The following snippet of a conversation between a personal trainer and a client was recently relayed to me by a fellow instructor:
“What are we doing today? Legs ?”
Immediately, these questions seem normal and appropriate. However, their meaning completely changes when you know that is was the personal trainer, not the client, who was asking the questions. The personal trainer had no program prepared for the client.
While the above little exchange does seem to be rare in the real world of training it highlights that the concept of what a training program is variable to say the least.
The Hierarchy of Training Programs
The following section suggests a hierarchy of training programs each with different characteristics. The purpose of this hierarchy is to create awareness. We can all evaluate where in this hierarchy our programs fit.
# There is no program at all.
The trainer complete makes it up as (s)he goes (see the above).
# There is a program, but it is made “on the fly” and not written down.
A trainer has relayed to me that in their gym the personal training manager expected them to create the training program “on the fly”.
# There is a written but generic program.
An example would be the introductory program that members are taken through as they become members in a gym.
# There is a written, sport specific program
The exercises chosen are based on the movements in the sport. The types of strength and the energy systems that the program focuses on are based on the sport.
Note: Quite often I have encountered athletes who told me that they had been given a sport specific program. Curious, I ask about the exercises in their program. More often than not the response is along the lines of squat, deadlift, bench press and rows. These exercises are excellent for many purposes. However, take a look at a ‘sport specific program” and ask if this program could have been for another sport. If the answer is yes, then it is not a sport specific program.
With a sport specific program, you run the risk of having your athlete/client execute a GREAT program with the WRONG goals. What is a GREAT program with the WRONG goals? If a football player with an already excellent Vo2max, who never tires during games spend a lot of time furthering improving V02max at the expense of the speed training he needs that is an example of a great program with the wrong goals.
# There is a written, truly individualized training program.
All aspects of the training program (The 11 Steps below) are chosen based on the goals and needs of the individual client. If some, but not all aspects of the program are individually based then the program is partially, not fully individualized.
Where is this hierarchy does your programs fit in? Are you happy about that? If not, do you have the skills to move up the hierarchy?
Holistic, Individualized, Periodized Training Programs
From 2000-2007 I worked in the Danish Sport System (Denmark is my native country. I now live in Canada) with a large range of national level to international level athletes. Two girls in particular, a female badminton player and a female judoka, worked harder than everybody else but made almost no progress, not in strength and conditioning, nor in the sport specific performance over a period of several years.
When two girls work as hard as anybody else IN the gym and makes no progress (the others did fine) the inescapable conclusion is that sometimes the limiting factors for progress is NOT about what is happening in the gym, but rather what happens OUTSIDE the gym. The experience with the two girls made me understand the need for holistic training programs:
What is a holistic training program? A holistic training program is characterized by
- Taking into account all aspects of the human being in the creation of the training program (body, mind, spirit).
- Doing everything that can be done at any point in time.
- Seeking maximum synergy and integration between all components of training.
You will see these elements in action in the 11step process that is outlined below.
As covered above, individualized training programs mean that all aspects of the training program are chosen based on the needs of one particular person rather than convenience or standardization.
Have you experienced the situation where you initially saw great results with a new program, but after a few weeks reached a plateau? This is called accommodation – pretty much considered a law inbiology. What should you do when you reach this plateau? Insanity is defined as doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Therefore as you reach this plateau some aspect of your program should change? Periodization is the principles and strategies for changing your program systematically – to make sure that the next program builds upon the previous program Programs that follow principles of periodization provides greater progress than non-varied programs. (2)
With H.I.P training programs this author has helped several athletes – already at the international – to new personal bests within the first year working with these athletes. Based on this experience there is no doubt in my mind that H.I.P programs are the ONLY way to go if you want to maximize your changes of creating success for your athletes and fitness clients.
A definition of a client is someone “who is under the care, guide and protection of an expert”. In your opinion, what type of programming do you feel is required for you to truly to take care of your client?
11 Step Process to create H.I.P training programs
The following section describes the main aspects of 11 Steps to create H.I.P training programs. (3) While these steps were created in the context of The Flexible Periodization Method they are applicable regardless of the system you are working within. You might use the entire sequence or you might choose to use some of the sequence and combine it with other methods for creating programs.
Two attitudes and habits are essential to long term program design mastery. 1: Make it you goal to learn from every program you make. 2: Be aware of on which of the steps you have the most challenge making the programming decisions (for example choice of exercise). Let this experience of your “weak link” guide your continuing education.
Step # 0 Pre-assessment
The pre-assessment should involve several questionnaires including training experience and previous or current injuries.
Step # 1 Establish the Type-1 Goals
The type 1 goal is the overall objective that the athlete or fitness client has.
In the case of sports performance the type 1 goals are established by asking the athlete/coach “What are the limiting factors for training and performance?” Simply ask fitness clients: “How can I help you? Or - “What brought you here? Typically you will get a response that falls into one of these 7 categories:
- Increased daily energy or vitality
- Prevent repeated injuries and/or rehabilitate an injury.
- Improve the ability to perform a high amount of sport specific practice with high quality.
- Improve peak performance (in selected elements of the performance or game)
- Improve the ability to repeat current peak performance (in selected elements of the performance or game).
- Improve performance in prolonged or repeated competitions.
- Change body composition
Before proceeding it is recommended to perform a needs analysis to identify “what it takes to physically dominate the environment” in terms of movements, types of strength and relative contribution from energy systems.
Additionally, ask In how many different ways can this goal be improved? This is the “Surrounding The Dragon” principle, a important principle which encourage us to “do everything that you can do” to improve the goal.
Create a list with the answers and make sure to cover the following factors. An accurate list is a key to create holistic training programs. Several professionals/practitioners are typically needed to cover all aspects on the list. Hence, it is highly recommended to work in a team.
- Internal biochemistry.
- Internal organs.
- Injury/pain (muscle, nerve or joint problem)
- Length tension–relationships
- Muscle activation patterns
- Technical and tactical ability (if you are an athlete)
Step # 2: Perform the assessments and list the results
It is said that ‘the program is only as good as the assessment”. (4) Therefore, it is important to collect information about all the items on the above list. It is important to establish bench marks for each test whenever possible. This is the only way to accurately identify the client’s weak links.
Step # 3: Determine the Sequence of Type 2 goals
The type 2 goals are the psychological and physiological adaptations and changes that lead to the experience of the type 1 goal.
The structure of each type 2 goal is "Main category/what about that category, Bio-motor ability". (5)
The significance of type 2 goals becomes apparent when a client come to and says “I would like to improve my squat?” Unless, you operate from a knee-jerk reaction your natural response will be “What kind of squat would you like to improve? Are you interested in maximal strength, power or maybe muscular endurance?”.
The type 2 goal is a way to become as accurate with your program design as a surgeon with his knife. The following are the 6 main ways to write type 2 goals
- SME / emphasis: Spiritual, mental, emotional. Example: SME/Selfconfidence.
- IBC / emphasis: Internal bio-chemistry. Example: IBC/Increase testosterone levels.
- Nutrition / emphasis. Example: NUTR/reduce carbohydrate intake.
- Muscle / emphasis, BMA. Example: Hamstrings/knee flexion, STE (stabilizer endurance). “BMA” that is short for “Bio Motor Ability.”
- Joint / emphasis, BMA. Example: Elbow/extension, DMO (dynamic mobility)
- Movement / emphasis, BMA. Example: Squat/full range, PP (peak power)
The 2 goals are determined by looking at the list from Step 1 ask a series of questions that compares the test results to bench marks for each test.
- Which “items” on the list are the least developed (compared to the benchmarks)?
- Improvements of which factors could have the greatest impact on the type 1 goal?
- Which “items” have received the least amount of systematic training?
- Improvements of which “items” could lead to improvement of other items?
This methodology, which can be used with ANY athlete or client and ANY activity or goal, will in a very precise manner help everyone involved determine key factors to work on to develop the type 1 goal
Accurately determining the type 2 goals lay the foundation for individualizing the training program.
Step # 4: Determine the block sequence and number of consecutive weeks with each block
“Blocks” refer here to meso cycles, a sequence of training weeks with the same target training adaptations. Typical blocks might be stability, strength, power or endurance.
You base the choice of block sequence and number of consecutive weeks with each block on the client’s type 2 goals. Step 4 is a relatively easy step to perform.
Step # 5 Select the specific exercises and structure of training sessions for all components of the training program
On step # 5 you start to customize the structure and the content of the training programs in the individual blocks. The exercises are chosen to help the client accomplish the type goals. Additionally, you can choose specific repetition tempos to go with the exercises to further support the type 2 goals. (6) Step 5 is a good opportunity to be creative.
Step # 6 Select the total weekly training volume
The training volume is the total number of repetitions, or time under tension per exercise or muscle group per week. For the cardio respiratory training component training volume is minutes where the client is exercising on the target intensity. Step 6 requires you to be patient and accurate with numbers.
Step # 7 Select the method variations
“Method variations” are variations of the fundamental training methods and the combinations of sets, repetitions and progressive overload that you choose for a specific exercise. Famous examples of method variations include 5 sets of 5 or the Tabata Protocol. It is recommended for you to keep a “library” of programs that fits the different meso cycles that your client needs.
Step # 8: Distribute the weekly training volume between each training day and select the number of interval repetitions (or sets) to match the total training volume for the day
When the same exercise is trained more than once per week, it is an effective component to train one day with a slightly higher intensity (within the specific training zone) and lower volume and another day with a slightly lower volume and higher intensity.
Step # 9: Write the Training Program(s) on designated sheets
Write the training program on designated sheets.
Step # 10: Instruct the Training Program(s)
However, even when a training program is truly individualized with it is still necessary to optimally instruct the program to maximize results:
- Instruct proper form in all exercises
- Help the client finding the right start load
Step # 11: Evaluate and refine the training programs
“You are always assessing” means that every time you are with a client, you are evaluating their form, the load and the progress. “What gets measured improves” speaks to the need for a training diary
As a personal trainer the clients trust us with their bodies and their dreams. This is a unique responsibility that should not be taken lightly. To help the clients experience their dreams come true safely, effective and repeatedly your training programs should be H.I.P
Jensen, K. The Flexible Periodization Method. The Write Fit. 2010
Fleck SJ, Kraemer WJ. Advanced Training Strategies. Designing Resistance Training Programs 3rd Ed. Chapter 7, p 210. Human Kinetics. 2004
Jensen, K. 9 Key Steps to Create a Training Program. The Flexible Periodization Method. Chapter 4, p 333. The Write Fit. 2010
Chek, P. C.H.E.K Practitioner Education. www.chekinstitute.com
Jensen, K. Biomotor Abilities:The Most Comprehensive List. www.yestostrength.com
Jensen, K. The Tempo Matrix. www.yestostrength.com