Think about a client you’ve had for awhile. You started with a thorough assessment, designed an initial program, and are constantly cycling through the variables you and the client have agreed to as being important in this program. You and she both feel the program is progressing effectively and safely. Now what?
When it comes to designing a specific workout within the bigger picture of program design, we can approach it from different perspectives. I would like to offer “themed” workouts as one option. A themed workout is one that:
- Focuses on a specific sport, e.g. “today you will workout as if you were a basketball player”.
- A specific body part, or movement. For example, the workout could focus on glutes/butt and the actions around the hip.
- The themed workout still needs to be appropriate for the particular client
- The themed workout will not omit crucial components, but rather a different perspective from which to design the workout.
Let’s look at three examples of a themed workout...
Theme 1: Glutes/Butt
Let’s assume for this example that the client has asked about the new small studios in the neighborhood offering “barre” style workouts. She has heard from friends that their butts feel lifted after taking the workout. Since you feel glute/butt work is important for this client (and you do address it the program), you have a perfect opportunity to design this themed workout. Here then, is the thought process:
- Think of movements that fit into this category, including:
- Hip abduction, external, internal rotation
- Hip extension (trunk moving or legs moving)
- What else?
- Think of exercises that target the glutes/butt, including:
- Clam shells
- Straight leg hip abduction
- Bridges (unilateral/bilateral)
- Quadruped bird dog
- Lunges (all angles)
- Dead lifts
- What else?
- Think of all the equipment/toys available, including:
- Stability ball
- Free weights/kettlebells
- What else?
The next step is to design the workout so that we still address other program components as well. For example, we can decide to use cables or bands, the VIPR, and a stability ball in addition to dumbbells in today’s routine to also address upper body, and balance. The idea is to use the hips, glutes, butt muscles in most of the exercise choices in this one workout:
Lunge and row/cable or band
- Reverse lunge with right leg, then pull with right arm while stepping forward
- Single leg deadlift/dumbbells
Lunge and press/cable or band
- Lunge with left leg, while simultaneously pressing forward with right arm
- Lateral lunges, overhand grip on VIPR
Bridges on stability ball
- Supine, with both legs straight on ball. Lift up, and hold for 10 seconds.
Discs on floor
Alternating reverse flys/dumbbells
- Stand on right leg, hinge from hip, holding arms out at shoulder height. Rotate 5 times to right. Switch sides.
Lateral lunge and diagonal lift
- Hold wt. in both hands, deep side lunge, with big diagonal lift
Single leg deadlifts, bicep curl/overhead press/dumbbells
- Forward and back-moving squats, lifting up VIPR with both arms each time
Single leg bridges/head and shoulders on stability ball
- Use finger tips or opposite toes to help balance
Dead lift/straight arm pulldown/cable
- Hinge from hips while holding arms straight up. Extend hips/stand up while pulling both arms straight down to sides.
Single leg balance/reach
- Stand on right leg, reach to outside of right leg with left arm, to 5 different heights (foot, knee, hip, chest, shoulder)
Theme 2: Basketball Player Workout
This workout is perfect for the client who reminisces about the good ol’ days when she did sports in college. She has general fitness goals, and enjoys the workouts that include agility drills.
So if we are thinking about a basketball-themed workout, some of the components we could incorporate include:
- One or two different agility drills across the length of a room or open area
- Hand-eye coordination drills, i.e. tossing the basketball against the wall while shuffling back and forth along the floor.
- Classic “suicide” intervals, i.e. starting at one end of the room; sprinting and stopping quickly at several lines on the floor, coming back to the start each time.
If there is a basket, or a court available, we can add:
- Setting up several basketballs at different spots, and asking the client to shoot one ball, then move quickly to the next.
After brainstorming about the basketball-style components that we want to use in our workout, we need to decide how to set up these variables with the others that we want for this specific client.
For example, this client also needs:
- Lower body strength
- Increased core integrity
Using the basketball components, here is what a workout could look like:
- Your traditional warm up or movement prep for this person
- One lap agility drills (e.g. ladder drills)
- Triplanar lunges. I like to call these clock lunges (1,3, and 5 o’clock with right leg; 7, 9, 11 o’clock with left leg)
- Plank with arms straight; walk one lap left and right
- One set suicides
- Shooting 10 basketballs, moving between positions as quickly as possible
- Dumbbell rows; alternating arms to fire up core
- One lap chest passes to the wall, while shuffling back and forth along the floor
- Dead lifts
- Repeat this circuit, and then finish the workout with other components as necessary.
Theme Three: Core Integrity Relative to Something Else
Trainers and clients ask me why they have difficulty doing a certain exercise, or achieving/maintaining a posture or position in yoga for example. In my experience, many times it is a matter of core integrity relative to something else. By that I mean is-does your core have to kick in while you are lying on your back, holding your arms and legs up, as in a dead bug exercise? Or do you need core integrity relative to upper body strength as in a push up?
Let’s assume this scenario:
Our client says she has difficulty in yoga class, when doing a low lunge. We ask her to do the movement while we observe, and articulate exactly what she feels:
- She finds it difficult to stay upright/maintain a tall spine as she is coming up into the lunge from a plank position
- She feels it is difficult to keep her arms straight up overhead
- She feels a big stretch in the anterior hips/quads
In this themed, full body workout, we will include movements, postures, and exercises that require her to address these components:
- Core integrity relative to shoulder mobility (being able to lift/hold arms up and maintain tall spine)
- Core integrity relative to hip mobility (being able to maintain tall posture while stretching the thigh as the leg moves back)
To address core integrity relative to shoulder mobility:
- We could have her hold a band or cable overhead, from behind. This would mean she would have to lengthen across the front, as her core kicks in, and her arms/shoulders would have to work.
- As she holds this position, we could cue her to do reverse lunges. This requires her to stretch along the front of the hip/thighs, precisely what she needs in the lunge during yoga class!
- A different option would be to hold a medicine ball overhead, and do reverse lunges.
To address core integrity relative to hip mobility:
- We can ask her to start in a half kneeling position with left leg in front, holding a relatively light wt. overhead in right hand. From here, she would stand up into a lunge. Then reverse the movement.
To work on strengthening the posterior chain, while lengthening the anterior, we can make a small tweak to a traditional prone exercise, i.e. lifting up opposite arm and leg:
- She could bend the right knee, and grab her right shin. As she lifts up her left arm, cue her to lift up her right thigh, by pulling on her right shin.
In these themed workouts, we can still cycle through traditional variables if it makes sense for this specific exercise choice. These include, but are not limited to:
- Foot stance
- Hip width apart
- Same/opposite leg forward
- Upper body movement
- Body position
- Half kneeling
- Side lying
- Angles of force movement (pushing towards, pulling from)
- How many seconds concentric, eccentric, isometric, etc.
- Loading patterns
- Carrying load
In Summary, a themed workout:
- Must still address potential critical components including:
- Corrective exercises to combat muscle imbalances
- Self myofascial release
- Any post-rehab progressions
- Will challenge our creativity, requiring us to brainstorm about the vast array of tools available to us, and be fun for the client.
- Encourages us to approach the workout design from a functional perspective, thinking about movements and actions, instead of always exercises, sets and reps.