The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Program Design

A Unified Theory of Fitness Programming for Hardbody Athlete

THE LEGACY OF LEE “Absorb what is useful; reject what is useless.” – Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee, the most well-known martial artist of all time, left a profound legacy that extends beyond martial arts. His philosophy of absorbing what is useful and rejecting what is useless applies to many fields, including fitness programming. Lee’s pioneering approach in the 1960s, combining different martial arts to create Jeet Kune Do, revolutionized training methodologies and laid the groundwork for what we now know as Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).

Just as MMA fighters must train across multiple disciplines to compete, fitness enthusiasts and professionals should embrace a diverse, integrated approach to training. There is no single best system, and increasing the size of your training toolbox is essential for success.


In the fitness industry, there’s a constant search for the “best” training modality. Over the years, we’ve seen trends ranging from aerobic training to kettlebells. However, just like in martial arts, no single approach is the ultimate solution. Instead, successful fitness programming incorporates elements from various methodologies.

Great trainers recognize the underlying principles that make different programs effective. They focus on the commonalities rather than arguing about differences. Here at Hardbody Athlete, we believe in a unified theory of program design that incorporates these fundamental habits.


  1. Bodyweight Before External Resistance Master bodyweight movements before introducing external loads. If you can’t perform 20 pushups or 8-10 single-leg squats with good form, prioritize bodyweight training to build a solid foundation.
  2. Train with Free Weights (Destabilized) Once bodyweight is mastered, incorporate free weights for their three-dimensional training benefits. Avoid machines that isolate single joints; instead, use free weights to engage multiple muscle groups and improve stability.
  3. Train Functionally Focus on functional, performance-based training rather than isolated muscle group exercises. Life and sports activities are dynamic and multi-joint; your training should reflect this. Incorporate compound lifts and movements that mimic real-life activities.
  4. Train Unilaterally and Multi-Planar Include exercises that challenge your body in different planes of motion and with unilateral loading. This approach ensures that you are prepared for real-life movements and improves overall functional strength.
  5. Train with Balance Maintain balance in your training program between different motor qualities and movement patterns. Ensure that you are not overemphasizing one area at the expense of another, which could lead to imbalances and injuries.
  6. Use a Method of Periodization Implement periodization to plan your training over the long term. Alternate between phases that focus on different rep ranges and training qualities to maintain and improve various fitness attributes.
  7. Use a Time-Outcome Based Approach Design your workouts with time constraints in mind. Calculate the total training time available and structure your sets, reps, and rest periods to fit within that timeframe. This ensures efficient and effective training sessions.


Effective program design at Hardbody Athlete is about cutting through the clutter and focusing on what works. By adopting these seven habits, you can create comprehensive, balanced, and functional training programs that deliver results. Embrace the legacy of Bruce Lee, and continuously refine your approach by absorbing what is useful and rejecting what is not.