Workout Program Review: NASM’s OPT Model Phase 1 Template

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                I often tell my students that workout programs are like cooking recipes, it is impossible to know for sure what the end result will be unless you actually do the program or you actually cook the recipe.  However, just like an experienced chef might make a recommendation (you may not want to cook at that high of a temp, you may have used too much flour), an experienced trainer can look at a workout program and offer critiques.  They are not promises or guarantees, the principle of individual variation tells us that we can’t know for sure how one will respond to a certain type of training, but most individuals tend to have similar responses to exercise.

                Recently a well-respected fitness professional, Brad Schoenfeld, posted up a picture of a workout on his facebook page.  The workout was a sample template for a theoretical client and it is found in the NASM’s CPT textbook (4th edition).  He posted this comment along with it:

opt-model-phase-1

          

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps I'm missing something, but why in heck does someone with the goal of losing body fat need to do extensive core/balance training and stability ball exercises? And single-leg DB scaption to work the shoulders? Seriously?

                Brad has a large following of fitness professionals, he has written several books and conducted much research himself, and his post generated a lot of discussion.  Many people piled on with the critiques saying the program was bogus, others defended the work, and others mentioned that without knowing more about the client no judgements could be made.  A few posters suggested that instead of simply offering critiques it would be more productive to offer substitutions and explanations instead.  I took that message to heart as I thought this could be a great learning experience for the students at NPTI and for budding trainers looking to learn more about exercise programming.

                My aim with this article is to highlight what I believe to be the pros and cons of this program set-up, and then offer suggestions when I think there can be an improvement.  For any readers that don’t know me, I am the Director of the National Personal Training Institute which is a school for personal trainers.  I have personally instructed over a 1000 students to become a personal trainer.  That doesn’t mean I taught a one or two day course to those getting ready to become certified.  I am referring to guiding the prospective trainer through the full 600 hour, 6+ month long curriculum at NPTI.  As part of the program we teach the NASM’s material including the OPT Model and their way of doing things and the NASM CPT exam is included in the cost of the student’s tuition.  I have also been a personal trainer for almost 20 years, I have written over a hundred articles and 2 books on fitness including the textbook used by NPTI.  That does not mean what I say can’t be wrong or can’t be challenged, I am human and I can make mistakes with the best of them, but it does mean I am very familiar with the material.  I am also comfortable drawing conclusions from both academic sources and my own practical experience, some might say that is a weakness, I would argue it is a strength. 

First, a few disclaimers

  • This is not intended to be a full critique of the entire curriculum presented by the NASM or as an organization as a whole, this is a critique of a specific workout program.
  • It is true that it is difficult to know exactly how to set up a program for a hypothetical client.
  • There are many different possible routines one might reasonably establish for this type of client, that is the art and science of personal training.  The only true way to know for sure what produced better results would be to take a clone of that person through each of those routines, controlling for the confounding variables, and then measuring results.  Since that isn’t possible some assumptions have to be made.  Years of experience makes those assumptions easier but they are just that - assumptions. 
  • I firmly believe a big factor in how a client responds to a trainer is how the client ‘sells’ the workout to them.  You sell best what you believe in the most.  A trainer’s passion and enthusiasm for the program they put the client on will shine through, and I encourage trainers to find the types of fitness modalities that excite them and share that with their clients.  The Hierarchy of Strength suggests that belief in oneself is a key component to results.  If a trainer tries to use a workout program they don’t believe in, even if the program itself might be good, that often comes through and it weakens the experience for the client.

 

A little bit more about the NASM

 nasm-opt-model-pic               To understand the background behind this program one has to know a little bit more about the NASM.  To be clear, I do not work for the NASM, however I do teach their material to our students.  It is not our primary resource, that would be our own textbook, but the NASM material is our main secondary resource.  The NASM is the largest personal training certification in America and it is a cert that is generally well recognized and accepted by most commercial fitness centers in the US. 

            The NASM can be a bit polarizing to some because their focus isn’t so much about teaching a basic understanding of fitness as might be the case with NSCA or ACE, instead the NASM has a very specific way of training clients and a very specific way of doing things.  To pass their exam you will need to know their way.  They believe the OPT Model – Optimum Performance Training Model – is the ideal way to train clients.  The OPT Model is a very convenient method for new trainers to use because it greatly simplifies exercise program design, it essentially makes it a ‘drop-down menu’ for trainers so as long as the trainer can accurately categorize what stage or phase a client is in, the template becomes reasonably easy to populate.  Some in the fitness world, typically those that are more comfortable creating their own workout routines, may find the template to be too rigid.  The other note about the NASM is they put posture, or at least certain areas of it, squarely in the scope of practice for a personal trainer, whereas most other personal training organizations do not.  The NASM tends to focus on a biomechanical view of posture and pain.   

            The OPT Model suggests putting clients into one of 5 phases, as shown in the chart above.  Each phase has its own specific program design considerations.  What is being discussed here is the sample template for a client in phase 1 – which is called Stabilization Endurance.  This is the phase that the NASM suggests beginners follow and essentially this is their version of a beginner program.  This leads us to the first issue and likely one of the sources of contention about the sample workout.

            As you can see from the template, the goal of the individual is fat loss, but then again this person is a beginner.  How important is a specific goal to address when training a beginner?  That is a good question and many good trainers may answer it differently.  At NPTI we would suggest that the goal really isn’t that important, if the client is truly a beginner they should follow a beginner workout which generally has the following goals:

  • To enhance the components of fitness (all of them – strength, muscle endurance, cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, and body composition)
  • To learn proper form on the exercises
  • To prepare the body for more intense work to become

                If a client approached a trainer and said “I want to become a bodybuilder but I have never lifted weights before” I don’t think it is appropriate to immediately throw that client on a bodybuilding style workout, instead I would advocate they follow the beginner workout for 2-3 months and then they can consider specializing after they have laid down a solid foundation.  The same is true for fat loss.  If a client wants to lose fat but really they are beginners, just getting them started on the right track is likely key and they don’t necessarily need to follow a more typical fat loss program that might be incorporated for a more advanced client.  Obviously if one strongly disagrees with that concept, then one’s conclusions may be different than mine.

The way I am going to organize this review is to simply go down the line and examine each main component of this workout in the order it is presented (and would be performed).  I will state if I have any significant issues with the set-up, and then offer my suggested substitutions and an explanation for them. 

First, let’s clarify the “sample client”.  As of now all we know is the client is John Smith and they have a goal of fat loss and this trainer put them on phase 1 of the OPT Model which is typically used for beginners. 

                Let’s make this client the average American male, which is 38 yrs old, 5’9.5”, and 195 lbs.  Let’s assume he has no major injuries and he is low risk according the ACSM risk stratification guidelines. 

opt-model-phase-1-warm-up

 

 

 

Warm-up

Issues – None

My Personal Opinion – I don’t think it is very important for a client, particularly this client doing this workout, to do much stretching or foam rolling prior to exercise, but I would not have an issue with a trainer doing so. 

            My two rules of thumb are:

  •             If you can perform the desired exercise with good form without stretching prior, stretching before the activity is likely unnecessary.
  •             The more strength, power, and speed required, the more important the warm-up is.  Since this workout (and my substitute one) doesn’t require much strength, speed, and power, the exact warm-up isn’t that important.

            I do agree with the idea of doing some basic cardio work for 5 minutes (10 minutes is overkill and uses up too much training time) before starting the workout program.

            The NASM’s logic in starting with these stretches is that the foam rolling and stretching might improve the way the client moves.  If the goal is to get them to move better, one should start with that so they can move better through the entire workout.

 

opt-model-phase-1-core

 

 

 

Core/Balance/Plyometric

Issues – Moderate

            First, I don’t think it is a great idea to group these 3 things together, they are quite different.  I’ll address each one.

            Plyometrics – I don’t think a beginning client, particularly an overweight one, should be performing plyometric exercises.  While those exercises can be used to train the type II muscle fibers and ultimately they can be useful, I don’t believe the risk vs reward ratio is wise for beginners.  I also find it inconsistent that one of the justifications for the set-up of this sample workout is the client needs to address their weaknesses and postural issues before doing more traditional resistance training, but yet they are performing squat jumps?

            Core – I don’t believe beginners should train core in the beginning of the workout.  It does not provide much bang for the buck and I think it sends the wrong message to the client that this is our first priority and it is the most important thing to focus on. 

            I take some issue with the choice of their two specific exercises.

            A floor bridge is okay but from the client’s point of view it doesn’t involve the core that much, the trainer will have to educate them as to why they are doing that exercise.  It is also difficult to overload and to show progress on.

nasm-floor-prone-cobra

            A prone cobra, in my opinion, is a poor choice. 

The goal of both of these exercises is to improve posture and build core stability.  The NASM believes in insuring that the core can be held stable during basic exercises before it is asked to concentrically contract, but I don’t see this exercise really causing any noticeable adaptations nor do I see it significantly improving performance.  This is very hard to overload and most people that develop a base of fitness find they can do cobras reasonably easy.  I never had a client express to me that they enjoyed doing cobras and I haven’t had one that expressed pride in the progress they had made doing them (and for a while when I was first training I used them more). 

            Balance – If you want to include some balance here you could, the main issue is that balance is unfortunately task specific.  Most 38 year old males don’t have terrible balance, it is not a great bang for the buck use of time, and most clients after doing this for a week or two don’t really find balance work to be that fun in my experience.  Personally I would not employ this with a beginner client unless they really requested it or seemed to have a strong need of it. 

What did I like

            If one was going to do this set-up, I did like that they did this as a circuit.  That would contribute to the fat burning goal a bit and I could see the client huffing and puffing a bit.  Their legs might be burning just a little bit from the balance and the squat jumps, so that could have some merits to it. 

What would I do

            I wouldn’t do anything here, I would just skip this section and move to the next section.  I would not include any balance or plyometric work at all for this client, I would include some core which I would do at the end of the workout.

 

opt-model-phase-1-saq

 

 

SAQ Training – Optional

Issues – None

            I agree, leave this section empty or optional for a beginner client.  If the client was more advanced and you wanted to do some sort of “conditioning” style speed or agility drills then I would do those at the end of the workout, after the lifting.  If the client was an athlete then this type of training becomes more important and one would likely start with it or at least perform it early in the session before fatigue limits performance. 

 

opt-model-phase-1-resistance

 

 

 

Resistance Training Section

Issues – Moderate to Significant

Exercise 1 – Ball Squat Curl to Press

 nasm-ball-squat-curl-to-press           I am not a fan of this exercise and I would use it sparingly.  I could see implementing some version of it to an elderly client, particularly at home with minimal equipment, but that is about it.

            A ball squat does very little to teach one how to squat, even with just their bodyweight.  This is a combination exercise and as such it is a “total body” exercise, but the problem with combination exercises is the load is invariably off.  The weight you can squat (with dumbbells) isn’t what you can curl and it isn’t what you can press.  If one loves this set up, you’d get much better results (in my opinion) by simply doing ball squats with the right load, then curls as a separate exercise, then presses as a separate exercise (you could still them do against a ball on the wall if one desired).  If one was going for the fat burning effect doing them back to back could work well, although that is not what I would do for a beginning client. 

            In my opinion this is an exercise that seems okay on paper and in theory but in practicality it doesn’t do much.  I personally would not attempt to include a ‘total body’ exercise for my client if they were a beginner.

Exercise 2 – Ball Dumbbell Chest Press

nasm-ball-db-press            The exercise is okay but it has a significant flaw in my opinion.  We are dealing with a beginner.  A beginner is already weak.  Performing a dumbbell press on a ball is less stable, less stable joints transmit less force, so we are putting a weak muscle in an even weaker position.  In addition there is the possibility that, while quite rare, the ball can burst resulting in significant injury. 

            I would substitute in the chest press machine (probably for the first week or two) and then dumbbell press, bench press, or another machine press like a hammer strength bench press instead of the ball dumbbell press.  Push-ups could work if they weren't too hard (or too easy) for the client.

Exercise 3 – Standing Cable Row

            Here we have the same issue that we had with the ball DB Press and it is my main issue with phase 1 of the OPT Model.  Research is very clear.  Stabilization increases activation of the muscle, it doesn’t decrease it.  While it is true that distal stabilizers and possibly some synergists work harder when one performs an unstable exercise, the agonist and key synergists don’t work as hard.  Again we have a beginner and by default a beginner is weak.  I don’t want to put a weak person in a weak position, I want them in a strong position.  There is also the simple physics that one can only row so much standing up before the weight pulls them forward or before they are forced to squat very low and lean backwards to counterbalance the weight.  That is a significant negative.  I would simply use a v-grip cable row (seated) instead.

Exercise 4 – Single Leg Dumbbell Scaption

nasm-single-leg-scaption            I have a significant issue with this choice of exercise, particularly with the single leg.  Once again balance is very task specific.  A scaption (which is a hybrid between a front raise and a lateral raise – a shoulder raise at a 45 degree with the thumbs up) is a mediocre exercise to begin with, and performing it on one leg greatly reduces its benefits.  If a trainer really wanted to include balance at this point I would not suggest attempting a combination exercise (combining balance with lifting) but would instead suggest a superset.  Perform a normal scaption with the appropriate weight, and then perform a balance exercise such as the single leg reaching exercise listed previously.  Rest briefly and repeat.  That will at least allow the client to use an appropriate weight to stimulate the shoulder muscles and they can likely make the balance exercise harder, instead of using reasonably light weight combined with a balance exercise that ends up not challenging either the shoulders or the balance in a way that will force adaptation to occur.

            Personally I would not do any of those things.  If I was looking for more bang for the buck I would do a shoulder press of some sort (machine or seated dumbbell press), if I wanted more of an isolation effect I would perform lateral raises or perhaps a shoulder series of front, lateral, and rear delt raises all in a row. 

Biceps and Triceps – Optional

            I am okay with making these muscle groups optional.  For most beginners I would likely include them.  Stereotypically men like to work their arms although if fat loss is the goal it may not be as important to that person.  The time gained by not doing these exercises could be used to do other exercises which might have more bang for the buck.  What I did here would definitely be influenced by my client and what their secondary goals were (if they really wanted strong arms I would definitely include it here).  One nice thing about arm work is the client can usually perform them well (rewarding for clients that have poor cordination and may have been struggling with other exercises) and they "feel" the muscles working easily. 

            If I was going to train biceps my favorite exercises for a client like this would be cable curls, DB curl, and EZ curl.

            If I was going to train triceps my favorite exercises for a client like this would be tricep pushdowns (v-grip and straight bar), skull crushers, and DB tricep pullovers. 

Exercise 5 – Step Up to Balance

            This exercise is pretty good but there are other options to consider, particularly if we want to alternate exercises on each day the client trains.  Again I think balance is being overemphasized in this program and in my experience clients do not find excessive balance work fun.  Making training fun is very important with all clients but particularly beginners who may be ambivalent about working out in the first place.  Adherence is key, and if a client finds the activity enjoyable they are much more likely to stick with it. 

            A step up itself is okay but it is hard to load and hard to get an ideal range of motion.   Either the step up is too low and it is too easy or it is too high and the client has to shift their hips to get up on the step.  If you put the weights in their hands they often feel it more in their grip or their traps.  If the weight is on their back and they take a misstep they don’t have their hands to catch themselves.  And the falling issue is significant, as fatigue sets in they can easily step in the wrong place.  Step-ups tend to create reasonable cardiovascular fatigue, good in some ways especially for a fat loss program but less ideal if one is trying to train the musculature of the leg.  The unilateral work is nice to include and it will help a trainer see if one has a strength deficit in one side.

            This combined with the ball squat from above is an adequate leg workout, but I would not consider it to be optimal. 

            Personally if I wanted to perform 2 leg exercises, and I likely would, I would choose goblet squats and leg press.  The goblet squat is a great teaching tool to learn how to squat.  For beginners it is easy to do, it has a tendency to fix any form mistakes, and it is pretty easy to load.  Once a client is goblet squatting 40+ lbs they are usually ready to start squatting the bar.  It is very functional (in that transfers to other activities and real life) and it provides solid bang for the buck.  A leg press is great in that you can load up the muscles reasonably well in a safe environment and it is easier to do and requires less teaching and patience than a regular squat.  Clients are often pleasantly surprised to discover they can lift a reasonable amount of weight in this exercise and that can be empowering for them.

            Other options would be smith machine squats, regular squats if the client was ready for them, lunges, and step-ups as mentioned previously (with or without the balance component).  I would have no problem with a trainer including leg extensions and leg curls in this phase as well. 

            At this time in the workout I would add in the core training.  I would likely include one exercise for the “abs” such as a ball crunch, reverse crunch, clam, sit-up, plank, cable crunch, or something similar.  And I would likely include something for the erectors such as the lower back machine or hyperextensions. 

What did I like

            You’ll see the note “vertical loading” in the comments section.  Vertical loading means that the program is read vertically (as opposed to horizontally like a book is typically read) which essentially means this is set up as a circuit.  In the workout prescribed the client would perform one set of each of these 5 exercises with no real rest in between, at the end of the circuit they would rest 90 seconds and then they would repeat it.  I could see a client going through these exercises, getting a little out of breath, feeling like they are working out a little bit and believing they are working on their goals. 

            The workout listed is certainly quite easy, no load was given but due to the nature of the exercises selected it would be very light.  That can be appropriate for new clients, remember the number one reason why clients quit training is because the workout is too hard. 

What I didn’t like

            As previously mentioned I wasn’t a big fan of the exercise selection.  These exercises are not that easy to progressively overload for any length of time; they are likely not exercises that will be performed for an extended period of time during the program; and the total number of exercises is quite low (only 5 exercises total) with just 2 sets of 15 reps on each one.  That is pretty minimal volume which means not much total work is done and likely not much adaptation will take place.  For the client that is extremely detrained and sedentary and is literally scared of actually lifting weights this might be okay, but it would not be my go to standard template for a beginner client.

 

opt-model-phase-1-cooldown

 

 

Cool-down

Issues – None

My personal opinion – the cool-down is fine, as with the warm-up 10 minutes is too long for a true cooldown, 3-5 minutes works best.  If I was going to do foam rolling and static stretching for this client I would include it here, at the end of the workout.  To me that has a more relaxing effect, signally a workout is over, rather than priming a client to workout.  I think this is particularly true for beginners.  I can understand that some athletes prefer to stretch prior to an intense exercise but in this case for beginners I think static stretching at the end is a good way to wrap up the session. 

 

Overall Thoughts

My first thought is something is missing – where is the cardio?  Beginners should be working on all components of fitness and establishing a cardiovascular base is, in my opinion, of paramount importance at this stage.  This would also be very helpful with the client’s goal of fat loss.

This workout is pretty short.  I think a trainer could take a client through this workout in 35 minutes assuming 5 min of cardio on the warm-up and cooldown (I would predict 10 min warm-up, 5 min core/balance/plyo, 13 minute resistance training, and 7 minute cooldown).  And just looking at that should highlight a problem.  Only 13 minutes of resistance training (remember it was just 5 exercises, performed as a circuit with no rest, for 2 sets) is not enough, even if the exercises selected were ideal.

 

What I would do?

I would do a more traditional beginner workout (traditional as defined by the ACSM).  That would include

  •             5 minute warm-up – likely on the bike, treadmill, or elliptical machine
  •             Approximately 8 resistance training exercises, 1-2 for each bodypart, 2-3 work sets, 10-15 reps, 30-60 seconds rest in between sets
  •             If appropriate some of the exercises could be supersetted or performed as a circuit (if the client was really weak or out of shape I would not do that)
  •             Shoot for 20 minutes of cardio after lifting (often start out with 12 minutes and then build from there).  The bike, a brisk walk at a slight incline, or the elliptical would all be good choices for this client most likely.
  •             Cooldown for 3-5 minutes and then perform some basic stretching and foam rolling if desired. 

Sample Beginner Workout

Exercise

Intensity

Reps x Sets

Rest

Progression

Treadmill

3-4 mph 5’

 

 

+ .1 mph/week

 

 

 

 

 

Chest Press

~40-60 lbs

10-15 x 2-3

:30-:60

+ 5 lbs/week

V-grip Row

~40-60 lbs

10-15 x 2-3

:30-:60

+ 5 lbs/week

Shoulder Series

    Front Raise

    Lat Raise

    Rear Delt

~5-10 lbs

 

10-15 x 2-3

10-15 x 2-3

10-15 x 2-3

 

0

0

:30-:60

+2-3 reps/week

   OR

+ 2.5 lbs at 15 reps

EZ Cable Curl

~20-40 lbs

10-15 x 2-3

:30-:60

+ 2 reps or 5 lbs

V-grip Tri Push

~20-40 lbs

10-15 x 2-3

:30-:60

Can superset

Goblet Squat

~15-30 lbs

10-15 reps x 2-3

:60

+ 5 lbs/week

Leg Press

~45-135 lbs

10-15 reps x 2-3

:60

+ 10 lbs/week

Ball Crunch

NA

10-20 reps x 2-3

:30-:60

Add tube

45 Deg Hypers

NA

10-15 reps x 2-3

:30-:60

Go to 90 Degree

 

 

 

 

 

Cardio - Bike

L3-L6 12’

HR 60-70%

 

Add 2-3 min/week

Cooldown - Bike

3’

HR < 60%

 

- 3 levels from cardio workout

Foam Roll

 

Glutes

Quads

Calves

:30

:30

:30

 

 

Static or Partner Stretch

Pecs

Shoulders
Legs

Calves

:15-:30

:15-:30

:15-:30

:15-:30

 

 

Follow for 2-4 weeks before adding in more challenging exercises

 

            For more information on how I would set up a beginner workout, including weekly progression and when to add to new exercises, please refer to Chapter 18 in the text NPTI’s Fundamentals of Fitness and Personal Training

It would be nice to know

            It would be nice to know the exact plan of progression for the client in the template.  If we assume the client is working out three times a week, it isn’t clear if this template workout should be repeated exactly as is for those 3 days or if 2 more workouts that are similar but different would be created?  That information would affect any reasonable review of the plan.  It would also be useful if more specific guidelines on progression were given in the template.  If the client performed this workout for 1-2 months, when should one progress each exercise, add reps, add weight, etc?  In the NASM text they do discuss how to add progression to the main exercises shown in the book, but as a trainer that was just starting out it would be nice to see that fleshed out a bit more clearly. 

 

It is always difficult to compare one workout vs another and the results are not guaranteed.  This is the mental exercise I do when I want to compare two workouts.  Let’s say you have two clients, client A and client B.  They are both essentially the same (same age, weight, gender, starting level, etc).  Client A will perform one workout, they will use the sample workout provided in the template, for 2 months (I understand that at some point different exercises might be introduced but for this example we keep everything the same).  Client B will perform a second workout, in this case the workout I presented, for 2 months.  At the end of 2 months the clients will flip and the client will have to perform the other client’s workout – the same weight, the same reps, same exercises, etc.  Who will have the harder time of it?  Clearly client A will get better at the workout they are doing, and client B will get better at the workout they are doing (principle of specificity).  It is my belief in this scenario that client B will also be able to go through client A’s workout with reasonable ease, and Client A is likely struggle to go through Client B’s workout with the same load and reps. 

            To me that means that Client B’s workout is better and more effective.  One caveat to this system.  You might just say make the client squat, deadlift, bench press, power clean, and run sprints from day one because those are some of the most effective exercises there are, and there is some logic to that.  But I would respond that if the client get’s hurt, or if they quit, then they lose.  Attempting to force a client on very challenging exercises right from the get-go is an easy way to either burn them out, scare them away, or set them up for failure.  If even 1 out of 5 clients quits in the first 3 months because of the training you are making them do, that is too high for my taste (and not good for your business).  Ease them in to hard training but on the flip side don’t baby them which I fear is the case with the sample workout in the template.  If a workout is too easy it won't elicit the adaptations that most clients are looking for.

            Some may argue that what I propose – taking a group of people through one style of workout and a second group through another style, has already been done.  In the study entitled: COMPARISON OF INTEGRATED AND ISOLATED TRAINING ON PERFORMANCE MEASURES AND NEUROMUSCULAR CONTROL put out by the NSCA’s journal, they did compare a version of the OPT Model workout, called Integrated training to a more standard workout, called Isolated training, and the OPT Model produced better results.  While that research definitely falls in the NASM’s favor, it is worth noting two important things:

            First and most importantly, the workout in that research article is very different from the program suggested here.  That workout is much closer to Phase 2 OPT Model training and it did involve some pretty intense training (subjects performed 6-8 real resistance training exercises using 60-85% 1RM for 3 sets).  I hope to do a review of Phase 2 training as well but in short I personally think that is a much more effective way of working out for most goals.

            Second, while the study did show a positive influence in several aspects of fitness, they didn’t attempt to measure any changes in body composition, body weight, maximum strength or bone mass. 

 

Final thoughts

            Here is my philosophy in a nutshell.  If you don’t agree with this you might look at things differently and I can understand that, but this is how I look at it.

            Resistance training is the most powerful tool that a trainer has access to.  It is a tool that the trainer has almost full control over (nutrition is also a very powerful tool but trainers don’t really have control over that).  Progressive overload is the most important principle to apply to resistance training to make it effective and to cause it to produce results. 

            It is extremely important to make workouts fun at some level.  Many new clients, once they get through that first month or so of not really understanding what working out is about, often find they enjoy lifting weights.  Look at what most people do in the gym without a trainer – many lift weights, some do cardio.  Both have lots of benefits.  How many regular gym goers are doing floor bridges and prone cobras month after month?  Not too many.  How many regular gym goers are doing DB presses, cable rows, crunches, and bicep curls?  A lot. 

            In my opinion and based on my experience, the sample workout provided doesn’t maximize the role of resistance training in the workout.  It also doesn’t take full advantage of progressive overload.  Finally the workout provided may not be that fun for a client.  One of the reasons it isn’t fun is because completing the workout isn’t that much of a challenge and as such the reward for getting through it isn’t there.  I don’t believe this is simply my opinion.  Indeed one of the poster’s in the original discussion stated the same observation, I will quote him here (minor edits made):

If I could add my two cents--what I disagree most with this program design is that it is boring for the clients. We can talk about research all we want, but if our clients aren't enjoying their program, then it doesn't matter how evidence-based it is.  In my limited experience as a personal trainer, my clients did not enjoy stability work--and I remember this vividly when I first became NASM certified and jumped on the OPT model, my clients did not enjoy it.  In fact, I would say it had the opposite effect: they felt like the program was deviating from their goal, and they also felt bad about themselves because they struggled with simple single-leg balance exercises.  Keep the goal the goal.

 

            In the defense of this workout, while the goal listed at the top was “Fat Loss” and this program would likely burn little calories, build minimal muscle, and create no EPOC (thus being quite poor for fat loss) it is their version of the beginner workout.  They would argue that one needs to have a stronger, more optimally functioning core and one needs to be able to dynamically stabilize the entire kinetic chain in all planes of motion concentrically, isometrically, and eccentrically before performing any truly loaded movements.  Their phase 2 program – Strength Endurance – is a much more appropriate fat loss program because at its core the program is centered around pairing a basic strength exercise with a stabilization exercise for the same muscle as a superset, each for a reasonable number of reps with short rest.  While I still think the stabilization agenda is pushed too far in that phase, it would pass reasonable muster for a fat loss program in most instances. 

            But I am curious as to what you think?  If you were a beginner which workout would you rather do?  What do you think would get you better results?  As a trainer have you tried either one of these methods or both of them and what are your thoughts?  Do you do something entirely different with beginners?  Share your thoughts in the comments below, and let me know if you would like to see more of these type of Workout Program Review articles in the future?  If you have a specific program you’d like me to review, send it to me at [email protected] and I’ll consider it.

           If you are a trainer I wish you the best of luck with your clients.  If you are thinking about becoming a personal trainer, I encourage you to check out the National Personal Training Insitute as your option for eduction in the fitness industry.  Don't just get certified, get qualified.  Go to NPTI - The School for Personal Trainers. 
 

Comments

  1. nice article thanks for share with us

  2. thank you for sharing this wonderful article with us

  3. Thanks for writing this review. As I prepare to take the NASM certification exam, I started questioning whether or not I should be writing my client's programs differently than how we learned at NPTI. I'm back to NPTI basics and no more questioning after reading this article.

    • Hi Cidny,

        Think of a NASM program design as a tool.  It, like any tool, has its applications but it is far from the only way to train clients and in general trust your gut and what you believe to be effective and that will likely see you through.  Given how you are yourself we already know that approach works for you 😉

        Take care, good to see you the other day,

        Tim

  4. Fabulous, what a blog it is! This web site presents valuable data to us, keep it up.

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