Q&A: Changing Protocols To Keep Clients Interested


What’s your take on changing protocols to maintain client interest? If switching now and then to a less efficient but valid scheme keeps a trainee enthusiastic and making some progress, I’d think he’s better off than if he quit a “perfect” program, (assuming safety isn’t compromised).


The exercise protocol you use with a client should be determined by and if necessary modified or changed based on their goals and ability, not what they find interesting. What they should be interested in is results.

Because so many people confuse exercise with physical recreation, the distinction between the two is one of the first things you should explain to new clients. The purpose of exercise is to stimulate the body to improve or maintain functional ability, health, and physical appearance and the requirements for doing so dictate the protocol, not what a person finds fun or entertaining. By trying to make exercise fun or trying to turn a recreational activity into exercise you end up with something that is not very good for either; an activity that is relatively inefficient and ineffective for stimulating physical improvements and not as much fun.

I tell new clients that as they become better at performing the exercises their workouts will become more challenging, and to expect them to be very hard. They should expect their muscles to burn, their heart to race, and their breathing to become labored, and that their workouts will not be fun – but they will be mercifully brief and infrequent, and they will be very effective and very safe.

Bo Railey trains Vee Ferguson on the SuperSlow Systems overhead press machine

Rather than compromise their workouts encourage them to participate in physical recreational activities and those will give them additional motivation to do well during their workouts; the more their functional ability improves as a result of exercise the more enjoyment they will derive from other physical activities and the more resistant they will be to injury when performing them.

This is not to say you should never vary someone’s program, but any change in protocol, exercise selection, volume, frequency, etc. should be done for the purpose of improving the effectiveness and safety of the program based on their goals and response to exercise, and not arbitrary or for the sake of entertaining them. For more on this read The Ultimate Routine.

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15 Responses to Q&A: Changing Protocols To Keep Clients Interested

  1. Ben Tucker January 3, 2014 at 9:56 pm #

    Such a relevant post. This has been on my mind for some time. Thank you!

  2. Mikko January 4, 2014 at 10:12 am #

    Hi Drew! Is there any major or minor difference in the actual HIT-workout for between men and women? I ask because I will be doing HIT-programs for women soon. Is it the same principles? Their main goal is to lose fat, and I’m trying to explain the importance of muscular development etc., and I’m aware that leaving out the rest between exercises will really boost the cardiovascular activity and so on. But anyways… If there is any differences, I would be really glad if you could point them out. Thanks!

    • Drew Baye August 21, 2014 at 1:42 pm #


      The same principles apply when training either men or women. There are a few minor differences like elbow valgus, q-angle, and the relative upper and lower body strength that need to be considered with regards to the performance of some exercises, but for the most part women should train the same way men do.

  3. Steven Turner January 6, 2014 at 8:17 pm #

    Hi Drew,

    On the other side, many people also quickly quit physical recreation programs based upon the client having “fun”. I think that if a client is seeing real “results” than they will more than likely committ to an “exercise” program. I think that most of the confusion between exercise programs and physical recreation programs is with the trainer and not necessarily with the client. I think the term activities officer would be more appropriate to most fitness programs.

  4. Chief January 10, 2014 at 10:36 am #

    Hi Drew! Is there any major or minor differences between male and female HIT-workout? I ask this because I will make programs for women in future and this question came up. So should I be using the same methods and principles (example 4/4 second cadence, full/split routine, working out 1-3 times a week depending on individual etcetcetc.) with women? Women mainly ask me how to burn fat, and my answer basicly is very high intensity workout routine, infrequently and “without” rest hetween exercises (cardiovascular/metcon boost). I’ve made amazing gains with HIT last year, and I’m now going continue, of course. I will not do the same mistakes again (overtraining) and if I’m doing programs for others (I guess I will start personal training soon) I want to be sure about “everything”. Thanks!

    • Drew Baye January 10, 2014 at 2:11 pm #


      There are some small differences which must be considered where exercise form and diet are concerned, but the general principles are the same.

  5. Chief January 11, 2014 at 11:52 am #

    And one other thing that bothers me. It’s about volume increase. I – I think I do – know when to decrease volume (example from 8 exercises per workout to 6), because I will feel it in the exercises of the workout, so I will know that I’m doing too much, or too often, or – worst case scenario – both. Let’s speculate. A person asks me that when do you know that a increase in volume (ex. 5 exercises to 6 or more) is needed, so what is your answer? I’ve been reading your site for some time, and I think you mentioned something about this (correct me if I’m wrong), but I didn’t get whole picture. So basicly if a person starts doing HIT, and I recommend him to do the “Big Five” routine for 3 months, how will I know that he/she gets the optimal results, or better to say maximal results?

    I’m doing upper body/lower body split routine using pre-exhaustion with 4/4 cadence:


    1. Dumbbell chest flys + push ups
    2. Pullover + row
    3. Lateral raise
    4. Preacher curl
    5. Tricep extension
    6 Neck flexion & neck extension


    1. Squat (without pre-exhaustion)
    2. Leg curl x 2 (seated and lying version)
    3. Calf raise x 2 (seated and standing)
    4. Hyperextension (no deadlift at the moment)
    5. Weighted crunch
    6. Wrist curl & wrist extension

    For me, split routine is definitely better. My main goal is muscle growth (“bodybuilding” so to speak), and what comes to pre-exhaustion, I’m pretty sure it gets me more results in growth. Technically it is a volume increase. Volume increasing started to bother me, when I thought about consolidation routine like Mentzers – when to increase volume? I will start arms specialization routine in march (arms+delts – legs+abs – arms+delts – chest+back). I’m sure that I’m working very hard, but when I started to do pre-exhaustion in my workouts (last year with my quads also) I saw better results in growth. So if you get any of this, I hope you could clear things out for me.

    • Drew Baye January 13, 2014 at 9:23 am #


      The optimal volume for an individual depends on their goals and their response to exercise. These things can change over time due to various factors and volume would need to be adjusted accordingly. Minimally, you want to perform enough exercises to effectively train all the major muscle groups, maximally, no more than you are capable of recovering from and adapting to and not so many per workout you are unable to maintain a high level of effort throughout.

      Keep in mind exercise volume is about the stress imposed on the body, rather than the number of exercises, sets, and reps. For example, if you substituted wrist curls and extensions for deadlifts you would be performing more exercises, but the workout would be less demanding overall.

  6. Chief January 13, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    Thank you for answering! I kinda already thought about stress imposed rather than sets, reps etc. This is important for me, because I’m trying to do my best to get great results, mainly in size but in strength also. And what comes to strength itself, even if size and strength are correlated, I think that I get more size gains with pre-exhaustion or with little volume increase. For example, I’m doing squats without pre-exhaustion, and as a only quad exercise even if it is a “whole body exercise”, because I seem to get more strength to my squatting that way. I have a calf/hamstring specialization at the moment, so that’s one reason also. I used to leg extension + hack-squat (or leg press) routine last year. My legs started to grow! At the same time, I think that my strength didn’t go up that much. Maybe there is some placebo effect here.

    After reading Mentzer (also Tim Ferris), Arthur Jones, you and McGuff everything started to make sense. Some bits are still missing, I guess, but generally the pieces fit. Just trying to find my own way to doing HIT. Split routine and more “bodybuilding” oriented is working great, and this is why I’m asking this little – or “little” – things. A full body routine, with only multijoint movements doesn’t feel right to me. And even if I took some arm/shoulder exercises in it, it still would feel too much or that some parts don’t enough – even if I’m giving everything in the workout. Mainly my arms, especially biceps, seem to be the weakest link. I will see what the arm specialization brings this year. I won’t overtrain this time.

    Keep up the good work Drew!

  7. Chief January 18, 2014 at 11:10 am #

    Hi Drew!

    Ummm… Which shrug exercise do you recommend? I will be doing just one exercise for traps, and I’m trying figure out which is the ‘best’ exercise (dumbbell shrug, barbell shrug…).

    • Drew Baye January 18, 2014 at 2:56 pm #


      The best option is a Nautilus neck and shoulder machine, but good luck finding a gym with one. The next best option would be a Hammer Strength seated shrug machine or something similar. Since the grip does not revolve like dumbbells or a barbell do you can focus more on your traps and less on maintaining your grip.

  8. Chief January 19, 2014 at 12:08 pm #

    Well… I like the gym where I’m training, but they don’t have hammer strength machine option neither, so I’m stuck between barbell and dumbbell option. Well there is smith of course, but I guess it’s not an option, is it? So… Barbell, smith or dumbbell? Barbell behind my back or in front of me? Narrow or wider grip?

    • Drew Baye January 19, 2014 at 9:22 pm #


      Although not as good as a properly designed shrug machine any of those would be effective. Shrugs should be performed with a shoulder width grip, in front if using a barbell.

  9. Chief January 30, 2014 at 9:20 am #

    And one thing about neck exercise. I don’t have a machine option, so free weights/manual resistance it is.. I have been doing neck flexion/extension with additional plate, in a bench lying down. I was watching the 21convention “Super Charged” video on youtube, and there you – or the other guy – used a neck exercise machine, which isn’t a option for me. So, can you recommend some neck exercises for me?

    I used to do neck bridges when did MMA, what are your thoughts about that?

    • Drew Baye January 30, 2014 at 12:31 pm #


      Timed static contraction at or near a neutral position is much safer than bridges when a good neck machine is not available. I cover these in detail in Project: Kratos

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