I remember back when I started training. I was a fat 15 year old and the gym was a dimly lit, smelly, loud, and scary place.
I had no idea what a lifting strap was. Chalk was still the thing my teachers wrote with and squatting was how I went to the John.
Well, I had some success and became a trainer a couple of years later. Back then things were so simple. If a client wanted to lose weight I ran them into the ground with ‘metabolic circuits’. I figured metabolic circuits sounded cool and sciency. I mean, increasing the metabolism through exercise seems like a good idea right?
So my overweight clients jumped up and down a bunch, followed by pushups, then burpees, then I put some boxes down and they ran up and down the step until they dropped. And that’s how my early days personal training were spent 1 by 1.
If you’re reading this you’re different, congratulations. You’ve chosen to invest your time to search out the best educational sources such as the PTDC. I know that you see the problems with the ‘metabolic conditioning’ above:
1. There was no progression
2. I had no vision
3. My clients got hurt from being run into the ground every single session
4. I didn’t educate my clients. They left and I never built my army
Personal Trainer Program Design and Philosophy
Anytime we chart a course, we need two very important pieces of information: where you’re starting from and where you’re going. It seems simple but a lot of personal trainers will simply head off in the general direction of a goal without clarifying either piece of data. The problem is that – on a long enough journey – being off by a single degree can take you a long way from where you want to be.
If you’re creating a program for someone, you need to know what the long-term results should look like. As a matter of fact, you need to go far beyond the realm of possible.
Imagine your client deadlifting 2,000 lbs. or holding an iron cross for five minutes or dragging an 18-wheeler . . . without any wheels.
This is, at its core, a question about your own philosophy. You have to ask yourself what strong looks like to you and be willing to take that idea to extremes. And if you don’t know, you’d better figure it out. This is the only way that you can begin charting a path toward this course. Even if you never hit those specific numbers, this is less about methodology and more about direction.
Things get a little more ambiguous when it comes to fat-loss, the most common goal any personal trainer will program for. The reason is that performance isn’t measured by weight lifted or sprint times. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as your clients achieve their desired results.
So what is fat-loss programming?
For some people, it means highly ballistic exercises with as much vertical movement as possible. For some, it means relentless free weight circuits. For others, it means long-distance running. Taken to extremes, these things might look like 20 minutes of straight jump squats, barbell complexes stacked back-to-back to back or ultra-marathons. Seems to be some discrepancy in methodology.
You don’t have to agree with all (or any) of these approaches; you just need to have an approach of your own so that your programming can take the appropriate direction.
Once you know what the most effective part of the training process will look like, you will have to temper that with practical reality. Any kind of high-volume work without adequate recovery will yield diminishing returns. As such, a given program might only devote a fraction of its total volume to primary work (see the Focus System for a full explanation). The rest of the training volume (both for the micro and macro-cycles) will typically be devoted to preparatory and supplementary work – all in the interest of maximizing its most important aspects.
All of the above factors will be put together to form a final, “ideal” training phase that you will aspire to grow your client into. So, how do we get there?
If you’re creating advanced-level programs, people will not be able to simply walk into them. That’s the point. Instead, you will have to create a structured progression to take them there, beginning with a basic foundational stage. This is your theoretical model and, while absolutely essential, is also training in a vacuum.
Real life does not, of course, occur in a vacuum. That’s where the assessment process comes in.
There are, of course, many ways to approach assessments, from muscle and strength testing to the Functional Movement Screen. The point is not to assess for the sake of assessing but to find out where (and how) your theoretical training model has to be modified to fit the practical needs of your client.
If you’ve done a good job, you will know when movements have to be regressed, changed or are contraindicated. You will also know when an apparent detour is actually the quickest way to progress.
The information you gather will allow you to create a strong theoretical blueprint for how to take your client from Point A to Point B. However, from there, you’ll still have to look at things through the lens of your individual client.
• Does the entire process reflect their goals in both the long and short-term?
• Does the frequency and intensity of training match what they will actually be able to maintain?
• Is there a disconnect between their goals and their expectations on how to train?
• Are there psychological, emotional or environmental barriers that would indicate further regressing your plan until they can be resolved?
When all of your work is complete, you will now have the great advantage of knowing both the start and end points of your program. And even if you never get them to that 2,000 lb. deadlift, you can rest assured that you’re always moving in the right direction.
Geoff Girvitz (ACSM PT) is the owner and director of Bang Fitness in Toronto, Canada.
Geoff and his team constantly work to take information from the forefront of strength and conditioning science and apply it to people at all levels, from fat-loss clients to the new generation of mixed martial artists.
How do you keep your long-term vision in mind when you program? Comment below and, as always, please share