It’s around eight weeks into a programme and you’re at a point where it’s starting to feel like changing up your client’s training would be a smart decision. You open up Microsoft Excel and using some basic principles of training, you look to make changes to your client’s training, but there’s a question that continually comes up. How do you know if putting exercise “X” in your client’s programme is a good idea?

Within this article, I’m going to look to put across a few points and questions that will help make this decision process easier.

What is Their “Why”?

This is the most obvious question when it comes to deciphering if you should have a specific exercise in a client’s plan. Why are they actually training with you? What is it that they are looking to get from the training?

If they are here for fat loss, will doing this exercise move them towards that goal? For fat loss, you could argue that doing a 3 rep set of heavy deadlifts doesn’t suit that goal very well, but let’s just say that this particular client likes doing heavy deadlifts. There’s a good chance that because this client enjoys doing that lift that this actually makes them want to continue turning up, which is obviously a good thing for that goal.

To make good decisions about programming, a good place to start is by considering whether you are being client or philosophy centered. If you’re being client centred you’ll know this is an exercise that suits this individual well as you’re considering their goal and centring the programme around them. If you’re being philosophy centred you’ll be making decisions based off what you want or enjoy doing, rather than what they want. 

How Experienced/ Competent Are They At This Movement? 

If the client has never completed an exercise that involves a hip hinge then placing a barbell stiff leg deadlift straight into their plan may not be the best decision. Starting with a regressed version of this, like a butt-to-wall touch drill or using a kettlebell as the implement, would make more sense as it will allow you to put the client in the best possible situation for them feeling competent.

Another question to ask is whether or not this exercise is likely to make them feel stupid. If you are hesitant with this question, don’t include it. We don’t want a client to feel stupid, especially if they are new as it could be a reason they decide not to come back.

If they are new to lifting weights/ exercise in general, err on the side of easy as there are always opportunities to make exercises tougher, but there isn’t a chance to stop a client feeling stupid if you give them something that is way over their level of competency. An example here could be giving a client full press-ups when they haven’t yet developed the needed upper body pushing strength. Start with incline press-ups as they can learn the movement and build up strength, and you can create excitement about their training as they’ll have a goal of managing to do them on the floor in weeks to come!

What’s The Reward: Risk Ratio?

Deadlifts are a fantastic exercise for just about every goal and for just about every single person, but if you start working with a client who has a lower back problem, the reward of doing straight bar deadlifts is probably outweighed by the potential risk.

With every exercise you put into a client’s training programme, ask yourself if the reward is higher than the risk. If it’s not, reconsider your justification for it being in there. There is never an exercise that is “essential” for 99% of the client’s we’ll work with (unless you’re dealing with a client who does something like powerlifting).

What is The Client’s Injury/ Ailment List?

If the client has an injury or previous injury, it’s important to take this into consideration when setting up their training. I work with clients who have ankle, knee, hip, elbow, shoulder and neck problems (as well all do!). Therefore, with each one of these clients, I have to consider whether doing an exercise will cause pain or a flare-up of this injury.

The only way to determine this is through trial and error. Start with the most regressed version of an exercise and take things from there. A barbell overhead press may cause pain and discomfort but a landmine press may be pain-free.

Have They Done This Exercise Before?

I keep track of all the exercises my clients have done in previous programmes. A simple name of the exercise and the weight and reps they lifted it for. In recent years, I’ve added on a note section to mention whether or not they enjoyed the exercise, which is something else to consider.

When I’m creating a new programme for one of my clients, I look over this document to double check if this is the first time they’ve done it and to see if I’ve added any notes about their reaction to it. Some clients love lunges and some hate them. If they hate them, I’ll rarely, if ever, put them in as there just isn’t any need. If they love them it’s going to be an exercise that will stay for blocks of training until progress on them has stalled.

It’s very easy to go round in circles when setting up a client’s training programme from an exercise selection perspective. By asking yourself the questions I’ve raised in this article, it should help to make this process easier.

Learn More About LTB

If you want to develop your skills further then check out the courses available as a member of LTB (all available on the free trial). The foundations of general population programme course would be an excellent follow up to this article.


1)Kostek MA, et al. Subcutaneous fat alterations resulting from an upper-body-resistance-training-program.MedSciSportsExerc.2007 Jul;39(7):1177-85.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}