Every six months, I realize what a moron I was six months ago.
While this may seem as if I am being hard on myself (or as an indictment of morons), the fact is that as I learn, grow, and apply my knowledge, my programs and practices constantly change.
By following the strategy of studying my craft for one or more hours per day, I’ve seen my knowledge on all aspects of my business blossom– simply by listening to people smarter than myself.
On the other hand, I’ve also heard fitness professionals comment that the abundance of information available nowadays is hard to filter. Though this was also my experience early on, my solution has been taking “practical application” notes on my various study materials.
An example from a recent re-reading of The Strength Coaches Playbook by famed Strength Coach Joe Kenn looks something like this:
1. Intermediate versus beginner loading schemes and microcycles
2. Application of Kenn’s tier system rotation for 30 personal training clients
3. Basic excel design template for annual plan
The above is a condensed versus my actual notes, but it helps me to understand the “ah-ha” moments I took from the book and what I can immediately apply to my programs.
Included below are what I feel are the most important changes I’ve made lately as a result of my continuing education journey.
1. Client Tier System
Though few of my clients desire the physique of a power lifter (though I hear Dave Tate is looking pretty ripped these days), what they require is a fast paced workout which achieves strength, power and muscular definition quickly.
The problem here is that I had previously found it extremely difficult to train in such a haphazard fashion without devoting each session or block of time to a specific quality. This means we would previously spend several weeks working on strength followed by either hypertrophy or power during sessions.
While this linear system produces great results for a while, it doesn’t take in to account a client’s progression from rank beginner (in which ANYTHING works) to intermediate and advanced and becomes a difficult sell in a thirty minute session.
With this in mind, the solution to my issue came to me in the unlikely form of the Tier system of exercises described in Joe Kenn’s masterpiece.
In the book, Kenn describes a tier system which rotates exercises based upon the emphasis of the day.
Drawing heavily from the influence of Westside barbell, this conjugate means of periodisation may emphasize a squat as the heavy lift on day one with an upper body lift as the secondary movement and a total body exercises as the minor emphasis.
What immediately drew me to this easy to implement concept was Kenn’s “Elite Template” which designates a training quality for each lift:
- Effort- Representing the highest training intensity, the goal of this lift is to improve limit or maximal strength
- Speed- With speed of movement as the focus, this lift trains speed strength and is always opposite the effort tier
- Volume- This tier trains strength endurance and lean body mass by training the repetition method.
In dealing with a thirty minute client, this system allows for the training of each strength quality for upper and lower body during the training week by simply rotating the priority of each lift.
A two day client example would like something like this:
Effort Tier- Goblet/front squat- 3 x 5
Speed Tier- Plyo-push up- 3 x 8
Volume Tier- Squat w/pull- 3 x 12-15
Effort tier- Floor press- 3 x 5
Speed tier- Jump squat- 3 x 10
Volume tier- 1 leg/one arm row- 3 x 12-15 reps
While some comprises are made in terms of the volume tier (two pulls), our solution has been to rotate pushing and pulling (as well as hip and knee dominant) movements as the priority upper body lift on a monthly basis.
Because we’re now including a power movement in our strength circuit, this allowed us to save session time by cutting the volume of work usually devoted to a separate power circuit at the beginning of the workout.
For the majority of our more experienced general population clients, this has proven an ideal approach to gaining strength in limited time.
2. Practice makes perfect:
Though many trainers seem to have a knack for coaching clients to “drop down and give me twenty”, the disconnect often lies in explaining how to do so properly (or why they are doing so in the first place).
Perhaps because I lack the drill sergeant edge (though I will lay claim to tall, dark and handsome) of many trainers, I learned early on that it was important for my client to understand the fundamentals of how and why we do certain movements before they are aggressively loaded.
In fact, my entire career changed when I realized my job was not being the best at training people, but rather teaching people how to train.
Having taken much from the success of great coaches such as Mike Boyle and Alwyn Cosgrove, we attempt to make every session a learning experience of some kind by setting goals with our client each month and reinforcing them in some way with each session.
This means that from our first session onwards, new clients are educated on a standard warm up routine, how to record their workout progress and (of course) proper form in basic exercises.
For a new client, the process may look something like this:
1. Teach pre-workout warm up
2. Teach client to log exercises
3. Familiarize client with basic off-day program
Though the videos above may seem somewhat complicated, the reality is that this process can take many months. A key to personal trainer success is to pick 1-2 items at a time and continue to reinforce until the client has internalized the habit.
While checking one’s blackberry seems to be all the rage these days during training sessions, one method we have found to be particularly useful in learning these items are by placing each sheet in a simple binder issued to clients on their first day.
Beginning with a simple printed copy of the warm up routine, our client binders grow to include workout logs, nutrition programs, weigh-in/testing sheets and off-day protocols. In doing so, the log effectively becomes the client’s bridge from rank beginner to seasoned trainee by providing the tools for success for a lifetime.
3. Nutritional periodisation
One thing I’ve learnt the hard way is that while it is possibly for someone to get in better physical shape (stronger, more aerobically fit) on crappy nutrition, it is almost impossible to achieve substantial change in body composition.
Though we’ve always attempted to nudge our clients in to better choices by providing helpful (if somewhat vague) nutritional suggestions, recipes and tips, I must admit to becoming frustrated with a lack of results with certain programs/people.
I’m unwilling to transform my gym in to a sweatshop where clients starve themselves to achieve results but realized several months ago it was time to upgrade our approach to nutrition.
Because the disconnect we find most often with the majority of our new weightloss clients (in addition to eating crappy, processed food) is intentionally UNDER eating– or simply forgetting to eat at all– we have implemented a standard “foundation” process in which we require all weightloss clients to spend 2-4 weeks eating at or above maintenance levels to build metabolism, muscle mass and the habits necessary to maintain a structured diet.
From here, the next step is periodizing nutrition cycles along with the client’s training program. For example, following a fairly strict 1200 calorie diet for two weeks followed by a 7-10 day re-feeding period and cycling as long as necessary to achieve substantial change.
This approach has proven a key to fantastic results with many formerly frustrated clients by allowing for a manageable approach from both a hormonal and psychological perspective.
We turn to a website called fit click.com which provides the ability to customize a diet in fairly short order.
Setting up a nutrition log
Setting up a basic diet