Pete McCall by Pete McCall

It can be easy to forget that exercise is a physical stress imposed upon the body; the actual types of exercise performed (the physical stresses applied to the body) along with the frequency they are applied determines how the body changes. Performing the same exercises at the same level of intensity or number of repetitions for too long can cause physiological systems to stop adapting, which means your clients won’t achieve desired results with a workout program.

As a health and exercise professional, you know how to avoid this mistake. However, in an effort to avoid appearing to be “boring” or “basic,” some trainers will often use different exercises in every workout—and that’s actually a bigger mistake. Exercise is movement and movement is a skill that must be practiced and developed. Changing exercises too frequently does not allow clients the opportunity to practice and improve their movement skills using the same patterns.

The ACE Integrated Fitness Training® Model

The point is that there are a variety of types of exercises and each one places a different type of stimulus on the body. For these reasons, the American Council on Exercise created the Integrated Fitness Training® (ACE IFT®) Model of exercise program design. This model offers a systematic approach for how different types of exercise stress should be imposed upon the body.

The initial two phases, Stability and Mobility and Movement, feature exercises that can be considered low-to-moderate intensity and were initially programmed to help people new to exercise learn how to establish adherence using lower-intensity workouts. However, these exercises also are an effective option on those days when clients want to exercise but might be feeling fatigued from the previous day’s workout or overall life demands. The following two phases, Load and Performance, feature higher-intensity exercises that can deliver results but also increase the overall stress load on the body. Understanding the difference between the phases and how to apply them can help provide valuable information for helping clients achieve results.

Movement is the second phase of the ACE IFT Model and focuses on training the body how to control stability and mobility through the foundational movement patterns of hinging, squatting, lunging, stepping, pushing, pulling and rotating using equipment such as light dumbbells, medicine balls and resistance cables (or tubing). Movement-based exercises help improve coordination between numerous muscles, enhancing the ability to generate strength throughout the complete range of motion of the movement. Clients new to exercise will find many of these movements challenging because they require coordination. The important thing is to develop successful progressions so you can help clients learn how to successfully perform all of the movement patterns. Teaching clients how to move through the patterns can help improve overall flexibility and range of motion, while teaching proper movement techniques can reduce the risk of injury.

Load is the third phase and focuses on using external resistance to increase overall strength output, otherwise known as muscle force production. Mechanotransduction is the term that describes how mechanical forces create cellular changes in the body. External resistance applies mechanical forces to the muscle, which initiates the repair and growth processes that increase muscular strength. Strength training exercises in the Load phase can be used for weight loss or muscle growth, or to improve overall physical appearance, but these exercises are considered high stress and proper recovery time should be allowed for optimal adaptations.

Performance is the fourth and final phase of the ACE IFT Model. Here, velocity comes into consideration. The previous three phases address the muscular system’s ability to generate force but at a consistent time under tension—meaning a movement is performed at a steady tempo of two to three seconds in each direction. The Performance phases adds velocity by introducing power exercises. Power is developed through explosive muscle actions that generate a lot of force in a brief amount of time. Each client’s goal determines whether or not a program progresses to the Performance phase.

Now that you have a better understanding of how to apply the ACE IFT Model, here are four things to consider when planning the perfect week of fitness.

  1. When clients show up for their workouts, it might be tempting to make them work as hard as possible every time. Keep in mind, however, that if you have them do a lot of hard, physically challenging work on one day, their muscles need time to fully recovery before the next demanding workout. Therefore, it’s important to alternate your challenging, high-intensity workouts with lower-intensity, less physically demanding workouts—and teach your clients the difference between the two. Helping clients learn about intensity and how to safely employ it is one of the greatest benefits of working with a personal trainer.
  2. The standard 1-10 Ratings of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale assigns a high number for more physically demanding workouts and a lower number for less-challenging exercise sessions. For example, if a challenging barbell workout from the Load phase of the ACE IFT Model is considered to have an RPE of 9 and is done on a Monday, the next day’s workout should be performed at an RPE of 5- The lower intensity still allows the body to do physical work but not as much or at the same level of intensity.
  3. Every individual is unique and will have a slightly different response to exercise. For this reason, it is not possible to create a workout that will produce results for everyone. However, using the ACE IFT Model and the 1-10 RPE scale as a guide for monitoring intensity, it is possible to create a weekly schedule that alternates between high-, moderate- and low-intensity workouts. This ensures that when it’s time to work hard, your clients are pushing themselves to their limits, but when it’s time to let their bodies rest, they are doing a lower-intensity workout that promotes recovery.

Rest day: Encourage your clients to perform low-intensity activities such as a long walk or chores around the house. Their intensity level should be something in the 1-4 out of 10 RPE range. The purpose of this day is to allow the body to rest and recover from the workouts on all of the other days.

Hard workout: This can be a workout from either the Load or Performance phases of the ACE IFT Model. For Load workouts that emphasize strength, focus on using weights in the 7-10 RPE range until the point of momentary fatigue. For Performance workouts that focus on power, the goal is to use a moderate-to-heavy weight to perform only a few repetitions at a time of an explosive exercise.

Moderate-intensity workout: This workout should include exercises from the Stability and Mobility or Movement phases of the ACE IFT Model. Yoga, barre and Pilates workouts also are good choices, as long as the moves are not performed until a point of fatigue. The intensity should have a RPE of 4-7.

Metabolic conditioning, steady state: Depending on your client’s overall training experience, specific goals and ability to rest, this day could either be another hard workout from the Load or Performance phase or a moderate-to-hard cardiorespiratory workout. If the workout is high-intensity or challenging (i.e., 7-10 RPE), Thursday becomes a low-intensity activity day for active rest or a pure rest day for passive rest. If the workout is moderate in intensity (i.e., 5-8 RPE), it is possible to transition back to Load or Performance training on Thursday. An indoor cycling, dance or circuit-training class all are good options for this day.

Depending on the workout performed on Wednesday, this day will feature either a high-intensity workout (i.e., 7-10 RPE) from the Load (strength) or Performance (power) phases of the ACE IFT Model, or a low-intensity day for active rest or a pure rest day for passive rest.

Low-intensity workout: This day helps to mitigate the stress of the week. While your clients might be tempted to skip the gym on a Friday, this is the ideal day for a body-weight mobility workout using a piece of equipment such as the TRX Suspension Trainer, a yoga class or a guided meditation to help reduce the overall physical stress load from the week. Regardless of what your clients chose, the intensity of your workout should be 4-6 RPE.

Choose your own workout: If your clients enjoy being active outdoors, this becomes their hardest workout of the week because they have the time to do their favorite activities. If working out is their activity, this becomes the day they can train the hardest if they have had enough rest (i.e., 9-10 RPE). If your client’s Friday night plans included adult beverages while socializing with friends, a low-to-moderate intensity workout is a better choice.

4. Ultimately, there is no single right way to exercise, and your clients will gravitate toward the types of exercises they enjoy the most. Every client will start the ACE IFT Model at an intensity that is appropriate for his or her immediate needs. While it is entirely possible to perform exercises from any of the four phases at any time during a workout, beginners or less-fit clients are more likely to be successful (and stick with their exercise program), if the intensity of the workouts you design are appropriate for their fitness levels

Once a client’s body has adjusted to the physical demands of lower-intensity exercise, it will develop the ability to accommodate more challenging workouts. Do not push the intensity too quickly, as trying to progress too fast could lead to injury. Once an exercise feels easier to a client, increase the challenge by increasing the amount of resistance, adding more reps, doing another set or reducing the rest time between sets. And be sure to help your clients plan out their workouts throughout the week—even if they aren’t exercising with you, they should know what activities they should be doing (or when they should be resting) to continue to progress toward their goals.