How To Program for SEMM

This week, I’ve been writing about coaching the four elements of health: Sleep, Eat, Move, Manage (SEMM).

Read: Programming for Sleep / Eat / Move / Manage

I wrote about having clients rate their day using a Green / Yellow / Red system.

My primary intent is to help coaches demonstrate their value outside their gym. Because fitness coaching has changed (and some gyms still haven’t reopened post-Covid.)

The idea has been tested for years in Jen Broxterman’s NutritionRx program (read about it here) and the results are amazing. Because if you want to make real change in people’s lives, you have to keep them around long enough to do it–especially if you have to coach them online.

Here’s an example of how a daily SEMM program looks:

SEMM 070320
Sleep>9 7-9 >7
EatGreen Yellow Red
Move: 30 minutes of yoga and extra core work
Manage: Manage: 5 minute daily mindfulness practice
(Colm’s video)
>5:00 <5:00 0:00
Notes: Tomorrow, you’ll  perform a longer workout. Get extra sleep tonight and plan your day accordingly.
SEMM 070420
Sleep >8 6-8 >6
EatGreen Yellow Red

Move: “Murph”

For Time:

  • 1 mile Run
  • 100 Pull-Ups
  • 200 Push-Ups
  • 300 Air Squats
  • 1 mile Run

Start and end the workout with a mile run. Partition the Pull-Ups, Push-Ups, and Squats as needed. Women wear a 14 lb. weight vest, and men wear a 20 lb. weight vest if they choose.

Score is the time it takes to complete all the movements, including both runs.

<50:00 <70:00 >DNF
Manage: Write daily reflections on your strengths after the workout
>750 words <750 words 0 words
Notes: Good Times for “Murph” (source)
– Beginner: 63-71 minutes
– Intermediate: 47-58 minutes
– Advanced: 36-41 minutes
– Elite: <35 minutes


(What do the green, yellow and red numbers mean? Read more here.)


How do you program for SEMM?

  1. Start with the workouts. Not because they’re the most important thing, but because you’re already good at this. And programming workouts is fun.
    Stick with broad, general programming across the 3 workout domains (ATP, glycolytic, oxidative–or strength, anaerobic and aerobic, if you prefer.)
    Mix things up to be constantly varied, and intense with intent.
    Write the intent of the workout and the instructions on your daily programming platform.
    Write notes for coaches that only they will see.
  2. Enter the nutrition portion as Green / Yellow / Red only. Nutrition should be tailored to each client. Clients will rank their day depending on their adherence to their particular plan instead of how well they conformed to a “diet”.
  3. Write the Sleep prescription based on future workouts. I included 070320 here because I wrote an extra hour of sleep before the 070420 workout, “Murph”.
  4. Add the “Manage” prescription to support the rest. If clients need to plan their day to find time to exercise, tailor the “Manage” portion accordingly. If they need an hour to go grocery shopping, program for that.


When filling a client’s glass, do it in this order:

Nutrition – the “rocks” in the glass (personalized prescription)
Workouts – the “pebbles” in the glass that fit between the rocks (customized prescription)
Sleep – the “sand” in the glass, filling the space between their days
Manage – the “water” in the glass, occupying their brain between and during everything else.


Examples at the macro level:

Wave intensity and volume in each area of SEMM if possible.
Sleep – sometimes prescribe 10 hours per night; occasionally bring it down to 4-5 hours if appropriate (you’re the coach!)

Eat – introduce Intermittent fasting one day per month (whatever you can support with science), or build overfeeding days in as “cheat days” weekly
Move – strength work, speed work, stamina work, programmed for novelty with recurring tests
Manage – occasionally have a long meditation or mindfulness practice or prayer, like Naval Ravikant’s “60 minute meditation” challenge
The purpose of SEMM programming is to increase a coach’s value through diversity. But more important, to most of us, is the ability to really change a client’s life.
Hard workouts are fun. And they’re effective. But stacked on top of poor nutrition, high stress and little sleep, the effect of exercise is blunted (and can even be counterproductive.) SEMM programming allows us to use a “whole life” approach.



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