How do trainers know what program is right for their clients?

by Lisa Snow

Each trainer will have their own approach to Program Design.  For me, questions like these have always proved a strong starting point:

– What are the client’s goals?  Weight loss?  Increasing strength without bulking up?  Regaining the fitness level they had prior to an injury?  Running their first race?  Being able to actively play with grandchildren?

– What do they enjoy doing?  Do they hate the treadmill, but love to dance?  Or hate choreography, but love weights?  There is just no reason to make people do something they hate when there are so many options available.

– Which forms of exercise have they done in the past?

Following these personal questions, I take the client out onto the gym floor to find out where they are physically.  I look for clues like these:

– Are they asymmetrical, that is, are they stronger on the right side of their body?  More flexible on the left?  Or are both sides equally strong and flexible?  Can they balance better standing on one foot than the other?  While almost everyone begins with these right to left differences, correcting them can reduce risk of injury.

– Do they have strength imbalances?  For example, do they have strong legs but weak arms?  Or a strong chest but a weak upper back?

– How is their core stability?  Are their abs and other core muscles strong enough to hold their back in a healthy, neutral posture while they hold a plank or other still pose, move their arms and legs, or rotate?

– Have they lost any fundamental movement patterns?  These are simple moves that everyone could do as a child, and that all adults can re-learn, regardless of their strength, skill, age, or weight.  Patterns like squats, lunges, single-leg balancing, and so on.

– Is a more solid base of flexibility and mobility needed before they begin spending a significant amount of time on strength training?

How can you apply this info to your workout routine?  While the simplest way to find out your fitness level would be an assessment with a trainer, there are plenty of tests you can do at home, by yourself.  Here is one test you can try to today.

1-Leg Balance Test

Stand on your left leg with your eyes open, looking straight ahead.  Start your stopwatch immediately on going to a single leg.  Stop the clock as soon as you lose balance enough to touch down with the other foot.  Write down the number.  Repeat on your right leg.  If you reach one minute on either side, stop the test.

Interpret Your Results

Beginner: If you reached less than 15 seconds on each side, you need to focus on balance training for the next few months.  You can keep doing your regular strength training and/or cardio if you wish, but make balance your first priority.  While just practicing this standing balance is a good start, most people with poor balance would benefit more from additional balance exercises.  Try taking a yoga class, a Pilates class, or doing some 1-on-1 balance work with a personal trainer or physical therapist.

Intermediate: If you managed 30 sec – 1 min, with about the same amount of time on both legs, you can do more balance work if you wish, but you are ready to focus mostly on other things like strength training and cardio.

Asymmetrical: If you could keep your balance at least 10 sec longer on one side than the other, you need to work on correcting this imbalance.  Practice balancing on just the “bad” side for a couple of months, then redo the test to see if the “bad” side has caught up with the “good” side.  Remember, the “bad” side isn’t really bad, it just lacks practice.

Advanced: If you can do a full minute on both legs, and that feels easy, repeat the test with eyes closed.  Don’t be surprised if you can hold your balance for a much shorter time with eyes closed than you could eyes open.  Stop your watch when you have to open your eyes – don’t wait till you actually have to put a foot down to keep from falling.  Again, if one leg can balance far longer than the other, spend a couple months just working on the “bad” side.  If both are even, your balance is already excellent, and you’re ready to focus on strength training and cardio.

Lisa Snow, ACE, NSCA-CPT, is a graduate of the National Personal Training Institute. She has over 5 years experience helping men and women look and feel their best with in-home personal training.


Missed last month’s column? Read it now:

Who Benefits the Most from a Personal Trainer?
Motivate Yourself to Better Health
Three Dimensional Fitness