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Strength Training Program Design: The Basics

By Karyn Gallivan, MS, ATC, CSCS, NSCA-CPT, NASM-CPT
Contributor, Sports & Fitness Network

For the last several months, I have been discussing components of a fitness assessment.  Of course, the assessment provides great information from which to begin with your clients, but it is not an end in itself.  Program design will take the information gleaned from a fitness assessment and help you to create an appropriate strength-training program.

The fitness assessment serves as your needs analysis. Additional variables to be considered are exercise selection, training variables, exercise sequence and progression.  Exercise selection may be as simple as the equipment that is available, the exercises a client actually likes to do, and those exercises that will help move the client toward their goals.  The training variables can be as simple as the number of exercises, load, volume, and rest periods (intensity). The exercise sequence is another important consideration.  More difficult and complex activities (multi-joint, compound exercises) should be done first, followed by single joint exercises.  Core movements can be performed both as mart of a warm-up and after the bulk of the workout.  In addition to this, any weak links should be taken into consideration.  For example, if a client has a weak hip (weak hip abductors), it is even more important to do compound movements like the squat and lunge first, as the small hip abductors are important in maintaining proper knee alignment throughout this exercise; a very important consideration in keeping the knee safe.

Another way to look at this is to choose exercises that are goal-specific and perform them in an order that is complex to simple (after a proper warm-up, of course).  Be aware that the use of any unstable surface needs to be carefully considered with regard to what the client is able to perform safely.

Still another consideration is the overwhelming popularity of boot camp, high intensity, and crossfit training type programs.  Everything has its place.  However, the average client that many of us train is severely deconditioned, and quite possibly has one or more chronic disease risk factors.  In order to participate in one of these popular programs and be safe, a client like this would need to train for several months with that goal in mind.

The bottom line is to avoid cookie-cutter programs, keep the client’s goals in mind, and always be aware of any weak links they may have.  Instead of having to take a break or cut back due to injury or overtraining, this will give the both of you an opportunity to always be moving forward toward their goals.

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