So you've taken the plunge and decided to actually participate in a strength and conditioning program. Maybe you contacted a professional like me or Tony to start getting awesome with a personal touch (don't make it creepy). You could've searched around and purchased Show and Go, High Performance Handbook, 5/3/1, The Juggernaut Method or The Cube Method. You could've even gone to T-Nation or *shudder* Bodybuilding.com and found one of their pre-fab programs. (What I'm trying to say is that you have a lot of options, there's no excuse for following a non-program program.)
Now that you've got your shiny new program in hand, you'd think that it would be a simple matter of following directions, but people often like to make simple stuff hard. I've written a lot of programs for people that I wasn't physically training and as such have come up with a few tips to help you make your experience easy and successful. Listen up!
1) Follow the fucking directions. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it's not unfortunately. I used to program for a guy that came to my gym, and one day I walked into the weight room and say him pulling 335 pounds for a single...and his previous max was 315. I asked what exactly in the blue fuck he was doing since I'd not programmed in any max attempts. He told me that he "felt good deadlifting the other day and was pissed about missing this weight the first time (when he maxed pre-program) so he wanted to try it today after benching". Yup, he'd already pulled once that week and decided to max out post upper body workout because YOLO.
Don't ad-lib on your program unless you absolutely have to. Don't change front squats to back squats because you don't like front squats. If your program uses percentages, don't add extra pounds because you feel like it. If it's a 3 times per week program, do your lifts 3 times per week. Whatever you're thinking about changing, just don't. It was written that way for a reason. If you have a legitimate issue, then talk to your coach/trainer about it before you go changing it.
2) Ask questions! If your coach isn't a bum, then he/she will be more than willing and able to answer questions about the program they wrote for you. If you got a pre-fab program (5/3/1 or Show and Go) then ask a trusted fitness professional for their opinion. I've had people go through a full month of programing doing the wrong variation of an exercise because they thought it was something it wasn't. Don't be that person. The only stupid question is the one you don't ask.
3) Track your progress. There are many ways for you, the athlete, to track your progress when performing a program. One of the simplest and most effective ways is progress pics: take a picture of yourself in a bathing suit at the start of the program and continue to do so every 4-6 weeks and again at the end of the program. It will allow you and your coach to both see the progress in a very clear cut way.
The next best way to track your progress is by keeping a workout journal. Track how you're feeling, the weights your using (if they aren't prescribed), what you're eating and how you're sleeping. Give your coach this feedback and they can use it to develop your next month of programming.
4) Work hard. Pretty simple, really. When provided with the proper instructions you should be able to just put your head down and go. Do the work that's put in front of you and give it everything you have. Training is pretty simple, you get back exactly what you put into it.
That's it for today; follow these tips next time you start a training program and I guarantee it will be a much better experience for you. If you have any questions or want to start your own personalized program shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll get you going.
Have a great day, and go lift some heavy shit!