Why Individual Programming?

Helping Hand, Individual Programming, Move

At Fitness for Life we really believe that the most effective programme for someone to follow is one that takes into account a whole host of factors:

– Exercise history and experience
– Health history (injuries etc.)
– Current capacity (strengths, weaknesses and limitations)
– Age, sex and body type
– Lifestyle (work, family life, social life etc.)
– Limiting factors (stress, current diet etc.)
– Goals

This means that two individuals could benefit most from completely different programmes. A cookie cutter approach (e.g. taking a generic programme from a health magazine or an online programme) is therefore at the very least sub-optimal and at the worst might take you away from your goals, or even be dangerous. 

Let me give you an example.  Here’s a generic “Strength Building” programme from a recent mens fitness magazine:

Day 1
Back Squat:                             5 x 3-5 reps, Rest 2-3 mins
Weighted Pull Up:                   5 x 3-5 reps, Rest 2-3 mins

Day 2
Deadlift:                                   5 x 3-5 reps, Rest 2-3 mins
Bench Press:                            5 x 3-5 reps, Rest 2-3 mins

Day 3
Forward Lunge:                        4 x 5-8 reps each leg, Rest 2-3 mins
Single Arm Dumbbell Row:      4 x 5-8 reps each arm, Rest 2-3 mins

Day 4
Power Clean:                             5 x 3-5 reps, Rest 2-3 mins
Shoulder Press:                         5 x 3-5 reps, Rest 2-3 mins

Now, this might be a great training regime for a certain person.  I can imagine a client or two of mine that this might well suit very well.  However, let me apply this to 3 imaginary people:

1) Frank – Middle aged man, somewhat overweight, new to training.  Goal to lose weight and get stronger.
People newer to exercise will benefit from higher rep ranges to train muscular endurance and develop motor control.  Therefore, 3-5 reps is unlikely to be the best rep range for him.  In terms of exercise selection, there’s a whole bunch of potential changes we might make; If he’s overweight and untrained, he’s unlikely to be able to do Pull Ups, let alone Weighted Pull-Ups, so another movement selection would be more appropriate for him (e.g. Lat Pulldown).  The Single Leg movement suggested here (Forward Lunge) would only be suitable once he’d shown us he can maintain knee alignment with less dynamic movements, such as the Split Squat.  Also, a movement like the Power Clean is likely to be overly technical for a beginner and has a pre-requisite of a certain Strength level to be appropriate (we normally would consider this after a client has achieved at least a bodyweight Deadlift).

2) Rebecca – Woman in early 20s, has been training for 5 years and made good progress, but now starting to experience a niggle in one shoulder.  Goal is to get stronger as her mother had arthritis and she wants to maintain muscle mass and bone density.
Whilst this programme might be reasonably appropriate for her, had she been injury free, with any weaknesses that need fixing, a different approach is called for.  Most of the movements will probably need careful coaching and any that aggravate her niggle would need to be modified or substituted.  In particular, the Pressing movements would likely be pulled out for a period and replaced with shoulder stability movements before introducing easier Pressing movements.  The Power Clean might also be one to look at substituting.  The temptation when following a generic programme is to just “give it a go” and see how it feels, but that could lead to further injury without and objective eye on you. With the help of a good programmer, this template could be adapted to suit her needs.

3) Tom – Keen Rugby player in his mid-20s.  Has trained consistently for 9 years.  Goal is to increase Strength/Power for scrummaging.
One of the things missing from this programme prescription is Tempo for the Reps.  If someone is used to doing weight training with a controlled tempo, they may well perform reps with something like a 3111 tempo (3 seconds down, 1 second pause in the bottom, 1 second up and 1 second pause before the next rep).  This would result in a set of 3-5 reps taking 18-30 seconds.  For advanced athletes, training for maximal Strength/Power, sets are more effective if they only last a few seconds to as much as 20 seconds.  Therefore, he should either perform with a quicker tempo or maybe do sets of less reps (e.g. 2-3 reps) for the best results.

So, as you can see, a generic programme can be set at too basic a level for some people and too high a level for others and won’t include any adaptations for an individual’s strengths and weaknesses. In fact, the ideal is to move beyond a starting template with adaptions and instead start from scratch to really think what someone would benefit most from.  Then with true individualised programming, the programmer responds to the results and feedback by analysing the effectiveness of the programming and then regularly deciding the future course the programme takes. 

Of course, any exercise is better than none whatsoever in most circumstances.  And individual programming isn’t cheap, as it takes plenty of time for the programmer to write and analyse regularly.  But, if you have the resources and can have this level of input into your training, the results of this level of programming can be outstanding.

We put a lot of love into writing personalised programmes for our members at Fitness for Life. It’s a way to be of great service to the people we work with.  We also really enjoy the creativity of writing them.  If you’re not a member yet and would like to talk about how Individual Programming might benefit you, book in for a consultation.