The spreadsheet I use for program design

Posted on March 10, 2014

(Last Updated On: April 1, 2016)

Basecamp is one of my favorite companies, and I’m not even a customer. I love them not for their product -it’s not designed for someone like me- but their business approach. The guys who run Basecamp, Jason Fried and David Heinnemeier Hannson, have a blog and their own respective twitter accounts I regularly follow. I read their business book Rework a few years ago, and other than Louis C.K.’s business model (seriously, look into it), they are the only people I listen to business wise, where I go, “Yes.” The type of thinking jives perfectly with my own. Not to mention the extra nuggets I’ve picked up.

Fried’s comments on by-products were some of the most impactful for me:

“The software and web industry can learn a lot from the lumber industry, the oil business, and corn and soybean farmers. They take waste and turn it into hefty profits.

The lumber industry sells what used to be waste — sawdust, chips, and shredded wood — for a pretty profit. Today you’ll find these by-products in synthetic fireplace logs, concrete, ice strengtheners, mulch, particle board, fuel, livestock and pet bedding, winter road traction, weed killing and more.

Ultra refined petroleum finds its way into plastics, cosmetics, food, rubber, synthetic fiber, insecticides, fertilizers, heart valves, toothpaste, detergents, waxes… The list goes on.

Corn and soybeans are refined and processed into just about anything these days. By noon you’ve probably consumed a few pounds of corn energy without even knowing it. It’s hidden in your food in the form of HFCS, xanthin gum, dextrin, maltodextrin, MSG, or ethanol in your gas tank.

Think hard about what you do. Look closely at everything you do. There are probably by-product opportunities everywhere. Hell, even your office space could be a by-product. You rent it to work, but what about after hours? Could you rent it out for events? Maybe you could hold stand-up comedy shows like Maryʼs Futons in San Rafael, California does.”

This is how Jason and David made Basecamp. They were collaborating on web design projects and having a hard time keeping track of how their projects were going. They decided they needed a project management application. They looked around, tried a few, and nothing got the job done. So, they made their own. After a while they realized, “Maybe other people would use this?” And Basecamp was born.

When it comes to designing an exercise program, making a spreadsheet is the most common method. When I first started training people I figured I’d download someone else’s template and be done with it. I distinctly remember the first one I tried. I filled it out, printed it, handed it to two clients, and 10 minutes  later I saw one squinting as she was trying to read it.

Me, “Hey Jennifer, are you unsure of something?”

Jennifer, “No, no. I, um, I just can’t read this. The font is kind of small for my eyes.”

Five minutes later I check on her husband:

Me, “Hey Dennis, how’s that spreadsheet layout for you? Are you having any trouble reading it?”

Dennis, “Eh, it’s tough on my eyes.”

This was one of the first moments I realized I was no longer training teenagers. I went home, made the font bigger, and now the template didn’t fit on one page, which is a pain in the ass when you’re printing things for people. I changed the margins and tried again.

A week went by and I got the message when, over and over again, I saw people had no idea what the damn thing said. First, people had trouble with the font size. Then, people had trouble trying to read 20 different things on one piece of paper. Warm up exercises, regular exercises, cool down exercises, warm up sets, work sets, overall sets, reps, percentages, deload weeks…It was too much. After realizing I was no longer training teenagers I realized I was also no longer training athletes. Not only was it too congested; many of those things aren’t worth worrying about for 99% of people exercising.

After looking around considerably, I decided to make my own template. I couldn’t find anything suited for my needs, or the average person’s. I didn’t, and you probably don’t, need some fancy, Smolov, pyramiding, undulating perdiodization, 100 different exercise spreadsheet. Only something straightforward, with a basic template, an area for sets and reps, some notes, and not much else. Something easy to read. Whether that’s through printing it out, or loading it on your cell phone. (I’ve learned some people like to carry their phone with them while working out, and read things off that.)

After a creating a basic template I started to design a spreadsheet in line with how I work with people. One that automatically does a lot of things for me. Even just little things.

Especially with my remote clients, I like to have a sheet dedicated to the technique of each exercise. So, as I enter a new exercise into, say, Monday, that exercise automatically appears in the “Form Notes” page:

Along with the exercise, a template to insert “Cue 1” and “Cue 2” is generated. I only provide two cues because I find anything more than that is too much. I go over this rationale in How much can you think about while exercising? which, if the client is curious, I provide a link to in the “Misc. Notes” tab:

How much thinking spreadsheet screen shot

As I went over in How many sets and reps to correct muscular imbalances? the optimal workload for corrective work, and really for most average people regardless, is about 4 sets of 12 reps, at about 3 days per week. I like to work people up to this range, rather than jump into 4 sets of 12 immediately. I work the person there, and I do it with a simple, vanilla progression. One programmed into the spreadsheet:

(If you don’t want to use this progression, you can type your own sets and reps in there and things will work just fine.)

There is a double border line at the end of each day, which is a reminder to always end with a “feeling good” type of cool down. I left the two exercises I most often end with in the spreadsheet, along with video links and cueing information. You can read more about this in Making your (memory of your) workout more enjoyable.

Double bracket screenshot

There are a bunch of other intricacies. For instance, I wrote in Implementing the concept of mirror neurons into an exercise setting how I use Wednesdays for visualization work. I also like to give clients a some autonomy in what they do. Where if they want to do more of something, they have that option. So, on Wednesdays I program in visualization work and some autonomy.

Continuing on, there is a “Miscellaneous Notes” tab, where I cover various things about the client process. As well as a “Goal(s)” and “Strategy” tab. It’s important you and the client are both clear on what the purpose of the process is, along with giving the client some rationale for what they’re doing. Even if you’re only training yourself, writing down 1) Your program and 2) Why you’re doing your program is always a good idea.

Next, an Activities of Daily Living (ADL) and ADL Checklist tab, which are synced up.

There is a “Footwear” tab to talk about anything in that realm. Along with a “Supplements” tab, and finally, a “Your checklist” tab to help the person using the spreadsheet boil everything down to it’s essence.

Each page of the spreadsheet, and the font within it, is set to specific margins, so it will all print out on one page and be legible. I have clients in their 50s, 60s and 70s who can read this.

As time marches on, I’ve seen more clients not print things, but read it off their cell phone as they’re working out. The spreadsheet will work in this capacity as well. I’ll go over this more in a minute.

Here is an example of a fully filled out program for a client of mine:

Basically, everything is designed in this spreadsheet for a specific reason. Even the fact things go from “Week 1” to “Week 4.” That is, a month at a time. I find this is roughly when people start itching (getting bored) for something new. Thus, I usually only program four weeks at a time.

I’m going to leave my comments in all the tabs. My thoughts on this are some may want a simple template to help them train their clients or themselves. While others may want to download this to see how I train people, the information I give all my clients, and the software I use. So, for instance, if anyone is interested in my approach to supplements, and what I tell all my clients regarding them, I’ve left my input in the tab which comes in the download. Or if you want to see the general notes I give to all my clients, I’m leaving that in there too.

A recap of what’s in this product:

  • All the tabs are:
    • Miscellaneous notes (already filled out)
    • Goal(s)
    • Strategy
    • Activities of Daily Living notes (partially filled out)
    • Activities of Daily Living checklist
    • Form notes for all included exercises
    • A tab for Monday-Sunday (None of that “Day 1,” “Day 2,” stuff. It’s best to spell out everyday of the week. Even if you write in a certain day “Off day.” This way there is no mistake as to what you, or the person you’re programming for, should be doing on any given day.)
    • Footwear (partially completed)
    • Supplements (already filled out)
    • A five item checklist to help stay on track (already completed)
  • Programming code I added to do things like:
    • Automatically insert exercises from one sheet into another. No copy and pasting necessary.
    • Based off a few inputs, automatically generate a simple, weekly program.
    • Automatically generate a template to produce notes on all the exercises you include.

The product comes with a link to a Google Docs spreadsheet. I debated what format to use, Excel, Open Office, etc. and decided on Google Sheets because 1) It’s free, 2) You don’t have to download any software  3) You don’t need an account with anyone and 4) It seems the easiest for the everyday person to use.

Google Docs doesn’t seem to work great with certain devices, such as iPhones. So, I’m also including a downloadable format, which works great even on an iPhone. You can view everything just as you would on a desktop.

Lastly, just in case, there is an Excel attachment included as well.

You can purchase the spreadsheet below. It will send you to a link to a PayPal form (again, you don’t need an account), after paying you’ll get a link to the spreadsheet, which can open in your browser. No downloading necessary. If you’re on something like an iPhone, there is a specific link to download the spreadsheet which will do the trick. (Only takes a second. It’s a small file.)

I tried to make this as simple and easy as possible. Once you have the link, if you desire, you can download the spreadsheet and have a copy on your hard drive. Or, you can make a copy in your own Google Drive account. Using the template as a base for other programs. Note: If you want to edit things, downloading your own copy is necessary. The URL link is for viewing only.

Like I said, my thoughts on this are some people will download this and make it their own. Modifying some things here and there to best fit their needs. While for others it’s more to see how I do things. Either way, I hope you find it useful.

You can get this for $5 here: Add to Cart

As always, if you’re unhappy with things for whatever reason and want a refund, email me,, and I’ll do so immediately.

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Posted in: Miscellaneous