Benefits-Based Programming

A coach leading a group of older adults

Early in 2015, I was at a seminar for coaches. One attendee bragged up his box, his coaching and his programming:

“I have everything,” he said. “All the toys. We can do anything that pops up at Regionals or the Games. I reinvest every dollar of profit into equipment. We’re the only box in the state with The Pig, I think.”

His programming went like this:

“I wrote down a list of every exercise in the L1 handbook, and I make sure we do every one at least once per month. That way I’m following the true ‘constantly varied’ model.”

Many coaches make this mistake: programming for the features of their gym instead of the benefits their clients want.

A better coach focuses on the benefits of the workout, not its features. She starts by considering the intent of each workout and then determines how she’ll achieve that stimulus. Finally, she explains the intent to her clients when she presents their workout for the day.

This is simpler than it sounds.

Programming and Goals

Let’s say, for example, that a coach wants to build a glycolytic workout to trigger a metabolic response in her clients. She knows that she must create hard intervals of high intensity lasting 80-100 seconds, followed by short recovery intervals. And she knows she wants to repeat these intervals five times, because many of her clients will start to lose their technical skills after three or four rounds.

She can combine exercises in many novel ways to achieve this end but chooses simplicity: burpee box jumps—20 as fast as possible followed by a 1:00 rest, for a total of 100 reps.

Then she tells each client in her group how this particular workout will get them closer to their particular goals.

For example, if she has a cop, a ski racer and world-class Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitor in her group:

“Our goal today is to spend four to seven minutes in an anaerobic state. This will benefit you, Greg, because after you chase down the bad guy you’ll need enough energy to fight him. It will help you, Eva, by preparing you for all-out effort on a Super-G. And it will help you, Mike, by keeping you in a high-lactate state for the same duration as your typical match. We’ll put you into this anaerobic state with burpee box jumps: You’ll hold your breath for a half-second on each jump, spiking your heart rate and requiring complex motor tasks while in severe oxygen debt.”

Now let’s compare the “hard for the sake of hard” workouts that many group coaches like to program, focusing on features instead of benefits:

“We’re going to use the new monkey bars today and then pull the sleds. We haven’t done that in awhile! And then it’s time for a Fran retest! This is gonna be spicy … let’s go!”

The latter sounds like a lot of fun. And I could make the case for including monkey bars, sleds and Fran for cops, ski racers and martial-arts athletes. But benefits-based programming addresses the needs of the client before considering the equipment to be used. This gives newer coaches more flexibility, but most importantly, it lets clients know you’re writing your programming to best address their goals.

When presented this way, equipment is secondary. You can use sleds and rings and barbells—yes please!—but you don’t have to.

Space and Equipment

Benefits-based programming also solves the equipment-sharing problem.

For example, if a gym’s programming mandates “Grace” (30 clean and jerks for time) as the WOD, some coaches struggle with equipment. If the gym is 1,500 square feet, and 12 people show up, half will be waiting their “turn” to exercise. Movement standards and rep counting will suffer.

If the gym is larger and 30 people show up, risks increase as the coach’s attention is split. 

What if 30 people show up for Grace in the 1,500-square-foot gym

However, if the goal of the day’s programming is to spend four to seven minutes in an uninterrupted anaerobic state, the actual workout prescription is secondary. A high level of lactate can be achieved through cleans and jerks—or with burpee box jumps. Or with burpee pull-ups. Or with shuttle runs.

If the clients understand that your programming is chosen with benefits as the prime concern, they won’t mind the change. After all, it’s done with their best interests in mind. But if they “train to the test”—if they’re doing Grace for the sake of Grace—they’ll be annoyed at the large class size, the wait and the lack of coaching.
On the business side, many affiliates overspend on equipment they don’t really need to get their clients results. They buy oly platforms, The Worm and curved treadmills for the novelty factor. They believe they have a competitive advantage because they have different toys. But none of these are necessary for getting their clients results.

Worse, their selection probably caters more to the coach’s boredom than consideration for their clients. The coach has always wanted an Eleiko bar, so the coach buys 10 for the gym.

This is also true with space: A year ago, many gyms were pursuing the biggest spaces they could find. This meant industrial spaces: big warehouses with high ceilings and no neighbors. The goal was to run huge classes without people bumping into one another.

But in some cases, this is at odds with what clients wanted: a convenient place to work out (close to their home or workplace) that would provide the results they sought (fat loss or strength) in minimal time.

They weren’t seeking a 20-minute drive each way to a warehouse where they could get better at exercising. When a smaller gym with more personal attention opened a block from their workplaces, of course they cancelled their membership at Big Box. They didn’t care that Big Box Coach had a Level 4 designation because the Level 1 trainer at New Box is a lot nicer.

And they didn’t worry about “the community” at Big Box because they have other friends. And families. And Facebook.

Clients choose places that get results, not new equipment orders every Monday.
In the next post in this series, I’m going to give you a great example of testing individual client progress in fitness in a group setting.

Other Media in This Series

“How to Get Better Results for Your Clients”
“How to Make a Prescription”
“Assessments: A Linchpin to Long-Term Success”
“Assessing Clients With Nathan Holiday of Level Method”
“Getting Clients Results: Your Priorities”


One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.