Maximizing the Efficiency & Effectiveness of Your Small Group Training Programming- Part 1
By Sarah E. Rippel
I have been working with clients for over 22 years. The further along I get in my career as a fitness professional, the more I appreciate simplicity. I used to create a lot more work for myself by overthinking almost everything, and was always trying to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. Fortunately, over the past couple of years I have really learned to embrace the basics. There were a few years a while back where I was obsessed with exercise variations. Coming up with unique variations is fun, and your clients will usually appreciate the novelty, but most of the time you can get more work done with simple twists on the basics.
I have always asked my clients to detail their sports/exercise experience. I can pretty much guarantee that when I am going over a new client’s paperwork and see that they were a dancer or a gymnast, it’s going to be easy to work with them! Why? They more than likely have excellent kinesthetic awareness (body control), which will make learning new movements easy. I have found that more often than not, for people who lack such a background, they simply do not know how to move in an efficient manner.
In general, no one teaches us how to move our bodies for everyday activities. Think about it. We learn how to move as athletes, if we had that background, but for those who didn’t have a childhood that was rich in physical activity, there are going to be some movement deficits.
It is our job to help our clients become masters of movement. In doing so, we are teaching them that they have control over their bodies. How empowering is that? What an opportunity! Yes, this should be obvious and most of us know this, but our methods of delivering an optimal learning experience in terms of movement patterning are not always effective.
Think about it: your group training clients come to you an average of three days a week. Outside of their three hours of training with you, many may not do any more exercise. The most important thing for them to do with you is simply to move…but moving for the sake of burning calories is not enough.
Moving at the expense of good mechanics is not only irresponsible on your part, it prevents you from truly helping your group training clients make progress long-term.
So how can you decrease the amount of time you spend correcting movement, keep the emphasis on the basics, and crank up the intensity as needed?
First, stop relying on verbal cueing as a main means of correcting movement.
I have learned to be a much more effective coach by focusing on exercise variations that do a lot of the coaching for me. What do I mean by this? Instead of using verbal cueing, which I have found to be ineffective to a great degree for most people, I prefer to use tactile cues and set up exercises in a manner so they click with an individual. Trying to correct someone while they are in the middle of a set is useless, yet so many fitness professionals seem to continue to try and fix things with words. I have found it’s best to wait until the set is done (unless the client is at risk of hurting themselves, then by all means stop immediately). Tell them what you were seeing and show them what you would like to see, then adjust the setup for the exercise in a manner that will facilitate this outcome.
For example, if a client has a hard time initiating a bodyweight squat with their hips and instead breaks at the knees first, have them squat to a box or bench of appropriate height. This will encourage them to sit back, and if they are worried they may fall backwards, the box/bench will be there. Even better would be patterning the squat to a box using a slow eccentric approach (which I will explain shortly). This is a very effective way to not only teach proper squat mechanics, but to also allow people to get a feel for proper depth during the movement (which is something that should be tailored to the individual).
Second, realize that 80% of the time, the basics are going to give you the most bang for your buck.
Reserve the unique variations for your more advanced clients in a group setting and even then, use them sparingly. Sure, if an exercise looks cool then people are going to want to try it, but if it is too advanced for most of them you’re just asking for disaster. Instead of trying to “wow” your clients with new variations, hammer the basics & allow them to truly master them, while finding ways to provide an ongoing challenge (such as using slow eccentrics, isometrics, and other techniques).
Third, use easy tweaks such as isometrics, slow eccentrics, and band-resisted movements to help your clients groove those basic movement patterns.
Your clients will feel bodyweight exercises a lot more when you force them to slow down, pause, and even work against band resistance as needed. Bodyweight training will always be king in my book. Nothing can compare to the fact that simply being able to move with impeccable mechanics is the foundation upon which all other training should be built. One of my favorite ways of doing the classic bird dog these days involves having my clients perform it on a a bench instead of the floor, incorporating an isometric hold at the top of each rep for up to five seconds.
So, just what is a slow eccentric? What is an isometric?
The eccentric phase of a movement is tied to the lengthening of a muscle. For example, when you perform a squat you begin by standing upright, then descending into the squat position. The descent is the eccentric, therefore you could take 2-5 seconds to get down to that squat position. An isometric is a contraction without changing the joint angles. It is a pause without losing engagement. An isometric in this case could be utilized in that squat position at the bottom, and it could be held for 2-5 seconds as well. You could perform a slow eccentric without an isometric, or simply focus on the isometric without slowing the eccentric, or you could get really crazy and do both! Keep in mind that these will increase the intensity, as the time under tension for each rep is increased, therefore you will need to perform fewer reps. I recommend coupling a 3- to 5-second second eccentric with a 2- to 3-second isometric and performing 2-6 reps.
So, how do you incorporate slow eccentrics and isometrics into a group training workout?
Here is an example of a training session my groups went through recently:
Circuit 1: 3 rounds
A1) Dead Bug Holds with OH Raise – use 15-20 lb kettlebell, & hold 3-5s x 10-16 total reps
A2) Pause Squat Jump – hold 3s @ start & finish, then stand up & reset for next rep x 3-5 reps
A3) Banded KB DL – wrapped 2-3x around handle x 8-12 reps
Circuit 2: 3 rounds
B1) Tall-Kneeling Band Pulldown with 2s pause x 15-20
B2) Bottoms-Up 1-Arm KB Clean & Press x 10-15 total (can be split into 5/side)
Circuit 3: 3 rounds
C1) Banded KB Swing – wrapped 1x around handle x 10-15
C2) BW or Goblet RFESS (or split squat) – 3s eccentric + 3s pause x 5/side
Circuit 4: 2-3 rounds
D1) Bumper Plate Carry: Press-Out to OH Raise – to end of building and back (50 yds)
D2) Bench Dog (bird dog on bench) – 5s isometric in “top” position, alternating x 5/side
To bring this to a close, the “KISS” (keep it stupidly simple) principle never fails. Any streamlining of programming means you can spend more time coaching. Cut out the crazy stuff and focus on the stuff that gets the job done. In addition, any streamlining of your coaching means you can spend more time being effective! Each and every time you work with your groups is an opportunity to refine your skill set and further develop your own unique system of group training. That’s a pretty awesome position in which to be!
Check Out Sarah Ripples Brand NEW Done for YOU Group Training System for Fit Pros: Build N’ Burn
Part II of this series by Sarah Rippel