Maybe the Execution Was There, and the Plan Just Sucked

Written by: Jonny Pietrunti

I was toying around the idea of “execution” the other day. Specifically, I was playing with the concept as it relates to constant improvement via a plan, measurement and reassessment. This fits into the last “Phase” of a system I’m building, and you are already doing this if you have at all rode a goal out to its fruition.

If you have ever achieved something of note, you had a plan (even if it wasn’t formalized). You executed this plan, tracked metrics, and assessed it along the way, making course corrections if necessary. Think about it for a minute. How many instances can you think of where this is true? Even if this was happening subconsciously, `

Most trainers I know (Read: Me) find themselves lamenting the fact that it can be so difficult to get clients to execute. Shit, it can be hard enough to get ourselves to execute, even when we have the best plans in place.

Which begs the question: What if our plans aren’t the best? What if the execution was there and the plan just sucked?

Before you flip out on me, whether you are a  trainer or someone self-coaching, let me be clear: I’m not saying that you don’t know what you are doing. What I’m saying is that perhaps we have a tendency to look at the short view and miss the entire picture.

As I am oft fond of saying, people don’t pay me my monthly rate for a simple macro calculation. I mean, I sincerely hope that they don’t. There are plenty of websites, apps, and calculators that can do this for free. Ditto for a training plan. Elite athletes aside, program design requires thought and vision, but it isn’t exactly rocket science. The value in training with me, or any competent coach, is in the actual coaching. The adjustments, flexibility, and ability to create plans and programs that factor in not just the physiology of the person, but the psychology as well.

I realized, early on, that whether it was training or nutrition, I always seemed to have a portion of clients that couldn’t get results. This baffled me, as basic programming and basic macro calculation are straightforward. I had given them proven plans, yet they seemed to not be sticking it out.

Why weren’t they just executing the plan?

The answer turned out to be that they were. They simply were executing it to the best of their ability and sustaining it as long as was appropriate commensurate with their skill level. The execution was as good as they could give me. It was my plan that wasn’t appropriate for them.

I see this all the time. Clients get handed workouts or macro plans, have their “wings clipped”, and crash and burn. This makes sense, really, if the plan wasn’t built around them.

Here’s some food for thought:

  • Does the plan fit into the “big picture”?


The “who” and “why” are two critical self-awareness components that need to be (at least slightly) hashed out prior to moving forward with a goal and a plan. Granted, these concepts are malleable and will change with personal growth, but some sort of idea behind why a goal is important is critical. If it isn’t relevant or reasonable, say goodbye to adherence. A lot of people claim they want a six-pack, but if you sit down and talk to them, chances are they are looking for something else and assuming leanness is the answer, when it isn’t. Trust me on this one.


  • Is the expectation (goal) realistic relative to the client’s parameters?


This one has come up a lot, lately, so I will refer you (again) to my article on managing expectations. Simply put: is the goal really what is wanted (see above), and is the goal and the sustainability of it realistic. Does a client realize that single digit bodyfat for men is not sustainable for about 99% of men? Do they realize that 3x bodyweight Deadlift is an outlier and not the norm?


  • Is the plan and goal aligned with the skill and knowledge level?


I talk about appropriate challenge level a great deal (My FLOW article is here), but at an even simpler level, is there enough knowledge on the client’s part to execute the plan efficiently? If you are handing someone an exercise program, have they actually set foot in a gym before? Do they have knowledge of the movements? What about nutrition plans? Can they count macros? Do they have a poor relationship with food? Do they know enough about food selection/quality to properly execute an IIFYM plan?


Note that this also works the other way. Are you trying to sell a seasoned contest-prep veteran on a “habit-based” approach? Are you shoving “correctives” down an athlete’s throat?


One of the reasons I like the Precision Nutrition certification is because much of the cert is based on effective coaching, including determining the “level” that a client is at in order to approach their goals in the most efficient manner.

By no means is this all inclusive, but you should see my point, here. Sometimes people are executing to the best of their ability based on their personal mission, vision, goal commitment, and knowledge level. The “best plan” is only as good as someone’s ability to execute it and sustain it. Perhaps the execution isn’t the problem. Perhaps the execution isn’t the issue. Maybe our plans just aren’t optimal and need to be revisited.