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Training Couples

You can’t put a price tag on your health, but let’s face it, the biggest drawback to personal training for most people involves cost. Prospective clients want to train with you, but they don’t want to spend an arm and a leg to do so!

The solution involves group training (GT). With GT, you get all of the benefits of personal training at a reduced cost. The trainer loves it because he/she makes more per session, and the trainees love it because they pay less per session (see the chart below.)

Here is a sample pricing structure for GT (consider that the cost for one-on-one training would be $80 per session):

 2 people = 1.5 x cost of one session    $120 / 2 = 60 per person
 3 people =   2  x cost of one session    $160 / 3 = 53 per person
 4 people = 2.5 x cost of one session    $200 / 4 = 50 per person
 5 people =   3  x cost of one session    $240 / 5 = 48 per person

Fewer group participants result in less compromise to individual attention and logistics (e.g., enough equipment, safety, productive workouts, etc.) With GT, clients should be as homogenous as possible in terms of health history and physical ability. That’s strike one.

Strike two involves zoning. If you operate a home studio, many by-laws will not permit you to service large groups of individuals at any given time. Between traffic and parking, fire and safety issues (and not upsetting your neighbors!), a small gym setting is not conducive for GT.

The final nail in the coffin involves goals. If everyone is on the same page, great! But what if that’s not the case? Can you still design and more importantly implement different routines for different goals? The answer is YES, it can be done. It’s a lot more work, of course, and it can become a nightmare trying to supervise, but it is possible.

Let me give you a perfect example. Recently, I had three sisters come to see me for personal training sessions. Two of the sisters were severely underweight and required hypertrophy protocols. The other sister was overweight. Her training was geared toward body composition changes. By manipulating the variables as follows, I was able to accommodate them: 

 Training Parameter  Underweight Individuals   Overweight Individual
Sequence Agonist/Antagonist   Upper/Lower
Rest Intervals  Longer (60 secs) Shorter (30 secs)
Repetitions  Lower (10-12)  Higher (15-20) 
Tempo   Slower (4-0-1-0)   Faster (2-0-1-0) 
Exercises  Less (8)  More (10) 

They expressed interest in training together, so the frequency was obviously the same, and believe it or not, the exercises were also similar. There were some revisions, however. The two underweight sisters were very wiry, whereas the overweight sibling was tight and less flexible, so when prescribing an exercise like the split squat, for example, the underweight gals were capable of performing this exercise in full range of motion (ROM) with both feet on the floor. The overweight sis, on the other hand, had to elevate the front foot on a step to accommodate her tight hip flexors and complete the movement in full ROM.

By doing my homework and preparing in advance, I was able to take all three of them through their program instruction with relative ease, and we completed the session on time! That last point is important, especially if you are on a tight schedule. GT can mess with your schedule fast, so you must be prepared.

In my opinion, in order to truly stay in control, I recommend training no more than two people at any given time. I was lucky in the example above. Two of the sisters were so similar, it was like training one, but what if all three had different goals, body types, injuries, etc?

Training couples has actually become more popular today, and for good reason: motivation, convenience and, as mentioned above, cost savings. Most couples usually have the same goals, their eating habits are similar, lifestyle factors such as sleeping habits are similar, and they are both sedentary. For most couples, weight loss is the primary goal!

Of course, I try to get them off the whole weight issue and get them to concentrate on body composition (i.e., increase lean body mass and reduce body fat). You know all of the details so I won’t bore you with that, but when you can get couples to shift their focus in this manner, it becomes less competitive and more cooperative.

There are four options for training couples:

  1. Perform the same exercises at the same time.
  2. Perform the same exercises where one goes, then the other.
  3. Alternate between exercises where one does exercise A while the other does exercise B and then they switch.
  4. Alternate between groups of exercises where one does group A while the other does group B and then they switch once they’ve completed all their sets.

The following routines will demonstrate these four options in greater detail.

Option #1 - Perform the same exercises at the same time.

Option #2 - Perform the same exercises where one goes, then the other.

  1. Dumbbell Swings
  2. Dumbbell Clean and Press
  3. Dumbbell Squat Pull
  4. Dumbbell Iron Cross
  5. Reverse Woodchops
  6. Push Ups
  7. Reverse Hypers
  8. Bent Knee Sit Ups
  9. Romanian Deadlifts
  10. Overhead Squat

Perform three circuits of 15 to 20 reps at moderate-fast tempo with short rest intervals (30-60 seconds) three days a week.

This is a modified version of a program I picked up from strength coach John Davies years ago. It is circuit based and a great entry level routine for most individuals. This program will quickly improve strength-endurance and work capacity while shedding body fat and (dare I say it) weight in record time. It can be done at home with minimal equipment; light weights will do. For many of the exercises, you can use dumbbells as I have outlined above, or for variety try kettlebells, barbells, kegs, sandbags, etc. It just depends what you have access to.

The key parameter to manipulate over sessions is the rest interval (RI). Once they’re up to three circuits of 20 reps with 60 seconds of rest between exercises, I shave five seconds off the RI each workout. They must be successful, though, and accomplish all three circuits for 20 reps each exercise to permit the time reduction. Since the RI is so tightly regulated and monitored, this is an ideal program to have both individuals training at the same time. Again, minimal equipment is required, and the exercises themselves do not take much space.

For this program only, I will give you some quick notes to follow for each exercise.

  1. Dumbbell Swings – Up to eye level.
  2. Dumbbell Clean and Press – Dumbbell and kettlebell cleans performed for high repetitions are excellent to tear elbows! This version is more of a squat, reverse curl and press.
  3. Dumbbell Squat Pull – Grip the edges of the dumbbell and make sure that the elbows are higher than the weight at the top position.
  4. Dumbbell Iron Cross – Use an extremely light weight for this exercise. For some people, holding two water bottles is more than enough load!
  5. Reverse Woodchops – As is the case for many of these movements, make sure they shoot from the hips. Take 10 seconds of rest between both sides.
  6. Push Ups – Many beginners can not perform many push ups, let alone three sets of 20 reps as prescribed in this program. To remedy this, use push aways against a bench or counter or even a wall for that matter.
  7. Reverse Hypers – Can be done over a Swiss ball. If strength and coordination are issues, substitute the supine bridge in its place.
  8. Bent Knee Sit Ups – I can hear you now cursing me for suggesting the dreaded sit up. It has been outcast by many. This program is loaded with hip extension movements; one hip flexion exercise is warranted! Use an abdominal crunch instead for those who experience difficulty with the sit up, and favor a McGill crunch for individuals suffering with periodic low back pain.
  9. Romanian Deadlifts – Use a neutral grip (i.e., palms facing each other) with dumbbells. A pronated grip is used with a barbell.
  10. Overhead Squat – This is what I consider the finisher! I like this exercise at the end because it will help promote strength and flexibility, and it’s a killer! Get your clients to pause for a second at the bottom, and make sure they go a millimeter further (i.e., deeper) each repetition. Use a bodybar or even a dowel rod, or you can hold onto a Swiss ball overhead. It’s not about load on this exercise. That holds true for the rest of them as well.

Program 1 – Horizontal Sequence

Barbell Program Dumbbell Program Machine/Cable Program
A) Back Squat  A) Dumbbell (Db) Squat  A) Leg Press 
B) Bench Press  B) Flat Dumbbell Press B) Machine Chest Press 
C) Bent Over Row C) One-Arm Db Row  C) Lat Pulldown 
D) Seated Military Press  D) Seated Db Press  D) Low Pulley Upright Row 
E) Barbell Curl  E)  Incline Db Curl  E) Standing Cable Curl 
F) Triceps Extensions F)  Lying Db Triceps Extensions F) Rope Pressdowns
G) Standing Calf Raise G) One-Leg Db Calf Raise G) Seated Calf Press
H) Barbell Rollout H) Standing Db Side Bend H) Low Cable Pull Ins

Here are three typical bodybuilding routines. Having one go and then the other right after is ideal in this setting because it allows you to spot each individual, and if by chance they train one or two times a week without your supervision, they can spot each other. Of course, the barbell program necessitates frequent load changes, especially if training a man and woman. The dumbbell program is quicker, and the machine/cable routine is the quickest assuming a selectorized stack is available. Simply move the pin and go.

The typical parameters for this form of training involve three to four sets of 10 to 12 reps at a 4-0-2-0 tempo resting 90 seconds between sets (just about enough time for the other person to complete their set.) The horizontal sequence means that you complete all sets of one exercise before moving onto the next exercise. This routine should be performed three times a week on non consecutive days (e.g. Monday, Wednesday, Friday).

Note: Tempo refers to the speed of movement and is usually represented by a 4-digit number: eccentric (negative) contraction - isometric (pause between negative and positive) contraction - concentric (positive) contraction - isometric (pause between positive and negative) contraction. For example, a tempo of 4-0-2-0 means to lower the weight for a count of four, no pause, raise the weight for a count of 2, and do not pause before starting the next repetition. An "X" designation denotes eXplosive, meaning to lift the weight as fast as possible.

Program 2 – Vertical Sequence (Pairs)

A1) Dumbbell Deadlift 3 sets x 12-15 reps @ 3010 tempo + 60 seconds rest 
A2) Swiss Ball Db Press 3 x 10-12 @ 4010 + 60”
B1) Single Leg Squat 3 x 8-10 @ 3030 + 60” 
B2) One-Arm Rotary Row 3 x 10-12 @ 3020 + 60” 
C1) One-Leg Calf Raise 3 x 10-12 @ 2210 + 60” 
C2) Swiss Ball California Press 3 x 8-10 @ 3210 + 60” 
D1) Swiss Ball Twisting Side Flexion 3 x 10-12 @2110 + 60”
D2) Seated Offset-Grip Db Curls 3 x 10-12 @ 3020 + 60”

This program is geared toward body composition changes (i.e., an increase in lean body mass, and a decrease in body fat) and can be performed at home with minimal equipment. All you need are some dumbbells, a chair, a Swiss ball and a step. You can even use stairs if you don’t have a step.

The routine is arranged in pairs and should be conducted in a vertical sequence, meaning that you will perform the first set of A1 followed by the first set of A2, then the second set of A1 followed by the second set of A2 and finally the third set of A1 followed by the third set of A2 before moving on to the “B” pair and so on until all four pairs of exercises are complete. Alternating between lower body and upper body exercises in this manner is quite effective for body composition purposes because it allows you to fatigue one half of the body while the other half recovers and vice versa. A great amount of work can be performed, and a significant amount of lactic acid is produced and circulated around the body prompting growth hormone (GH) production. In case you didn’t know this, GH is a very potent fat burner!

Just get one person to start with one exercise of a pair, and get the other person to begin with the other exercise of the pair and have them switch after each set. You can have them either work and rest at the same time, or alternate their work and rest times. The former makes it easier to regulate rest intervals; the latter permits one-on-one attention throughout the entire workout. Keep in mind that each set takes roughly 60 seconds to perform (also known as time under tension or TUT) and the rest interval should be about 60 seconds as well, so whichever method you choose will work in this case.

Program 3 – Vertical Sequence (tri-sets)

DAY 1 DAY 2 
A1) Back Squat  A1) Bent Knee Deadlift 
A2) Pull Ups  A2) Parallel Bar Dips 
A3) Reverse Hypers  A3) Connelly Good Mornings 
B1) Preacher Curls  B1) Incline Hammer Curls 
B2) Forward Lunge  B2) Statue of Liberty Single Leg Squat 
B3) Hero French Press B3) Hip Extension Triceps Extension
C1) Bent-Over 45º Db Raise C1) Swiss Ball Pullovers
C2) Incline Db Flyes C2) Seated Shrugs
C3) Seated Db Wrist Extension C3) Seated Db Wrist Flexion
D1) Supine Knee Raises D1) Swiss Ball Twisting Crunch
D2) Side Lying External Rotation  D2) Seated External Rotation
D3) Seated Tibialis Raise D3) Standing Calf Raise

Tri-sets are three exercises performed in sequence. This program, in particular, contains four groups of tri-sets and is geared toward myofascial changes. Let’s dissect the program a bit further.

On both days, you’ll note that the “A” group has one upper body exercise sandwiched between two lower body exercises. The “B” group has one unilateral lower body exercise sandwiched between two bilateral upper body exercises. The “C” group requires the same load for each exercise in that group. Finally, the “C” and “D” groups on both days should be conducted with little rest between exercises – 10 seconds is enough time to move from one position to the next, and will allow sufficient re-synthesis of high energy compounds to improve performance.

Program 4 – Vertical Sequence (Giant Sets)

A1) Cyclist Squat 3 x 10-12 @ 4010 
A2) Chest Press 3 x 10-12 @ 4010 
A3) Lying Leg Curl (feet inward) 3 x 6-8 @ 5010 
A4) Supinated Grip Pulldowns 3 x 10-12 @ 4010 
B1) Seated Leg Extension (feet outward) 3 x 12-15 @ 3010 
B2) Mid Incline Dumbbell Press 3 x 10-12 @ 4010 
B3) Standing Good Mornings 3 x 10-12 @ 4010
B4) Seated Pronated-Grip Row 3 x 10-12 @ 4010
C1) Standing EZ-Bar Curls 3 x 10-12 @ 4010
C2) Lying AbMat Crunch 3 x 12-15 @ 2020
C3) Standing V-Bar Pressdowns 3 x 12-15 @3010
C4) Seated Calf Raise 3 x 15-20 @ 2010

This program is an extension of the previous tri-set routine. Giant sets are four or more exercises grouped in sequence – consider them mini circuits, if you will. This particular routine consists of three groups of four exercises. As I mentioned earlier, when training couples, you can have them perform the exercises in unison or in a staggered fashion (i.e., as one works the other rests, then switch.) If you choose the former method and equipment is limited, then have one individual start with the first exercise of the group (i.e., A1, B1, C1) and the other individual with the second exercise (i.e., A2, B2, C2) and have them rotate through their sets in the following manner:

Individual A Individual B
Set 1 – A1 / B1 / C1  Set 1 – A2 / B2 / C2 
A2 / B2 / C2  A3 / B3 / C3
A3 / B3 / C3  A4 / B4 / C4 
A4 / B4 / C4  A1 / B1 / C1 
Set 2 – A1 / B1 / C1  Set 2 – A2 / B2 / C2 
A2 / B2 / C2 A3 / B3 / C3
A3 / B3 / C3 A4 / B4 / C4
A4 / B4 / C4 A1 / B1 / C1
Set 3 – A1 / B1 / C1 Set 3 – A2 / B2 / C2
A2 / B2 / C2 A3 / B3 / C3
A3 / B3 / C3 A4 / B4 / C4
A4 / B4 / C4 A1 / B1 / C1

Now, if you prefer to stagger them, keep in mind you will likely have to change the loads between sets, especially if you are training a male and female. This may be a challenge if you are trying to regulate their rest intervals. Consider that the average male should be able to squat with 135 pounds and more for reps, whereas the average female you train will not be able to do this. Pulling off or putting on 45 pound plates, for instance, could cost you time and interfere with rest intervals. The solution would be to stagger them two exercises apart in a group, which will buy you more time to make the necessary load alterations, or stagger them by groups.

Option #3 - Alternate where one does exercise A while the other does exercise B and then they switch.

Program 1 – Body Composition
A1) Front Squat 5 x 6-8 @ 5010 + 90”
A2) Swiss Ball Push-Ups 5 x 8-10 @ 2210 + 90”
B1) Low-Pulley Split Squat 4 x 10-12 @ 2020 + 60”
B2) One-Arm Long-Arc Row 4 x 10-12 @ 2020 + 60”
C1) Standing Hammer Curls 3 x 12-15 @ 3010 + 45”
C2) Seated EZ-Bar French Press 3 x 12-15 @ 2110 + 45”
D1) Swiss Ball Crunch 2 x 15-20 @ 2020 + 30”
D2) Reverse Hypers 2 x 15-20 @ 2010 + 30” 
Program 2 – Body Composition
A1) Squat Press 4 x 8-10 @ 30X0 + 90”
A2) Decline EZ-Bar Pullover 4 x 8-10 @ 3010 + 90”
B1) Reverse Lunge 4 x 8-10 @ 30X0 + 90”
B2) One-Arm Dumbbell Row 4 x 8-10 @ 3010 + 90”
C1) Australian Back Squat 3 x 10-12 @ 3030 + 60”
C2) Seated Zottman Curls 3x 10-12 @ 4020 + 60”
D1) High-Pulley Twisting Crunch 3 x 10-12 @ 2111 + 60”
D2) Flat Twisting Triceps Extensions 3 x 10-12 @ 2210 + 60” 

Above are two body composition programs. An easy way to implement these routines is to have one individual perform the “A1” exercise while the other performs the “A2” exercise and then switch. Do this for all four pairs of exercises, and the workout will run smoothly.

The advantage of sequencing in this manner is that you can vary sets and rest intervals among the pairs of exercises, and it will not interfere with timing. Take Program 1, for example. You’ll notice that the sets, rep brackets and rest intervals are different for each pair of exercises. If you were to stagger by pairs of exercises, timing would be affected, and it would not work. One individual would be waiting for the other to finish!

In order for this method to work properly then, you must ensure that each exercise in a pair has relatively the same TUT, not to mention an equal amount of sets and rest interval. The other critical factor is that both exercises are either bilateral or both are unilateral. If you pair a bilateral exercise with a unilateral exercise, you mess up timing patterns.

Option #4 - Alternate between groups of exercises where one does group A while the other does group B and then they switch once they’ve completed all their sets.

Program 1 - Hypertrophy

Group A
A1) Hack Squat
A2) Leg Extension
B1) Inverted Row
B2) Semi Stiff Pulldown
C1) EZ-Bar Reverse Curls
C2) Low Pulley Curls
D1) Standing Calf Raise
D2) Seated Calf Raise 
Group B
A1) Lying Leg Curl
A2) Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
B1) Incline Dumbbell Press
B2) Incline Low Pulley Rope Flyes
C1) Close Grip Bench Press
C2) Reverse Grip Pressdowns
D1) Decline Two Legged Lowering
D2) Decline Twisting Sit Up

Perform two sets of eight to 12 reps at a 3-0-1-0 tempo with 10 seconds of rest between the first and the second exercise and two minutes of rest after each pair is completed.

This program is performed in a superset fashion with minimal rest between the first and second exercise of each pair. Ten seconds should be enough time to get from one station to the next and then go.

Although it may be alluring to do all the exercises in one group before moving on to the other group, it is not the ideal method. When designing a strength training program, it is best to sequence larger muscle groups before smaller muscle groups. In this manner, greater workloads can be achieved and safety is not compromised (e.g., performing abdominal work prior to squats can jeopardize spinal stability.) In other words, finish all sets of “A” exercises in both groups before moving on to the “B” exercises and so on. This applies to all the programs listed below.

Program 2 – Body Composition #1

Group A
A1) Dumbbell Step Ups
A2) Incline Dumbbell Press
B1) Low-Pulley Romanian Deadlift
B2) Incline Dumbbell Curl
C1) Standing Cable Twist
C2) Seated EZ-Bar Wrist Extension 
Group B
A1) Wide Stance Back Squat
A2) One-Arm Cable Row
B1) Supine Bridge + Leg Curl Combo
B2) Decline Db Triceps Extensions
C1) Donkey Calf Raise
C2) Seated Dumbbell External Rotation 

Perform two sets of 10 to 12 reps at a 3-0-1-0 tempo with 60 second rest intervals.

Program 3 – Body Composition #2

Group A
A1) Trap Bar Deadlift
A2) Flat Dumbbell Press
B1) Leg Press
B2) Seated Lateral Raise
C1) Decline Knee Ins
C2) Lying EZ-Bar Triceps Extensions 
Group B
A1) Russian Good Morning
A2) Seated Cable Row
B1) Seated Leg Curl
B2) Standing Cable Crossover
C1) Forward Wheel Rollout
C2) Low Pulley Preacher Reverse Curls 

“A” Exercises: 3 sets of 8-10 reps at a 4-0-1-0 tempo with 90 second rest intervals.
“B” Exercises: 2 sets of 10-12 reps at a 3-0-1-0 tempo with 60 second rest intervals.
“C” Exercises: 2 sets of 12-15 reps at a 2-0-1-0 tempo with 30 second rest intervals.

Program 4 – Body Composition #3

Group A
A1) Dumbbell Step Ups
A2) Incline Dumbbell Press
B1) Romanian Deadlift
B2) Seated Db Curls
C1) Swiss Ball Twisting Side Flexion 
C2) Standing Db Snatch
Group B
A1) Swiss Ball Squat
A2) One Arm Db Row
B1) Supine Hip Extension
B2) Omni Triceps Extensions on SB
C1) One Leg Duchaine Calf Raise
C2) Bent Over Laterals
DAY 2 
Group A
A1) 90º Split Squat
A2) Flat 1 ¼ Db Press
B1) Back Extensions
B2) Standing Reverse Curls
C1) Reverse Crunch
C2) Seated 30º External Rotation
Group B
A1) 1 ¼ Db Deadlift
A2) Braced One Arm Press
B1) Reverse Hypers
B2) Swiss Ball California Press
C1) Standing Db Side Bends
C2) Swiss Ball 2 Db Pullovers

“A” Exercises: 3 sets of 8-10 reps at a 4-0-1-0 tempo with 90 second rest intervals.
“B” Exercises: 2 sets of 10-12 reps at a 3-0-1-0 tempo with 60 second rest intervals.
“C” Exercises: 2 sets of 12-15 reps at a 2-0-1-0 tempo with 30 second rest intervals.

I have presented over a dozen programs in this article specifically geared to training couples. Whether your clients are beginners or advanced trainees, whether they train at home or in a gym and whether their goal is to increase muscle mass or lose body fat, this piece offers various options to suit just about any couple you encounter.