Tag Archive | "Resistance training"


Three of the Best – Shoulders Exercises

Straight to the point with no fluff or stuffing, in this series of articles we’ll tell you the three best exercises to give you maximum benefits from your workouts…

“Shoulders maketh the man” or so the saying goes. Broad shoulders can make your waist look smaller and, with summer coming (allegedly!) many of us will be unveiling our delts to an unsuspecting world when we don our vest tops and hit the beach. Make sure your shoulders past muster by using these super shoulder exercises!

Dumbbell Lateral Raises
To work the sides of your shoulders, grasp a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet hip hip-width apart. With your arms handing down by your sides, turn your hands so that they are facing inwards towards your thighs. Keeping your elbows slightly bent but rigid, lift your arms out to your sides until your elbows are level with your shoulders and your palms are facing the floor. Hold this position for a second before lowering your arms back down to your sides and repeating for the desired number of repetitions.

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press
This exercise focuses on your anterior or front deltoid. Adjust the backrest of an exercise bench so that it is vertical. Sit with your back fully supported holding a dumbbell in each hand. Raise the dumbbells to level with your shoulders with your palms facing forwards. Keep your back fixed and stable and push your hands overhead so that the dumbbells come together over your head. Lower the dumbbells back to shoulder level and repeat.

Dumbbell Rear Flies
The posterior or rear deltoid is often overlooked as it is out of sight, out of mind. However, the posterior deltoid is important as it helps to balance out the stronger anterior deltoid and also contributes of the appearance of the shoulders when viewed from behind. To target this muscle, lie on your front on an exercise bench holding a dumbbell in each hand. Allow your arms to hang down towards the floor-you may need to elevate the bench so that your hands don’t rest on the floor. From this position and with slightly bent elbows, extend your arms backwards at shoulder level. Your arms should form a T shape when viewed from above. This is a challenging exercise and can only be performed using light weights. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.


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Weight Training for Weight Loss

women-weight-trainingI know many women that are not over-weight…they may be a size 8 or 10, have a healthy Body Mass Index (carry the correct weight for their height – according to the government guidelines) and look slim. However they are still are unhappy with their bodies. The reason for this dissatisfaction is usually because the percentage of body fat they carry is higher than it should be resulting in wobbly bits, bingo wings, saggy tummies or fat thighs. This phenomenon is known in the media as “skinny fat” – looking slim whilst still having an high level of body fat and is considered as much as a health risk as being clinically obese. Regardless of your weight or size, you can change your body shape and lose inches by effective resistance training!



Why does weight (or resistance) training work?

1. Resistance training raises your metabolism. “Strength training increases the resting metabolic rate (RMR) – the rate at which your body burns calories – by increasing muscle mass” – The Complete Guide to Strength Training by Anita Bean. Muscle requires more fuel during exercise and at rest than fat tissue meaning that your calorie requirement will increase. This is good news if your trying to lose weight because you won’t feel as though you are denying yourself as many calories. Along with an exercise regime you should only need to reduce your calorie intake by 200-300 per day.

2. Resistance training keeps your metabolic rate elevated for hours after you have finished training. This means that you are going to burn more calories even after your workout than you would have done on a rest day. This phenomenon is called EPOC – Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption and can be though of as “after burn”.

3. Resistance training (lasting approximately an hour or less) does not require as much carbohydrate replacement as endurance or cardiovascular training. This usually results in you feeling less hungry for the rest of the day than you would if you had, for example, done a spin class. You will be less likely to crave foods rich in carbohydrates (sugars). However, this will not be the case if you do not refuel after your workout in a carbohydrate to protein ratio of 4:1. The sooner you refuel the better but leaving it much longer than 2 hours will result in reduced recovery time and the munchies!

4. “Resistance training helps preserve muscle as you lose weight ensuring that ‘you are shedding weight from fat stores rather than from muscle stores” –  Power Eating by Susan Kleiner. Losing any more than 2kg per week could mean that you are losing muscle mass, thus reducing your metabolic rate and increasing the likelihood of putting the weight back on again!

How should I weight train?

If you are a beginner, start light aiming for 2 sets of 12-15 repetitions and 2-3 training sessions per week.  

Always have a 5-10 minute warm-up on a piece of CV equipment before you start. 

Ensure correct technique to prevent injuries and maximise your exercise benefits. 

Mainly use free-weights and body weight exercises as they recruit more muscle fibres thus burning more calories.  

Chose compound exercises such as squats, chest presses and rows as these train larger muscle groups, again burning more calories.  

Do not dedicate too much time to isolation core exercises such as stomach crunches. You should be bracing your core for every exercise thus training the core throughout your training. Isolation core exercises burn few calories and the bigger exercises mentioned above will help reduce your body fat which should in turn help reveal your abs! 

Once you are intermediate aim for 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions. The last few repetitions should be chellenging, meaning that you are really having to push yourself to move the weight. You could also try using a variety of training methods such as pyramids, ladders, drops sets, and different repetition speeds.  

Once you have been resistance training for about 2 years or more, try a split routine such as chest and biceps – Monday, back and triceps – Wednesday and legs and shoulders – Friday. 1-2 cardio sessions per week should be sufficient.

But won’t I bulk up?

Women that claim weight-training makes them look ‘butch’ or ‘bulky,’ are not meeting their nutritional requirements to match their goals. Women do not have the levels of testosterone to build muscle like men. Female body-builders are usually taking a number of muscle-building supplements and eating more calories than they are expending in order to gain muscle. By eating clean and stayinh in a slight carlorie defeciet this is far less likely to happen

So next time your in the gym, look out for the cardio/weights area divide. Usually those picking up the free-weights are getting more visible results than those dedicating all their time to the cardio machines.

Written by Gabby Clarke – an Essex based personal trainer who can be contacted through her facebook page http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/group.php?gid=261179536578&ref=ts or by email

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woman push ups

Ladder training for muscular endurance

woman push upsMany muscular endurance and conditioning workouts require high volumes of work which, for neophytes and the de-conditioned achieving these numbers, may seem like a very distant goal.

How do you go from only being able to perform a couple of press ups or dips to completing the 100 reps required by some coaches or workouts?


Strength training, like gymnastic training, is part physiological adaptation and part neurological adaptation – by which I mean in many cases the limiting factor is not the size of your muscles but the nervous supply to those muscles.

As strength training is in part a skill, we need to perform repeated movements with sufficient volume to allow the body to learn how to perform the exercises in a skillful coordinated way.

Here in lies the problem – the best was to get better at pull ups is to do lots of them, but if you cant do many in the first place, how do you achieve sufficient volume to get really good at the exercise?

Luckily, the conundrum has a solution – and that solution is called “ladder training”

In a normal workout, our neophyte trainee may manage for example an initial set of 7 pull ups, a second set of 5 and a final set of 3 to give him/her a total workout volume of 15 reps. More volume (repeated efforts) is required to improve the skill of the pull up but insufficient strength makes this a difficult task.

In many strength training circles this principle of repeated efforts to improve specific exercise performance is called “greasing the groove”.

By applying ladder training to our trainees pull ups, our newbie will be doing more volume and therefore more practice and soon be on their way to improving their pull up numbers to a level which was previously an impossible dream!

Ladder Training Protocol.

  • Perform 1 rep of the given exercise
  • Rest a few seconds
  • Perform 2 reps of the given exercise
  • Rest a few seconds
  • Perform 3 reps of the given exercise
  • Rest a few seconds
  • Perform 4 reps of given exercise
  • Rest a few seconds etc.

(Note that rests are intuitive and should only just be long enough to allow the trainee to reach the next rung of the ladder)

Keep adding one rep and resting a few seconds until you are unable to continue i.e. you mange 5 reps, rest a few seconds but cant then manage 6. This is the end of the first set.

Using our previous trainee as an example again, our beginner client manages to ladder up to 5 reps in the first set – giving a rep total for that set of 15 (which is normally the total for their whole work out.)

After 90 seconds rest, they perform ladders again and reach a high of 4 reps – giving a rep total of 10 reps and on their final set managed 3 reps giving a rep total for that set of 6 reps.

So, in total, our trainee will have completed 31 reps of pull ups – 16 reps more than they could normally have achieved!

Ladder training is an excellent tool for increasing overall training volume which can be applied to pretty much any exercise and provides a great way of exposing the trainee to a much higher volume of work than would normally be possible training in a more traditional way. It works very will with  “easy” exercises like bodyweight pull ups, press ups and dips, as well as with traditional resistance exercises like squats, bench press and deadlifts – particularly when utilizing a substantial load. 

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WoW – Thursday’s Workout 06/12/12

50/40/30/20/10 Descending Rep Circuit

This workout is designed to be all-encompassing and combines muscular endurance exercises for every major muscle group as well as a significant cardiovascular benefit. It’s against the clock so you can pace yourself according to your current personal fitness level. Feel free to adjust the suggested repetition ranges up or down as necessary and by all means make exercise substitutions but try to remain true to the spirit of the workout by selecting similar exercises.

Start your watch and perform 50 repetitions of each exercise in the following sequence. On reaching the last exercise, repeat the sequence but only perform 40 repetitions. Continue working your way through the sequence but drop 10 reps from the count each time until your final round consists of 10 reps per exercise. Rest when you need to but try and keep going as the clock is ticking right up to the very end!

  1. Press ups
  2. Squats
  3. Crunches
  4. Resistance band high pulls
  5. High-knee sprints

Exercise Descriptions
Perfect form is essential for exercise effectiveness and safety so make sure you perform each exercise using the best technique you can muster…

1) Press-ups
With your hands on the floor, shoulder-width apart, your legs straight and your shoulders, hips and heels aligned, bend your arms and lower your chest to the floor and then push back up. Inhale as you lower yourself down and exhale as you push back up. If full press-ups are too challenging, bend your legs and rest your knees on the floor.

2) Squats
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your feet turned slightly outwards. Push your hips back, bend your knees and descend until your thighs are roughly parallel to the floor. Push back up to standing and repeat. Swing your arms forward and back for extra momentum or keep your hands on your hips as preferred.

3) Crunches
Lie on your back with the knees and hips flexed to 90 degrees. With your hands at your temples, curl your head and shoulders off the floor and touch your elbows lightly to your knees. Do not pull on your neck as this can lead to serious injury. Lower your head and shoulders back to the floor and repeat. For an easier option, place your feet on the floor and slide your hands up and down your thighs to touch your knees

4) Resistance band high pulls
Stand on a resistance band with your feet shoulder width apart and a handle in each hand. With your arms extended and in front of your thighs, push your hips back, bend your knees and descend into a quarter-depth squat. Stand up straight and simultaneously pull your hands up to touch the underside of your chin. Lower your arms and then bend your legs before performing another repetition. Keep your chest up and try to lead with your elbows.

5) High-knee sprints
Tuck your elbows into your sides and bend your arms so your forearms are parallel to the floor. Run on the spot and lift your knees so that your knees come up to your outstretched hands. Each time your left knee touches your hand counts as one rep. Keep your torso upright and bring your legs up rather than your hands down. Pump your legs as fast as you can for the designated number of repetitions.

Simple and effective, this workout can be performed just about anywhere and is an ideal indoor option when the weather is (typically) bad. Make a note of your finishing time and try to beat it when you next repeat this workout. 

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WoW – Monday’s Workout 26/11/12

Ascending/descending conditioning circuit

The beauty of this workout is that, once you have reached half way, it only gets easier! This is both mentally and physically refreshing. Perform the number of reps indicated in the exercise descriptions. On reaching the last exercise, work back up the list until you have completed all of the exercises twice (except the 500 meter run/row). Try to complete the workout as fast as possible. Taking small pauses during exercises is acceptable if it allows the completion of the target reps although every effort should be made to complete all reps in one go.

1) 5 x pull ups

  • With a shoulder width overhand grip, hang from a sturdy overhead bar
  • Without swinging your hips, use your arms to pull yourself up so that your chin is above the bar
  • Pause for 1-2 seconds in this most contracted position before lowering under control back into the starting position

2) 10 x plyo press ups

  • Assume a press up position
  • Bend your arms and drive up explosively to jump your body into the air
  • Land and immediately ‘explode’ into another jump
  • Keep your body in alignment throughout
  • Do not perform this exercise if you have weak/damaged wrists and shoulders

3) 15 x burpees

  • Stand with feet shoulder width apart and hands by your sides
  • Squat down so that your hands are on the floor outside of your feet
  • Jump feet back into the press up position
  • Jump feet back under your body
  • Dynamically leap into the air
  • Land on your forefeet, bend knees and place hands on floor
  • Repeat
  • For a more advanced version of this exercise, add a press up

4) 20 x alternating lunges

  • Stand tall and take a large step forward with your left leg into a lunge
  • Bend the knee to so that your upper thigh lowers to a near parallel to the ground position
  • Push back to the start position and repeat to the right side
  • Each time you lunge with the left leg equals 1 rep

5) 25 x rubber band rows

  • Using 2 strong exercise bands, attached to a sturdy anchor at approximately chest height
  • Grasp a band in each hand and step backwards keeping the arms extended
  • Keep the spine upright and the torso still
  • When then tension in the bands is sufficient pull the arms into the body
  • The arms should extend past the torso and the hands should come into the hips
  • Slowly release the tension in the bands and return to the starting position before repeating

6) 30 x step ups

  • Leading with your left leg, step onto a suitably strong and high platform                that enables you to achieve a 90-degree angle at the knee joint
  • Bring your right leg up to join it
  • Keep your chest up and look forward throughout (don’t ‘sag in the middle’, keep your abs tight)
  • Step back to the floor with the left leg
  • Step up with the other leg
  • 1 rep equals 1 step up with each leg

7) 35 x press ups

  • Assume a prone position with your body supported through your arms and toes – there should be approximate straight line from your heels, through the top of your butt and shoulders and back of your head
  • Bend your arms to lower your body
  • Extend your arms to lift your body
  • Keep your core tight throughout this exercise
  • Press ups can be performed on the knees instead of the toes for an easier option

8) 40 x bicycle crunch

  • Lie flat on an exercise mat facing the ceiling
  • Extend both legs and lift them slightly off the ground
  • Place your hands next to your head, fingers lightly touching your temples
  • Draw your left leg towards you and simultaneously sit up and twist your torso so that your right elbow touches your knee
  • Without pausing, extend your left leg whilst at the same time drawing your right leg towards you and twisting your body so that your left elbow touches your right knee
  • Try to establish a steady rhythm and maintain it for the duration of the exercise
  • Each “cycle” of left and right equals 1 rep

9) 45 x jumping jacks

  • Stand with your feet together and your hands by your sides
  • Jump your feet out wide whilst simultaneously raising your arms out to the side to shoulder level
  • Immediately jump your feet back together whilst lowering your arms
  • Repeat

10) 500 meter run or row

  • Run or row 500 meters as fast as possible before working back up the list of exercises

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WoW – Thursday’s Workout 22/11/12

TRX and bodyweight workout

Of all the most recent no-frills workout devices to become popular, suspension trainers, specifically the TRX, is the most popular. The beauty of the TRX is it is highly portable, very versatile and can be easily adjusted to make your workouts harder or easier as required.

This circuit style workout targets all of your major muscles and will help you develop a lean, mean and strong physique!

Select an exercise position that allows 12-15 reps to be performed – move your feet forwards of backwards to change the angle of your body and adjust the difficulty experienced

Perform 2 – 3 sets of each exercise resting 45-90 seconds between sets. Alternatively perform the exercises as a circuit for 2-3 laps

1) TRX suspended lunge

  • Standing with feet hip width apart and the TRX behind you, place your left foot into the foot loop
  • Standing tall, your thighs should be level and your left leg bent to around 90 degrees
  • Extend your left hip and bend your right knee as if performing a backward lunge until your left knee almost touches the floor
  • Return to the standing position by pulling backwards with the right leg and pushing with the left
  • Perform as many repetitions as desired before changing lead legs
  • Initially you may need to use a balance aid such as an exercise bench or sturdy chair

2) TRX horizontal row

  • Hold a TRX handle in each hand
  • Lie beneath the TRX with legs straight, arms extended, body straight
  • Adjust the angle of your body by moving your feet to vary the difficulty of the exercise – the steeper the angle, the easier the exercise. Only your heels should be in contact with the floor
  • Without sagging at the hips or waist, use your arms to pull your body up               until your hands come into your armpits and your elbows are extended behind your body
  • Pause for 1-2 seconds in this top position before slowly lowering back into the start position
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

3) TRX atomic press ups

  • Adopt the press up position with both feet placed in the TRX foot loops
  • Ensure your core is tight, your body is straight and your shoulders are directly over your hands
  • Pull both knees into your chest whilst simultaneously lifting your hips as               high as possible
  • Under control, return to the press up position
  • Keeping your abs tense, bend your arms and lower your chest to the floor
  • Extend your arms and press your body back into the press up position
  • This constitutes one rep
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

4) TRX hip bridge/leg curls

  • Laying on your back, place both feet into the TRX foot loops
  • Extend your hips so that only your upper back is in contact with the floor and your legs are straight
  • Keep your arms outstretched at shoulder level for added stability
  • Make sure you maintain a tight core throughout the exercise but avoid                 holding your breath
  • Simultaneously pull your heels towards and lift your hips as high as you                 can so that your weight is now resting on the backs of your shoulders
  • Pause for 1-2 seconds before slowly lowering back into the starting position
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

5) Bodyweight leg triad (squat jumps, squats, lunges) –                 Perform as a superset with no rest between exercises…

a) Squat jumps

  • Start with feet just beyond shoulder-width apart
  • Bend the knees to a three-quarter squat position
  • Extend the legs to jump into the air
  • Land and immediately power up into another jump
  • Keep the torso upright
  • Look straight ahead
  • Land on the balls of the feet
  • Use your arms to assist your jump power

b) Squats

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart
  • Bend your knees so that your thighs are parallel to the ground
  • Push back up
  • Push your hips forward as you near full leg extension
    • Keep your trunk upright and look straight ahead

c) Lunges

  • Stand tall and take a large step forward into a lunge
  • Bend the knee to so that your upper thigh lowers to a near parallel to the ground position and your rear knee almost touches the floor
  • Push back to the start position and repeat to other side

6) TRX side plank

  • Sitting in front of the TRX place both feet into the foot loops
  • Rotate onto one side so that your weight is spread between your feet and your elbow/forearm
  • Rest your other arms along the side of your body
  • Hold this position for 30-45 seconds whilst keeping your body in a straight line – don’t sag at the hips
  • On completion, change sides and repeat

7) TRX bicep curls

  • With the TRX anchor point in front of you, hold the TRX handles and walk backwards until your hands are level with your shoulders
  • Adopt a split stance bending your back leg so that your feet are forward               of your hands and you are leaning backwards – the further forward your feet are, the harder the exercise will be to perform
  • Maintaining a tight core and avoiding flexing your spine or hips, bend your arms and, using your biceps, curl your body up towards the TRX handles until your arms are fully flexed and your hands either side of your head
  • Pause in this most-contracted position for 1-2 seconds before slowly extending your elbows and returning to the starting point
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

8) TRX tricep extensions

  • With the TRX anchor point behind you, the straps running over your shoulders and arms extended, lean into an incline press up position – the further back your feet are, the harder the exercise will be to perform
  • Keeping your arms level with the floor and bending only your elbows, lower your body towards the floor until your hands are level with your forehead
  • Straighten your elbows and use your tricep muscles to push you back into the starting position
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions ensuring your core remains tight throughout

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women curls

How can I spice up my weight training routine?

women curlsAssuming that you normally perform whole body workouts, one of the best ways to liven up your weight training is to adopt a split routine. Split routines are used by bodybuilders and other sports people and are a method for separating your body into different parts and training those parts on different days.

A split routine allows you to use a greater variety of exercises and also perform more volume than would normally possible if you were training your whole body in a single session. There are a huge variety of ways of splitting up your training week – all of which work well. When deciding which split routine to use it’s important to consider how often you can train and how much time you can dedicate to each session. If you can only hit the gym 3 times a week for example, a 4 way split workout is no good for you. To help get you started, here are a few common split routines for you to try…

Upper/Lower body split.
Simply divide your body in half and train your legs on Monday, your upper body on Wednesday and your legs again on Friday. The following week reverse your body parts so that over the 2 week period, every muscle group gets equal attention. This is a good method for those new to split routines.

3 Way Split.
On Monday, perform exercises for your chest and triceps, back and biceps get trained on Wednesdays and legs and shoulders are worked on Fridays. Rest over the weekend and start over on Monday by repeating the cycle.

4 Way Split.
This routine breaks down the body into even smaller groups which means workouts can be shorter or you can get a lot of work done in the same time. On Monday perform exercises for your chest, on Tuesday train your back, rest on Wednesday, train your legs on Thursday and on Friday focus on shoulder and arms.

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Pair of big heavy dumbbells over white background

The art of Programme Design part 2

Pair of big heavy dumbbells over white backgroundNot every one wants to be a bodybuilder!

Something I have noticed many trainers often do, regardless of their clients’ needs, wants or goals, is to prescribe split routines. Split routines are the reserve of the body builder or strength athlete and really have no place in the average gym users’ weekly schedule!

 The whole point of a split routine is to permit large amounts of volume to be performed for individualized muscle groups to encourage hypertrophy to occur which is influenced directly by training volume. Very few of our clients are seeking such a specialized response from their exercise routines and therefore are most of them aren’t candidates for this type of training.


The majority of our clients will benefit far more from performing different whole body routines 2-3 times weekly plus an appropriate amount of cardiovascular exercise on the days in between.

Full body training uses large amounts of energy, eliminates the need for lots of isolation exercises, is extremely time efficient, promotes muscular balance and trains the body as a single synergistic unit – which is how it normally functions. All it takes is a single missed workout from a weekly split routine and the whole programme becomes unbalanced whereas missing one day of whole body training will, other than a missed exercise opportunity, will still address all of the clients’ muscular needs. Also, human nature being what it is, it’s quite likely that if a client is going to miss a workout, it’s going to be one they enjoy less or find hardest and chances are, that’s the one they can’t afford to miss because it’s the one that addresses their weaknesses.  

Whole body training requires creativity on behalf of the trainer, intelligent planning, correct ordering of exercises and also belief from the trainer that whole body training is a viable and useful method of training and not for “beginners only”. Writing split routines is relatively easy as it allows for a “kitchen sink” approach to exercise selection – no need to select quality exercises based on merit or functionality when you can do them all in a single session!

When teaching programme design I use the following template to help my students learn how to correctly order their exercises. This template does the hard work for you by balancing movement patterns and avoiding overlapping muscle groups.

1 Compound leg exercise e.g. squats
2 Horizontal pushing exercise e.g. bench press
3 Horizontal pulling exercise e.g. bent over rows
4 2nd leg exercise (preferably also compound) e.g. lunges
5 Vertical pushing exercise e.g. shoulder press
6 Vertical pulling exercise e.g. lat pull downs
7 Triceps exercise e.g. tricep push down
8 Biceps exercise e.g. bicep curls
9 1st core exercise e.g. stability ball crunches
10 2nd core exercise e.g. 45 degree back extensions







By slotting exercises into the above template, the trainer can easily produce an effective and well balanced whole body routine. With regard to repetitions and sets, these values are goal and fitness level dependent but somewhere between 8-20 reps for 1-4 sets should meet the majority of exercisers needs. Begin with a conservative approach to intensity and volume with the view of making the workout more intense over time as the client becomes fitter and more able to perform the workout. Remember that you don’t have to use the same rep and set scheme for all the exercises. Distribute the volume of the workout as necessary. For example you may have the client perform 3 sets of the leg exercises but only 2 sets for the rest of the body and only 1 set for the arms at the end.

Making progress

Once the basic programme has been designed and has been followed for a period of time, it will become necessary to manipulate the training variables to promote further improvements in fitness…

The training variables include the following:

  • Altering the rep range
  • Decreasing the rest periods
  • Increasing the number of sets being performed
  • Changing the exercises e.g. from machine to free weight
  • Increasing number of exercises per muscle group
  • Increasing the load being used
  • Altering the order of the exercises
  • Progressing exercise complexity/skill requirement
  • Increasing the balance or stability demand of the exercise e.g. progressing to stability ball exercises
  • Using unilateral (single limbed) movements
  • Combining exercises into complexes, supersets or adopting other training systems e.g. drop sets, super slow, pre exhaust or post exhaust training to name a few.

Periodic manipulation of the training variables and rotation of exercises should result in an almost endless variety of workouts without having to resort to split routines which are best left to bodybuilder wannabes and aren’t really suited for the majority of our typical clientele. There is nothing wrong with split routines per se, just the fact that they are often prescribed to clients’ whose requirements would be better met by whole body programmes.

So go and write a new workout for your self?  Use the template provided in this article and you are certain to design a well balanced and effective exercise programme.

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The art of Programme Design part 1

barbellBeing able to design good programmes is the one of the fundamental skills a personal trainer needs to be able to demonstrate. Our clients’ success depends on our skilful manipulation of the training variables and our financial success depends on our clients’ achieving their goals while hopefully enjoying the process. This all means we need to write exercise programs that are physically stimulating, mentally interesting, challenging and varied.

The object of this article is to explore the fundamentals of programme design with a view to sharpening up our programme design skills and avoiding getting stuck in a programme design rut!

The most common problem I see is that the majority of trainers write programmes that they would perform themselves…i.e. trainers with a cardiovascular background write CV programmes, whilst trainers with a resistance background invariably produce watered down hypertrophy sessions. This is not personal training! A clients’ programme should reflect their needs and wants and not reflect the area of interest of the trainer.

I recently heard about a personal trainer who had every single one of his clients on a very similar programme regardless of their experience, gender, goals or medical constraints…

  • 10 minute bike warm up
  • 20 minute treadmill intervals (1 minute fast/1 minute slow – 10 sets)
  • 2-3 resistance exercises (mainly isolation, performed as part of a split routine)
  • “Sit ups” – flexion based core movements (no extension, rotation, lateral flexion etc.)
  • Stretch (as time permits)
    Example programme designed by a not – so personal trainer

Reps were always in the 8-12 range, 3 sets were performed each time and the last set was, almost without fail, performed as a drop set.

 This kind of programme design is far removed from the personalized approach we teach at Solar Fitness Qualifications. The trainer in question (not one of our graduates!) may well experience some positive results with his clients initially but, needless to say, it won’t be long before his clients hit the dreaded “performance plateau” and a client who ceases to see improvements in their fitness and increases in their fitness levels is very likely to take their hard earned money elsewhere, leaving our not-so personal trainer with a gap in his diary and a subsequent drop in earnings – not a good scenario.

There are a number of prerequisite stages that need to be covered before we even set foot in the gym. Follow these steps and your clients will soon be well on their way to reaching their training goals…


1) Gathering information

The first stage of programme design is to gather information. Initially, this should take the form of an in depth medical questionnaire, a discussion of the clients general lifestyle (nutrition, time available, exercise history, likes, dislikes etc) as well as goal setting.  

 2) Health screening
After establishing our clients’ goals etc, we need to screen our clients fully to ascertain their readiness to exercise. The normal battery of static tests should be applied – blood pressure, Resting Heart Rate, Lung Function and Body Composition. Remember these tests provide personal trainers with a legal safety net and should never be ignored. The results of these static tests may reveal underlying medical conditions and also provide an opportunity for medical referral.

 3) Fitness Testing
Once we have established that our client is healthy enough to commence exercising, it may be necessary to conduct some rudimentary fitness testing including appropriate tests for cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility and proprioception/balance. This information can then be used to establish musculoskeletal fitness, energy system fitness, the setting of initial intensity levels and monitoring improvements in the coming months. 

 4) Review
On completion of this initial consultation, it might be necessary to adjust our clients’ goals if the gathered results suggest that they are unrealistic. Remember it is much better to under promise but then over deliver rather than over promise and under deliver! More often than not it is the trainer who will be blamed for the client not reaching their fitness goals, and not the client for non-compliance so ensure goals are challenging but realistic targets to improve your chances of success.

 5) Personalised programme design

When we have gathered all the pertinent information, it’s time to put pen to paper and start being creative with our programme design.

The first rule of programme design is “treat what you find”. Fitness training IS therapy and we have gained a lot of information about our clients physical well being. The results of our testing should be the lynch pin on which our programme is based…If the client is weak then they need to develop strength. Client is unfit then cardiovascular exercise needs to be prescribed. Poor flexibility? Developmental stretching is required. Poor posture? Postural correction exercises are needed. Weak core? Poor muscular endurance? Poor proprioception? You get the idea!

Treating what you find is the very essence of personal training – an individualized approach based on the clients physical needs.

In part 2 of this series well delve deeper into programme design for resistance training.

Posted in Resistance training, Understanding Fitness, WorkoutsComments (0)


Fitter, Faster, Stronger, Leaner part 1


progressionIt’s Monday, so it must be chest day…5 sets of bench press, 3 sets of dumbbell flies, 2 sets of dips and a couple of sets of press ups to finish the workout – same workout as last week, and the week before, using the same weights you always use and the same rep scheme. Or is it cardio day? Run 3 miles in 30 minutes, just like last week and the week before. Or is it Body Pump class today? Same work out as always, same weights, same exercises, same duration? Maybe you don’t even know what you did in last week’s workouts? Do you go to the gym and do whatever your training partner suggests or just do what you feel like doing?

If any of these scenarios sound familiar to you you’re not alone. Look around the majority of gyms and health clubs and you’ll see vast numbers of people doing the same training, week in and week out. When they look in the mirror they see the same old reflexion staring right back them…their physiques or figures haven’t changed in ages, their fitness improvements have stalled and they have the same strength today as they did this time last year.

There is an old saying in exercise – “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got”.

When they started their current workout routine what they were doing will have worked. It provided overload and sufficient training stimulus to force their bodies to adapt, to change, to improve. The thing is the human body is lazy! Once it can comfortably perform the activities it is being asked to do, it ceases making adaptations and we stop getting the benefits we seek from exercise. If we don’t try to progress our workouts, the very most we can expect is to maintain our current physical condition and the worse case scenario is that we actually lose fitness as our body becomes ultra-efficient at the exercises we perform which in turn lowers the training effect of our training sessions. It takes the body 3-6 weeks to adapt to a stressor like exercise. After that, it takes a new stressor to keep the body adapting and improving.

People stay with the same exercise regime for a number of reasons – partly physical and partly psychological. Examine this list and see if any of the points relate to you and your current workout situation:-

  • You’re good at all the exercises and don’t want to be seen doing things you aren’t good at
  • The programme you are on was written by an expert so it must work.
  • Your current programme worked initially so it will work again if you stick with it long enough
  • You only know a handful of exercises and have limited knowledge of programme design
  • You are comfortable with your routine and are reluctant to change it

Whatever your reason for not changing your routine I can’t stress enough that unless you do something different from time to time you are doomed to little or no progress!!! You are literally wasting your time in the gym! So if you want to get fitter, faster, stronger or leaner we have to force our bodies to adapt and improve – and that means we have to shake up our workouts on a regular basis.

I’m often asked “does it (exercise) ever get any easier?” The answer is a resounding “NO!” To see progress in our fitness levels, there needs to be a consistent trend of increased workload/work rate. Exercise isn’t easier the fitter we get – we just develop a greater work capacity.

In the rest of this article, I want to tell you about the “training variables” you can use to keep your workouts fresh, interesting and above all productive and discuss the importance of record keeping to keep us on the road to improved performance and appearance. So, grab your shovel because we have a rut to dig our selves out of!

Progression – the key to long term progress.

Making progress in our workouts requires the manipulation of the “training variables” – the characteristics of our workouts. By making changes to one or more of the training variables on a regular basis we can keep making steady progress towards our genetic potential for physical fitness. Let’s look at each of the training variables in turn:-

Resistance Training Variables – things we can change about the way we train with weights.

  1. Number of exercises per muscle group – can be increased or decreased
  2. Number of sets per exercise and per workout – can be increased or decreased
  3. Target repetition range – higher reps/low weight = more muscular endurance specific, lower reps/greater weight = more strength specific
  4. Loading – increasing the weight used for each exercise to develop greater strength
  5. Recovery period between sets – can be lowered to increase workout density (more sets possible per workout) or to challenge recovery ability
  6. Workout frequency – train more often
  7. Workout duration – train for longer
  8. Movement speed – can be increased to promote power development or decreased to extend the duration of a given exercise (referred to as Time Under Tension or TUT)
  9. Different exercises – e.g. trading barbell bench press with dumbbell bench press
  10. Stable based exercises to unstable – e.g. from machine based exercises to free weight exercises to challenge co-ordination and balance
  11. Simple exercises to more complex ones – e.g. from single joint exercises to multi joint exercises
  12. Exercise order – change the order of exercises performed in the session and training week
  13. Training systems – employ drop sets, super sets, forced reps, pre/post exhaust etc
  14. Split routines – split body parts up differently on a regular basis e.g. legs on Monday and not chest!

Changing any one of the above variables will result in a new stimulus which our bodies will have to adapt to resulting in improvements in fitness. With so many variables to choose from some restraint needs to be exercised so as not to change too much at the same time. Rather than randomly shake our workouts up, we want to employ a couple of the exercise variables for a period of 3-6 weeks and then, once we have adapted to the new stresses of our modified work out, make use of a couple more of the variables thereafter. For example, for 3 weeks focus on increasing the amount of weight used in each exercise, then for a further 3 weeks try to perform more reps with the weight constant, and then reduce the rest intervals gradually over the next 3 weeks and so on. By making small but significant changes on a regular basis we guarantee continued improvements in our fitness levels – up to our genetic potential.

In part 2 of this series, we’ll examine the training variables we can apply to cardiovascular exercise…

Posted in Fitness, Resistance training, Sports Training, Understanding Fitness, WorkoutsComments (0)

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