5 Characteristics Of A Successful Workout ProgramSo what is the best workout program around?

I hear this question all the time. Everyone wants to know what the magical formula is to get your body to grow big and strong. Fitness magazine covers are filled with “get-big-quick” workout schemes. And much like get-rich-quick money schemes, they are big on promises and small on results. Try this experiment….walk by the magazine stand once a month and check out the different fitness magazines and write down the headlines that are on the cover pages. Do this on a monthly basis for a year. At the end of that year I’m sure you’ll find over 50 ways to get six pack abs in 2 weeks, to gain 2 inches on your biceps in the next month or get ripped and shredded in 10 days. Who buys this stuff?

So what’s the best workout program out of the thousands they try to promote every year? The answer to that is simple: there is no one best workout program. Sorry P90X. Anyone who tries to convince you otherwise is lying to you.

But there are characteristics that you can look for in a workout program that will make it a successful workout program for you and that’s what I’m here to talk about.  In my experience I’ve found 5 factors which will make for a successful workout program.

1. Help you achieve your goal

Ok, this kind of sounds silly but let me explain. If you’re looking to gain mass, what’s good about a workout program that will help you with aerobic endurance? If you want to go on a trip to Hawaii, how good would it be to get on a plane headed to New York?

This is the most basic characteristic of any workout program: it must help you get the results you are looking for. If you’re looking for mass, it must help build lean muscle mass. If you’re looking to get lean, it must help you shed fat. If you’re looking for increased flexibility it must help with that. So the first thing you need to do is list the goals you are trying to achieve and make sure your workout program will help you achieve those goals.

2. Have measurable results

So you got on that plane to Hawaii, how do you know you’re getting close to Hawaii and not Mexico? You need to have measurable results along the way to make sure you are on track to your goal and to keep you motivated.

The same goes with a successful workout program. How do you know you’ve gotten stronger, leaner, more flexible, etc? If you’re trying to increase your strength, do you see that you’ve lifted more weights this session than last session? Do you see progress to the goal you have set for yourself? If you don’t, you’re just wasting your time with the program. Unfortunately this characteristic is usually missing from most people’s workouts. I see it all the time in the gym and I’m sure you have too. It’s those people who come in, day in and day out, and do the same routine over and over and their bodies never change. What’s up with that? That’s a lot of time spent working out for no results!! It’s time to get off that plane and find another one heading to the destination that you want.

3. Progressive increase the intensity

We’ve said it a thousand times already on this site and we’ll say it again: Your body adapts because it is subjected to increasing levels of intensity. It has to. If you give your body a stimulus that crosses the threshold of what it is used to, it adapts to that stimulus so it can perform the exercise better next time around. That’s what our bodies are programmed to do. If the intensity levels don’t change, your body will not adapt. It has no reason to. So any successful workout program must meet this characteristic or the progress will be cut short. Any program that keeps the intensity constant over time will eventually plateau out.

4. Minimize the chance of injury

Sometimes people don’t think about this but minimizing the chance of injury is absolutely crucial to a successful workout program. Why? Well, if you’re injured you can’t work out!!!  And all those gains you made will slowly go away. That’s kind of counterproductive, isn’t it? So if you’re doing a workout program that requires you to do full depth squats or jumping lunges with weights or bounce the bar off your chest during bench presses or some other crazy dynamic motion, be careful. This is where injury can happen.

Along with minimizing injury a successful workout program should allow for enough rest in order for the body to recuperate. If your body is pushed hard and not allowed to recover, you will suffer all kinds of ill effect which, just like an injury, will keep you out of the gym and hence move you away from your goal. Overtraining syndrome should not be minimized as it is a very real problem. Those 3 to 4 day a week weight training routines come to mind here.

5. Must allow for consistent training

This last characteristic that defines a successful workout program is one I’m sure all my fellow personal trainers will agree with me on. Being consistent is one of the most important qualities of a successful training program.  I know if I can get any of my clients to perform any activity consistently, they will get good at it. Take up a hobby and practice nightly and you will be good at it in short order. Same goes with a weight training program. Do it consistently for an extended period of time and you will get results. However this means that the program must fit into the trainees’ lifestyle. Ask someone to do 8 hour workouts everyday like they do on the Biggest Loser and how many people you think will stay consistent with that? Of course if you workout for 8 hours a day you will get results but how long will you be able to keep that up? What is the most you can dedicate to a workout program to say with consistently? Remember, for the workout program to be successful it must work for the trainees’ lifestyle.

So those are the 5 characteristics that define a successful fitness program. Take a look at the program you are doing right now and see how it compares? Of course, what may work for you at one point in your life may not work later so it will be time to change programs. If your program checks all 5 boxes, congratulations, you’re on your way to your goal!!


  • Lots of good sense as usual which is a rare characteristic these days in the not so wonderful world of poor training advice and practice.Although you do not criticise P90X here, I certainly do.The adverts alone stink of pure BS and once I saw them I was convinced anyone trying the program was in significant risk of injury.I have recently read whilst doing some research that an increasing number of people who try the program report injury-no surprises there.The amazing thing for me is that anyone falls for all the growling macho nonsense that the adverts promote.I would NEVER allow that sort of thing in my gym {along with a lot of other presently fashionable nonsense}.

  • charlie

    this is well put

  • Ed, the New York Times recently did an article on P90x. The program was created by a marketing expert. It failed market testing until they put in before/after photos. (Those seem to fool millions of people very reliably.) Next they’re looking at a Christian training program – because, you know, Christians have such different muscles than non-Christians. Haha. The absolute genius of these type programs is their very slick and effective marketing, the workouts are junk. So are the supplements they always sell on the back end.

  • charlie

    this ought to be your next article pete.
    christian training? the ‘power’ of praying for strength. hmmmm been around awhile i think.

  • Sure, right after I finish my Static Contraction Training for Buddhists for the Asian market. 😉

  • Pete
    I have been trying to convince people of the value of either pf or sct.
    However I have encountered a woman who is really interested, but, she has had both
    knees replaced. Is there any advice you can give for me to pass on to her?
    I wouldn’t want to cause her harm.

  • Brian

    Great points as always! I have a fellow instructor that decided to go on P90X. I chose not to discourage him as his personality is “my way or the highway”. So I actually Encouraged him, even though I had a feeling he would last just a few weeks. Well, that is all he lasted. By the third week, his back hurt (sorry Tony H, but his form on the ab series is horrible). He had no weight loss nor did he gain any new muscle. Sure, there are some that could get results, if they choose the right weights etc and have great genetics, and no injuries. However, most of the time I hear the opposite.

    Side note: I have not seen an article written by Pete or Greg in a long time for the fitness rags. At least not in the ones I read (I get them free at the place I work, ie. Men’s Health, Fitness RX). Have either of you written anything for them lately? Reason being: I noticed that recently here is a small trend moving back to traditional hard work again (squats, deadlifts, sprints). No, not SCT or PF, but at least the studies are showing that simply doing body weight work, and 1,000 kettlebell swings are not the best way to add strength and muscle. Duh! Just curious if you guys have been approached?

  • I always shy away from giving medical advice; the surgeon who has her x-rays is the person who really knows what her knees can withstand. My advice is to get her started with all the the exercises that don’t require standing or loading the knees – that means she can do 6 out of the 10 SCT exercises and she’ll see some profound differences from those.

  • You’re right, it’s been many years since I wrote for any of the magazines. Guys like me don’t fit into the magazine mold. I write stuff that basically criticizes the crap the other writers are putting out. Plus I don’t push supplements and those are the bread and butter advertisers of all the fitness magazines.

  • Jordan

    Hey Pete.

    I was reading your “Strength and Size Gains” article and read this:

    “And here’s the truth that nobody wants to tell you in the fitness business: no matter what training, diet, supplement or strategy the guy on the right employs he will never have arms like the guy on the left. Never.”

    I myself have a “smaller” build. Will the guy on the right in the picture ever be as strong as the guy on the left? Not as big, but as strong?

  • Jordan, some people are smarter than others. Some are better looking than others. Some are more talented than others. You can see where I’m going with this….

  • Christian exercise?Pete you amaze me now.If I did not think that the world of exercise nonsense was crazy enough to float that sort of thing I would disbelieve you.I think that it truly can be said that it gets worse.Of course Christian muscles are powered by The Holy Spirit I suppose.I do not disrespect any religion, but every one also has its lunatic fringe and I suppose such a program if it ever sees the light of day would be engineered carefully to appeal to them via choice of language etc.In passing I once knew a fellow trainer who told me-Jesus was his spotter when bench pressing.

  • It’s similar to “women’s workouts” – same false premise, but the marketing really works. These guys are completely driven by money and that’s why the biggest training fads have marketing genius at their core. Does anybody think a Total Gym biceps exercise does something lifting a cinder block doesn’t do? Crappy exercises + great marketing = This Year’s Fad Workout.

  • Brett

    Pete I recently started the PFW. My first workout I bench pressed 315 for 87 reps the waited the set amount of time and did 365 for 69 reps. My power factor dropped, should I stay with 365 next workout and try for more reps? I was surprised because I expected to see a rise in my power facyor in my first 2 workouts. Thanks

  • Muscle size and strength are directly related. There are no guys with huge muscles who are weak and also no guys who are thin ectomorphs but competing in the World’s Strongest Man competition. The big lesson here is that comparing yourself to others is always frustrating but if you compare where you are today from where you were a couple of months ago it can be very motivating.

  • You jumped the weight up 15+% and just went a bit too far. I’d back it down to 340 next time and see what your PF does. It’s still early in the training and it takes awhile to get dialed in to what is working for you. No worries.

  • Gideon

    hi Pete, please, i want u to give me a complete 1month workout exercises to do in the gym and see how my body will respond to that. Thank u.

  • Gideon, why don’t you try the workout program listed in the power factor workout ebook or the SCT ebook? There is no better way to start.

  • Robert, we’ve found SCT VERY beneficial as a rehab tool. Have her start out easy and make sure she doesn’t push more weight than is painful. If she experiences pain, she needs to back down. By pushing to the point just before pain begins, the body will start healing itself much quicker. I’ve trained people who’ve had knee surgery and have recovered much quicker than their orthopedic surgeon could believe.

  • Brian

    I understand Pete, and had a feeling that your techniques would be Poo-Poo’d by the rags now. It is a shame. If only all the readers could realize that most of the models, and or athletes they see in the rags performing these stupid workouts or using those supplements are juicing (pharmaceutically enhanced).

  • Rama

    Greg if you havent already done so you should post it in other bodybuilding and strength training websites. Although most likely the people who read it probably swear by the need to do full depth squats for “maximum leg development” and think their 3 or 4 day a week training routine is the ideal routine.

  • Rama

    If you are hesitant about spending money for fear of being “scammed” why dont u try some exercises that Pete gave out for free in this website…

  • It’s also an issue of providing a definitive answer to generating high intensity to magazines that need to offer something different every month, year after year. If I hammer away at the fact that if you MEASURE intensity you can settle these arguments once and for all, it makes it embarrassing to keep providing junk advice.

  • charlie

    we have not seen a ‘real’ pic in a magazine for years…ateration

  • You can try any of my workouts for 60 days and if you are not happy you can get a refund.

  • Rama, thanks for the suggestion. I have nothing to gain with arguing with these guys. They will claim that they’re 3 or 4 day routine is the only way to make muscle grow. Then, when they’ve stopped experiencing growth, they will start taking steriods and continue claiming that 3 to 4 days is the only way to train. That’s why steroids are so prevalent in the gyms today. Do you think if people got continuous results from their workouts they’d turn to steroids? Its no point arguing with them.
    There WILL come a day when either they don’t have the time, or are too injured to be able to continue working out the way they are doing now. When that day comes, they can give me a call. I’ll still be preaching SCT.

  • charlie

    greg sir,
    i must take the contrary view to your comment, esp. since you said you will still be preaching SCT. well, you can’t convert the converted, you have to go get new ones…that is the pain i know…so
    remember that this was once outside your scope, there are kids that want to get pumped up that are on these chat boards or whatever all over the place online. they are spendin’ money on junk to help them get big and doin dangerous exertion and at some point they will be hurt or confronted with the DRUG dilemma….they will be stuck…sometime they will.
    PLANT A SEED of reason, real thought, give them a choice. some people just watch the threads cuz they feel they know nothing, that is who you will reach…
    AMEN- from a past life.

  • charlie

    pete, how much is the cost of your basic sct or pfw book? in USdollars…i wont ask what is the cost of not getting the book?…
    wasted time and injury, wasted money on supplements and steroids…

  • charlie

    i just gotta say, pete is totally right here. we are talking about using high numbers here and her structure is forever compromised and her doc is the one to know how that is the case.
    i did not see you mention that she has pain at all even with effort. involve the doctor. hardware does not have pain receptors.
    there may be positions that she can do more exertion without threat to her hardware or bone structure.

  • The e-books are less than 30 bucks. They are the cheapest thing related to training when compared to equipment or gym membership or paying a trainer and particularly the value of a person’s time. I’m amazed that people train with everything they need except an intelligent plan! Haha.