I want to touch on one of the most important aspects of working with a trainer. It rarely gets discussed and most gyms are happy that prospective members don’t ask about it. It’s exercise program design. There should be some type of plan with your workout. It doesn’t have to be ultra detailed or intricate, but nonetheless, it should exist. Here’s an analogy I frequently use. Do you get in your car and just drive, or do you have a destination? There are multiple ways to get to a location, but you should have some type of route planned. This leads me to why we do an assessment on everyone that starts a program at the studio, whether private or in a small group. An assessment allows us to know our starting point. Think about when you use Google Maps; the 1st question you must answer is ‘Where are you starting from?”
The holidays are here and during this time I will typically have family and friends share their current exercise routines with me. After they explain their workout, the 1st question I ask usually is, “Do you like it?” Sometimes I’m asked my opinion and I’ll usually answer that question with a question. “Is it working?” This is where I sometimes get funny looks. If your workout claims to make you stronger, “Are you getting stronger?” If it promised to help drop body-fat, “Are you leaner?” That’s not a trick question. To be fair, it is possible to be on a program to lose body-fat and not lose a pound for 3 months. I’ve seen this before, even under the guidance of a good program.
When you create a program for someone, there should always be a reason for everything you do. If you can’t explain why you’re doing it, you shouldn’t be doing it. When I mentor young trainers, I always tell them that because it makes you sweat or it’s hard are NOT appropriate answers. It’s a shame, but those criteria are largely what many people look for. I once had a woman tell me that I should crank the heat at the studio above 85 degrees because people will sweat and that’s good. This came from a smart person.
It just shows me the misconceptions that exist out there with exercise. I’m going to explain how you put together a solid program for fat loss & strength.
I always start with an assessment because I need to see if someone can squat, lunge, hinge (think deadlift), lift their arm overhead, stand on a single leg (walking) and brace their trunk (plank) without pain. Pain is a red flag and can notify us if we need to address something before we proceed into a workout program. If pain doesn’t exist, that’s good. I’m also looking to see the quality of the movement. Before you challenge someone with an exercise you have to make sure they can accomplish that movement pattern. If they can’t perform a lunge, they may need a couple months of lunges performed with assistance, before we progress to bodyweight lunges and eventually add load to that exercise. We may need to substitute an exercise for lunges entirely. During this building phase, I will also limit their reps. You want to avoid going to failure during this period, because your objective is for them to perform reps with perfect form before you progress to that next level. This process is for all exercises. Move well, show me perfect reps, and then we can push intensity. That may sound like common sense, but that’s not where many people start. As a coach I have to explain to people that we must build a solid foundation first. I love kettlebell swings, but if you can’t perform a toe touch, you have no business trying a kettlebell swing. It does take trust on behalf of the member, but hopefully as a coach you have explained this process, so they are aware and have realistic expectations. Once you have good movement patterns, it’s all about load and intensity. To create strength, you must use a load that is a stimulant. Your body is a great machine and builds based upon the adaptation process. I have a quote on a poster in one of the studio bathrooms. It reads “If you do what you have always done, you will get the results you have always gotten”. Simply put, to get stronger, you must lift more. More could be 3 lbs., or it could be 30 lbs.
After you dial in the appropriate load, you need to address heart rate intensity. I have always used heart rate monitors in my studio because it allows us to be precise. No guess work. Sweating is not the way to determine if a set of an exercise was performed at the appropriate level. I tell people I can sometimes start a light sweat during my warm-up. If I can manipulate the correct heart rate level while pushing a sled, I can guarantee that I’ll get the benefit of a metabolic effect, which is ideal for burning fat.
The sad part of the story is that as a society, many of us have gravitated toward Edu-tainment. In the era of YouTube and Facebook, people like to do exercises that look cool. The internet provides an unlimited ability and access for learning, but we want to be entertained also in the process. The right fit isn’t always a top priority for some. Sometimes the best exercises look very boring. Don’t confuse boring for not being challenged. Loaded carries are an awesome full body exercise. They are great for the core and help elevate the heart rate to increase work capacity. Watching someone walk carrying a heavy sandbag may not translate to 100,000 views or likes on YouTube. Standing on a stability ball will. That’s the entertainment part.
When creating your next exercise program, ask yourself if you have a starting point. We all start from different points. Do you address movement quality? You don’t want to get injured by compensating. Does it make you stronger? There isn’t a single population that strength is a detriment. Finally, do you push the intensity if your goal is fat loss? How do you know? Answer these questions and you should come out with a well rounded, well-structured program.
Hope you had a great Thanksgiving.
See you at the studio.