Chris McGrath by Chris McGrath
Program Design Webinar

For more on how to design workout plans that fit individual client's needs and abilities, view ACE fitness expert Chris McGrath's recorded
one-hour webinar.

In an era where "cutting-edge" equipment and "high-intensity" training programs dominate fitness advertising, the art of creating appropriate individualized training may be more confusing and misguided than ever. The distractions of what's popular can easily divert our attention away from problem solving for a crucial segment of our population - which is most people.Considering the majority of our population is overweight or obese and the largest age group (the baby boomers) are now 50 years of age and older, it should be clear that not everyone is ready for or interested in high-intensity training programs.

Regardless of age, weight and even goals, many factors need to be taken into consideration to piece together the puzzle of fitness program design. As fitness professionals, we study exercises and training variables that influence physiological change, but there are numerous personal factors that are equally – if not more crucial – to consider. For example, who is the client? What are his or her priorities? What's his or her current fitness level and exercise history? How many days per week can he or she dedicate to working out? What resources or obstacles do they have? Likes and dislikes? The list goes on and on. Anything short of these considerations can expose the fitness professional to the off-putting label as a "cookie-cutter trainer." Therefore, we must consider certain basic principles when creating your individualized training programs.

A Perfect World May Not Exist

We are encouraged to use our knowledge and expertise to influence all necessary forms of strength, cardiovascular fitness, flexibility/mobility, balance, coordination/agility, power and functionality - to name a few. In a perfect world, mastering competency in each area would certainly provide multiple fitness and functionality benefits. However, although addressing each area may be realistic to the dedicated athlete or advanced exerciser, for most clients achieving "perfect" comprehensive fitness program design will be a challenge.

The real world often presents us with clients who may only meet with us once or twice per week (if we're lucky), and may do very little on their own. They may be less coordinated than your typical athlete. They may have stressful careers and family commitments which place fitness lower on their priorities list. This doesn’t mean that all variables of fitness cannot be addressed. But it will likely take longer to address and improve upon than it would for a competitive athlete or advanced exerciser who works out five or six days a week.

For less confusing and overwhelming fitness program design, it is our job to prioritize the most important elements first. For example, prioritize consistency and anything that leads to it - even if the program seems to fall short of a "perfect program." Keep in mind, an "average program" performed consistently is better than a "perfect program" performed inconsistently.

Build a Foundation of Fundamentals

"Success is neither magical, nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals." ~ Jim Rohn

All great sports coaches preach one common message - you can't have success without fundamentals. They are the foundation of success. Anything built on a weak foundation won't stay around for long. Therefore, our first priority with clients should be to establish the fundamentals of movement that lead into fitness - and not assume it will happen the other way around. Before introducing hard workouts and advanced options, ensure your client develops a baseline of cardiovascular fitness, a balanced level of mobility and stability, and teach competency in the foundational movements in strength (push, pull, squat, bend, step, planks and rotation) before introducing the popular and more advanced versions of each.

Considering the vast majority of our population falls short of the minimum recommendations for consistent exercise, a fitness professional can make a significant and very lucrative career by targeting the "average" person, focusing strictly on the fundamentals. Just imagine what could happen to the statistics if we could get the majority of the population to follow the fundamentals consistently.

Keep It Simple

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." ~ Albert Einstein

To piggy back on the importance of fundamentals, you should always remember to keep things simple. Our nation is getting older and fatter. Period! The last thing we need is to make things more complex and intimidating. The simpler we keep things, the easier it is to deliver and the more inviting we become to the people who need our help.

Simplicity provides opportunities for our clients to be self-reliant. Don't be afraid of losing clients because you helped them become independent at the basics of exercise. You will likely lose more clients by making things too complex or advanced. In fact, we want our clients exercising on their own. If they do more on their own, they'll be able to take advantage of our services to help progress to the next levels.

Avoid Arbitrary Changes 

Many fitness professionals report feeling obligated to "mix things up", "use variety", and "avoid client boredom." However, this can backfire if there is no strong reason for change up a program. We can easily put pressure on ourselves by thinking we need to use every training tool in the gym. The end result may end up as a mish-mosh workout and a directionless session.

Remember, our clients rarely have exposure to the vast array of equipment and programs that we are exposed to. We shouldn't have to look hard to see most exercisers lack direction and scientific rationale for their workouts. Therefore, any sophistication we add, no matter how basic it is in our minds, is a huge leap forward for them. While "changing things up" can help prevent plateaus and keep things fresh, there needs to be a reason that coincides with the ultimate goal. 

We have many pieces to juggle and many elements to consider when designing programs. But there is no one recipe for program success. There are numerous ingredients and it is up to each of us to create the appropriate combinations that ensure success. We all have our biases and preferences, but the programs should first be determined by what our clients can handle successfully and not by what is popular or driven by personal preference. It is easy for us to stick with what we know and like, but it is far more important to stick with what your clients can do.

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