Official Website of Sarah E. Rippel, BS, CPT, FMS

-JC Santana’s “Essence of Program Design” Manual-


Ahhh...2nd grade...

I grew up with a father who was (and still is) a Public Library Director.  I grew up with a love of reading.  I remember how much fun I would have when dad would take us to the library during non-business hours.  Big ol’ library, all the lights out…kinda spooky…tons of books…and I got to take home as many as I wanted!  Yes, of course I brought them back!  So, it makes sense that today, I have a plethora of books.  Aside from the “normal” titles, I have a gazillion books and manualst pertaining to exercise.  Go figure, right?  

I enjoyed John Izzo’s post a couple of weeks ago, “Are You Still Learning?” In this post, he discusses the fact that we trainers must always be looking to expand our horizons.  He makes the great point that it is up to us to continue improving, and that too many trainers are afraid to challenge the way they have always done things.  The “my way or the highway” way of thinking is most definitely a limiting one.  The easiest and most affordable way to go about learning as a Fitness Professional is by reading!  There are tons of incredible books and manuals available to trainers these days.

About four years ago, I ordered “The Essence of Program Design” by JC Santana from Perform Better.  I can most definitely say that it’s one of my favorites!

Earlier today, a fellow Fitness Professional emailed me, asking for my opinion of this book.

Q: “I saw on your blog, you referenced JC’s book-Essence of Program Design as top-notch book. I try to read everything fitness related and have purchased a TON of books throughout the years, some great, and some awful. I especially take notice when other much more experienced trainers (such as you) reference a book as being a good read.
The price seems a little steep. Can you give me a cliff notes version of the book-good/bad, when you get a minute?
Here are my top 3 books thus far: Power Training by Robert Dos Remedios, Maximum Strength by Eric Cressey and Core Performance by Mark Verstegen. How would you rate JC’s book vs. these 3?”

jcHere’s my $0.02:
Hey J!!!! 

I LOVE JC Santana…I don’t know if it’s because he’s passionate about what he does or the fact that he’s got this minimalist approach to things.  He’s not a fan of one specific training method, and fuses traditional training with “functional” (I hate that buzzword) stuff.  There are a lot of haters of functional training, as you know, but I feel these guys are misguided.  Many of their opinions seem more based on the fact that way too many people have taken “functional training” out of context and associated it with “circus acts” (such as standing on a stability ball, exercises done on balance boards or BOSU when client even perform the exercise on the ground, etc).  My perspective is that if you’re focusing on movement-based training, NOT training bodyparts, then EVERY exercise is functional.  Also, to play the devil’s advocate, bodypart training is functional if the client is a bodybuilder.  Bodybuilders don’t train for function, they train to develop their physique, therefore the “function” that must be addressed is hypertrophy and muscle definition, and the way of going about this is a routine that involves a “bodypart training” mentality.
I also have Power Training by Dos Remedios, as well as Verstegen’s Core Performance.  I have skimmed through Maximum Strength and found it to be a solid, basic program.  I feel the three are great for exercisers seeking a well-rounded program.  Verstegen has done a lot to bring the importance of dynamic warm-up and “prehab”-type exercises to the majority.  I have “borrowed” ideas from both Power Training and Core Performance and fused them into a few clients’ workouts here and there.  I feel both books go to great lengths in explaining the “how’s and why’s” behind the exercises and programming involved in the routines, and I feel this is tremendous for the reader because knowledge is power! 🙂  
With that being said, JC’s “Essence of Program Design” manual isn’t a structured program.  It is, however, an awesome resource for fitness professionals wanting to understand the art of fusing more “functional” exercises with traditional training in clients’ programs.  I don’t have the book in front of me right now, because i’ve loaned it out to a friend who is also a trainer…but i’ll do my best to break it down regardless! 🙂  
JC basically lays out his program design and periodization methods.  He doesn’t make things complicated.  I really like his way of planning periodization because it’s simple.  He breaks things down into phases of training, which I know you’re already familiar with.  He explains his slant on what he calls the “4 Pillars of Human Movement,” which is his perspective on the basic movement patterns…level changes, push/pull, rotation, locomotion.  I am a big fan of this, and have created my own way of categorizing human movement.  I use: squat, bend, locomotion, push, pull, and rotation.  In the book, JC gives a ton of examples for each of his categories using numerous modalities (DB, BB, MB, bands, bodyweight, etc).  He also takes each phase of his periodization program and gives a ton of sample workouts, based on the client’s level.  You can use these as a framework for developing your own workouts.  He also explains several of his warm-up and metabolic protocols and gives his $0.02 on assessments.  So, for anyone who isn’t familiar with JC’s training style, you’ll definitely get a taste of it in this manual.
So, my takeaway message is that this is a great resource for fitness professionals!  It’s not a planned workout program like Core Performance.  It is, however, a manual that will give you some innovative programming methods and encourage you to “think outside the box” when designing workouts for your clients!
Hope this helps!
Yours in Health,
Sarah E. Rippel

6 responses

  1. Paul

    After this semester lets out, I plan on picking up Mark Rippetoe’s “Starting Strength” and perhaps Bruce Lee’s “The Art of Expressing the Human Body” . Beyond that, I really haven’t heard of books based upon bodyweight training. I take that back, I would like to get a hold of Ross Enamait’s “Never Gymless” book and give that a thorough read through.

    Do you know of any other books Sarah? Also, are you able to email me the excel templates you had? Thanks again for another thought provoking post.

    March 2, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    • Hola Paul!
      I just resent the workout logs, so let me know if you get them! I attached like 5 or 6 of em! Maybe I got bounced to your spam box? 🙂

      Ross Enamait knows his stuff. I have his “Full Throttle Conditioning” DVD and manual. He seems like a really great, genuine guy, and his knack for making homemade gym equipment is out of this world!

      Adam Steer, who is a CST (Circular Strength Training) Coach, recently released his “Bodyweight Exercise Revolution” book. I am wanting to get it!

      Also, JC Santana has “The Essence of Bodyweight Training” manual and DVDs. Anything Santana is a must-have!

      March 3, 2009 at 12:10 pm

  2. Mel

    If you could recommend one book and one book only for beginning trainers on their path, which ONE would it be? The essential bible of fitness trainer (or something like this) to cover the need to know basics? There are probably many good ones ( as well as bad) but if it came down to that one?

    March 4, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    • Great question, Mel!

      My answer has two parts.

      First, if we’re talking about a book that is geared towards helping new trainers by providing real-world experiences and insight, I would recommend John Izzo’s “Secret Skills of Personal Training.” You can find it and download it here:

      Another high-quality Personal Trainer who has a ton of “in the trenches” experience is Jimi Varner. He has a book called “A Trainer’s Dozen,” and i’m looking forward to getting my hands on it! Check it out here:

      Secondly, if we’re talking about a book that is geared towards functional anatomy/exercise physiology/practical application, you should check out what NASM has to offer. Their “OPT” (Optimal Performance Training) model is top-notch. I am not certified through NASM, but I do incorporate a lot of their methodology into my clients’ programs. Their “Essentials of Personal Fitness Training” is a great resource. Check it out on Amazon:

      March 4, 2009 at 2:22 pm

  3. I have been reading NSCA, ACSM, and NASM’s protocol for program progression. Program design is really logical and straight forward.

    February 3, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    • Hi Nick!
      Sorry it’s taken me almost a year to reply to your comment, but here I am! 🙂

      Having a solid grasp on the principles of program design, proper sequencing, and progression/regression is invaluable in your career as a fitness professional. The systems are there for a reason! I am currently in the process of systematizing my small group training programming, and it’s falling into place nicely. I will most likely be writing about it very soon!

      In this day and age of “throw all sorts of intense exercises together because it makes people exhausted” programs, those of us who are able to apply some thought to our clients’ programs with an emphasis on proper progression and movement quality will continue to rise above…and our clients will continue to improve!

      Yours in Health,

      January 18, 2013 at 9:14 am

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