Friday, August 23, 2013

Beginning Weight Training - Setting Up the Program, (Part I) - By Jay Trigg

One of the most frequently asked questions in the gym, internet training Q&A’s, and magazine articles is: "How does one set up a training program if one has never lifted weights before? How can I ensure that I will utilize the correct exercises and intensity when I train?" While the question seems easy enough to answer, many great minds in the "weight training world" have pondered this question at great length, and have come up with many different answers to the question. There are as many different answers as there are styles of training. Depending on who one asks, the initial routine can take on many forms and functions. A beginning trainer working with Dr. Leistner would certainly train differently than one working with Brooks Kubik. And Bob Whelan might train a new person much differently in some respects than Steve Baldwin or Andrea Rippe. Yet, undoubtedly, all trainees would stand the same chance of success in making the desired physical and mental changes no matter which of the above trained them. All of the above have proven themselves to be effective trainers and are well educated in the field of exercise and its application. So, it isn’t a particular style of training that is necessarily more effective, but rather it is the construct and application of a training regimen that tends to prove successful over time.


Beginning trainees come in all sizes and shapes. From 17-year-old high school athletes needing some weight and strength to make the varsity squad, to guys and gals in their mid-20’s who want to "get buff". 40-year-old executives who want to lose that "executive spread", as well as improve their health and self-image, all the way to 50-year-old women who want to attack the aging process before it attacks them.

The first perspective is to address your (and my) attitude towards the trainee. Often we enter a relationship with a "newbie" somewhat prejudiced to their individual goals and desires. If my number one goal is to press a water filled keg overhead with one hand, while closing the Captains of Crush #4 gripper in the other hand, and my trainee wants to "look good on the beach this summer", my attitude can get in the way of his training. While his goal is not my goal (or at least my primary goal, now that I am married), his goal is not a bad one. What he is saying is "I want to have a body that is healthy, muscular, and fit". Sounds like my goal, as well. Only my priorities are different in achieving that goal. So if we assume that all trainees, or serious ones anyway, are looking to improve themselves physically we should be all right. We just have to understand that their goals and aspirations may be different from ours in the physical realm.

The second perspective is to look at the needs, limitations, and abilities of the trainee. Generic training advice is often the worst training advice. It fails to address specific needs that the trainee may have. With a new trainee, it is best to first evaluate the limitations they may have. It is not safe to assume that everyone can safely squat, especially on the first day. Nor is it safe to assume that anyone can do barbell curls, or even leg extensions. The better thing to do is to speak at length with the trainee about specific physical problems and concerns they may have. Obvious is questions about injuries and surgeries. Not so obvious may be discomfort in exercises done prone, exercises requiring a strong grip (rows, pulldowns) or exercises that require a rotation around a joint that is unusual for the trainee (grabbing the bar on squats for example). You don’t have to be a physiological whiz to figure these things out, either. Generally the client can inform you of specific problems they may have. You may also find out that with this knowledge you can easily adjust exercises, via positioning or performance, to safe and effective means.

It is also good to walk the client through every machine and exercise you have available to them. While this isn’t an "official workout", I treat it as one. I have the client warm up on a Schwinn Aerodyne for 10 minutes, do some light stretching, and we then use every machine and implement available. Utilizing light weights and low repetitions, we put each move through its full ROM, checking for constant feedback from the trainee. "Does this feel okay?" "Any pain or weird catches?" "How does that weight feel? Heavy, medium, or light? If I told you to do 15, could you do it easily or not at all?" By doing this we are insuring several things:
    a. The trainee knows we are concerned for their safety and comfort. They can be told that proper exercise will often be uncomfortable and even somewhat painful at times, but as well should know it will never be unsafe or prone to injury, and that the exercise chosen will be appropriate for their physical abilities and limitations.

    b. That we know the trainees state of mind. Women are often intimidated about entering a "man’s realm", especially if the other females they see present are fit and powerful. Men are often intimidated because they feel they are "less masculine" because they haven’t reached or maintained a state of physical fitness. Others, particularly young males, are more interested in doing a lot of bench presses soon, rather than developing a whole body. While some of these can be somewhat frustrating to deal with at times, it is our responsibility to educate and motivate the trainee. And this situation may be our first real look at how they view themselves, effort, and exercise.

    c. That the trainee has some initial familiarity with the machine, implements, and exercises they will be using. Even if you never plan on using a leg extension with a trainee, knowing that they can use it and use it properly is insurance for the day they come in to train with a cast around an ankle. You also begin to get a look at some of the problems and technique issues you and the trainee will soon be facing in the weight room. Some clients move to fast, some let the weight stack fall too quickly banging the stack. Others can’t get the hang of breathing correctly, others are too cautious, and still others will get into orthopedicaly suicidal positions the moment you blink your eyes. It is better to find this out early and with minimally challenging weights, than to suddenly wake up to the fact that your trainee is inhaling as he comes up from the bottom of a heavy squat.

    d. The initial questions get answered quickly and appropriately. For example, if you don’t allow trainees to use weight belts or straps, this is the time to address this and why you don’t recommend them. If your philosophy is "sets x reps" on free weights and "’go til ya’ puke" on machines, now is the time to explain why you make that distinction and how it applies to the trainee. If you like "push - pull", or "duo-poly-contractile" explain to the client why that is good, and how it works. Also, this is the best time to explain to and show what muscle groups each exercise is working. Explain how the delts and triceps get a workout in the overhead press (and show them THEIR delts and triceps, not yours). Explain how the row affects lats, rear delts, and biceps. Give them enough gross anatomy so that they can make sense of what the exercises are for, and why in the world a stiff leg deadlift is a hamstring exercise, not an arm exercise.
This is the conclusion of Part I of this series. Part II will address exercise selection, special needs, and individualizing a "cookie cutter" routine (after all, you only got so much equipment, right?)


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