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Upgrade Your Group Training Program

by Jonathan Goodman | Follow on Twitter

Do you really want to throw fifty burpees or heavy back squats at a client who has just been chewed out by their boss?

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Understanding recovery for group fitness classes

DDo some of your clients deal with nagging aches and pains which actually seem to get worse with exercise?

While we often discuss the need to “prehab” injuries and turn to the latest stretches and mobility drills for answers, the reality is that overuse injuries happen with a lack of recovery

No exercise, stretch, or massage is going to take away problems which are caused by over use. But what we can do is fortify our athletes and clients to deal with stress from both life and exercise.

After a hard workout, both our muscles and our nervous system require several days to recover. The problem with most training programs I see is the failure to recognize and address the fact that fatigue goes beyond soreness.

Here is an example of a program which may be designed to shred bodyfat:

√  Monday: Strength + interval training
√  Tuesday: Interval run outside
√  Wednesday: Strength + interval training
√  Thursday: Interval run on treadmill
√  Friday: Strength + interval training
√  Saturday: Interval run outside

Now this workout certainly looks a killer on paper but the question is whether it can be sustained for more than say a week without injury or burnout. This is the challenge faced by popular fitness programs such as Crossfit and bootcamps which incorporate up to five days of consecutive training.

The other factor we must consider here is the stress which daily life piles on the majority of our clients. Do I really want to throw fifty burpees or heavy back squats at a client who has just been chewed out by their boss?

Do you really want to throw fifty burpees of heavy back squat at a client who has just been chewed out by their boss? – Click to Tweet

Regardless of how you answer this question, the reality is that offering “unlimited” classes is a great way to increase revenue.

The key is figuring out how to offer effective daily workouts without pushing your client off the recovery cliff.

Monitoring large groups:

Stress manifests itself both physically and mentally in the way we present ourselves. While soreness is the most obvious sign of physical stress, symptoms of CNS fatigue include frequent cramps, involuntary trembling or shaking of the muscles after a workout, flickering eyelids, loss of concentration, sleeplessness, and general malaise.

Most telling of all is the fact that performance and technique de-grade as we encounter fatigue. For a new client or someone unaccustomed to this sort of stress, monitoring recovery is key to avoiding injury.

Undoubtedly one of the best tools in monitoring in larger group situations is a proper warm up. This begins by asking clients to form a circle around the instructor and leading the group through basic movements while watching their responses.

We will generally perform some variation of the following circuit to get a feel for the group (each drill is performed for 30-60 seconds to allow us to coach/observe):

√  Squat
√  Push up
√  Split squat
√  Single leg reach

While this may not be as sexy as HRV or vertical jump testing, it allows us to quickly spot potential issues with clients. From here, we will pull the individual aside and have a quick discussion about aches/pains or other issues.

This allows us to modify exercises and/or dial down intensity for the day based upon their response.

Defining workout stress:

Overall stress response to a workout does not require a high volume of work. In fact, any session in which maximal efforts or explosive exercises are involved can be considered potentially taxing to the CNS.

group training personal trainer group

Some examples of high stress, CNS focused work are the following:

√  sprints at maximum speed or 100% Intensity (30 metre, 6O metre. 80-120 metre)
√  heavy weights allowing only a few repetitions (i.e. 2-5 repetitions)
√  bounding
√  stair running
√  explosive Jumping, hopping, skipping, bounding routines (plyometrics)
√  medicine ball work

Notice that we are grouping heavy weights in to the same category as explosive jumps, throws and skipping.

While these exercises are excellent training tools, their placement can literally make or break your trainee.

Famed Sprint Coach Charlie Francis subscribed to the concept of high/low intensity days in which high intensity speed and power workouts were alternated with bodyweight and tempo runs performed at intensities below 70%.

Francis believed that this type of training– in conjunction with massage and recovery modalities– improved recovery by promoting blood flow while maintaining a state of optimal readiness.

The difference between training athletes versus the general population is that our clients are constantly bombarded with stress and fail to utilize properly recovery modalities (when was the last time you took an Epsom salt bath?)

Looking at the picture of overall readiness of our client/athlete, this means that certain modifications are necessary for our general population client to address poor recover.

At our gym, we offer three and five day training options for our general population clients. We generally limit our strength and hard conditioning work to three days (generally Monday-Wed-Friday) while the other two days incorporate GPP circuit training and aerobic based runs to maintain general endurance.

Throughout the year our workouts contain the same general elements while either building volume or intensity. The rationale against abrupt changes in how we structure daily workouts (hello Crossfit?) is to avoid excess soreness by constantly introducing unfamiliar elements (another Francis concept known as “adaption stiffness”).

We will also undulate the intensity of our “hard” days–to account for fatigue build up which occurs throughout the week– via a modified version of Francis’s high/low concept.

Workout day Weights-  1RM Intensity Conditioning- Speed of movement Exercise selection
High 80-95% Interval training-Explosive/ballistic Med ball throws, jumps, heavy bi-lateral weights, sprints
Medium -80-85% Interval training-Moderate and continuous Moderate uni-lateral weights, bodyweight exercises, agility drills
Light -50-75% Circuit based- self selected Light weights (speed focus), bodyweight exercises, mobility drills
Tempo None Slow an continuous Mobility drills, bodyweight exercises, tempo runs


Week day Three day client Five day client
Monday High High
Tuesday Tempo
Wednesday Medium Medium
Thursday Tempo
Friday Light Light

Anatomy of a tempo day:

One of the questions I constantly receive from my more enthusiastic GP clients is what should be done to burn extra fat or improve fitness in their off-days?

While we used to assign detailed off-day program to all of our clients, this usually becomes an interval side show for the gung-ho client.

Out of this frustration, our five day option class option was born. We found that carefully modified circuits and intervals can still be a vital part of the recovery process. The key is getting the “tempo” right.

According to Francis, the general purposes of tempo training are to maintain aerobic shape, running rhythm as one of the nervous system abilities, and maintain leanness and low percentage body fat.

In practice, this amounts to continuous intervals and running drills which build general capacity. What this gives us the opportunity to do combine stretching and recovery modalities with circuit training to improve the recovery process.

With this in mind, here is a general layout of how our “tempo” or recovery day works:

Section #1: General Mobility (10-15 minutes)

Section #2: Static Core Training (5-10 minutes)

Section #3: Tempo circuit (15-20 minutes)

Section #4: Stretch circuit (10 minutes)

Photo Credits: Morning Calm News Stephen Poff

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About the Author
Jonathan Goodman

Jonathan Goodman is the creator and head coach of the PTDC and has a distaste for third person bios ... Hey, I'm Jon and I'd have to say that this site is pretty awesome. Thanks for being here. If you're interested in my brand new book, it's called Ignite the Fire (revised, updated, and expanded). My team and I have also created the first Academy and certification for online trainers. Click here to check out the Online Trainer Academy.