Everyone is an athlete.
Not just the young athletes that walk into our gym, and definitely not just the elite or professional athletes, either. Everyone.
The 50-something mother that wants to get back into shape?
The 78-year-old gentleman who is coming off two failed knee surgeries?
The 40-year old guy that wants to shed some pounds and keep up with his kids?
You guessed it – athlete.
Every one of these people is an athlete in the game of life. They may never step on a court or field, but they are asked to do athletic things every day whether that means running around with the kids (or grandkids) in the backyard or picking up something heavy and walking with it. I could go on and on, but I think you’re getting the point.
Training like an athlete isn’t just for athletes anymore.
Regardless of your clients’ end goal (fat loss, muscle gain, etc.), incorporating elements of athletic development in your programming can not only help them get there, but they’ll enjoy the journey a heck of a lot more, too.
When it comes to athletic development, there are three key areas, or foundations, that I like to focus on:
- Improving movement quality, or efficiency,
- Improving strength and power, and
- Improving conditioning.
Let’s look at all three examples, so you have a better idea of how to create a more athletic training program for your everyday clients.
The first key to becoming a better athlete is to move well.
Whether someone is a professional athlete getting paid six, seven or eight figures to play their respective sport, or a young child who is just getting into things athletically, your movement foundation is critical. This is the non-sexy side of training. Many trainers don’t walk to talk about assessment tools or “corrective” exercise, but this is also the low-hanging fruit that can make an immediate difference in how your client moves and feels.
For example, let’s say you have a client with a shoulder mobility issue. They love bench-pressing, but every time they do it for an extended period of time, it bugs their shoulders. By addressing their shoulder mobility restriction, you can “unlock” not only what’s causing their shoulder pain or dysfunction, but often, they’ll be stronger and more stable as well!
Another example would be the hip flexors. The hip flexors can be incredibly problematic because not only can an issue hold back big lifts like your squat and deadlift, but it can drive knee, hip, or low back pain.
This is why movement is always the first thing we address at our gym. If you don’t take the time to build a solid movement foundation early on, chances are you’re leaving strength, performance and conditioning capacity on the table.
Strength & Power Training
Professional athletes are some of the strongest and most powerful specimens on the planet.
Quite simply, strength and power helps separate them from the pack. Whether it’s dunking a basketball, hitting a baseball, or tackling a running back, strength and power is a cornerstone of elite athletic development.
However, when it comes to average Joe’s and Jane’s, trainers may be scared to load their clients to any degree. Taking that a step further, even fewer are including power work into their programs.
Strength is one of the most easily transferable physical qualities we have at our disposal.
When you get stronger, you typically get faster.
When you get stronger, you typically get more powerful.
And when you get stronger, a lot of little things in life are simply easier to perform.
Don’t be afraid to push the strength envelope with your clients. Even fat loss clients can benefit here, as getting them focused on a secondary goal (i.e.. strength) can keep them motivated if and when their primary goal (i.e., fat or weight loss) is slowing down or stalled.
Not to mention, an increase in muscle mass never hurts your fat loss efforts!
Last but not least, don’t feel as though strength training necessarily equates to powerlifting. We’re not talking back slaps, ammonia caps, and ugly, grinding one-rep maxes. Instead, focus on pushing strength levels in an intelligent and progressive fashion. A clean and well-executed five- or three-rep maximum is not only a great way to build strength and confidence, but also gives your clients a gauge as to where they currently stand.
Once a foundation of strength is laid, power is a tool that you can pull out of your toolbox that I guarantee few other trainers are using.
There are a few reasons I love using power training with my everyday clients:
- Just like strength, it’s easily transferable to everyday activities.
- Power is one of the first physical qualities that decline as we age.
- Perhaps most importantly, it’s fun and makes the workout or training session more enjoyable!
Again, this article is not about what we’d do with an elite athlete. Your clients probably aren’t ready for depth jumps or extreme plyometrics. But what if you included some medicine ball throws in their warm-up, or as part of their conditioning?
What if you threw in some box jumps to start their training session? Not only would this elevate their heart rate, but it could potentially teach them to be explosive, good landing mechanics, and a bunch of other “cool” stuff as well.
Think outside the box a bit. By including some power training at different points in your clients’ workouts, I bet they not only enjoy their training sessions more, but get better results, too.
If you’re anything like me, chances are you’ve had a time where your conditioning programming was in a rut.
Been there, done that – NOT going back.
If you’re like most trainers, you’ll often fall into one of two camps:
- All you do is intervals, or
- All you do is steady state.
Neither is necessarily bad, but it helps to mix things up a bit.
If all you do is intervals, chances are you’re into those high intensity, anaerobic/glycolytic fat loss sessions. These kinds of intervals are typically in the 1:1 or 1:3, work: rest ratio.
The problem with these intervals is they tend to be incredibly taxing on the body. While they’re great for body composition, it also poses some issues (increased sympathetic drive, elevates resting heart rate, etc.).
Instead, try using more aerobic intervals in the 1:5 or 1:6, work: rest range.
On the other end of the spectrum, maybe you prescribe all longer duration, lower intensity cardio. This may be great for a lot of reasons, but one of the big issues here is boredom. If your client is just pounding the miles via a treadmill, bike or elliptical machine, they may not stick to the program for long.
Instead, I prefer to create circuits for my clients and athlete. Obviously you need the space to pull this off, but here’s an example of a circuit you can create for someone to get (and keep!) their heart rate up for an extended period of time:
- Prowler push (down and back),
- Mobility or stability corrective movement,
- Upper body sled drag (down and back),
- Sledgehammer swings (10 each side),
- Tall-kneeling med ball throws (10 reps)
- Bear crawl (down and back),
- Mobility or stability corrective movement, etc.
By doing a circuit such as this, I can kill a couple birds with one stone:
First, movement quality can improve via the corrective moves. Second, I can train my client in the specific or targeted heart rate/intensity range I want them in. And third, I increase compliance by keeping their training sessions fun and fresh.
Play around with some of these conditioning ideas. They’ll help you and your clients get better results.
More than likely, very few personal training clients train to look like a bodybuilder or a supermodel. Instead, if you put one of those two up next to an athlete and asked them which physique they’d prefer, the majority will pick the athlete.
By incorporating some of the tips I’ve outlined above, you can provide a more fun and engaging training program for your clients, and one that will ultimately give them the “look” they are seeking as well.