Programming 101 - Part 1 of 3

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Programming 101

Part 1 of 3: Resistance Training

#FitnessFriday Ever wonder what is going through the mind of a trainer when they tell you they’ve got a “program” ready for you? Here’s a “behind-the-scenes” look at what goes into making an effective, comprehensive client program once a thorough initial assessment has been completed. First up: resistance training - not just a random selection of exercises! This component is essential to any program as the benefits of maintaining and increasing muscle strength are numerous and include: combating aging processes and chronic diseases, improved functional capacity, increased bone density, enhanced performance (for life and/or sport) and reduced risk for injury.

Below we’ve outlined some of the most elementary components of Merge Fitness’ resistance training program design and they are: basic principles (the science), client goals (the wants), and general life requirements (the demands).

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Basic Principles (the science): Elements of a program that, when appropriately combined and utilized, work synchronously to achieve improved muscular strength, power and endurance. Note: This is certainly not an exhaustive explanation of the science behind resistance training, however it is a good explanation of some of the more common concepts.

  • Specificity - change or adaptation that occurs to a given muscle or set of muscles in response to applied stimulus (ie: squatting for the purpose of improving lower extremity strength has no effect on biceps strength).

  • SAID (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands) principle - results in a given muscle or muscle group will be in direct response and proportion to demands imposed upon it (ie: training with light loads and high reps results in muscular endurance but does not directly result in making one a powerlifter)

  • Overload - applying progressively greater levels of stress (read “resistance”) to a muscle or set of muscles to promote ongoing adaptation. If overload does not take place, changes to the muscle or group of muscles will not occur (ie: only ever doing 5 lb bicep curls will not result in consistent biceps strength gains).

  • Variation - Providing change within a given element or elements of a program over time is necessary to further promote adaptation. (ie: working the same muscle groups but introducing a new mode of resistance training).

  • Periodization - a form of program variation wherein main elements of a resistance training program are manipulated in order to maximize desired training effects and reduce incidence of overtraining over a given length of duration (ie: utilizing multiple training styles and designs over the course of a calendar year or in the case of an athlete, a sports season).

  • Prioritization - given the wide variety of potential goals within a resistance program, priority must be lent to certain aspects of training that correlate with specific phases of training (ie: difficulty exists in training for max strength AND muscular endurance AND power all at the same time. Greater amounts of importance must be alloted to one over another within a given phase to maximize results).


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Client Goals (the wants): depending on the specific goal(s) a client has will determine the overarching emphasis of a program that the basic principles are wrapped around.

  • Weight Loss - increasing muscular strength to promote metabolic demand over the course of 24 hours. Muscle mass is more costly for the body to maintain in a day and will ultimately burn more calories versus a single bout of cardiorespiratory exercise.

  • Hypertrophy - resistance training for the purpose of increasing muscle size and strength. Variables within this principle can be manipulated to achieve mass desired.

  • Endurance - mode of strengthening that incorporates lighter loads and higher frequency which can allow beginner exercisers to learn proper technique, confidence and muscle memory or be used for recovery/maintenance phases for the more advanced exerciser.

  • Injury Prevention - heavy emphasis in this category is placed on technique, functional movements and working through a full range of motion.


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General Life Requirements (the demands): while there could literally be hundreds of items listed below, here’s some of our top picks.

  • Occupation/ADL specific demands - what a client needs to get through the day. This can include: physical requirements for occupation and/or daily life, physical ability level, current/past medical history, etc.

  • Recreational/Hobby demands - what a client likes or would like to do that can be influenced by improved physical fitness. Accomplishing their first 5k or performing a hobby that previously was symptomatic (read “painful”) would fall in this category.

  • The “Nitty Gritty” demands - what a client possesses to initiate and continue successful performance of their program. For example, extrinsic/intrinsic motivation, external support, membership to a fitness facility, at home equipment, schedule/time, budget, etc.

Ok folks, there you have it! A sneak peak inside the brain of your trainer that hopefully shed some light on what goes into resistance training program design. We reviewed that a comprehensive, effective program includes such elements as: basic principles (the science), client goals (the wants), and general life requirements (the demands). Please check us out next week as we explore what the components of a Cardiorespiratory program are made up of in: #FitnessFriday: Programming 101 - Part 2 of 3. We’d love to read what you thought of today’s article and answer any questions you may have, feel free to comment below!

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Sources: Bushman, B. A., Battista, R., Swan, P., L. R., & Thompson, W. R. (Eds.). (2014). American College of Sport's Medicine's resources for the personal trainer (4th ed.). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins Health. Chapter 14: Resistance Training Programs

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