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  • Writer's pictureKevin Mullins

The (REAL) Secret to Success in any Training Program

With training programs, guided by a fitness professional or not, compliance is the most important variable. Simply put, you can have the best program in the world sitting in your hands, but if you don’t use it, or perform it well, then it won’t provide any results. Programs are a dime-a-dozen. Results are the real prize.

I want to share the number one secret that I’ve discovered after a decade of training full-time in commercial fitness facilities. This “hack”, if you will, helped me have better compliance with my clients and deliver results faster than they, or I, thought would happen.

That secret, especially for general fitness clients, is skill acquisition.


Really, think about it…

We will do the things we are good at more often than the things we are not so good at. Just look at karaoke – how many people avoid that microphone like the plague because they are all too aware that they don’t have the pipes to “wow” the crowd?

Most people. That aren't hammered drunk...

NOTE: This doesn’t include me. While I don’t have a “good” voice I also don’t have a “bad” one either. I love putting on a show and will never shy away from a karaoke night…ever.

--- Sure, this program hack isn’t revolutionary. But then again, very few things truly are. Most successful people in life, business, and fitness excel because of their mastery of the basics. Their willingness to take on greater challenges is partly fueled by the confidence in their skill and their compliance to the process. Let’s face it; skill acquisition isn’t as sexy of a term as most things discussed in fitness. It isn’t EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), or time-under-tension, or cube loading, or daily undulating periodization. It doesn’t have the curb appeal of words like “core” and “tone”. It sounds too elementary to be effective.

But elementary is just what most fitness hopefuls need to be successful. At the end of the day, our proficiency with a task, especially regarding exercise, greatly impacts our willingness to do it. And that willingness is the most important factor for *MOST* trainees. There are always individuals at each pole that will or won’t exercise regardless. It’s that simple. We do what we are good at because we enjoy the rush of endorphins to our brains when we successfully complete a task or demonstrate skill. No matter how many times a magician pulls the rabbit out of his hat – she still loves the sound of the crowd rejoicing. The high of applause is appreciated by all but the most mega of stars.

In order to understand training for skill acquisition, then we must change the way we see exercise… REDEFINE EXERCISE​

Humans are designed to move. More specifically, we are designed to move in a variety of ways to interact and survive the world around us. Our body and all its intricate levers, joints, and structures are made to produce, reduce, and transduce forces. You can never *truly* appreciate anatomy without an adequate education in physiology, kinesiology, or biomechanics. Here is a thought that’ll challenge you a bit:

We aren’t designed to exercise. We weren’t meant to go to gyms and utilize pulley systems, plate loading, and funky elastic bands.

We are designed to survive. We are designed to chase and hunt food. We are designed to run and fight, to lift and to carry, and embark in a nomadic lifestyle. Seriously, as a species we are impressively (un)evolved from our ancestors.

As our nomadic lives ended due to farming, animal husbandry, and town-building – our sources of physical activity became more contrived. Training was for more than just preparation for war. It became a way of elevating one’s status – a conscious decision to “train” the body. That conscious decision is known by our thinking brains, but not by the cells of our bodies per se’.

When you are running on a treadmill – your cells don’t know this. They simply know that you are exerting energy for an extended period and organizing your joints in a manner that propels you forwards.

The human DNA is still the best hardware available on the market. Our conscious decisions to download software onto it (our skills) is what separates each “product” on the Earth. Some software (skills) are hyper specific (deep) while others remain general and broad. As I’ve said numerous times speaking at conferences to other personal trainers –

We must go broad before we go deep.

With all that being said, let’s establish what skills are most important for successful training programs...

MASTER THESE SKILLS First, we have the ten essential movement patterns. Most people use seven, but as I’ve progressed in my career, I’ve expanded the list to include an additional three. They are as follows:

*A Crossover pattern is any combination of the previous 9 movements – such as a lunge with a chop or a squat with an overhead press.

**Anti-patterns are focused on the spine. The four stability patterns are anti-flexion, anti-extension, anti-rotation, and anti-lateral flexion.

These patterns are important because they represent all the things that the human form can achieve. By learning how to navigate these core patterns you, or your clients, will be better capable of navigating the unique demands and positions that training programs can prescribe.

For example, a person who hasn’t mastered (or gained proficiency) in a hip hinge has no business performing bent over barbell rows. Sure, they’ll (probably) get the stimulus to their lats, but it will come at the expense of their lower back.

Another example is that a person who struggles with walking, squatting, or hinging pain-free (at the knees or ankles) will not be compliant to a demanding running program.

Other skills that should be included in your training programs include:

1. Carrying load in multiple directions and hand/arm positions

​Loaded carries are one of the best bang-for-your-buck exercises for grip-strength, posture, fat-loss, and conditioning. They absolutely kick-ass and benefit anyone who can walk and carry things.

2. Navigating all three planes of motion in one continuous motion.

The human body can move in the sagittal, frontal, and transverse planes. While some people knock on yoga and other forms of flow movement – they do provide the body the challenging of navigating 3D.

3. Upper and Lower Body Power

Every person on Earth needs to be powerful. That power is relative to the demands of their lives. Obviously, an elderly person will do less powerful things than a young football athlete. Still though, everyone must learn to produce, reduce, and transduce forces with their body. 4. The 6 movements of the scapula

The scapula is a bone that is responsible for so many things that people take for granted. It’s position on our back is in relation to everything around it. Taking the time to learn how to elevate, depress, upward and downward rotate, and protract and retract the scapula will lead to better workouts and better posture.

5. How to "feel" and "find" the feet

The foot is a complex structure that is also taken for granted. Barefoot training may have come on and can be sold like many fads, but the science behind it is real. Learning the difference between heel pressure, big-toe pressure, and tripoding the foot is one of the skills that can prevent injuries and improve performance.

I'll go in depth on these topics in a bit more in coming blogs, but I at least wanted to mention "OTHER" considerations that trainers should have in this one.


Intensity is obviously how fitness is obtained. Strength improvements come from gradually improving the loads lifted while muscle-size occurs as a result of frequent bouts of high-volume, mildly inefficient exercise patterns with adequate rest. Conditioning requires a foot on the appropriate metabolic gas pedal while fat loss requires the balancing of muscle-building stimuli with total caloric outputs.

Regardless of the specific outcome – we know we must add intensity to a program to get results.

That’s a DUH.

Still though, we must realize that we may lose intensity while pursuing our client’s skill capabilities. They key is to remember this concept:

"Kick ass with the movements and skills that your clients are already proficient at and supplement that with lower-intensity skill acquisition work in areas of improvement."

For example, if a client is an incredible squatter but struggles with pulling motions and scapular control, then a great superset might be goblet squats with a banded retraction and cable rows. You’ll stack intensity with skill acquisition.

Just remember, your goal in training (yourself or others) is to be good at what you do before you try to accomplish incredible things with it. Don’t try to break the world record box jump if you don’t know how to land a failed jump.


Once again, humans are more likely to do the things that they are proficient at. We actively avoid things that make us look bad, feel bad, or even feel like we *could* look bad. With that in mind, a great training program must improve the user’s ability to move. If that is accomplished, then our desire to perform said program increases, and that compliance directly relates to results in more cases than not.

One more thought on skills before we move our separate ways:

Skills persist through time. Sure, they can get rusty and feel foreign if there is a long gap between performance, but all-in-all, movement proficiency persists throughout life.

Build your programs to improve your or your client’s skills and you’ll find that compliance is much easier than its ever been. You’ll feel better, look better, and do better.


Want to know how it feels to experience a program like this? Then check out my online training program offerings RIGHT HERE. You'll experience what many of my clients call “their favorite way to train ever”. I’d love the opportunity to coach you!

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