach is, the program they wrote was created in a partial vacuum. And you will be executing it out in the wild.
The instinct is to try to follow it to the absolute letter; and that’s a good instinct, and one you should trust…
…UNLESS following it is to the detriment of intensity, efficacy, efficiency, or compliance.
The absolute worst thing you can do is try to follow the program to the T when circumstances require malleability because in addition to wasting your time, it’s going to frustrate you to no end.
I want all of my clients to follow the programs I write for them, but I need them to be adaptable if they’re actually going to make progress.
Here’s Another Perspective
Here’s an analogy I like to give my clients to help them with this:
To overthink things is to treat training like baking, when you need to be treating it like cooking.
Training is like cooking, not baking.
Baking is an exact science.
Not only do you need the exact right ingredients, you need the exact amounts of them. And you have to add them in precisely the right order. If you mess up one single piece of that, everything pretty much collapses. Like a soufflé, to stay with the metaphor.
Nutrition (and not training), if you really want to be crazy, can kind of be like baking.
You need to have the right macros on the right days. Maybe you worry about nutrient timing or micronutrient content. Probably not necessary, but there’s an argument to be made there.
But not training. Training is like cooking.
By which I mean: as long as everything winds up in the pot, chances are it’s going to taste fine. If you can’t do the exercises in the precise order I wrote them because your gym is busy, adapt. Replace one or two if needed. Do them out of order.
That’s what cooking is like. If you don’t have turnips, add parsnips; if you forgot an ingredient in the beginning, throw it in at the end. The soup is still going to be fine.
All you’re doing by treating training like baking is stressing yourself out.
It’s important to note that this is advice is intended for the majority of clients: gen-pop folks who want to lose fat and gain muscle. It’s not for my athletes. But, the analogy works there, too.
At the very highest levels—pro athletes, for example—that stuff matters. Everything matters. Improving performance by 1% is the difference between gold and bronze.
Similarly, at the highest levels of cooking, that stuff matters. If you’re a world-class chef, your food has to have layers of flavor, has to use perfectly sourced ingredients used at the right time, and it has to look awesome on the plate.
But you know what?
You’re not a professional athlete, and you’re not trying to win Top Chef or get your Michelin Star. You’re just trying to have a nice meal that gets you to your goal.
So, for us?
Making a few changes here and there isn’t just acceptable; it’s absolutely necessary.
The most successful clients I’ve ever had are the ones who learn to walk the line between compliance and adaptability.
They don’t overthink things.
Having a beautiful and masterfully written training program is great. Writing one sure is fun. But it’s a jumping off point to something that has to work in the real world.
So stop overthinking things.
Stop trying to bake when you need to cook.
Make a few changes. If you can’t find a free barbell, use dumbbells. Add some pepper.
As long as it all winds up in the pot, it’ll be fine, I promise.
Lessons, for the COACHES:
If you’ve only been at this a few years, it’s tempting to think you’ve discovered a world changing method that will get your clients the best results ever. You probably haven’t. Just focus on writing great shit.
DO NOT fall into the trap of artful programming for its own sake. Write programs that are designed to help your clients, not impress yourself or your peers.
Lessons, for the CLIENTS:
Firstly, hire a coach. The easiest way to overthink things is to write your own programs.
Don’t do that. Outsource that shit.
Secondly, be adaptable. Be willing to make changes; if you can’t do the program as written, just do your best and you’ll be fine.
For both coaches and clients: just relax and eat your soup, kids.
For those who are looking for a little help with your fitness programming and want to crush your results, I’m currently accepting a handful of clients into my one-on-one coaching program.
If you’re interested, you can apply here.
Simply follow the link, fill out the application, and (hopefully) by this time next week…you’ll be looking at you brand new, custom designed program.
Then, we can cook together.
I can’t wait to get started.