Principles for Success
There are some basic concepts you must understand in order to create a successful program. These concepts include specificity, overload, and training variables, and are the absolute fundamentals of training. Without utilizing these principles, any attempt to increase strength and conditioning would be ineffective. Even if you are not familiar with these terms, chances are you have applied the principles in your personal exercise program or you would never progress.
The premise behind specificity is that you need to stress the system of the body where you want to see benefits. Resistance training will increase muscular strength, but is not an effective way to train balance. Stretching will increase flexibility, but will not affect aerobic conditioning. Specificity is important because, if you are not training the right system, your client may not reach his goals. This is the reason generic, cookie-cutter workouts are unwise and ineffective.
If you have a client who wants to increase upper-body strength, you have to perform upper-body resistance training. Training the legs will make her stronger, but will not help her reach her goal. Strength training for the lower body will likely be a part of the program, but the main focus should be on upper-body strength training, such as bench press, chin-ups, pushups, dips, bicep curls, etc. More specifically, you will need to use enough resistance so she can only perform eight to twelve repetitions. This is where you will truly see strength gains. If she can lift more than twelve, she is training muscular endurance and not muscular strength.
The principle of overload is that in order to effect a physical change, you must stress the body beyond a certain threshold. This, of course, must still occur within a safe limit. Whether you are training muscular strength, muscular endurance, or cardiovascular endurance, this principle must continuously be applied or your clients will not move toward their goals.
After a period of time, your client's body will adapt to training, and the sixty pounds she was bench pressing will no longer feel like a challenge. To continue seeing progress, you will need to employ the principle of progressive overload. In order to increase chest strength, you will need to increase the weight until she can only achieve eight to ten repetitions. This is a sufficient amount of weight to overload the muscle, resulting in strength gains. If she continues to bench sixty pounds, she will not increase her chest strength. It sounds simple, and it is, but the application of this principle is a key factor in the success of any program.
There are three variables that you can manipulate to keep your clients moving ahead: frequency, intensity, and duration. These variables are exactly what they sound like. Frequency is how often your client performs a certain exercise. Intensity is how hard she works at it, and duration is the length of time she is performing the exercise. You will often have a client who is trying unsuccessfully to lose weight. You might start him out walking on the treadmill three times per week for thirty minutes at three and one-half miles per hour. After several weeks, this will no longer be a challenge to his body. He will need to make a change in the workout in order to progress. You can do this by increasing the number of days he is walking, the speed at which he is walking, or the length of time he is walking. If he does not have more time to devote to exercise, you can increase his speed to three and three-quarter miles per hour. You could also have him perform intervals where he jogs at five miles per hour for one minute, then recovers at his normal pace for three minutes. The same can be true of any of the other components of a program: balance, core strength, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and flexibility. Whatever system needs to be challenged can be overloaded with an increase in frequency, intensity, or duration; small increases are all that is necessary. Remember to keep in mind the fitness level of your client, as well as any limiting factors such as time and personal preferences.
Your goal is to create a safe, effective, and enjoyable program. Keep in mind that your client may end up performing this on his own. Do not get too complicated or creative with the exercises. If your client finds the program too challenging or confusing, he may become frustrated and lose interest.
Variety Is Key
Without variety in a program, your client will quickly become stagnant and bored. Workouts should not change only in difficulty, but in format as well. There are many variables within a program that may be manipulated, including but not limited to, the number of sets per exercise, repetitions per set, rest periods between sets or exercises, and resistance used.
There are always exceptions to the rule. You may have some clients who like to perform the same workouts at the same intensity all of the time. The routine is comfortable for them and they resist and dislike change. Since your job is to keep your clients safe and happy, then by all means be accommodating. You can make very small changes for these people by varying the order of the exercises or the number of sets. Or you could try to introduce very small changes periodically and see how they respond. You may be able to nudge them out of their comfort zone a bit with gradual modifications.
Start off with basic exercises that are easy to remember and not too difficult to perform. Ease your clients into the workouts. You can always move to more advanced exercises over time. Setting the bar a little low in the beginning will help people feel more competent, and they will have more confidence to perform the workout without you.