If you have access to a reputable trainer known for getting results, I would almost always say that's a smart move. But if you want to take a shot at it on your own, there are several basic things to consider when choosing a program or plan. Here are some that help me.
1. Who designed it?
This is important. There are tons of people out there developing programs and putting them on the market in various formats. Do your homework on the designer of the program. Look at credentials and experience. Dig around and see if they have respect from others in the industry (not just marketing partnerships). Does this person have a solid reputation? Is this person known for getting results? Does this person train or teach others? It is possible to be a good trainer and not necessarily be the best at program design. Also, what assistance is available from the program designer(s)?
2. Does the purpose of it fit my goals and time frame?
What are your goals? That's an important thing to establish first. Then look at each program and determine if the targeted results match up to your goals. This is true whether you're starting out or taking yourself to the next level. Are you looking to: increase strength? build or increase endurance? build muscle? lose fat? increase speed? Are you training for a particular event? Do you have a certain date you need to meet your goals? Do you play a particular sport or are you involved in martial arts? It doesn't make sense to choose a program that is contrary to your goals.
3. Is it feasible for me?
Do you have the time/space/money/equipment/knowledge/foundation/mental strength, etc. to do the program? If you are super busy, a program that calls for gym time every day or hours on end of training time may not be feasible. Will you work out at home or in the gym? Do you have access to the required equipment? Does the program clearly explain through descriptive words, pictures and videos how to perform each component? Is the program the right level for you? Too basic feels like backtracking and too advanced can be overwhelming. Is it something you've never done before or do you have foundational knowledge and experience?
In addition to considering these three basic things, I have learned (the hard way) some basic things about using any type of program.
1. Choose one that makes sense for you and stick with it.
If you don't stick with it, you'll never know if it works. Program hopping is not the answer. Work through it. If you don't know if the one you chose works for you now, how can you choose the next one?
2. Don't jack around with it.
If you have gone through the basic steps of choosing a program, do it the way it's designed. Otherwise, it's not the same program and you can't clearly evaluate it or even understand what the changes you made did to the program. This means you won't have any solid data or facts on which to base your conclusions.
3. Understand the difference in short term and long term.
Don't go into a short-term program thinking you'll use it for the long run. Sure there will be things that you will learn and take with you, but if the program is truly designed well for the short term it will be impossible for you to keep it up. This is especially true of programs that really zero in on maximum fat loss or peaking for an event.
4. Don't have time lapses in your plan.
Once you are into a program, stay focused on it but be thinking about what you will do when it's over. This will keep you from having too much lag time between plans which can be detrimental, especially if you're building on a skill or working maintaining fat loss. Absolutely plan for rest between programs, but keep it deliberate and planned so that you don't overtrain but you also don't lose momentum.
More to come on some of my favorite programs or trainers/designers I think are great.
I'd love to see comments on favorite programs and trainers/designers.