Amanda joins the local commercial gym looking to get in shape. Her typical routine consists of endless amounts of cardio on the elliptical, treadmill, and stairmaster. She does spin three times a week and her strength training routine is virtually nonexistent. She does high rep, low weight exercises so she doesn’t become “bulky.” She continues month in and month out seeing very little results from all of her hard work.
Amanda is a prime example of someone that wants to be healthy, fit, tone, and in shape. So what’s the missing link?
Training for strength.
The general notion of lifting weights is that you will become bulky, especially if you are a female. While I understand that most women do not want to bulk up, the fact is it just won’t happen from lifting weights alone.
The term powerlifting has mixed meanings, but for now think of it as training to improve strength. People hear the word powerlifting and automatically assume we’re talking about 300lb guys snorting ammonia capsules. While in some circles this is the case, let’s consider the ideas of powerlifting and how they can be applied to regular gym-goers looking to improve body composition, lose fat, and build muscle.
The foundation to the sport of powerlifting is to get stronger on the squat, bench, and deadlift, because these are done in competition. Now while most personal training clients will never want to do a powerlifting competition, many of the same principles of this type of training can be implemented for maximal results.
The key thing to remember is this: building a foundational level of strength is vital, regardless of how specific someones goals may be.
I apply this principle to my own clienteles’ individual programs. No matter his or her goals, each program includes a squat, bench, and deadlift (or some appropriate variation of each). Many people get the idea that just because you are training for strength that you have to use a straight bar, or squat with a bar on your back. While these are specific to powerlifters, mimicking similar movements and philosophies will have a tremendous impact on a client’s progress. For example, when coaching a new client, I won’t throw them right under a bar and have them squat. Instead, I start them with a goblet squat so they can become proficient with that movement before we introduce the barbell. Always remember, it’s important to fit the exercise to the individual. Say someone wants to sumo deadlift, but they can’t quite get into a proper starting position. Instead of lifting from the floor, I’ll elevate the bar and have them work within that range of motion. Picking appropriate variations of each of these exercises will improve their strength in the long run.
Let’s get back to Amanda. Based on everything discussed so far, how would I improve the structure of Amanda’s training so that she is not only doing things she likes, but also making amazing progress at the same time?
1) First, I would talk to her about the benefits of lifting weights. Ultimately, explaining that getting stronger will have a greater impact on her physique than hours and hours of cardio.
2) Second, I would suggest that she focuses on strength up front in her training sessions. I would even suggest she do her light cardio on separate days from strength training. I think many times people really overdue things and do too much every single day. If you aren’t allowing your body to recover, you won’t make progress. With someone that may be skeptical like Amanda, strength training 2x a week to start is a good recommendation. Two, full-body sessions a week will get them familiar with resistance training and will not overwhelm them with tons of exercises to learn.
A two day program may look like this (provided there are no contraindications during the movement screening):
A1) Goblet Squat
A2) TRX row
B1) Romanian Deadlift
A1) Kettlebell Deadlift
B1) Lunge variation
B2) Chin up
C1) Side Plank
Always remember to pick appropriate variations for exercises. The exercises here can be modified to make them easier or more challenging depending on the client’s level.
No matter what your goals are, building strength is a tremendous asset to everyone. Place a priority on getting stronger and the rest will fall into place.