Often when I witness personal training sessions, I see personal trainer’s push clients so far and so hard they look like they’ve been hit by a freight train. This mentality is prevalent in numerous media sources and programs. One only has to watch fat loss reality television shows, to see an overweight individual being screamed at, with phrases so cringe worthy the average viewer looks like they’ve being sucking on a lemon.
Is this level of effort required? Is pushing clients to the limit always the best solution to helping them achieve their goals? Do we want to have this stigma attached to us as professionally developed personal trainers? I would argue not!
First of all, I’m not stating that we should shy away from intense sessions. They are a critical component of developing the individual for numerous outcome goals. But that doesn’t mean every session needs to be maximal intensity. If we follow this dogma, that we should always be pushing clients beyond the point of failure, it can mean only one thing, we are not manipulating intensity. There is little to no research showing that specific components of fitness can be developed more efficiently without the utilisation of carefully planned alterations to training program variables.
Manipulating intensity in sessions can be an excellent strategy that focuses on developing the client. Personal trainers that understand how to manipulate intensity know that each session is a building block, and each contributes to building the individual like a house – you can’t rush throwing up a house by throwing bricks in a pile and hoping the house gets there eventually. Each brick must be carefully placed; some will be large heavy bricks that are hard work to place, others will be small light bricks that require precision. Each is just as important as the other, likewise during training sessions.
I think a major issue for some personal trainers is the ability to quantify how difficult a session was. As personal trainers we spend a lot of time planning sessions, where focus is placed on exercise selection, rep range or which muscle groups we want to focus on. A simple strategy that can give you an immense amount of feedback is the rate of perceived exertion scale (RPE)…. I’m sure most personal trainers have heard of this tool, so I won’t go into detail. However its power is very rarely utilised.
If we ask the client at the end of the session for an RPE value, we will receive a generalised interpretation, most likely based on how difficult they found the session towards the distal end. Which is better than no feedback, but far from optimal. Instead I propose that we utilise the RPE scale in a much more efficient manner, that factors in training duration, recovery periods and level of fatigue. This can be achieved through this simple formula.
Training Load= Average Set RPE x (session duration (min) – rest periods (min))
To use this, all we need to do is get an RPE value at the end of each set and multiply this by the session length. The session length is the total minutes performing exercise minus the rest periods between sets. To demonstrate this a working example is below:
- A1. Back Squat 4 x 5 @ 80% 1rm, no rest – RPE values per set (6,7,7,7)
- A2. Box Jumps 4 x 5, rest 3 mins – RPE values per set (4,4,4,3)
- B1. Bench Press 4 x 5 @ 80% 1rm, rest 90s – RPE values per set (7,7,9,9)
- B2. Neutral Grip Pull Ups 4 x 5, rest 90s- RPE values per set (3,4,5,5)
STEP 1 (ESTABLISH AVERAGE RPE)
Average RPE = total RPE score/ number of sets = 91/16.
Average RPE = 5.7
STEP 2 (ESTABLISH SESSION DURATION)
The session duration was 35 mins. Rest Periods total = 24 mins
35mins – 24 mins = 11 minutes
Session Duration = 11 minutes
STEP 3 ESTABLISH TRAINING LOAD SCORE
Training load = 5.7 x 11
Training Load = 62.7 units
We now have a figure for the client’s session that we can use as a benchmark during the repeat of the session. We can use the figure to assess the cumulative fatigue induced by the program. You can use this figure to see how a group of personal training clients together are responding to the program; you may find that some individuals aren’t recovering as fast as others between sessions. This potentially could help flag up other elements of their lifestyle such as nutrition or sleep habits that need to be addressed.
In summary, not every session can be maximal, the client will fatigue, eventually they will over-train, or psychologically burn out. Use this training load monitor to gauge when to push your clients and when to take a step back. Both are just as important as one another.