4 Steps to Declutter Your Training Programs

declutterMy wife and I just bought our first home. It’s super exciting to have a house that’s completely our own, but moving was NOT an easy process. Paperwork, packing, meetings, packing, phone calls, more packing. Did I mention packing?

In the packing process, I was able to get rid of tons of stuff I didn’t need. Clothes, books, kitchenware – it was therapeutic to declutter my life. And that got me thinking that many people have too much clutter in their training programs. Too many fancy exercises, overly complicated set-and-rep schemes, too much emphasis on a physical quality that doesn’t matter for the given athlete; these are just a few of the things that add clutter to a program.

Whether you’re the lifter executing the program or the coach writing it, it’s important to keep things streamlined and focused. Here are four ways to declutter your training programs for fewer distractions and better results.


The simplest way to declutter a program is to clearly define what really matters to the lifter. That means setting firm goals.

Make your goals SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable/Realistic, Time-Based) and write them down. For example, “I want to get stronger” isn’t a SMART goal. It’s too general. “I want to increase my bench press by 20 pounds in 16 weeks” is SMART because it’s got a realistic and specific focus with a timeline.

The more specific your goal, the more you can focus on what really matters in your training. You can objectively evaluate every aspect of the program by asking, “Is this directly helping me reach my goal?” If the answer is no, take it out. 

For example, if the goal is to lose 10 pounds of fat in 12 weeks, you probably shouldn’t be focusing on increasing your 1RM squat. Don’t clutter the program with tons of heavy lifting when the focus should be on metabolic conditioning and strength maintenance.

If the goal is to add 10 pounds of muscle in 20 weeks while adding 2 inches to your biceps, don’t clutter the program with heaps of “functional” exercises that don’t work well for hypertrophy. Stick with exercises that fatigue the target muscle(s) and let you perform high reps close to muscular fatigue.

Be honest with yourself about what belongs in your program and what will help you reach your goals. Be ruthless with your selection of exercises. Only choose what will actually help you get where you want to go.


The more often you train, the more stuff you can pack into your program without cluttering each individual training session. Four or five sessions per week allows for much higher volume and greater exercises variety than two or three sessions per week.

If you train using full-body workouts, it’s tempting to try to fit every muscle group or movement pattern into each workout. It’s obvious that you want to hit the big stuff:

  • Squat pattern
  • Hinge pattern
  • Upper body push
  • Upper body pull

But you can’t forget the “functional” stuff:

  • Single-leg knee dominant (i.e. lunges, split squats)
  • Single-leg hip dominant (i.e. single-leg deadlifts, hip thrusts)
  • Anti-extension core (i.e. planks, rollouts, loaded carries)
  • Anti-rotation core (i.e. chops, lifts)

And what if you want to get jacked and tan?

  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Traps
  • Forearms
  • Calves

It’s easy to see how trying to pack all this stuff into three training sessions can get messy. Simply adding more sessions per week gives you room to hit all these exercises without turning each workout into a 3-hour marathon.


Isolation exercises (movements that train only one joint at a time, like biceps curls or leg extensions) create the most clutter of all. While they’re useful for building muscle and attacking weaknesses, you don’t get a lot of bang for your buck and they shouldn’t take precedence over the big stuff like squats and deadlifts.

To declutter your programs, try choosing one isolation exercise per training session. Pick whatever body part needs the most attention or will help the most to bring up your exercise of choice and attack it with everything you’ve got.

For example, a powerlifting-focused program might look like this:

Day / Main Lift / Isolation Exercise
Day 1 / Squat / Leg Extensions
Day 2 / Bench Press / Biceps Curls
Day 3 / Deadlift / Leg Curls
Day 4 / Overhead Press / Lateral Raises


The warm-up is where most people are guilty of adding too much clutter and wasting too much time. To paraphrase Greg Nuckols from a recent seminar I attended, if you have to spend more than five minutes fixing a specific movement issue, you probably need a physical therapist and shouldn’t be trying to do it yourself.

Using multi-planar warm-up exercises can help declutter your warm-up and get you under the bar sooner. Instead of mobbing and flossing every joint from head to toe, pick warm-up drills that hit multiple body parts and get you moving in three dimensions.

Here are some of my favorites:



It can be tough to cut the fat from your programs. It’s like ripping off a bandaid; it hurts at first, but then you realize you’re better off without it. Declutter your program with these four steps and you’ll find yourself more focused and moving faster toward your goals.

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