Last week I discussed how there has been an unfortunate shift in the personal training world away from properly planning and designing training programs for clients. Whether it is lack of knowledge of how to do so, lack of willingness to do so, or just plain being swept up in the “sexy” it is certainly not a great trend. This week I would like to lay out a simplified plan of how to periodize a program. Periodization can be very complex and to thoroughly explain it is well outside the scope of this blog. Instead, I will offer up guidelines that will help the planning of program design. This is generalized, of course, but it is a starting place.
- Assessment: Creating a training program for a client without an assessment process is like going to the doctor and having her prescribe you a drug that she prescribed every other patient that day. At the very least it will be ineffective, at the very worst it could kill you. So why “prescribe” a workout program for someone without knowing anything about them? The assessment process should start with a sit down conversation with the client to find out what their goals and limitations are. A Health Risk Assessment and a Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire should follow. These will most likely confirm what was said in the conversation. After that, a functional movement screen should occur. I feel this is probably the most important part of the assessment process because it will uncover limitations that the client is not aware of and if a client has such limitations they will never fully reach their potential (a more in-depth overview of functional assessments will be covered in a future blog post). After that objective assessments based on the client’s goals should occur. For instance, if a client wants to lose weight the obvious assessments would be weight, circumference measures, body fat percentage and blood pressure. If your client is an athlete, standards tests may include 40 yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump etc. The important thing is that you have these assessments in place and reassess on a regular basis to gauge progress. This should give you the best info to start with and to make appropriate changes through the duration of the program.
- Goals: The design should consider the clients perceived and actual goals. Perceived goals are what the client has told you what they want. These can be performance based, aesthetic based, health based and/or function based. Actual goals are the limitations that you have found in the assessment process. These can be medical concerns, functional movement dysfunctions, and performance limitations. Basically, anything that will prevent them from accomplishing their perceived goals. Sometimes the perceived and actual goals will be one and the same, sometimes they will be drastically different. If they are drastically different, another conversation with the client is necessary to explain that the priority of the training needs to be geared towards the actual goals first before perceived goals. This is where the design starts. This will dictate exercise selection, exercise priority, exercise order, sets, reps, rest, and recovery. A client that has a goal of entering a body building competition will have a very different program than one who wishes to lose weight even though both could be considered as aesthetic goals.
- The End: Having an end date is crucial when developing a program. It helps guide intensity levels and provides a “light at the end of the tunnel” for the client. Training towards a goal end date will help keep the client motivated. For athletes this is easy to establish because they have to peak for certain competitions. For a personal training client this may prove to be more difficult. Weddings, class reunions, swim suit season, vacations, and recreation competitions are the usual end goals that I hear about. However, I get a lot of clients who do not come in with an end goal, they just want a general fitness program. When I am in that situation I create an arbitrary end date. By this, I mean I create a program and progress that program for a certain amount of time, and then I change the program to a new one once that time is up. Depending on the client this can be done by number of visits, number of weeks, or number of months. The important thing here is to know that there will be a change in the programming at a certain point once the client is progressed to a certain level. Once you establish the end date, you plan backwards from it.
- The Design: Look at your clients perceived and actual goals, look at their exercise experience, look at their age, look at the end date….these will all be influencing factors for your program design. In general, the beginning of a periodize program will be generalized with high volume (sets and reps), low intensity (% max) and low volume load (total amount of weight). The tempo of the exercises are generally slow and controlled. Corrective exercises, stabilization exercises, and simple exercises are emphasized during this phase. Teaching proper form is a must. This phase lays the base, the foundation. It prepares the body for more intense training to come. It is also a time to further assess movement patterns during actions. As the program progresses volume decreases, intensity increases, speed becomes fast and volume load increases. Exercises become more complex, more specific and more skill oriented. Exercises can be manipulated after the base foundation is laid. However, there has to be a progression. If someone can’t do a squat correctly, they shouldn’t be asked to do a single leg squat. If they can’t do a movement unloaded on stable surfaces, they shouldn’t be asked to make that movement weighted on unstable surfaces.
There are so many ways that one can design a program. The most important thing is that they are progressing their client and not just throwing whatever at them and seeing how they react. Having a plan that is specific for the client’s needs, goals, wants, and restrictions that is progressed properly will ensure success.