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  • Writer's pictureWill Green

Are 12 week programs a waste of time?

Ok I’m going in hot with this one. I’m going to talk about one of the worst products out there in the fitness industry - The “cringeworthy” 12 week program.

Now before I get started on this rampage (because usually that’s what these things turn into!), I will say, there are some that are absolutely worth doing. In the right context, given the right circumstances and if whoever is selling them is being truly transparent about them, they can be beneficial to people. I’ve seen plenty of ‘off the shelf’ style programs over the years that are really bloody good and make no qualms as to who they are and aren’t beneficial too.

I’ve seen some people thrive off them, get incredible results, and go on to bigger better things. Particularly in the realm of athletic development and skill acquisition style programs, I‘ve witnessed them first hand being terrific springboards to heightened ability. However, unfortunately more often than not, far too many of them are lazily written and somewhat disingenuous.

Now, that’s quite a scathing review but I’ll explain why I feel so strongly about particular types of 12 week programs.

What makes them lazy and disingenuous?

Some are the above in an obvious sense - many haven’t even been written by the people who appear to be selling them (I’m looking at you instragram influencers). Essentially, they are well marketed, clean cut products with said influencers brand plastered all over them. These types of programs usually come with bold, almost ridiculous claims and are littered with either total pseudo science or unnecessarily complicated strength and conditioning speak.

These types of programs are the obvious BS 12-week programs. It’s clear as day all they are are money making schemes; one’s designed to keep you in a volatile cycle where your progress fluctuates about a point. These ones really are the worst of the worst and do a lot more harm than good to folk; brutally capitalistic and devoid of care- they’re everything I hate about the fitness industry.

There is another side to the 12-week program, one that has its roots in naivety and bias rather than malice and deceit. The people who sell these types of programs are slightly less rage-inducing, nevertheless they are still at large highly irritating. What’s more, I know some of the people who sell these programs are genuinely good trainers with good intentions. It makes criticising them far more difficult, however I can't not speak out about why what they are doing is potentially damaging to people, and subsquently filling me with unwavering fury. The naivety and bias factor doesn’t give them a pass.

So what is it about these programs that send me west?

Firstly, they have an end date, in 12 weeks, which technically means in 12 weeks you are done. This puts a time limit on achieving something. Whilst in the short term this may seem appealing (it gives you a fixed, tangible time frame to achieve something), it may have a negative impact on the people involved. The time limit serves to simply make people rush, creating an excited anxiety that makes people slam their foot on the accelerator and shoot the effort levels into the sky.

It might appear to be a good thing that you are making people work hard, however, it could be argued that making people work too hard, so hard that in reality they can’t hang onto the pace that they’re moving is only going to lead to dissapointment. This is the very definition of unsustainablity in training terms. What is the point of being in great shape if you’re not able to maintain it? These programs satisfy short term needs and impatient mind sets. Most people struggle with short term outlooks in many other areas of their lives, so why reinforce this!?

The way I view it is that coaches have the chance to help open people’s eyes by helping them experience delayed gratification through the lens of fitness. The hope is that they can then apply this principle better to other parts of their life too.

Neurons that fire together, wire together. Practicing patience in one thing usually transfers over to patience being practiced somewhere else. The result equates to a deeper more profound impact on the person you’re coaching.

Personally, if you can impact people outside of the realm of health and fitness by giving people principles to live by, you've nailed coaching. This is why 12 week program sellers rattle my cage as much as they do, they're missing a golden opportunity to help people to a greater extent and this is where that bias and naivety I spoke about gets in the way.

Coaches are literally bombarded by other coaches selling these programs left, right and centre. They come at you from every angle and in every format. There is a 12-week program for almost everything; fat-loss, muscle gain, performance enhancement, the works!

The intentions of others flood our senses so much that in my opinion a lot of coaches lose the ability to think about how they want to coach. They rather naively buy into the bias of seeing other coaches success with their 12 week programs and fall in line - “this works, ok i’ll do that,” no questions asked.

I get it though, we’re naturally tuned in to seek out methods that get clients good result, but it’s the bias and naivety these programs instill that get in the way of higher order coaching. Their popularity and “success” prevent many coaches from paradigm thinking - i.e what comes next? Is this really going to make a lasting difference on people?

Not enough 12 week program sellers think about what constitutes “results” and or whether this is their idea of good results or the clients. As stated, not enough of them think about what lies beyond the 12 weeks. Many may have an upsell option at the end but I’m not convinced that the tactics change much when you enter the upsell.

Its likely none of these coaches are going to tell their clients the following:

“Hey so, we’re going to completely change how your training is going to be conducted now. We’re gonna slow the pace down and make gains at a much more sustainable rate. Oh, er… and you’re gonna go backwards in the process because we’re going to have to undo all the short term, unsustainable methods we used in the last 12 weeks. We’re basically gonna take 6 weeks to take you back to square one and start again from there. Sorry.”

I think its highly unlikely any coach is going to win over many people by telling folk they’ve just wasted 3 months of their time?

Each person on a 12 weeker is shoe horned and force fed the same idea of success as the next. You sign up for X result, if you want something different, tough shit.

Good for making money.

Not so good at helping you the client discover what success means to you.

As stated earlier, 12 week programs can be incredibly useful, but the context and awareness and preparation for what lies beyond must be there too. This, or at least make people aware they should think about the next step, something to lead people to continue their journey rather than dropping them like a stone. What do you think?

Rant over, I’m off to the gym to hit up my 12 wee… only joking!

Thanks for reading! Thoughts, questions and queries, are welcome as always!


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