Are You Gym Illiterate? What You Need To Know To Read And Write A Fitness Program.

Have you ever bought something like a toy for your kid or a piece of furniture that you had to assemble, but when you looked at the directions, all you had were some rinky dink pictures, or even worse, all the directions were written in Chinese?

It makes for a much more frustrating task and I know from experience that, most likely, without proper instructions, I’m gonna screw something up.

The same thing can be said for your workout program. Here at, one of the golden rules that we preach is that you must always have some sort of a plan when it comes to your workout routine.

Without a written plan/program, there is too much left to chance. When you have a program written out that you are committed to following, you know exactly what needs to get done week in and week out. I have found this to be the most effective way to consistently achieve a goal.


Much like trying to read the terrible directions for the piece of furniture above, one problem that I see is that many of the golfers don’t have any real background in being able to read, much less design, a good workout program.

This typically results in a workout that is made up of a hodge-podge of exercises that you read about in a magazine or saw online. Some of these exercises may be good, but there is no real thought put into when and why an exercise is performed.

Think of your program like the blueprints for building a house. There are certain regulations and measurements that you must know how to read before you hammer your first nail. There are also certain tasks that must be performed in a sequential order, like laying the foundation and constructing walls before putting on the roof shingles.


While we could talk for days about exercise selection; for the purpose of this post, and simplicity sake, I want you to understand just 5 things that make up the “bones” of a written program. These are:

  1. Labeling the exercises
  2. Sets and reps
  3. Rest intervals
  4. Tempo of exercises
  5. Documenting your weights/resistance

If you understand each of these, you will be able to read (and eventually write) a program better than 90% of golfers. Heck, I’ll even say better than 90% of the people that go to a gym (and that’s including trainers).


This simply tells me when I do each exercise and if I am super-setting (or alternating) with another exercise. If you see the same letter next to 2 exercises, that means that those 2 exercises (or it could be more than 2) will be performed together in an alternating fashion. (see A1,A2 and B1,B2 in the image above).

If there is an exercise that is not being superset with another, you will see only the letter, and no number (as in the seated calf raises above labeled with just “C”)


This is pretty straight forward, but I purposefully threw in a couple of examples above that may cause some questions.

As for the number of sets, it is clearly labeled. If you are super-setting 2 exercises such as A1 and A2 You would alternate those 2 exercises until you complete the designated number of sets. In this example, we have 5 sets.

For an exercise that is labeled by itself (like C), do all of the sets consecutively with the designated rest break in between.

You will also note that for A1 and A2, the number in the reps column decreases, meaning that in the 1st set, you do 8 reps, and in the subsequent sets, you do one less each time, ending with 4 reps in your last set. (This is known as a “Descending Set”). This is getting a little advanced, but good info to know.  We’ll leave it at that for now.


Rest is often overlooked by many. Rest is very important in a routine depending on your goals. Basically, if you are looking to get stronger and more powerful, your rest times should be longer and your weights should be heavier.

If you are looking to increase your heart rate, and burn energy (fat loss) you will most likely want a shorter rest time.

The key is knowing that the rest is important and will actually make your next set BETTER. Too often people concern themselves with rushing from exercise to exercise because they feel like that will make their workout more effective, but they don’t realize that they are sacrificing form and usually the ability to lift more weight by not resting.

The rest time is in seconds and is to be abided by between each exercise.


The tempo may be the most misunderstood piece of the strength-training puzzle. It simply dictates how fast or slow you move the weight at different moments during the exercise.

This is written with 4 numbers, each of which designates the number of seconds in each phase of the lift. Like this:

“3110” or “3-1-1-0”

Here is an example using the SQUAT to demonstrate the phases of the lift that the 4 numbers represent:

Eccentric: This is the phase where the weight is being lowered and the muscle is lengthening. (In the squat it’s the Lowering down to the ground.  This is the “3” in the example above)

Transition A: This is the transition period from the eccentric to the concentric contraction. (The point where you go from lowering to lifting.  This is the first “1,” which in this example indicates that we would pause for one second at the bottom of this squat).

Concentric: The phase of lifting the weight and the muscle is shortening. (The lifting of the weight. The second “1” indicating that it takes us 1 second to lift the weight).

Transition B: The transition period from the concentric to the eccentric. (The point at the top of the motion when you go from lifting to lowering again. This is the “0” at the end, indicating that once you reach the top, you immediately start back down, no rest at the top of the motion).

Using different tempos for different phases of the lift can be a very effective way to change your training and make significant improvements in your strength. By understanding how to read them, your exercises will be much more effective and you will perform them with much higher quality.


The last section is very simple. Whatever you lift, write it down. This is the only way that you know you are getting better every time you step in the gym. Document, document, document.

The more information your have on your performance, the better in tune you are with your workouts. This also allows you to go back at a later date and assess whether you are really making progress or not.


You now know all the key components that you need to include in a well-written program. You should be able to easily read the example above, and any programs you come across in your ongoing fitness journey.

My suggestion is that you start writing your own programs to get more practice and get in the habit of having a real plan when you walk in the gym. It’s going to take some time to get in the swing of things, but you will get better as you go.

There are very few improvements that you can make to your fitness routine that will make more of an impact than having a well thought out program. So don’t hesitate to start now.


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