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Training Clients for Strength – Bang for Their Buck


I have 2-3hrs a week with a client.  That’s all and it’s not much.  Without a huge commitment from my clients to change their home-time habits I struggled with getting them results.

Yet, I (and you) are expected to make them lose weight and get fit in those 2-3hrs.  Even in the absence of work on their part.  They expect to come into the gym and, with your expert instruction, move some weights around and run on a treadmill to get success.  Better yet, they expect to do it fast! And if they don’t, you lost a client.

I second guessed my career and even applied to a few master’s programs to further my study on muscle physiology.  Around that same time I found the secret that changed my career around.  I credit learning how to train my clients for strength with turning my career around.  Strength training works wonders for two reasons:

1.  It builds density.  Without getting into a long physiological discussion, powerful muscles have tighter packed nuclei and appear and feel denser.  Less and less does the common person want a bodybuilder appearance.  Lean and powerful is in.

2.  Little work = big gains .  Power exercises (squat, deadlift, big presses etc.) are large multi-joint movements.  This means that they burn a lot of calories, involved a lot of big muscles, and strain the nervous system.  It doesn’t take much in a beginner of intermediate to get a training effect.  Remember that our goal as trainers is to find the MED (Minimum Effective Dose)

So how do you train your clients for strength?  Lucky for us we have an expert laying out the ground rules.

The following is a guest contribution from Greg Robins.  His full bio is below.  If you’re interested in doing a guest post please first look at the contribution page.


Training for Strength

Much to my dismay it seems that trainers continually side step around teaching strength.

So how do you teach strength? Here’s a few lessons I have learned from people stronger than me, and who have helped hundreds finally experience what strength training means.

1. Low reps and tons of volume

If you want to teach a beginner to lift keep the reps below 5. The chance for breakdown in form increases dramatically the higher the rep prescription. The idea that a beginner should be performing rep ranges between 10 – 15, using light weights to increase repetition or some other asinine reason is dumb.

There’s an argument that the intensity needs to be brought up slowly depending on training history to allow for connective tissue adaptation. However, you should not increase repetition of the movement by assigning rep schemes above 5. Instead do a TON of volume through the addition of sets. Beginners need low reps and tons of volume.

Note: Often times when I write a program for a new client I assign no sets or reps. Instead I assign an amount of time that will be devoted to that lift for the strength training session. I recommend you do the same.

2. Choose wisely

I love the basic barbell movements. They work and they have stood the test of time. That being said, they’re not for everyone, at least not right away. The bottom line is you’re making people stronger. Unless they’re competing in strength sports that require them to be good at specific lifts then figure out what they’re good at.

We harp on weaknesses A LOT in this profession. There’s a reason for this, as overcoming your weaknesses will make you better. However, too often coaches create programs entirely based around improving weaknesses and never play to a person’s strengths.  This is a huge mistake.

Instead, find some big compound movements that your client can perform well. Use them, and make those lifts even stronger. Address weaknesses during the assistance and supplementary work. Strength is strength, and when you get better at any lift you get stronger. Over time you can transition to making the lifts they suck at now their main lifts.

This is especially of note for team sport athletes. Their sport is their sport. Lifting is not their sport. If they can deadlift and not squat. Make their deadlift great. In turn they will get stronger and this will transfer into better strength on the field. If you feel another lift will have better transfer over to the field then do what’s necessary in the accessory work to make that lift possible. Don’t have a bunch of assistance work and mobility become their program.


3. Get under the bar!

There’s definitely not a shortage of coaches talking about the importance of getting strong. There is an overwhelmingly large amount of weak coaches. I’m not impressed by your strength on the one arm overhead kettlebell split squat. If that’s your focus you’re missing the point. If that’s your idea of getting strong you probably have a bunch of clients who would fair better in the circus.

Furthermore, there seems to be an incredible amount of importance placed on “functional” training. That term has been murdered. It belongs in the land of misused fitness terms alongside the core. Something is functional if it helps you produce your desired outcome. Just because it looks more specific to a certain movement doesn’t make it more functional. Here is the second definition of “functional” as offered by Merriam-Webster dictionary: Designed to be practical and useful, rather than attractive. Some of the best coaches in this industry, who mind you are also leaders on corrective exercise and human function, are brutally strong; you should be too.

Dave Tate writes about under the bar knowledge in his e-book “The Vault.” The book is free, read it. In short, if you are going to teach others how to get strong you better have been there yourself. You will gain your best knowledge during your quest to get stronger, not from this article, a book, or a dvd.

4. The 80% rule

When you lift heavy stuff, shit happens. At Total Performance Sports we use the 80% rule. If form breaks below 80% of perfect we end the set. Since when has any learning process been completely smooth? Getting strong is not going to be that way either. Safety is the mark of a professional, but if you don’t allow someone to experience a bit of chaos in a lift they aren’t going to understand it. You should have been there yourself before the client goes there (read: point 3). It’s a calculated risk and you shouldn’t feel worried about their set, but realize it’s not always 100% perfect and it doesn’t need to be.

The process of building strength is challenging but overwhelmingly rewarding. If you want the best for your clients you will make them strong. With increased strength comes increased performance in every fitness category. The ability to increase a clients strength dramatically is the defining quality of a top coach. Get under the bar, learn, and pay it forward intelligently and stop training your clients for the circus.


About Greg

Greg is a no frills coach who holds the NASM-CPT, RKC,  and IYCA.  He currently works as the assistant strength and codnitioning coach at Total Performance Sports in Everett Massachusetts.  Greg maintains a blog at www.gregtrainer.com





Written by Jonathan

Jonathan Goodman CSCS is the author of Ignite the Fire: The Secrets to Building a Successful Personal Trainer Career and Race to the Top: How to Take Over the Social Media Feed. He'd love it if you added him on Facebook and/or joined him on Twitter. He also explores the psychology of social media over at Viralnomics

  • Pingback: Guest Post For The PTDC! « Greg Robins

  • Pingback: Guest Post For The PTDC! « Greg Robins

  • http://www.Mazzastick.com Justin Mazza

    Hi Jonathan,
    I began working out in High school at the age of 15 and did the basic chest, arm, legs,and back routine and I got stronger but not the toned look I was after. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I learned to focus on specific muscles only and that worked for me to get individual muscles, toned and strengthened.

    • http://ptdc.inertiagroup.ca Jonathan

      Glad you focused your workouts Justin

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  • Paul

    When you strive for loosing fat and gaining muscles, nutrition is one of the key success factors. While the most nutrients are received from food, sometimes additional nutrition is still necessary. The product that works best for me is
    Navy Seal Formula. It delivers lots of energy and my workouts are becoming more
    hard and intense.

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