Finding a training program online is ridiculously easy. Just type “workout program” into Google and you should have 2 billion results within 0.82 seconds. But for many people, these programs are pretty worthless. If you have mobility issues, limited access to equipment, or specific goals that differ from the norm (weight loss, muscle building) then a copy & paste program is not for you.
This article will help you to realise the benefits of a personalised program, and some reasons why regular training programs may not be the right choice for you.
When to Use Generic Programs
Even though the topic of this article is “the benefits of a personalised program” that doesn’t mean that generic programs are completely useless. There are certain situations where a generic program can be just fine. Here they are:
When You Are Fully Mobile
If you have no injuries or mobility issues, then there is no inherent danger to you following a generic program. If you are fully capable of performing all of the exercises on the program, then following it will be safe, and may also be effective.
When You Struggle to Start
Sometimes, the biggest barrier to success for people is being overwhelmed. The idea of signing up to a gym may be stressful, and any additional steps may prevent you from going. If this is the case, then finding a nice and simple beginner’s workout online can be good for the time being. As your confidence and competence grow you can then consider a personalised program.
Sometimes the phrase “Done is better than perfect” really can apply to the gym.
When You Are Highly Experienced
This may sound a bit crazy, because it can be argued that experienced lifters would benefit the most from a personalised program. But, if you are experienced and knowledgeable, then you can personalise the workout yourself when needed.
For example, if the workout requires 3 sets of dumbbell bench press, but it’s International Chest Day and every bench is taken, an experienced gym goer will be able to adapt the workout on the fly. Possibly throw in some weighted dips, or some plyometric push-ups.
Whereas someone who is quite new to the gym would end up standing around waiting for a bench to free up. Your experience gives you the luxury of being able to make the most out of a generic program. But even so, a personalised program makes more sense.
The Generic Program is Really Good
Some generic programs are excellently designed, and provided you are experienced, mobile, and knowledgeable enough, you can get a lot out of them. Brad Schoenfeld has a great generic training program for hypertrophy, and many experienced gym goers could benefit from it.
When You Are Short on Time and Money
If you don’t have the time to create your own personalised training program, nor the money to hire a professional to create one for you, then a generic program is better than nothing.
Why Personalised Programs Are So Effective
No two people are exactly the same. For example, mobility, strength capabilities, fitness, motivation, knowledge, budget, and access to equipment can all differ from person to person. Finding a generic training program that can cater to your individual circumstances is incredibly difficult.
Here are eight reasons why personalised programs are so effective:
Reason #1 They are Written Based on The Equipment That You Have
Have you ever tried to cook a meal and, halfway through, realised that you don’t have the specific kitchen tool required to finish it? This issue affects training programs just as badly. It’s a real issue with generic training programs.
But a personalised training program can be designed around the equipment that you have available to you. This allows you to make the most of your gym space, and it helps make your program efficient. For example, if the person creating your training program knows that the assisted pull-up machine is always busy, they can add in three sets of lat pulldown instead.
Similarly, they won’t waste your time putting in trap bar deadlifts when they know perfectly well that your gym doesn’t have a trap bar. But, if your gym has a really cool (and rare) reverse hack squat machine, they can add that in instead of the leg press.
Reason #2 They are Written to Play to Your Strengths
Assuming the person writing the personalised program for you knows you well, then the program can be designed around your strengths. If you are really good at pull-ups, then they can add in some challenging pull-up variations to challenge you further.
This can also be used for the opposite reason. If the program creator knows that you have quad-dominant legs, they can create a program that forces you to work your hamstrings and glutes more, to help balance your legs.
Reason #3 They Can Help Cater for Mobility Issues
If you have any mobility issues then a personalised program is very important. A generic program could exacerbate your mobility issue, or it could force you into skipping exercises as you find them too uncomfortable to perform.
Not only can they avoid exercises that may harm you, but they may also be able to help improve your mobility in that area. This of course depends on what the mobility issue is, as some issues require a physiotherapist to fix.
Reason #4 They Can Be Edited to Address You Changing Circumstances
Any personalised program created by an expert should have the option to be changed over time. This means that they can be edited to deal with any sudden changes that may occur. For example, the squat rack becomes damaged, so the coach switches your barbell back squats to single-leg presses until the rack is fixed.
Or if your gym closes down, your coach can edit the workout based on the equipment available at your replacement gym.
Reason #5 You Can Give Feedback on Them
The ability to give feedback on the program and have it adjusted based on your experiences is a huge advantage for personalised programs. There are so many areas in which you can give effective feedback.
- Finding an exercise too difficult
- Finding a workout session too long
- Struggling to perform an exercise correctly
- Pain during a certain movement
- Adding in more of a certain movement that you enjoy
Having a coach listen to your feedback and make recommendations will allow you to have the best training experience.
A good coach will know when to take on your recommendations, and when to ignore them. Their job is to take you out of your comfort zone, so they may not react to your statement that you “don’t enjoy X” in the way you were expecting.
Reason #6 They Can Focus on Specific Goals and Circumstances
Most generic programs are based around generic goals. Weight loss, strength, or hypertrophy. This is fine, provided that your goals align perfectly with them. But most people have more specific goals, even if they don’t realise it.
A good coach can get to the root of most people’s goals, and help them to make the goal more specific. For example, a client may say that they want to lose weight.
The coach can respond by asking “why do you want to lose weight? Do you have an event that you want to lose weight for? How much weight do you think you need to lose?”.
These are just examples, most coaches wouldn’t actually ask how much weight a client wants to lose, but they will ask probing questions and make recommendations. They may then respond:
“Okay, you have a wedding that you want to attend in 12 weeks, and you want to look great because your ex is going to be there. You have a photo of how you looked 3 years ago, which is when you feel you looked best. You weighed 67 kg then and currently weigh 72 kg. You say that your best feature in the photo was your arms”.
The coach would then create a program that would help the client to lose 5 kg within 12 weeks, while adding in exercises that can help them tone their arms. For best results, this program would be paired with sensible dietary advice.
Reason #7 They Can be Progressed Based on Your Training Success
One thing that many people notice when following generic programs is that the program is way too hard during the first 2-3 weeks, and way too easy during the final 2-3 weeks. This isn’t the fault of the program; it is down to the client not knowing how to change the program as they progress.
A good coach will want to talk to their client halfway through a training program (often a lot sooner than that) to gauge how they are finding it. They can then make changes to help maximise the client’s success. Adding variations, making recommendations for what weight to use, or adding in an extra set.
Reason #8 You Can Have the Specific Weights and Reps Planned
If the coach creating the program knows your current training capabilities, such as your 1 rep max, they can create a program using the exact weights you would need to get the best results.
For example, they may know that your max bench press is 100 kg, so for a hypertrophy program they could have you start with three sets of 65 kg bench press. Over a six week period, this could increase to 70 kg. If your goal is strength-based or hypertrophy-based, this can be highly effective.
A personalised program is the next best thing to having a coach beside you for every session. The eight reasons we have looked at demonstrate why personalised programs are so effective, and you should by now have a good idea of why we recommend them.
There are times when a generic training program can be useful, but a generic program will never be able to outperform a personalised program.