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The exercise principles in action - examples for personal trainers and fitness instructors [article]

Want to avoid messing up someone's training or losing personal training clients due to ineffective prescription. By applying the exercise principles to all of your personal training or fitness instructing clients you'll go a long way to ensuring success. Think of them as exercise laws if it will help you stay on track!

By now you should understand what the exercise principles are, and if not read 'exercise principles - what every personal trainer should know by heart'.  You will learn that the exercise principles are important in creating a safe, injury free, exciting and effective training environment for your clients.


This article looks at how the principles could be applied to two very different people: A typical gym goer; Mark Jones, and an elite athlete Valerie Villi.


Mark Jones:

Mark has never been in a gym before however has been told by his Doctor that it’s important to get active to lose weight and decrease his risk of obesity related diseases. Mark weighs 120kg and his aim is to lose 20kg and to be able to jog non-stop for 20 minutes at the end of 6 months. Currently he is walking his dog twice a week and gets a sore back when walking for longer than 20min.


Valerie Villi:

After winning the Olympic gold in shot put last year, Valerie is back into training and is preparing for the world champs in November. Her objective is to increase her max strength, her absolute power and to perfect her technique. She is currently training twice a day, once in the gym focusing on weights and the second training focusing on technique work.


Although the exercise principles are the same for both individuals they are applied differently to the training programs for optimal adaptations to occur.




Exercise should be specific to the individual completing the training


Mark: Training should take into consideration that he has never trained in a gym before, that he battles obesity and that he gets a sore back after prolonged walking.


Valerie: Training should be built around her strengths and weaknesses as determined by her coaching staff.



Exercise should be specific to the client’s goals, needs and capabilities.


Mark: Training should be specific to Mark’s current exercise capabilities and should focus on weight loss, decreasing back pain during exercise and reaching his goal of jogging for 20 minutes.


Valerie: Training should focus on perfecting Valerie’s technique and increasing performance (eg: all body power), in line with her weaknesses. Her overall goal is to win at the world champs so that’s when she needs to peak.



Exercise should overload the body in order for adaptation to occur


Mark: Overload for Mark may be as simple as increasing the duration of his walks by 2-3 minutes or increasing the number of walks he completes per week.


Valerie: Overload may include adding another set to her power lifting sessions or increasing the load being lifted per exercise.


Progressive overload

Exercise needs to continually overload the body if  adaptations are to continue to take place.


Mark: Progressively overloading Mark can be done by increasing his rate of perceived exertion (RPE) incrementally week by week or introducing resistance training exercises to his program each week over the following 10 weeks.


Valerie: Progressively overloading Valerie can be achieved by increasing her lifting load by 5 kg each week during her max strength training sessions or by increasing the tempo of her repetitions during strength training on a weekly basis.



Exercise needs to be varied for optimal adaptation to occur, avoiding stagnation, overuse and injury.


Mark: Variety can include offering Mark other aerobic exercises (eg: swimming or golf) to keep him interested in exercise and to keep him progressing towards his goal of losing weight.


Valerie: Variety can include offering various options to continually develop power such as outdoor medicine ball throwing sessions or upper body plyometrics at the beach.


Rest and recovery

Rest and recovery are required to allow the body to take on adaptations to exercise.


Mark: Recovery will focus more on time away from exercise; Mark will require a good 48-72hours to recover from any resistance training as it is a new exercise stress for him.


Valerie: Rest and recovery will be spent eating and hydrating in order to prepare for her next training session that day. She may even complete some aerobic exercise to clear lactic acid and relax the mind.



If you don’t use it you lose it


Mark: If Mark stops training the hard work he has put in to his jogging goal will be lost. Eventually he will return to his original level of fitness (eg: having to start walking again to increase fitness instead of increasing his jogging time).


Valerie: The smallest possible break Valerie takes from training the better in order to keep making adaptations. Reversibility of fitness occurs at the rate of about 1/3 of the time of it took to improve so halting training will only be a backward step to her goal of winning the world champs.



Fitness can be maintained by altering the F.I.T.T principle.


Mark: Instead of Mark walking 5 days a week at a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) of 6, he could decrease his number of walks to 3 but maintain the intensity of an RPE of 6 to maintain his current fitness level. This may free up time for other types of training like resistance sessions.


Valerie: Closer to the competition Valerie will decrease the number of sessions and /or the duration of her training, but keep the intensity of the sessions high in order to maintain her performance level without continually stressing her body.



The room for improvement decreases the fitter you become


Mark: Mark’s adaptations to training will typically occur very quickly and his gains in performance whether it's aerobic capacity, muscle endurance or strength will be large initially. These gains will slow as he gets fitter.


Valerie: Positive increases in Valerie’s performance will occur in small increments and will generally take a lot of training as her body is already conditioned with years of training experience.



Fitness components can interfere with each other when trained together


Mark: Later on in Mark’s training we may decide to train strength and aerobic capacity together at similar intensities and frequencies. This would lead to a smaller improvement to both Mark’s aerobic capacity and his strength, compared to if one component was being worked on.


Valerie: Training Valerie’s aerobic endurance to allow for more efficient and effective recovery at the same time as focusing on max power development would cause an interference effect. This would lead to a smaller gain in both components.


To avoid the interference effect you would use periodisation, placing emphasis on different training components at different stages of training.



Exercise principles in action shows us that the same principle can be applied differently for each client. The key to using the principles well is having a thorough understanding of them and their relationships along with having a really good understanding of your client and their needs before prescribing any exercise programme.


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