As a mentor and Coach to many young and up-and-coming trainers, I get asked a lot of questions:
“What supplements should my clients take?”
“How do I teach my clients the Olympic lifts?”
“Is cardio or sprints better for fat loss?”
All these questions are perfectly valid and reasonable. However, they all are missing the point of what the most fundamental and important thing a Personal Trainer or Coach should do.
Here are the most fundamental pillars of programming that all Personal Trainers must implement. Are you using these?
1. An appreciation for structural balance
Structural balance is a term that refers to balance between different muscles around joints (quadriceps and hamstrings around the knee) and the strength ratio around different lifts (back squat to front squat). As part of the program design process we need to be aware of this to ensure we don’t exacerbate or cause issues around this that will decrease performance or lead to injuries down the track. Here are some examples:
Do you have a balance of hip dominant to knee dominant lower body exercises?
Horizontal push to horizontal pull? Is there a ton of pressing and barely any rows?
Is a client really good at squats but sucks at deadlifts?
By looking at the program holistically and identifying if there is structural balance this will go a long way to improving your programs.
2. Selecting the right exercises for the client
A common maxim in training clients is the rep range is the most important variable when writing programs. For most clients, I disagree. Making sure the exercise is correct for the client is far more important. To do this properly, you need a screening process that tells you what a client can do, what they cant do yet, and what they need to do. We teach this is our DC Health Performance Institute Assess and Correct Course. Here is an example:
– A decent screen to identify if someone has the movement capability (take note, not the strength, but the movement) to get into the correct position for a deadlift is a straight leg toe touch. This is an easy screen with a moderate degree of validity, but if a client can’t do it, it does not tell us why.
Most people assume the hamstrings will be the limiting factor. However, if you place these clients supine and do a passive hamstring range of motion test, you will often find that these clients have adequate range of motion. To get a true answer to what is going on, you should do a hip extension test, a core reflexive stability test and a diaphragmatic breathing test. By looking at these results you will then identify what qualities your client needs to improve. Once you perform the appropriate corrections, you will see a massive increase in toe touch ability.
If they get an improvement, but still don’t hit the standard you want, they are not yet ready to deadlift. It does not matter how good a Coach you are or how much effort they try, they do not have the physical capacity to deadlift effectively. You will need to select a different exercise.
3. Understand the concept of Maximal Recoverable Volume (MRV)
This is a relatively new term and has been popularised by Professor Dr Mike Israetel of Tempe University.It’s basic premise is that each muscle group/lift has a maximal amount of volume that an individual can recover from and going above that will deplete their recovery abilities and lead to that muscle/lift being over-trained. I see this a lot in a lot of programs I assess with some trainers programs having over 40 sets per workout! I also see some workouts with 40+ sets of arms per week! That amount of loading is nearly impossible for a drug assisted lifter to recover from.
The easiest way to identify a clients MRV is to track their progress (you are doing this, aren’t you?). If their lifts are going up still and body composition is good, slowly increase the volume. When they stagnate a little bit, sleep is affected or they start getting little niggles, ramp it down. This is a huge topic that I will be talking about more in the future, in the meantime, please research everything Dr Mike has said on the topic.
4. Progressive Overload – Learn it
This is something that should be hammered into trainers from day one. It is not about one workout, it is about the progressive accumulation of volume and intensity over the combination of many microcycles, mesocycles and macrocycles.
Example – Increasing weight in 10 kilogram jumps is unsustainable and also possible dangerous. No trainer in their right mind would recommend that practice. So why do we take beginner clients seeking hypertrophy and throw them into 1 sets of 10 German Volume Training? We are so much better off starting slow and trying to coax as many gains out of them in a slow and sustainable matter. A beginner will gain muscle or lose fat on 3 sets of 8, there is no need for them to do 100 reps per exercise to get a result! As people train more and more, not only does their strength and muscle size improve, but also their ability to recover. Plan your phases intelligently and results will follow.
This is a topic I could go on and on about but we need something to talk about in the future. Please have a look at some of your training programs, see if they violate any of these principles and if your exercise selection process needs some help. Reach out to us, we love helping trainers get better results for their clients.