Exercise professionals are equipped with the knowledge of how to design safe and effective resistance training programs. In order to spur continued improvement, minimize the chance of injury, achieve client compliance, and minimize the chance of overtraining, all exercise programs should be based on upon three main principles – specificity, progression, and overload. The goal of the strength and conditioning professional is to apply all three principles with respect to the client’s goals. Let’s take a brief look at each of these principles.
The idea of specificity refers to designing a program that is conducive to the client’s stated goals as well as the client’s work, home, or sport environment. Personal training must be personalized and specific to the client. The purpose of the program should be to create a certain result that the trainee desires. If you’re partaking in a cookie cutter, one size fits all program you’ve violated the principle of specificity. Not all exercises are for every trainee. The speed of movement, exercise selection (open, closed chain), the biomotor abilities needed, previous injuries, stress level, muscle imbalances, the energy systems involved, etc, etc, need to be considered in order to design the program that best fits the needs of the client.
One goal of the strength and conditioning professional is to safely progress clients overtime in relation to their goals and daily activities. It is through progression and variation that the client can achieve improvements. Assessment prior to beginning an exercise program can provide the needed information that the fitness professional needs as to how to regress or progress exercises in relation to the client’s current skill level, strengths, training age, and conditioning. Progression occurs slowly and caution should be shown so as to not prematurely overload a client with an exercise that he or she is not ready for. A common sight that I see ALL the time is female trainees being prematurely progressed to full pushups resulting in scenes like the one in the picture below.
The principle of overload pertains to presenting a stimulus to the client greater than what he or she is accustomed to. There are many ways to overload the client but a few of the common ones are increasing load/intensity, increasing training duration or frequency, increasing training volume, shortening rest periods, or combination of the aforementioned. This is certainly not an exhaustive list but offers some simple ways of how to overload the client or athlete.
The general program design principles are meant to be used together all the time. Using one or two of the said guidelines can result in poor program adherence, unmet client goals, and possibly injury. So progressively give the client something they’ve never experienced before (overload) and make sure the training is specific to the needs of the client. Follow these three principles, and you have a good foundation to design fitness programs.