Bend Iron to Your Needs

When a coach or trainer is writing a client’s program, he has decisions to make.

Those decisions are based on what that client is attempting to achieve, in a given amount of time.

Other variables factor in too.

  1. Injuries– what do we have to work around or avoid completely
  2. Muscle imbalances– what movement patterns have to be addressed before an all-out strength program can be implemented, and then identify what muscles need “special attention.”
  3. Genetics– some folks are simply more, or less, inclined to benefit from certain exercises. This includes squat stances, grip widths, and so on.
  4. Coordination and balance– Some exercise may be contraindicated at first because your client’s coordination will not support the complex movement.
  5. Client commitment– how often will your client be working out when they are not with you, and how will those workouts (or lack of) affect the program?

These are just a few examples. There are many more to consider. This is the science of program design.

Once you’ve addressed all of these variables, the art of program design kicks in. The trainer gets to focus their attention at this point on their “tool box.”

Something to keep in mind, one trainer’s tool box may be vastly different than anothers. A trainer who has extensive education in weightlifting will have a different looking set of tools from a trainer that has focused more on post rehabilitation training.

Back to the tool box. In a trainer’s minds eye, she can see all of the tools available to her. She knows the clients goals, she knows the clients unique circumstances, now she gets to choose the tools the get the job done. From the tools available to her, she gets to decide which ones would best suit her client right now.

But the art of program design doesn’t stop their. The true craftsman ship is in the molding of the tool (exercise) to fit a particular client. It’s not enough to drag and drop a squat into a program. That’s a rookie mistake.

Use your experience and creativity to mold exercises to fit your clients needs.

An effective squat for one person (a squat that actually gets someone closer to their unique goals) can be radically different from someone elses. Depth, foot width, bar placement, load, tempo and movement mechanics themselves can differ person to person depending on what the client is wanting to accomplish.

That’s one reason that I can’t stand the “if you’re not squatting ass to floor, then you’re not squatting” argument.

A person lifting with a disc herniation wouldn’t be lifting anymore if they squatted this way, and some lifters anatomy simply doesn’t allow for this range of motion without nasty compensations.

Tools can be manipulated to fit your needs. What matters, more than the exercise, is strengthening a movement pattern that will benefit your client. Take a squat, bend it to your client’s needs, and call it whatever you want. It doesn’t matter what the tool is called if it helps your client.

That’s where the creative manipulation of your tool box comes into play. Throw out absolutes. Instead of having one tool at your disposal, you now have 20 variations of the same tool.

Now the exercise fits the client, versus forcing your client to fit an exercise.

That’s why, when I’m at the gym and I witness a trainer with a client doing an exercise “wrong” I try not to judge to quickly. They may have found a variation of an exercise that is perfect for their client.

Make sure you have a sound understanding of human movement and your client’s unique needs, then enjoy the creative part of program design.

Matt Pirtle MA CSCS