Updated: Mar 15
There is no such thing as the "perfect" program. The effectiveness of a program is going to be dependent on multiple factors including: your goals, your skill level, the equipment you have access to, among many others.
But there is definitely such a thing as "bad" programming, so I thought it might be useful to talk about what a quality plan, or "good" programming, actually looks like and how to distinguish it from "bad" programming.
So let's start with what quality programming WON'T do.
Quality Programming Won't:
-Have macro or nutrition guidance that changes weekly.
Nutrition advice should not change frequently. Your body takes time to adapt and respond to the nutrition changes you make. If your nutrition guidance changes too frequently then it becomes impossible to track and see what aspects of your nutrition programming is working versus what actually needs to be refined or adjusted. If you have a professional creating nutrition programming for you and that programming changes weekly then you should be cautious about the advice you are receiving.
-Involve workout plans that involve movements that change every session or that do not allow to see progression in skills.
Now I am a big believer that even if your fitness goals are weight-related, you should have a skill based movement goal to use. That being said, I am always wary of workout programming that involves lots of "fad" movements and not enough of the "basics." The basics being squat, hip hinge, core, push, pull.) Responsible programming will include variations of the basics (ensuring that the movements match the ability level of the individual) and will provide scalable versions to enable the individual to progress and see improvement in the movement. Similar to the nutrition guidance, if the workout programming changes every week it doesn't give your body enough time to see an impact.
-Have a high focus on cardio with little to no resistance training.
This could be a bit of a contentious statement but I stick to it. Even for my clients who have cardio related goals or who are athletes and need a significant focus on agility skills, I still program in resistance training. Why? Because resistance training is critical for bone health, posture, core strength, mobility, and supports endurance athletes in reaching higher performance. I see many programs and classes that have a high intensity focus or people who spend all their time on the elliptical at the gym and apart from injury recovery or other contraindications (ailments or illness that require limited or monitored movement), there is no fitness goal I can come up with that doesn't benefit from both cardio-vascular AND resistance training as components to the programming.
-Promote heavy supplement usage.
If you have a nutrition program that primarily focused around supplementation to reach your nutrition goals then I would walk away and find alternative advice. Why? Because I believe that quality programming, especially when it comes to nutrition, should be educational and sustainable. It should be advice that educates you about the composition of whole foods and the impact they have on the body and how they help or deter you from reaching your goals. Nutrition advice that encourages you to rely on supplementation, pills, or other secondary sources of nutrition are not sustainable and in my opinion do not promote maintainable results. They are not educating the individual how to achieve or maintain their results without the supplements and are doing a dis-service to the individuals they claim to serve.
What WILL quality programming do for you?
Quality programming WILL:
-Involve educational and individualized nutritional advice that takes into account preferences, dietary choices, allergies, medical history, accessibility, and lifestyle needs.
-Incorporate resistance and cardio based movement planning that takes injury or medical conditions into account and that progress at a reasonable and steady rate so the individual can see progress in ability as well as physique changes.
-Use supplementation as alternative to adjust to lifestyle needs (i.e. lots of traveling, easy snacks between meetings, etc.) and never as the foundation of nutrition advice or in a way that results in the individual being dependent or reliant solely on the supplement for nutritional intake.
-Provide consistent and stable planning that enables the individual to create healthy and maintainable habits.
I believe there are a lot of really great programs out there, and I believe that there are a lot of great people in the health and fitness profession who pride themselves on creating quality programming to serve their client base. I also believe there are individuals and companies who use misinformation and ignorance to prey on well-intentioned individuals with high fitness aspirations in order sell products, products that have limited testing to verify their claimed results.
I always encourage people to do LOTS of research to find programming that fits their specific goals, or hire a professional to create quality programming that is personalized and individualized to meet their needs. I hope you can use the above to better assess if the programs you have or are buying are indeed the best for you.