Program design does not need to be a complicated process. As personal trainers or other fitness professionals, when we truly understand our clients' goals and the function of different acute variables (e.g., sets, repetitions, rest periods, intensity), developing a safe and effective program becomes second nature.
When it comes to programming, NASM uses the Optimum Performance Training (OPT) model. As you can see, the OPT model is designed in a staircase-like fashion but in no way, shape or form should you view it as a one-way path. The different “steps” or phases, allow you to move around as needed. This means you can go up and down and even skip steps based on your clients' goals.
The OPT model is unique because it offers programming strategies for each neuromuscular adaptation (stabilization endurance, hypertrophy, strength, and power) and how they can build off of one another.This gives fitness professionals far more flexibility to adjust their programming to meet their client's specific needs. Think of it this way, if you are tasked with fixing a problem at home, you would go to your toolbox and select the appropriate tools for the job.
Each job is unique and requires various tools in a different order each time and some jobs may take longer than others. For example, fixing the kitchen sink requires different tools than installing new flooring. The same holds for clients with varying goals When it comes to program design, the OPT model is your toolbox.
As a fitness professional, you will select the appropriate phase/acute variables to help them accomplish their unique goals (i.e., weight loss, muscle gain, sports performance).
When designing programs, it is very important to address all components of health-related physical fitness using scientifically recognized training principles. This was the driving force behind the development of the OPT model.
For years now, the OPT model has been backed by research (Distefano et al., 2013) and has been the foundation for many fitness professionals and successful programs. Now that we have had a slight introduction to the OPT model, let's move onto the first phase: Stabilization Endurance Training.
PHASE 1. STABILIZATION ENDURANCE TRAINING
Phase 1 is often used as a starting point for many clients. As we will cover later on, phase one covers the basics and is an excellent starting point for someone who may be deconditioned. On the other hand, characteristics of phase 1 can be used to help train more advanced clients who may be further along in their fitness journeys. Phase 1 begins by teaching an individual how to perform different movement patterns and help them acquire basic skills, and of course, work on muscular endurance and stability.
These movement patterns are referred to as fundamental movement patterns, and they include the squat, hip hinge, pulling motions, pushing motions, vertical pressing, and multiplanar movements. Most exercises include one or more of these movements and our clients need to have a solid understanding of all of them before moving to more advanced variations.
Additionally, the fitness professionals will assess and begin to address muscle imbalances, help improve range of motion, and help increase joint stability. This is all done to help minimize the risk of injury, especially for a deconditioned individual. When it comes to program design at any level, our main goal as fitness professionals should be to keep training both safe and effective.
Typically, someone may spend around 2 – 6 weeks in Phase 1 before moving on, however, progression will always be based on the individual. Make sure to always consider your clients' physical capabilities and limitations, progressing and regressing, as necessary.
Intensity is one of our major acute variables used to determine the amount of work in each of the phases, with stabilization endurance being the low-intensity phase. Intensity refers to an individual’s level of effort compared with their maximal effort, which is usually expressed as a percentage of their one-repetition maximum (1RM). However, this does not necessarily mean that low-intensity work is easy. Rather, the amount of load a client uses is relatively light when compared to their maximum.
This enables the client to perform higher repetitions and focus on muscular endurance adaptations, rather than maximal strength. But both forms of exercise can be incredibly demanding.
DESIGNING A PHASE 1 WORKOUT
When designing a Phase 1 workout, we need to consider a few major training components…
• Skill Development
• Resistance Training
• Client's Choice
Each component is designed and implemented to help elicit a specific adaptation. However, you might not always have adequate time to successfully use them all, it will be up to the discretion of you, the fitness professional, to pick and choose which ones are most important for your client. With that said, let's look at a quick breakdown of each and see how they work within Phase 1 of the OPT model.
This first section is a combination of both flexibility training and cardiorespiratory exercise. These are both included to help prepare a client for physical activity and should always be based on data collected by the fitness professional (e.g., fitness assessment results) and the nature of the workout. Within Phase 1, regarding flexibility, we are going to use a combination of self-myofascial techniques (SMT) (e.g., foam rolling), static stretching, and optional dynamic stretching. For SMT, we want to choose one to three different muscle groups and spend at least 30 seconds on any tender spots to help optimize the relaxation response.
Moving on to static stretching, our goal is to, once again, select one to three different muscle groups. Just like with SMT, we are holding each stretch for a minimum of 30 seconds to help increase the range of motion (Behm et al., 2016; Kay & Blazevich, 2012). In most cases, it is recommended to target the same muscle groups for both SMT and static stretching; a combination of both techniques can greatly improve relaxation and range of motion (Fairall et al., 2017; Mohr et al., 2014; Skarabot et al., 2015). It is critical when using techniques like SMT and static stretching to ensure we are focusing on areas of the body that have been determined as "overactive" during the assessment process.
In some cases, the cardiorespiratory component of the warm-up can be optional. When completed, this portion of the warm-up is typically between 5 to 10 minutes long. The goal of this is quite simple, we are looking to increase an individual's heart rate, respiration rate, tissue temperatures, and help prepare the client for higher exercise intensities (McGowan et al., 2015; Silva et al., 2018).
Next, we fall into the activation portion of our workout, which is a continuation of our warm-up. Generally, the activation phase should consist of both core and balance exercises. For Phase 1 specifically, we are choosing exercises that emphasize core stability and intervertebral stability. Core training can help improve posture (Ko & Kang, 2017; Park et al., 2016), enhance performance (Butcher et al., 2007; Dello Iacono et al., 2016; Shinkle et al., 2012), help with injury prevention (Huxel Bliven & Anderson, 2013), and help with rehabilitation (Coulombe et al., 2017). Balance training is equally as important and is an effective tool for helping increase performance and posture (Brachman et al., 2017).
Exercises chosen for Phase 1 should focus on isometric contractions or use slower tempos when performing repetitions. The volume and intensity should be kept relatively low as the goal is to "activate" not exhaust your client. We are only looking to choose one to four core/balance exercises and keeping the other acute variables at 12 – 20 repetitions and 1 – 3 sets (more on this a little later).
During our skill development portion of the workout, typically, we as fitness professionals are looking to program both plyometric and SAQ exercises. For Phase 1, we can also look into using this time to provide instructions on basic movement patterns and how to use a different type of equipment.
As with anything, the types of exercises or instruction provided are always dependent on the needs and goals of the client. If you decide to use more advanced training techniques, like plyometrics, make sure to teach proper mechanics first and focus on smaller jumps. From there, it is important to emphasize proper landing mechanics. When a client lands they should hold that position for three to five seconds and use this time to correct their posture before performing the next repetition. For programming, you can choose one to three different exercises and have your clients perform 5 – 8 repetitions for a total of one to three sets.
Like plyometrics, SAQ can be another advanced form of training and should carefully be integrated into a client's training program. For a beginner, it is recommended to 4 to 6 drills and have your client perform them a total of 2 to 3 times for 1 to 2 sets. These drills should remain relatively easy and limit inertia and unpredictability we may see in more advanced SAQ drills.
Resistance exercise is a very important component of any training program, no matter the phase or goal. Resistance training is an effective tool for increasing lean muscle mass, reducing body fat, and improving numerous health markers (Ciolac & Rodrigues-da-Silva, 2016; Schoenfeld, et al., 2016; Westcott, 2012). In Phase 1, we should be focusing on improving the different movement patterns mentioned above (fundamental movement patterns).
Additionally, we are looking to improve postural control, stability, and muscular endurance. We accomplish all of this by using resistance training exercises performed in a controlled, yet progressively unstable, environment. A great example of this can be moving from machines to free weight.
Phase 1 resistance training can be seen as a building block to future phases, it helps prepare muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints for higher intensities later down the road. This is accomplished by improving muscular endurance, proprioception, and strengthening type 1 muscle fibers.
To elicit optimal performance, it is key to properly manipulate acute variables which then helps create structured and systematic programming (Ciolac & Rodrigues-Da-Silva, 2016; Evans, 2019; Mike, et al., 2017; Schoenfeld, el a., 2015; Schoenfeld, et al., 2017; Wilk, et al., 2018). Below, we can see a simple breakdown of some of the acute variables for Phase 1: Stabilization Endurance Training.
|1-3||12-20||0-90 Seconds||50-70% (1RM)||Slow|
*these are only acute variables for phase 1 resistance training.
When it comes to acute variables, they will always be relative to the phase and specific muscular adaptation you're trying to achieve for your client. Since we are working with low intensity in Phase 1, we have a higher number of repetitions, fewer sets, and shorter rest periods. So, despite it being "low intensity" we see an increase in the required repetitions and a decrease in total rest time.
This is an effective mindset to have when thinking about any of the phases, as we shift from one phase to the next it is like we are moving up and down a spectrum. A very important characteristic of a spectrum is each of the opposing sides has an inverse relationship. This means as we shift closer to phase 5, we will see the different acute variables begin to change based on this relationship.
This section is a little unique and will involve the client as part of the decision-making process. At this point in the workout, you can have your client choose exercises that they want to do, this helps improve both adherence and self-efficacy. In the end, any type of exercise is fair game at this point, but of course, keeping it safe and effective is still a prime concern.
The cool-down is exactly what it sounds like, we're attempting to "cool down". During this time, we are focusing on three major parts, cardiorespiratory exercise, SMT, and static stretching. Just like in our warm-up, the SMT and static stretching should focus on the same muscle groups, for about 30 seconds each.
This is something a lot of people, unfortunately, ignore after a workout, but a cool-down should never be overlooked. Post-workout flexibility can help reduce muscle soreness, enhance recovery, and help the body prepare for future workouts (Pearcy, et al., 2015). The cardio is the complete opposite of our warm-up; during the cool-down, our goal is to bring the body back to a pre-exercise state (e.g., bringing the heart rate back to a resting level) by gradually reducing speed and intensity. A proper cool-down will most likely look the same no matter the phase, and usually will take around 5 to 10 minutes.
We have spoken about some of the specifics on acute variables already, but it is important to reiterate their importance. Acute variables are the fundamental component of designing any training program, no matter the client or goal. We will cover additional acute variables for the other phases of the OPT model in the future, but below, you can find a detailed breakdown of all of the acute variables for phase 1.
We could spend more time going over Phase 1, but I hope you learned something new with this brief overview. When introduced with a new learning experience within the fitness industry, the goal should always be to try to learn at least one new thing and try to implement it into the very next workout. With that in mind, what was one new thing you learned today?
If you enjoyed this short discussion, make sure to keep a lookout for a similar breakdown of the remaining four phases. Provided below is also a complete phase 1 workout bringing all of this information together.
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