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Why is an Exercise Plan Important?

There's a management saying that 'what gets measured gets done'. Learn why exercise plans are such a vital tool to measure your clients progress on this page.

If we had it our way, a fitness club member couldn’t set foot in a club without getting an exercise plan! An exercise plan is essentially a 'roadmap' that clearly identifies for the client the steps they'll need to take to reach their desired destination.

Research has shown that goal setting greatly increases the chances of adherence and the achievement of outcomes.  There is also evidence to support the use of ‘intervention strategies’ which essentially are a form of relapse prevention training.  Fundamentally an exercise plan is a way of knowing if you and your client are on track to achieving their ideal situation. 

There is a saying that you can only manage what you measure. Exercise plans clearly establish what the goals (smart goals) were at the beginning of a period of work and then allow you to accurately monitor the clients attendance - did they tick the box next to the planned session or not? 

Exercise programmes (as opposed to plans) allow you to monitor adherence (is the client doing what is prescribed in terms of intensity, duration and mode of exercise)?  Between the exercise plan and the programme(s) a trainer can quickly understand what is working and what needs attention, and more importantly the client is able to understand this also.


The objectives when completing an exercise plan with a client are:


1.      Define exactly what will be achieved in a given time period – the overall outcome of the plan (The usual time period for an exercise plan is 4-6 weeks)

2.      Define weekly targets (process goals) that will ensure the overall outcome can be achieved (These might be as simple as 'attend all defined sessions' or 'add 5 minutes to cardio exercises')

3.      Schedule the workouts on days and times that suit the client

4.      Define the FITT of each workout (i.e. weights or cardio, 30mins or 45mins, high intensity or low etc)

5.      Define the most likely barriers to completing the exercise plan

6.      Define what the client would like you to do if the plan is not working (i.e. call them and discuss the problem, adapt the plan/programmes to suit)

7.      Define the tasks the trainer/consultant will undertake to train, monitor and support the client

8.      Agree to a start date

A word of warning!  You may view this as ‘just paperwork’ and think that it’s better to just get people in and exercising as soon as possible, no matter what they do.  If you think this then please read through the pages in our ‘exercise behaviour and adherence folder’ where some of the major issues affecting client success were highlighted along with some alarming statistics that result from this unchallenged form of thinking.   

It is the fitness professionals (personal trainer, exercise consultant) ability to create and adapt client centred solutions that differentiates our industry from any other.  No other industry has the same opportunity to sit down, work closely with the customer, make a plan, monitor the customer closely, respond to ‘relapse’ (where a client has dropped back to an old behaviour – e.g. not attending), and adjust the solution further to better fit each and every customer. 

If you choose to view this type of work as needless paperwork you will have little chance of making the difference you want to your clients or achieve success in your business. The reason the skills of conducting great consultations/screening and exercise planning are not used, and often overlooked, is because they are the most difficult to perfect.  They are also some of the most valuable skills you will ever develop.  The choice is yours, but experience tells us that those who master these skills make better trainers and consultants and therefore have happier clients and healthier businesses.  Statistics also tell us that we’re not, as yet, doing this well enough to retain the majority of clients within our clubs and PT businesses.

When should exercise planning be completed?


Exercise planning can be done right on the back of the consultation, if you have time and if you have the skills that allow you to complete this task on your feet.  While you are still developing these skills, then sometimes it is wise to let the client know you will take their consultation form away and meet with them again to present their exercise plan and then talk them through their plan. 

This allows you time and space to think through the information gained during the consultation in more detail and get the plan prepared for the client.  Typically, a personal trainer should be able to do a consultation and exercise plan together so they can gain commitment from a client without unnecessary delay.  Fitness consultants can buy a little more time if they need to.

Whenever you hit a problem with someone’s training, always review the situation with the client and then go back to the exercise plan as a central document and make the changes required.  The exercise plan is key in unlocking the clients ‘ideal situation’ and as such should never be seen as a piece of paper you fill out once at the start and never look at again!

What is done in an exercise plan?


To achieve the outcomes of exercise planning the clients information that was gained through their consultation is interpreted, verified, and translated onto an exercise plan.  This usually occurs in the following order:

1.      The client’s overall outcome/goal for the training period is recorded

2.      The client’s preferred training days and time of day are recorded

3.      The client’s preferred training duration for a workout is recorded

4.      Workouts of a certain type are recommended by the trainer/consultant to the client based on the consultation form information (including linking them to the ideal situation the client is seeking)

5.      Workout types are agreed to by the client with modifications as necessary and recorded on the exercise plan

6.      The trainer/consultant goes through each week of the exercise plan and notes in the targets for that week discussing with the client the reason the target is important and how it helps ensure the overall outcome will be achieved.

7.      The trainer/consultant confirms the exercise plan looks exactly right to the client

8.      The trainer/consultant asks the client to tell them the most likely reason(s) that the client might not complete every part of this exercise plan.

9.      The trainer/consultant asks the client to tell them what they would want them (the trainer/consultant) to do if the plan wasn’t being adhered to.

10.  The trainer/consultant adds all tasks they see themselves as completing for the client to the ‘trainer activities’ column explaining why they do each and how it can help the client with their training.

11.  The trainer/consultant confirms the client’s next appointment; location, time and preparation required by the client for the appointment.

You can access our comprehensive consultation form here, along with a brief video detailing how you use the form to gather information and construct an effective training plan. As a full member of ptdirect you'll be able to access lots of useful information and step by step videos showing you how to complete these vitally important tasks easilly and effectively.

How do you get good at completing exercise plans with clients?

Exercise planning is a high level skill as it involves a lot of communication, counselling, analytical and problem solving activities within it.   Because of this you will need to practise it a lot in order to get good at it.  When developing skills such as this the frequency and quality of your practise is key.  So, complete an exercise plan with someone, then go back and ask them how they found the process, what they liked, didn’t like, and whether they liked the plan that came about.  If you get honest feedback, regularly, and keep practising the process, it will eventually become second nature to you.  If you are starting out new, practise using the form section by section, point by point until you think you can complete it as one entire process. Then start practising on peers, family, friends and then gradually bring clients in to the mix.

When you do this well it actually makes selling frequent PT sessions much easier - as the roadmap you create clearly identifies the sessions the client must complete in order to achieve their goal, and with the information gained throughout the consultation it will become obvious to both trainer and client alike which of the sessions they'll need guidance and support for and which they'll be able to complete independantly. 

So if you want to ensure your clients are successfull from day one then get planning with them!