Friday Roundup: Is Designing Your Own Training Program Safe?

In this week’s roundup I’m answering a reader question that relates to last week’s article, Exercising vs. Training Programs.

As a sidenote, this weekly feature will soon move to my subscriber newsletter. In coming months I’ll also be creating valuable podcasts and videos for subscribers. So if you haven’t already, be sure to enter your name and best email in the green box to the right.

Now on to the insightful question asked by Kathleen:

“Hey Suzanne! Thanks for this great article. I read the same article that you referenced (about the good, bad, and ugly sides of CrossFit) and found myself agreeing with much of what was written as well. The emphasis on the fact that it’s not real training was so important. It got me wondering, however, about the importance of experience when designing a training program. Would you consider it unsafe for individuals to design their own training programs, rather than hiring a professional? Because injury is such a risk in CrossFit, it makes me wonder if self-designed training programs could be just as bad…?”

I’m glad Kathleen brought this up. I get that everyone’s searching for the perfect workout (or program). Is one better than another? Can you hurt yourself using a self-created training program?

Training program

This is just ONE way to design a training program.

Realistically, I don’t think most people ever create a structured training program for themselves. And if they do, they’re probably doing better than those who fly by the seat of their pants.

People hurt themselves all the time by overtraining and using bad form, but if they know enough to create a training program for themselves, they are least thinking through their training.

If you’re thinking about designing a program you can follow for at least 6 to 12 weeks, then you’re on the right track. If you’re wondering if you should randomly stop lifting weights for two weeks because you “haven’t had a break in a year,” you need to stop and think (you know who you are).

For my new online clients who start with six-week training programs, we use the first two weeks to test and integrate prescriptions for muscle imbalances. So you can see that six weeks is the absolute minimum – it’s really just the beginning of a long-term program.

When I say be mindful of your training, I’m not talking about meditating. I mean thinking about your training as a larger process instead of workout-by-workout. It’s when you do this that you prevent harm.

What should you ask when creating training programs?

  • How do I adjust strength-training variables to get to my goals?
  • What’s the ideal workout frequency for me?
  • How do I effectively incorporate rest so I can avoid injury and overtraining?
  • How does my age affect my workouts?
  • Which exercises should I do?
  • How do I fix a plateau?

These are just a few of the elements that go into program design. If it seems complicated, that’s because program design is a skill personal trainers are educated and paid to do.

If you are truly interested in forwarding your own training without the help of a trainer, you should become educated in at least a few of the above questions. (And I do recommend personal training, of course; my online clients are on a path they can trust.)

Are you following a program? How long is it? What will you do when it ends?

See you in nirvana~

This article originally appeared on

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  1. Thanks for doing this follow-up! I had the same question after reading your last post.
    Sarah @ Beauty School Dropout recently posted..Missouri Holiday TraditionsMy Profile

    • Hope I answered it – no easy cookie-cutter answer, but generally having a program is better than none, as long as it’s not too repetitive and progresses you.

  2. This is perfect! Thank you Suzanne, this clears up a ton. Emphasis on overtraining is just as important as stomping out undertraining for some, and pinpointing that was key. Great stuff. Thanks again!
    Kathleen recently posted..GROW YOUR OWN HERBSMy Profile

  3. I always love your input.. I think a lot has to do with are people just doing casual workouts vs. looking ot actually have short & long term goals if you get what I mean.. 🙂
    Jody – Fit at 56 recently posted..Another Best Compliment Ever, Why I do What I Do & SadnessMy Profile

  4. I don’t think people need to design their own workouts. There are professionals out there that do it for you. I think the main focus is that you stick the program. There’s no point having the most effective workout program in the world if you don’t stick to it. Consistency is more important!

    • Consistency is SO important, you are right. The problem with it, though, is when people do the same thing too long (like a class). Or they recycle the same workout over and over. Even out-of-the-box programs (not customized) are better than repeating the same “program” over and over. Tough to find good ones but I admire those who make the effort!

  5. I think it should be everyone’s goal to learn enough about what they’re doing TO design their own programs, and a personal trainer is a great way to get to that point. Form is obviously extremely important and people new to resistance training and Crossfit really, really need someone to help with form early on. I don’t think anyone should rely on a PT for personal fitness indefinitely though. It’s like anything else, educate yourself and go forth. Then, if you need help with something down the road, go get help with it and then get back to managing yourself.
    John B recently posted..Power Rack Review – Rogue R4 Infinity Power RackMy Profile

  6. From my experiences, as well as a knowledge from my personal trainer, a good functional exercise program includes a combination of just 7 key movements. They are squat, bend, lunge, twist, push, pull, gait (walk or run). Once you master this, at least three of them, then you are good to go!

    • For real… there is a formula for a basic workout which can apply to most of the population. I suppose it’s how to keep progressing where people get stuck. Knowing when and what to change. There are formulas for this too but usually beyond what many want to delve into, I suspect. Thanks for your insight Amanda!

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