- Training protocols for the adult fat loss client.
- How to structure a three month fat loss program.
- Obstacles to consider when training clients for fat loss.
Many fitness professionals enter the personal training field with expectations of training high-level athletes, models, celebrity types, etc. In fact, many of us have thought that being a celebrity trainer would be a pretty good job!
The reality, however, is this: the overwhelming majority of training clients are what we refer to as “normal,” and are, in fact, very “uncelebrity-like." The most common personal training clients are "real" people with regular jobs, kids, spouses, long commutes and some semblance of a social life. Most have back, knee, and shoulder pain that inhibits movement, which may severely inhibit the fun that lies therein. Many of the people who will come to you for help may even have every issue I just listed. In our facility over a 4 ½ year span, over 80% of personal training clients were between the ages of 25 and 55 with the goals of either fat loss or general fitness. In other words, these were everyday people who just wanted to look and feel better, and they were not getting paid for an upcoming competition or photo shoot.
So what does a fitness professional do with clients who are not high-level athletes? More than likely your average client will be unathletic, to put it mildly. What does a fitness professional do with clients who do not have the time built into their schedules to train 12-15 hours per week or the nutritionists and personal chefs that are available to many athletes and celebrities?
The answer is that the fitness professional must know the average John and Jane Doe. They must know their strengths, weaknesses, and other issues that may serve as obstacles in a training program. The fitness professional must know John and Jane Doe's common goals and expectations, as well as how to address these while simultaneously overcoming their stumbling blocks, of which there are many. Finally, with all of this information, a fitness professional must know how to structure a systematic program to help John and Jane Doe accomplish their fat loss goals.
This is no easy task. This article will offer some tips, guidance and a basic plan to help you create a fat loss program for one of the most common personal training demographics: the adult fat loss client.
Before this article reviews how to structure a three month training program for a fat loss client, it should be noted that there are numerous influencers on clients' successes that are not related to training or exercise programming. For example, nutrition may be as important, if not more important, than the exercise selections for clients with fat loss goals. Clients need to be fully aware of this and you should provide them with the resources necessary to help them manage their nutritional plan, whether it be referring them to a registered nutritonal professional or providing them with nutritional guidance within your scope of practice.
You must also remember that although exercise and fitness is your life and profession, it probably isn’t theirs. Clients will often perceive exercise as tedious, boring, unpleasant and will almost always put exercising lower on their list of life priorities. Although you may not have control over how ta client prioritizes exercise, you can have a great influence on your client's enjoyment factor. Avoid focusing solely on the programming portion of the plan and remember to provide positive motivation and reminders of why they decided to make a change. And of course, go out of your way to make it as fun and enjoyable as possible!
Ultimately, what you can control is the programming.
- Perform a client assessment
- Incorporate exercises and drills designed to improve movement quality
- Emphasize core strength and overall stability
The first matter of business to address with John or Jane Doe is a movement assessment. This may seem counterintuitive to your client, so you should explain to your client that an assessment simply helps you determine and become familiar with his/her areas of strength and limitations, which aids you when writing a program that is both safe and as effective as possible. Take this opportunity to explain that in order to lose body fat, it is beneficial for the workouts to be performed at a relatively high intensity (keyword: “relatively”). The information you gather from the assessment may reveal what exercises, movements, or activities will yield this relatively high intensity.
The types of client assessments you incorporate are up to you. Your training philosophy, level of experience, the facility where you train, available equipment and many other variables will dictate the best way to assess your clients. However, it is imperative that you do have SOME kind of system that will help you examine the current movement skills of your client. Your system can also be used to re-assess, or measure progress throughout the three month program. The frequency of “re-assessing” may also vary. In most cases, short term improvements will be noticeable to the naked eye. In instances where improvement may be more subtle, re-assessing every 2-4 weeks is recommended.
Once the new client has been screened, you can then begin to write Month 1 of the program. The program should contain movements and drills designed to improve the areas of restriction and limitation noted in the assessment. The immediate goal is to create optimum levels of stabilization, mobility and motor control.
There are several common areas of limitation with the average John and Jane Doe: ankle eversion and external rotation, femoral adduction and internal rotation, pelvic tilts, lordosis, and kyphosis are a few that you will see often. As a specific example, an extremely high percentage of people you'll screen will have an inability to maintain stiffness and stabilization through the spine. The inability to isometrically prevent motion throughout the torso is an unfortunate side effect of the sedentary lifestyle and poor training habits of John and Jane Doe.
If this is the case with your client, Month 1 should address the motor control and strength necessary to stabilize the spine. These are areas in need of improvement before moving on to more advanced activities in Month 2. Limit the amount of loading and volume in these areas until improvements are seen – increasing the difficulty of these exercises should generally be from increases in proprioceptive demands, not external loading (NASM, 2001). It is appropriate to add volume, load and intensity to areas that are not movement or injury concerns. To increase stabilization and to develop optimal neuromuscular control, repetition ranges should lean toward the high end – 12 or more in most cases (NASM, 2001).
The successes of the strength and conditioning protocols that will be performed in the subsequent months will be limited if core strength and stability are not addressed first. You can’t fire a cannon off of a canoe!
- Re-assess the client
- Address areas in need of improvement
- Emphasize strength and resistance training
Now that John and Jane Doe have likely improved motor control and strength to stabilize the spine throughout Month 1 of their programs, you can now get into the more basic strength building through pushing, pulling and squatting movements.
Don’t be confused by the term “basic” – “basic” and “easy” are not synonyms. It will be a step up in intensity for most of your clients. In Month 2, you can increase the volume and load involving areas that have shown improvements in mobility and motor control - assuming there were improvements. If there were no improvements since the assessment in Month 1, re-think/re-consider the first approach and make adjustments where necessary.
The most important programming note in Month 2 is that the predominance of exercise selection should be centered on resistance and strength training, as this has the highest impact on fat loss when compared to other training modalities such as traditional cardio and/or aerobic work (Utter et al., 1998; Redman et al., 2007). There is overwhelming evidence showing a reduction in body fat in individuals who improved their levels of strength.
Before we delve any deeper, it’s important to clarify what this article refers to as “strength training.” For the purposes of this article, strength training involves the movements and exercises in which the exerciser does not receive any assistance or external support from machines, benches, stands, etc. Henceforth, we will refer to improvements in strength and strength exercises only in the context where the exerciser alone can isometrically stabilize the resistance, accelerate the movement of the resistance concentrically, and decelerate its movement eccentrically. Improvements seen in this type of training, as opposed to training with external support, is beneficial when training John and Jane Doe for fat loss. For example, a shoulder press performed with dumbbells is a superior choice to a shoulder press machine for the purposes of fat loss. The required stabilization throughout the body to perform the work will help train the client's strength in totality, which will have a positive effect on other areas of his or her strength and conditioning program, and therefore on body composition.
Exercise selection for fat loss should also lean in the direction of total body compound movements, whenever possible. To follow the example from above, a dumbbell squat, curl and press (performed in one exercise movement/repetition) would usually be a better choice than just a dumbbell press. Choices such as this compound movement not only increase strength, but also generate a greater caloric expenditure than the seated, bench-supported or isolationist counterparts.
Again, depending upon a limitless number of variables, repetition and set ranges may vary. In order to improve strength and create a positive metabolic effect, start with a range of 6-10 repetitions over 3-5 sets for each exercise. Pay close attention to the rest intervals. A good rule of thumb is to allow 60 seconds for recovery between sets. Timed sets are also useful in these instances as well, with a work to rest ratio of approximately1:1 (45 seconds of work followed by 45 seconds of rest, as an example).
- Re-assess the client
- Emphasize Interval Training or "Metabolic Conditioning"
"Metabolic conditioning" has become a catch phrase in the past few years. Truthfully, it’s simply a marketing term more than anything else. The emphasis of programming in Month 3 of your client’s program should be short duration, high intensity intervals that involve total body movements. These types of total body movements will have the powerful effect of high caloric expenditure. “Metabolic conditioning,” “high intensity interval training,” or “tabatas” are all terms that encompass this type of training.
Presumably, your clients have succeeded in improving their movement efficiencies and basic strength levels in the prior two months. Now it is safe to add and/or increase the number of activities that are safe in nature to supplement the other aspects of their regimen.
There will always be an inverse relationship between the intensity of a workout and the duration of the workout. By definition, if a workout goes on for an extended period of time, it is not considered to be very intense. That doesn’t make it a bad or inefficient workout, but as a good rule of thumb, it’s not what we’re looking to accomplish in this month. These interval training workouts may be as brief as 5 minutes but may not be longer than 20 minutes with varying work/rest ratios, depending on the intensity. In my experience, a work to rest ratio of 1:1 should be the LEAST intense that these workout should be, with longer work intervals incorporated if possible. Due to the short duration of these workouts you may consider decreasing the time of your client's session during this month. If not, you can incorporate other activities during this workout session, such as one-on-one stretching, a nutrition review, or review of their "homework" workouts. You may also consider completing this interval training during the last 20 or so minutes of the strength workout you had planned for them.
With regards to exercise selection, even though by now there should be adequate movement efficiency with your clients, always remember that intensity and fatigue are strong contributors to injury when combined. Always choose exercises that are easy to perform, even when the client is exerting him or herself at maximum levels. Although there are limitless examples, training ropes, kettlebell swings and jogging/sprints are effective choices due to the intensities of the exercises. However, you should monitor the client's form and level of fatigue to ensure that the exercises you select for them are safe choices as well.
Conclusion: Rinse, wash, repeat.
There are numerous obstacles you need to be aware of when training John and Jane Doe. There are the physical issues that were discussed in this article, but there are also the logistical issues of time constraints, financial constraints and the sedentary and/or hectic lifestyles that contributed to the deterioration of the clients’ health and fitness levels in the first place. Although ultimately you have no direct control over these life issues, you can positively influence your clients by educating them on the results that can be accomplished when they engage in a consistent training routine, as well as providing support and motivating them to eliminate/reduce some of the "bad" habits that may have led them down the wrong road in the first place.
Lifestyle obstacles along with the natural effects of aging can also lead to psychological and/or emotional issues that can serve as hurdles when training this demographic. Clients often see themselves the way they used to be - typically a more fit and athletic version of their current fitness level. Quite often, clients fail to recognize that they are no longer that fitter version of themselves and may overestimate their abilities. In these cases, it’s important to prevent the client from exceeding their limitations, and to remind them that they won't reach their ideal fat loss goal over night. The systematic program that you have designed for them, which may require time and patience, is the safest and most effective way to accomplish their goals.
However, assuming that you aren’t a part-time psychologist, addressing these issues should take a back seat to the skills that presumably derive your paycheck: the programming and supervision of fat loss programs. If you follow the aforementioned program structure and if your clients remain compliant with other contributing factors to their successes, then they will see the results they desire. It is then up to you to simply repeat the 3 month program with necessary progressions and modifications.
Although training the average John and Jane Doe for fat loss may lack glamour and is a far more challenging proposition than it appears, it’s likely you’ll find that this demographic will be your most rewarding group of clients.
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