No Brain, No Gain

As a trainer, you probably know that soreness, at least to some degree, is an inevitable part of participating in an exercise program, but the days are over where soreness is something we should seek in our clients. Here are some ways to train your clients smarter, not harder.

The 2 for 2 rule

Learn from my mistake. I was a young trainer at a seminar and asked a top strength coach his favorite method of progression. He recommended what is known as the 2 for 2 rule. This is where you have, for example, a client who performs 3 sets of 10 with 40 pound dumbbells. You do not progress the weight until the person can perform 2 extra reps on the last set, for 2 consecutive weeks. This is nothing new and I considered it boring and outdated and kept on pushing my clients with sets to failure. They would get super sore and would say they felt awesome and “trashed” and I was a hero, that is, until session 2 of that week, when they could hardly move. Often times because of extreme muscle or joint soreness, we would have to reduce the load and/or volume, whereas the other clients, whose coach didn’t wreck them, felt fresh and were able to complete their weekly volume.

Guess which approach I use now? The 2 for 2 rule requires an almost complete mastery of the weight before you progress and this is a good thing. Furthermore, you can allow the client, if he/she so desires, perform the last set beyond 2, even pushing to failure. But, it’s just one set and they never have to. They have the luxury of picking their battles. If any of you young whipper snapper trainers are familiar with the 2 for 2, don’t dismiss it. It’s withstood the test of time for a reason.

Lay off muscle confusion

Listen, if you drastically change all your exercises, you will get more sore, but that isn’t always a good thing. Allow you clients to master, truly master, the basics: the squats, the dead lifts, the bench press, the pull up, the dips. If they become efficient enough to push respectable weight on these lifts, they don’t really need a whole lot else.

The same-but-not-the-same slight variation of some old exercises are a great way to add just a bit of new stimuli without making your clients walk like Frankenstein all week. Close grip bench instead of standard grip or partial dead-lifts in the rack instead of full rom dead-lifts, overhead dumbbell presses instead of barbell presses. These will maintain, and even increase strength in core lifts while, at the same time, providing a bit different stimulus.

To Fail or not to Fail

Whether or not you should take sets to failure is an extremely debatable topic, one that has been talked about to ad nauseam, but take it from someone who’s mortgage payment depends on giving my clients results: Taking multiple sets to failure is the quickest way to totally destroy your client’s motivation. But can training to failure work? Yes, it can. It can indeed be a powerful tool, but how much failure training a person can tolerate is extremely individualized. Taking one set and going all out is fine. It shouldn’t hurt and it’s a good way to really exhaust all the fibers, but please be careful doing more than that. In the over fifteen years I have trained, I have never met anyone who can take set after set to failure, week after week and maintain their strength and motivation levels.

It doesn't take a talented trainer to make you sore. It doesn't take a knowledgeable coach to make you puke. On the other hand, helping your clients achieve results in a safe and effective manner, now that's the real challenge.

Exercise is powerful medicine. Just the right dose will do.

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