Training Staff for Program Design Progression


Wendy Williamson, Ph.D., is a nationally sought-after speaker in the areas of general personal training education, medical exercise service and post rehabilitation. She was recognized by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) in 2005 and 2006 as one of the top three personal trainers in the nation. A contributing author of the 2008 Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist – ACE Training Textbook, Williamson routinely writes and reviews national certification testing criteria for personal trainers. She has an extensive track record in teaching and curriculum development and is the owner of Williamson Fitness Consulting. Williamson continues to provide hands-on post rehabilitation training at Genesis Health Clubs in Wichita, KS.

When working with a multitude of clients, your trainers must understand that each and every person is different.

I remember a woman who at the age of 72 came into a health club to begin an exercise program. The inexperienced trainer didn’t do an assessment and put her on a balance board right away without any physical support. The lady fell, broke her ankle and sued the company.

I have a 76-year-old client who has the ability to stand with one foot on the balance board and perform a cable row exercise. She has had two knee replacements and one hip replaced. Theoretically, she should have a difficult time performing a one leg and arm row on a balance board. However, she began exercising with me four years ago, and she progressed to this level over time.

A certified, educated and talented personal trainer should have the ability to provide an exercise program design that will progress their clients in reaching their goals whether they are increasing their ability to play a sport, correct a dysfunction or recover from an injury or disease.

One of the most important components in a program design that offers progression in training is starting with an assessment. Regardless of the condition, whether it is someone who has had a hip replacement or a heart attack or an appendectomy, the components of the program design varies. Their beginning point of exercise is different. Much lies in understanding their physical condition and progressing them slowly based upon their capabilities.

Once your trainers complete an assessment, they must determine the exercises needed to progress the client to the next level because not all exercises are effective for all people. They should design the program understanding the risks, dangers and safety factor.

You must educate the new fitness professional to map the fitness floor. They should score each piece of equipment for safety and level of progression with numeric values one to four. (Value one would be relatively easy and very safe, and value four would be challenging and difficult.) They should then list as many exercises as possible that can be performed using the accessories (bands, balls, etc.) or machines, then score them one to four. Now that the equipment has been scored for safety and progression, the fitness professional has several hundred exercises from which to draw for program design.

For new employees or inexperienced fitness professionals, try providing them with a case study for which they offer a program design and defend that program plan. Once the case study is completed, have the case study progressed three times.

Based on the program that the trainer offers, a fitness director or manager will immediately know if the fitness professional is ready to begin seeing clients and prescribing program design and progression. If they are not, have them work with a mentor for several days or weeks, and repeat the case study process within a timely manner.

Even if the fitness director/manager is not in complete agreement with the program design or progression, if the fitness professional can justify why they prescribed a respective plan, then all can learn and understand the varied ideas and/or options.

The cookie-cutter approach to program design does not work and will certainly not allow your trainers to advance in their careers. Through appropriate and successful fitness assessment, program design and progression, fitness professionals will earn their keep, reach goals, maintain retention and be extremely successful. It takes time, practice and diligence, not to mention lots of experience and personal attention. We must keep the “personal” in personal training so that each client is addressed individually since people truly are all different.

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