Fitness Programming: The Best Alternative to Personal Training

Intro

There are many reasons that people fail at their fitness program and goals. The reality is that most people need help outside of themselves to both formulate a plan and have the ongoing motivation to execute it. The other reality is that personal training, the most effective way to reaching fitness goals, is prohibitively too expensive and inaccessible to most of the population in the way that it is currently sold (the reasons for which I have written about extensively on the Trainer+ blog).

With the launch of our new service, FitnessPlans.ca, and the impending New Year, I wanted to explain this new fitness programming service and why it is an effective alternative to the current ways of starting a new fitness plan, such as paying for a weekly personal training package, or going at it alone with a combination of an out-of-the-box solution (usually found online), group classes, or no plan at all.

Monthly fitness programming is not only a service I used to sell when I was a trainer/manager (admittedly to mixed results with the paper solutions available back then), but it’s also the main motivation behind building Trainer+ and the service we see most of our trainers delivering with the software. In this blog I will explore the reasons for this type of support (from the client perspective) as an option for your next fitness goal.

Realities of Getting Started

Getting started is always the most difficult part of any change, especially when it comes to a fitness goal. Any goal should end with a sustainable healthy lifestyle change, but to increase the chances of getting there, the foundation has to be laid to manage your expectations and set up success.

The reality is that most people are not intrinsically motivated and need to see positive results and progress to feel that the work they are doing is worth it. The problem is that most people do not know how to measure progress on their own and rely on either a weight scale or some other more subjective method that does not tell the whole story. This makes it very difficult to get a positive feedback loop going, where smaller achievements reinforce progress towards the long term goal. Without that, people get discouraged at a lack of early progress or an eventual plateau and tend to fall off the fitness routine entirely.

A customized fitness plan is the best way to break down those long term goals into smaller phases, with milestones associated with each phase. Not only does this allow you to focus on the aim of that particular phase (for example; getting in a routine, fixing muscular imbalances and getting your body ready to be pushed harder in the first Adaptation phase), but it also allows you to set short term milestones that are more achievable to keep that positive feedback loop going. You are much more likely to succeed with a plan that manages your long term expectations at the outset and gets you learning new healthy behaviours early on.

Value of a Personal Trainer

Most people would agree that working with a trainer 6 days per week would give them the best chance of reaching their fitness goals. No one really argues the real value of a good trainer:

  • Accountability to actually do each workout every week
  • Motivation to push you harder than you may push yourself
  • The applied knowledge that they bring to your body and fitness plan

The first two are well understood. Images of super fit people with clipboards and stopwatches supporting their clients either gently or militantly are conjured in the mind at the mention of a trainer. The last point is less well understood, and is where a majority of the value comes from in my opinion. They have the knowledge to:

  • Assess your current fitness level properly
  • Set appropriate goals based on those results and the science
  • Make a real plan based on those goals and your available time and facilities
  • Adapting the plan based on your body’s reaction to the stimulus
  • Setting new goals once the first ones are achieved

Short of being able to see a trainer on a weekly basis, a customized fitness plan is the best way to still get most of that value, assuming you are tracking the workouts somewhere that your trainer can see the resultsThis provides a tacit level of accountability, in addition to your trainer being able to adjust the program on an ongoing basis.

Why a Personalized Plan is More Effective than Out-of-the-Box Solutions

Don’t get me wrong, following any sort of fitness solution is better than nothing at all. There are a number of ways that people try to have more structure in their fitness routine with group or out-of-the box solutions. These range from doing group classes, bootcamps, Crossfit, or apps that let you track workouts found online. A personalized workout plan, based on your goals and abilities, prescribed by a fitness professional is still going to be more effective than a generic solution because:

1. Starting abilities

While these generic plans do provide some variation for different levels, they don’t always take into account a variety of starting abilities. Many people will start or progress at too high a level for beginners, mostly to try to ensure some early results, while others maintain a basic level of progression that plateaus over time.

2. Imbalances/injuries

Everybody has muscle imbalances in their body to some degree, and past injuries can also affect how a program should be designed to start. Very few out-of-the-box solutions have an adaptation phase, or options to test and help correct imbalances that exist. Without fixing these imbalances, they will inevitably turn into overuse injuries or worse.

3. Everyone reacts differently to stimulus

This is just another reality you have to face when starting a new program. If everyone reacts to the stimulus differently, how will a group class or algorithm be able to adapt the program accurately to continue to get the adaptive response you will need to get continuous, sustainable change?

While some of these more generalized solutions can be a part of your customized plan, the latter is still a more effective way to ensure the program starts and progresses in a way that will provide for sustainable and safe changes.

How to Prevent Falling Off

If getting started was the hardest part, keeping it going and not falling off your fitness plan is a close second. Keeping that positive feedback loop going gets increasingly difficult over time as goals are reached and progress slows as you get in better and better shape. A customized plan from a trainer can help prevent you from falling off for a number of reasons:

  • Tacit accountability - There is ongoing accountability in the long term to keep you doing your workouts on a daily and weekly basis.
  • Check ins - Monthly in-person meetings with your trainer for your new plan also allow for reassessments, adjusting goals and more in depth discussion and demonstration of the exercises.
  • Step up/down from regular training - After a period of regular training, taking a step back to a customized monthly plan is a better alternative than falling off from your trainer entirely. The monthly program can be used as a tool in between periods of more involved or regular training according to budget and schedule. The bottom half of the diagram below may help explain this ebb and flow as well. 
client flow through Trainer Plus app for personal trainers fitness programming online training
  • Restarting - In the event that you do fall off of your fitness routine, having tracked it in a customized plan makes it easier to get started again with a record of what you have done in the past, where to start and how to progress. Even if this time you decide to hire a trainer to make sure you have more support, having this record will help them progress you faster as well.

Affordability and Convenience

If you can afford regular training, especially as a beginner to fitness, it is still a much better way to ensure a great start and long term success. A customized program from a trainer can provide a more affordable and convenient alternative to regular personal training. This can be an ideal solution to those with some gym experience and base knowledge who just need a routine to get back into it. As a beginner, a customized plan is better than no plan as an affordable alternative, or can be used in conjunction with more regular training sessions scaling back over time to provide other long term support options.

No matter your level of fitness, a customized plan is facility and equipment agnostic, in that they can be catered to whatever is available to you. Whether you are a gym member or just workout at home, and especially if you travel, the plan can be customized to whatever you have. This should help eliminate just about every excuse you could have to starting and staying on a plan no matter what comes up in your life.

Conclusion

If you want to give yourself the best chance of succeeding with your fitness goals, make sure you have a customized fitness plan from a fitness professional. Whether as an alternative or in conjunction with more regular personal training, this is the best way to get the value of a trainer, with the personalization that out-of-the-box solutions lack.

So, how can you find a trainer that does this effectively? Just look for a trainer that:

  • Works for us (we’ve trained them ourselves)
  • Is Trainer+ certified (we can refer you)
  • Uses technology to track and prescribe fitness
  • At least uses Google Drive and a shared spreadsheet

I hope that helps you with your next fitness goal. Technology is changing the way that fitness is delivered and you should expect more out of your trainer and gym. If you can not find options that fit what you need for support, look for a more progressive alternative.