A Personal Trainer’s Guide to Exercise Design
The benefits of exercise are heard everywhere. Lose fat, gain muscle, improve cardio, look good, feel good, improve sports performance and so on are all reasons as to why people workout. Many of us will go to the gym with the best intentions but arrive and stare at the large building like a deer in headlights. For others, they want to get started but don’t know where to start. How do good coaches help their clients to reach their goals? Consider the following guide to help you along your journey.
1. Know what your goal is.
This seems like a simple concept. Know what your goal is and simply do the work to achieve that goal. Members in a gym, or people who want a change, will have a general goal. For most, it’s “I want to lose weight.” That is great. You have identified your goal but aren’t specific enough. Has someone ever given you a deadline? Ever feel the crunch as time starts dwindling down and suddenly work harder as your deadline approaches? As long as you’re reasonable about your time-frame, saying that I want to lose 10 pounds in 6 weeks may put that extra spark into your workout. If you don’t put a time-frame on your goals, you may not have the urgency to try and reach them.
2. Work smart.
You have your goal. You may have even circled it on the calendar with a red marker. Either way, you have your time frame and are ready to do some work. You enter the gym … and now what? Write down what you want to do before you go to the gym. Is it cardio and abs? Is it arms and legs? If you have your goal, you want a plan of attack. When you go to the grocery store without a list you tend to by things that you don’t want. When you go to the gym without some sort of plan, you may end up doing exercises that are irrelevant to your goal. If you know what you are doing before you even walk in, you will work 10 times harder. It’s good to keep the body guessing, but it’s not good to guess on what exercise to do next.
3. Focus on multiple movements before single movements.
You have your goal. You want to write down a plan of attack. What do you write? More people want to lose weight than to gain it, so this plan is for you. Let’s say you want to lose 10 pounds in six weeks and your plan of attack is to workout five days a week. Two days will be dedicated to resistance training while the other three days dedicated to cardio. When it comes to the resistance training, focus on your bigger muscles first then your smaller muscles. Ideally, you would do squats before you would do hamstring curls. Push ups before triceps pushdowns. There are a few reasons to this. One reason is that you don’t want your assistance muscles, the triceps in a push up and the hamstrings in a squat, to tire out before you start your big movements. That is personal training 101. The other reason is that you burn more calories when you do multi-joint movements. To put this into perspective, let’s compare two exercises: Push-ups and a triceps push down. When you break down everything that is moving in the push up, you have your shoulder, elbow and scapula doing movements. When you add the muscles worked in those movements, you have your Pec major, Coracobrachialis, Anterior Delt, Pec Minor, Serratus Anterior, Triceps Brachii and Anconeus. That is a lot of muscles being worked. When you look at the triceps push down, your elbow is moving and the muscles being worked are your Triceps Brachii and Anconeus. You don’t have to be an exercise science major to realize that when you are working more muscles, you burn more calories. Here is a sample workout plan:
- Push Up
- Dumbbell Row
- Dumbbell Shoulder Press
- Biceps Curl
- Triceps Pushdown
- Leg Curl
When you look at this, you will notice that it is starting with your multiple joint movements and working down to the single joint movements. You can also add several moving things together. For example, I have clients that want to lose weight but have nice arms so I will have them do a forward lunge with a biceps curl.
4. Trying to lose weight? Focus on total body more than anything else.
Now that we understand the concept of multi-joint to single joint, let’s start to put things together. When you arrive at the gym, your focus should be more of a total body workout as opposed to chest day, leg day etc. Split routines have their time and place, but if your goal is to lose weight and try and lose it fast and efficiently, total body may be the way to go. There are a few reasons to this as well. One reason is that you will get a greater hormonal response as opposed to split routines. Your body will release greater amounts of testosterone and growth hormone. Both hormones are important for the building of muscle and loss of fat. The other reason to this is that with so many moving parts moving throughout, there will be more calories burned. The body burns calories in recovery as well so when your whole is in recovery mode, you can expect more calories burned and a higher metabolism.
5. Mix up cardio.
Cardio is necessary to your goals but it is also dreaded among many people. The goal is to mix it up. While running for an hour straight every day will help you lose weight, it can get boring and frustrating which in turn can cause you to stop working all together. For many clients, past and present, I have them do two different types of cardio: steady state cardio and intervals. Let’s go back to our original example. Your action plan is to work out five days a week with two days dedicated to resistance training and the other three dedicated to cardio. Your schedule is set: Monday, Wednesday and Friday are cardio and Tuesday and Thursday are weights. On Monday, you can do a steady state cardio for 20-40 minutes (or longer or shorter depending on what you can handle), Wednesday 30 minute intervals of a 1:1 – 1:3 work/rest ratio, Friday intervals for 15 minutes followed by slow steady state cardio for 15 minutes. Intervals work by running at a high intensity for a period of time and resting for a period of time that matches your work period or slightly longer. For example, sprinting for :30 seconds followed by :30 seconds of walking is a 1:1 work/rest ratio. Sprinting for :30 seconds followed by :90 seconds of walking/jogging is a 1:3 work/rest ratio. Remember that treadmills aren’t the only piece of cardio equipment. Elliptical, stair masters, bikes and row machines are all different modes you should familiarize yourself with to prevent boredom and monotony.
These are five items that you can incorporate into your program or use it as a guide to help you get started. If you’ve ever wondered what goes through the mind of trainers and coaches, this is a small piece into our world. Whatever your goal is, strategize and attack!