Variety is the spice of life, but what does it do for your program design?
There are hundreds of variables to choose from when it comes to writing great training programs for your clients. The trick is figuring out what variables need to be changed to produce the best results.
Nearly all of the variables can be placed in a few buckets:
- Exercise Selection
We’ll take a look at each variable in turn.
Volume includes sets, reps, and time under tension. Outside of exercise selection, this is the variable that you have the most control over as a coach or trainer. It’s also the one of the easiest to manipulate in a training program to produce the specific results that you are looking for from the program.
It’s important to remember that the SAID principle is always in effect when you design a training program. If you aren’t familiar, “SAID” stands for Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands .
What does that mean for you?
When writing a program, you need to design the stresses of the program to match the adaptations that you want to create. If you need more strength, focus on strength movements in strength volume and intensity ranges. If fat loss is the goal, design the program around movements and workouts that produce a higher caloric output and include a fat loss nutrition program.
What that doesn’t mean is that you have to mimic specific sports movements or train only in an aerobic state to produce results that meet a client’s goal.
One key factor to remember when designing your training programs is that you must consider specific volume not only of each individual workout but also for the training week.
Frequency of Training
This is often the toughest variable to control with your clients. They ultimately have lives outside of the gym and busy schedules that provide them a limited time to train.
Your role as the trainer and coach is to help the client achieve their goal in the time that they have available or that they are willing to commit to while presenting a realistic expectation of the results they can accomplish in that time.
In much simpler terms, can they commit the time needed to get the results they want?
If not, don’t promise it!
If you can create positive changes in your clients’ lifestyles that support their goals, it’s not unreasonable to expect great results from a 2- or 3-day per week program.
Intensity of Training
Typically, intensity is looked at from rate of perceived exertion and weights used (specifically percentage of rep maxes). However, I would also consider heart rate training to be a newly added intensity variable, especially in group training or metabolic conditioning-type training.
The intensity of a program, or even for particular movements, is based on the goal of the client and experience of the client both in general terms and with specific movements.
For example, an experienced client who has been training for over 2 years and has a goal of competing in a powerlifting competition will be able to handle a higher intensity on the back squat than a new client who is training for fat loss and has less than 3 months training experience.
As a trainer, understanding the relative intensity based on those variables is important.
This is where things get interesting! When you factor in movement patterns, various tools, and positions, there is a near endless array of exercise variations to use in your programs.
I recommend using this variable to work around specific client needs, allow for progressions, and add variety to their training.
Often, a small adjustment in the grip, stance, or implement placement may be enough to progress a client or produce a training effect.
For example, using a sandbag, you can alter the load using a front-loaded or a shoulder-loaded placement of the bag or progress from a sprinter stance to a single-leg stance.
| Grip or Implement Position Changes
Enter Daily Undulating Periodization
Daily Undulating Periodization (DUP) isn’t a new concept, but it’s not often used, especially in group training programs.
Most of the group training programs that I have seen either use random workouts or a straight linear periodization for their programs.
While both can work, there is a better way.
Many of the studies done on DUP are done on strength gains. It can still be valuable for your fat loss and general fitness clients.
Most clients want positive body composition changes and improvement in their movement. Without a specific performance goal, DUP allows you to train several aspects of fitness and strength without neglecting one for a long period of time.
You can categorize the training effect you want to develop into four basic categories :
While there is some crossover, these are the four primary aspects of fitness you may want to include in a client’s program.
Here’s a quick cheat sheet for volume and intensities used in each category:
| Power = 10s or less of work time or 2-5 reps at 45-55% of 1 rep max (1RM)
| Strength = 10-30s of work time or 1-5 reps with at 80-90% of 1RM
| Hypertrophy = 20-60s of work time or 6-12 reps at 60-80% of 1RM
| Endurance = 60s+ of work time or 15+ reps at 40-60% of 1RM
Hypertrophy has the largest range and can be broken down into two categories as well. Functional Hypertrophy Training (FHT) would include the lower end of the range (20-40s or 6-10 reps), and Structural Hypertrophy Training (SHT) includes the higher end of the rep ranges.
The best way for me to understand the difference between the two:
- FHT is used grow muscles to enhance performance;
- SHT is used to grow muscles that look bigger.
Think of training for “show” or “go.”
Oddly enough, these rep ranges also tend to lead to the best results for positive body composition changes. These ranges allow for enough stress to maintain or develop muscle mass and will force the body to use enough energy to produce the caloric expenditure that many clients desire from their training.
Subsequently, that is where a majority of the training time should be spent for most clients hoping to improve body composition.
Many programs that you see using the DUP method use the same exercise selection for each day of the program. I have found that altering the movement or exercise selection to maintain variety for the client is best.
The primary reason for this is client enjoyment. Most clients associate variety with the exercises being used, even if they are following different set/rep schemes. It can be pretty boring to use the same 4-5 exercises every workout!
For simplicity sake, we’ll use a 3-day per week program as our examples when discussing a DUP program.
The goal of a DUP program is to train all of the qualities during a training cycle. In a 3-day per week training program, that makes the training cycle around 10 days.
- Monday- FHT
- Tuesday- Off
- Wednesday- Power
- Thursday- Off
- Friday – Strength
- Saturday- Off
- Sunday – Off
- Monday- SHT
- Tuesday- Off
- Wednesday – Endurance
- Thursday – Off
- Friday – FHT (**Start of the 2nd training cycle)
- Saturday- Off
- Sunday- Off
If it fits the client’s goals, you may adjust the program to eliminate 1-2 of the less needed qualities into a standard training week (7-day cycle). Factors to consider before making this change would be client body type, previous training, etc.
For a fat loss client who is just beginning their training, the best qualities to train would be Strength, FHT, and SHT. It’s safe to assume they won’t be able to perform movements at a high rate of speed and efficiently enough to train power at the level necessary, and they most likely have done some type of endurance training or aerobic training on their own.
In that case, a weekly program would look like this:
- Monday – SHT
- Tuesday – Off
- Wednesday – Strength
- Thursday- Off
- Friday- FHT
- Saturday – Off
- Sunday- Off
Using DUP as a method of programming for your clients can help not only deliver better results but also keep training interesting, which, we all know, is a huge part of creating an environment for success!
By changing the volume and the exercise selection of the workouts in your clients’ programs, you will bring enough variety to keep the program interesting while still maintaining enough exposure to the movements to allow the clients to progress.
It’s the best of both worlds.
Sale, D., & MacDougall, D. (1981). Specificity in strength training: A review for the coach and athlete. Canadian Journal of Applied Sport Sciences, 6, 87-92.
Siff, M. (2003). Supertraining (6th ed.). Denver: Supertraining Institute.