When I am writing a program for a client, I have only one goal in mind: I want to create massive change with this client.
At times, this entails designing a program to help support their posture and movement. Sometimes the program is designed to improve their physique. Other times, the program I design is to help the client become a freakazoid athlete. Whatever the end goal, I always use the same basic program template, which I outlined in my first article, The 7 R’s of Program Design.
This article aims to expand on the information provided in The 7 R's of Program Design - Part I by outlining a simplified example of how to address common postural and/or movement related issues utilizing the 7R approach.
Your Average Client in a Nutshell
If you have trained clients for any extended period of time, you have most likely witnessed a client with an anterior pelvic tilt or excessive lumbar lordosis. Most would assume these issues are due to the client’s sedentary lifestyle and/or sitting for extended periods of time. However, their condition may be exasperated by an even more basic matter: they simply don’t breathe well.
There are a few things that should occur during an effective breathing process:
- The lower abdomen should fill, with the belly button moving down and to the front slightly,
- The lower ribs expand laterally, and
- The upper ribs lift up slightly.
When a client cannot breathe effectively, one of the compensatory strategies is to use their hip flexors and lower back to "extend" the lower back and rib cage to take in air. The Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) might classify this person as a posterior exterior chain dominant breather. While this compensation may be functional in the fact that it keeps the client breathing, it is far from optimal. The result is a vicious cycle of altering one's posture in effort to take a breath effectively, which is repeated approximately 20,000 times per day.
The template/approach that follows will allow you to address these issues that may be common in the average personal training client and help you to achieve the best possible outcome from the program design.
The 7 R’s of Program Design
R1 - Release
The first "R", or component, in the program is Release and typically includes tools such as foam rollers, sticks or lacrosse/tennis balls to facilitate self-myofascial release. This type of release drives the nervous system to "relax" excessively stiff or overactive muscles. The goal here is to “shut something (a muscle) off”, so you can later “turn something on” in its place.
If a client demonstrates altered breathing patterns, an anterior pelvic tilt, or what Pr Janda might call a lower-crossed pattern, here are the key areas you'll want to address in the Release component:
Figure 1. Lower Crossed Syndrome
- Paraspinals and Erector spinae,
- Hip flexors (including TFL),
- Quadriceps (especially rectus femoris), and
- The small hip rotators.
R2 - Reset
The next component in the program is called a Reset. There is not one standard definition of what constitutes a reset, but here are a few ways to think about it:
- An exercise that strives to put a joint back into a more optimal starting position,
- An exercise that ties together the lower body, core and rib cage/upper body,
- An exercise or drill that promotes systemic flexion of the body (i.e. relaxation).
The example client for this program is described as having a hyperlordotic and systemically extended position as described above. The goal then should be to shut off some of that "tone," so they can start to use the appropriate muscles when training.
In this program for the client, a core-engaged hip flexor stretch is applied to “shut off” or inhibit the hip flexors. This aids in firing up the anterior core muscles, as well as restore a more optimal position of the pelvis for the rest of the training session.
R3 - Readiness
The first two components are focused on inhibition or “shutting off” stubborn and problematic muscle groups. After these problem areas have been addressed, it is time to start “turning on” the appropriate muscles.
It would be foolish to increase mobility in one area, without improving or increasing stability somewhere else.
There are a few goals during the Readiness component, which can also be referred to as the warm-up:
- Improve readiness to train (physiology),
- Improve posture/alignment (biomechanics), and finally
- Pattern the movements you want to train that day.
There is a lot more to this component than doing 2 laps around the gym, a couple of arm circles, and then lifting weights. When biomechanics and physiology are addressed in this warm-up, the client becomes better prepared for an effective training session.
The following are a few readiness and warm-up exercises that may be beneficial for a client in a position of excessive lordosis/anterior pelvic tilt:
- Leg lowering/leg raising exercises,
- Glute bridging,
- Reverse lunges/split-squats,
- Hip hinge patterning,
R4 - Reactive
Reactive exercises can include any kind of explosive work - plyometrics, medicine ball throws, Olympic lifts, etc. This is obviously great for power development, but often works as an extended warm-up as well
If the client is an athlete, this phase is a no-brainer – power development is critical for sports performance. For the average personal training client a lot of higher-intensity exercises and plyometrics may not be necessary or warranted. However, even when training a client with a fat loss goal, a half-kneeling medicine ball throw will serve well in this phase.
When performed properly, not only can the half-kneeling position help to restore optimal alignment through the pelvis, core and lower back, but it also reflexively trains core stability to boot. Last but not least, it is a fun exercise and allows many clients to feel athletic. This is an important element of training that many fitness professionals may not give enough credence to.
R5 - Resistance
Eric Cobb, founder of Z-Health, is noted for saying, "Strength training cements your current posture and level of mobility."
Think about that for a moment: If a client demonstrates ineffective or dysfunctional mobility and/or posture, incorporating heavy resistance in their exercise routine may only reinforce their dysfunctions. Once the client’s movement foundation is strong, strength training may help cement that good posture and alignment even further.
Using the example client described previously, the goal during the Resistance component is to load the posterior chain and teach the client to effectively utilize their glutes and hamstrings. Since the example client possessed an anterior pelvic tilt, or possible lower-crossed pattern, they will typically have strong quads and adductors, and relatively weaker glutes and hamstrings. By incorporating movements and exercises that aid in turning off the hip flexors and quads, while restoring pelvic alignment during the previous components, the client is now prepared for optimal loading and strengthening of the posterior chain.
Addressing the posterior chain may help solve another issue for most average, everyday clients. Although they know they should not “lift with their back,” most clients may not have the posterior chain strength to effectively hinge and use their glutes and hamstrings to do the work.
Enter the deadlift!
The starting point for this client is teaching them to hip hinge, or deadlift, effectively. They may not start with a full range of motion deadlift initially, but at the very least they can train a hip-hinging pattern. This could include deadlifts (conventional, sumo, trap bar, etc.), rack pulls, Romanian Deadlifts, pull-throughs, or even hip thrusts.
Half-kneeling work can be incredibly beneficial as well. Effective half and tall-kneeling work teaches optimal core and lumbar spine positioning, which is going to allow the hip flexors and lower back to relax. When you combine these modalities, you have a recipe for success.
R6 - Regenerate
The Regenerate, or metabolic component, is where a lot of trainers go off the grid. In an effort to "crush" their clients, the program may include random exercises to make the client tired.
Instead, the trainer should be focused on incorporating movements that continue to improve the client’s posture or alignment. This particular example client may benefit from kettlebell swings during their regeneration phase. Swings not only help build the posterior chain of the body, but when programmed appropriately this exercise will get the client huffing and puffing as well.
R7 - Recovery
The final R in the 7R's approach is Recovery. The previous components of the client’s workout focused on driving their sympathetic nervous system into overdrive. Having a client restore proper respiration post-workout is a great way to shut off some of that "tone" that builds up throughout the course of a workout, and also helps them shift from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic nervous system faster.
Remember, the sympathetic nervous system is great for lifting heavy things and working out, but you should shut it off ASAP in effort to help recover for the next workout. During this phase, the activity selected can be as simple as the client lying supine (on their back), resting their lower legs on a bench or stability ball, and focusing on 10 deep breaths.
Putting It All Together
Now that this article has outlined the constituent parts of the program, how might this actually look in a client's program design? The following will detail a sample program design following the 7 R's approach. For detailed descriptions and pictures for each of the exercises below, please refer to the PTontheNet Exercise Library. Note: This program design may not be suitable for all clients.
Release (20-30 seconds each)
Reset (30 seconds each side)
- Half-Kneeling Med Ball Throws - 3x10 each side, 30-60 seconds rest.
- Feet Elevated Breathing - 10 repetitions, hold full exhale for 3-5 seconds
As mentioned in the 7 R’s of Program Design (Part I), the lifestyle of an average personal training client has changed radically over the last couple of decades, and so has the need to offer exercise programs that address the dysfunctions and limitations evolving as a result of their increasingly sedentary way of life. The 7 R’s approach to designing exercise programs outlines 7 different components that can be incorporated into an exercise routine in order to help create a well-rounded and holistic approach to enhancing the client’s well-being and achieving their goals. This article (Part II) provided example exercises for each component (R1-R7) while addressing the movement needs of an “average” personal training client. By following the 7 R’s approach to program design, while addressing a client’s movement limitations at every step along the way in their programming, you have the potential to create massive change in their posture, movement and physique.