Jonathan Ross by Jonathan Ross

Sometimes it can be hard to know where to start. What do you do when you are getting started with a new client who may have a bad back, bad knee, bad shoulder and perhaps even a bad attitude? The reality of personal training with a real person in the real world sometimes collides with the concepts we learn to get certified and to understand movement.

The real world presents you with people who have physical limitations, challenges and often a less-than-excited attitude about exercise. This is the general population—the vast majority of people you will encounter as a health and fitness professional.

Starting right is essential with the general population because many people repeatedly follow the pattern of working very hard, often ignoring muscle imbalances or movement abnormalities, in an effort to whip themselves into shape. This leads to the all-too-common pattern of starting and stopping exercise.

However, as a health and fitness professional, you have an opportunity to create a physical “a-ha moment” for every client by helping them understand how movements in a workout relate to movements in life, and daily tasks can be done with a potentially greater sense of proprioception and body awareness.

We often need to explicitly make the connection for our clients. On their own, most people compartmentalize exercise and don’t see, for example, how the hip flexion with neutral spine they develop in a deadlift is the same method they should use to pick up a heavy box or bag of dog food. This is where the ACE Integrated Fitness Training® (ACE IFT®) model comes in…

Bring the IFT to Life

PHASE 1 – Stability and Mobility Training

The stable parts of the body are the foot, knee, low back and scapula, while the mobile parts are the ankle, hip, middle back and shoulder. At least this is how it’s supposed to be. It can be hard to know where to start when working with a new client who has multiple physical challenges. He or she could have old injuries, postural issues or simply pain with no pathology from poor biomechanics and muscle imbalances. In the absence of absolute clarity on what to focus on, a sensible approach is to look at each body part mentioned previously and work to make each more stable or mobile according to its primary characteristic listed.

For example, if someone has collapsing arches, then a sensible starting point would be to pursue exercises to enhance the strength of the inner arch and the mobility of the outer ankle muscles—the outer calf and/or peroneus.

Many health and fitness pros are scared of hurting a client with multiple issues and unsure how to begin. In nearly 20 years in the fitness industry, I can assure you that any health and fitness professional who is worried about doing harm almost never does. It is that concern itself that leads to choices that are rarely problematic.

PHASE 2 – Movement-based Training

The ACE IFT model features five distinct movements:

  1. Bend and Lift—a bilateral hip or quad-dominant movement (e.g., squat, deadlift, glute bridge)
  2. Lunge—a unilateral or asymmetrical lower-body movement (e.g., single-leg squat, lunge)
  3. Push—a vertical or horizontal pushing movement, either bilateral or unilateral
  4. Pull—a vertical or horizontal pulling movement, either bilateral or unilateral
  5. Rotation

Categorizing movements in this way makes it easy to show clients how movements in life match movements in a workout. A squat is sitting/standing. A deadlift is picking up something of moderate weight from the floor. Walking up stairs is a lunge pattern. Rotating is putting on your seatbelt. Pulling is opening a door. Pushing is putting away a serving bowl on a top shelf in the kitchen.

Drive this point home for all clients by listening to what they do daily and what is important to them. For example, a grandmother who spends weekdays caring for a grandchild would likely benefit from an exercise like multidirectional lunges with a medicine ball reach.

PHASE 3 – Load-based Training

Any load in phase 2 is limited to “everyday life loads” or something people would encounter while not exercising, such as a bag of groceries. Therefore, a 10-pound medicine ball isn’t really considered a “load.” Phase 3 generally involves heavier loads that most people more commonly associate with “exercise.” Once again, tailoring the exercises to what is relevant to the client and connecting the exercise to a real-life movement that matters is tremendously helpful in getting buy-in from him or her and a great aid in driving exercise adherence.

PHASE 4 – Performance Training

Typically featuring lighters loads and faster movement speeds, some form of performance training is appropriate, even for people with some physical challenges. Why? Because life often makes you move quickly whether or not you are “ready” for it. A lot of people say they “can’t run,” but if they were in a building that caught on fire, they would likely run just fine. If you might need to move quickly, you need to train for it. If prepared, you are less likely to sustain injury when life throws a “rapid-response required” challenge your way.

Rapport – Underneath it All

When you create exercises that are relevant to your clients, they know you care. And that is perhaps the most important factor for leading change. For example, I have a client who is a grandmother and has multiple long-standing spinal injuries and surgeries. She is capable, but is prone to flare-ups and wasn’t comfortable going for walks in her neighborhood, primarily because of the risk of a back flare-up leaving her physically limited and a good distance from home. She was excited about the home-based, movement-based training program I developed for her. However, she felt it important to also do some form of aerobic activity. I created “alphabet walks” for her. In a defined space in her husband’s home office, she would walk a path that “wrote” the letters of the alphabet. She enjoyed this and a couple of weeks later, I made it more interesting for her by having her walk to spell out the names of all of her grandchildren. This made it harder, yet more enjoyable, because the names added up to more than the 26 letters of the alphabet, but it also made her think of her grandkids.

This type of programming shows that you care and are listening to your clients, and that you will do what is necessary to find something that works. A willingness to mold the program to fit the client creates a level of rapport that lets clients know they can trust you and makes it more likely they will follow your fitness leadership.

Wrap Up

Develop your skills for training the general population and you will have a nearly endless supply of new clients on which to build your career. This group is the largest in number, yet is generally underserved by the fitness industry. Give yourself a challenge that will reward you in many surprising ways, and use the IFT to turn what matters in the daily lives of your clients into exercises and an approach that enhances both their workouts and their lives.

Our certifications are built on the foundation of the ACE Integrated Fitness Training® Model, created to help you deliver the types of individualized programs people need to adopt long-term, healthy behaviors. Find out more about our Personal Trainer Certification.

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