Secrets of the FOCUS TRAINING SYSTEM for Beginner Clients with Jon Goodman

Today’s post comes to you from one of the top, up-and-coming trainers in the game: Jon Goodman. And, I made sure Jon was ready to provide you with lots of practical, solutions based training concepts you can immediately apply (including sample workouts) to help you training your beginner clients, which is whom Jon’s  designed his Focus System to be used with.

Jon is going to share some secrets of his Focus System, which he says “is a simple 6-step system for training beginner clients who may have injuries and low motivation.” He say’s his system “ensures you cover all your bases and that you’ll never worry about programming beginners again.”

If you’re not familiar with Jon: he’s a class act, an all around great guy and a great trainer who started the Personal Trainer Development Center (PTDC), which is an amazing, FREE educational resource for fitness professionals of all levels. Plus, Jon and I were both recently listed as two of the “Top 40 Fitness Professionals That Will Impact 2012 in a BIG Way.”


 Secrets of the Focus Training System!

 The Impetus

Recently, a new trainer started at my gym.  He’s a smart dude that studied Kinesiology in University and has been working out for years.  The 23 year old squats, lunges, pushes, pulls, rotate, and anti-rotates like a champ!  He must have been reading Nick’s blog for a long time…

He nailed his practical interview with the club and had squat progressions coming out the wazoo.  The workout he built as a case study was adequate for an intermediate client.  He covered all planes of motion, had the 6 main movements taken care of, and incorporated some energy system work specific to the case.  We even tested this trainer’s ability to deal with chronic injuries and he started comparing Dr. McGill’s work with the current researchby Brad Schoenfeld and Bret Contreras on crunching.

Fast forward now to the trainers first client Monday morning.  The assessment using the FMS goes well, client is happy and looking forward to “getting at it” on Wednesday.  Wednesday morning I happen to be at the gym to witness the train wreck.  Frankly, I’ve never seen poorer execution of a session.  The client’s form was atrocious.

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  As I watched the session from a distance the problem became apparent.  The exercises were way to advanced for this beginner client.  The trainer later said that he figured she would be able to train hard because she was injury free.  Train hard meant sumo deadlifts, cable kneeling chops, and my favourite piece of equipment the Sorinex Landmine.

INJURY FREE – not strong

This Brings Me to My Point

KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid).  As personal trainers we get excited by reading blogs by the likes of Nick Tumminello, Bret Contreras, Tony Gentilcore and countless others.  We want to try out there stuff on our clients because the exercises are exciting, sometimes revolutionary and ‘therefore better’.  I have no issue with this.  The aforementioned coaches are fantastic and I am a personal fan of all 3.

What we, as trainers and coaches must keep in mind is that new exercises are exciting and transverse the interwebz quickly while the basics are sometimes forgotten.  Add to that the simple fact that we’ve been working out for years ourselves and a simple goblet squat isn’t exciting.  A landmine push press is.

But I love the Landmine

Truly, I do.  I also love heavy deadlifts.  Squats will always suck but I’ll keep doing them.

The trainer and I had a meeting the following day where I outlined the Focus System for him and I’m going to do the same for you in this article.

The Focus System was developed to ensure that I covered all of my basis while developing workouts for beginners before progressing to the next level.  I want this trainer and yourself to have your clients performing all of the exciting new exercises that these top level coaches throw down but it’s important to me that they are progressed towards and performed well.

The Focus System in All of it’s Glory

Ok, maybe not all of it’s glory.  On Nick’s Strength Cruise I will be taking the group through the entire Focus System in addition to guidelines in terms of how to market the system.  Once you’ve become comfortable with the entire system your retention will increase, referrals will improve, and selling will be a no-brainer.  Unfortunately here I only have space to outline the system for you.

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The Focus System has 6-steps

Step 1 – Rep range (the great decider)

Reps dictate every aspect of the workout:

  1. Sets – Generally lower reps will require higher sets for the desired training effect (I understand there are exceptions but we’re talking beginners here, not strength athletes)
  2. Type of exercise – Lower reps won’t include any isolation work whereas higher rep ranges may dictate some single-joint exercises
  3. Tempo (to a degree) – Lower reps generally require quicker movements (ex. 10X1) whereas a 6-10 rep range may require longer TUT (time under tension) and have a 4011 (note that 4011 corresponds to 4s eccentric, 0s pause, 1s concentric, 1s pause)
  4. Rest interval – Low reps requires longer rest whereas circuited workouts can be done with less rest.

Step 2 – Primary Exercises

These are the bread and butter of your program and are decided using a combination of intuition and knowledge.  In short, progression is based on these exercises.  When a client can perform them I know they are ready to progress.  All other exercises in the workout are based off of these and these exercises should directly prepare you for the exciting movements later on.

A primary exercise is always a large multi-joint movement and, depending on the skill level of the client, I only include 2-4 per workout phase and usually use them as stand alone.  The goal is to pick the MOST IMPORTANT movements for that client at that point in time.  If a beginner client needs to get better at a squat then the whole workout should focus on that squat.

Step 3 – Secondary Exercises

This is where you can have the greatest flexibility and fun and are usually circuited as opposed to the primary exercises.  When selecting these exercises focus on supporting the primary exercises.  Take the example of a squat above and I might include single leg movements and anti-rotation work.

Step 4 – Tertiary Exercises

These exercises are placed in two different spots during this system.  They can be used either as active rest or as throw-ins at the end of the workout to complete the session.  I’ll often have a few prehab (or rehab if needed) movements ready to go if time allows.

Hip mobility and balance work might fall under this category if your primary exercise is a squat.

Step 5 – Energy System Work

While cardio is usually not completed during face time with a client it’s a consideration when programming.  Just make sure the energy system work complements your workout.  There isn’t much sense doing 1hr runs 3x/wk if the client is doing hypertrophy training.

Step 6 – Dynamic Warm up and Myofascial Release

This depends entirely on the clients comfort level in the gym.  I like to instruct my clients on a routine to complete on their own before we meet but will complete the warm up with them until they have the self-efficacy to complete it themselves.

Nevertheless it’s an important consideration in any clients program.

Putting it all Together

Here’s an example of a workout for a new client with some haphazard training experience developed using the focus system.

Day 1 – Full body push

  1.  Goblet Squat (primary) 4*8-10 superset no money drill to help with external rotation (tertiary). 1min rest
  2.  Bench Press (primary) 4*8-10 superset lat stretch (tertiary). 1min rest
  3.  Speed interval 1.5min at 80-95%MHR

4a.  Band resisted push ups (secondary) 2*15-20

4b.  Plank (Secondary) 20s.  Rest 30-45s

  1.  Speed interval 1.5min at 80-95%MHR

6a.  Dumbbell skull crushers (secondary) 2*10-12

6b.  Single leg squats (secondary) 2*6-8

7.  Scaption (tertiary) 2*8

Day 2 – Full body pull

  1.  Rack Deadlift (primary) 4*8-10 superset warrior pose (tertiary)
  2.  Assisted Chin up (primary) 4*8-10 superset chest stretch (tertiary)
  3.  Speed interval 1.5min at 80-95%MHR

4a.  Glutes thrust (secondary) 2*8-10

4b.  Side bridge with minor twist (secondary) 2*12-15

  1.  Speed interval 1.5min at 80-95%MHR

6a.  1 arm bent over row 2*8-10 (secondary)

6b.  Glutes ham raise (secondary) 2*8-10

7.  Palloff press (secondary) 2*25s holds

Cardio guidelines: 2x/wk.  One day perform a 30min jog at 70-80%MHR.  The second day perform 45s speed intervals at 95+% using a 6:1 rest:work ratio.

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If you remember one thing from this article it’s to FOCUS.  There is nothing wrong with exciting landmine exercises or heavy squats when the time comes.  Just remember that most clients are beginners or, at best, intermediate.  The only way to build them up to advanced progressions is to have a clear vision with your programming from start to finish.  Pick 2-4 primary exercises and build strength through them always having exciting and advanced movements in mind.

Who’s This Jon Guy?

Jonathan Goodman is a personal trainer out of Toronto on a mission to help as many trainers as possible.  In doing so he’s set up a collaborative free resource for personal trainers with some of the brightest minds in the industry called the Personal Trainer Development Center (  You can also find him at or on Facebook or Twitter.

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