Workout Plans

Vertical Loading: A Total Body Approach for Vertical Workouts

National Academy of Sports Medicine
National Academy of Sports Medicine
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Are your clients stuck in a plateau and not continuing to lose weight? Are you experiencing “Program Design Block” (a trainer’s version of “writer’s block”) trying to keep your clients challenged and progressing? Are you or your clients bored with their training? Do you need more clients to fill out your schedule? If you have answered YES to any of these questions, it may be time to add another training approach to your toolbox.

Most people (members and personal trainers) that enjoy strength training have always gravitated to performing a body part split program like a bro split (i.e., chest & triceps on Mondays, back & biceps on Tuesdays, etc.). A majority of these strength training programs are performed in a horizontally loaded fashion. This means the individual performs three to five sets of an exercise (with rests periods in between) before moving to the next exercise. This can be a viable approach if your client wants to be a bodybuilder, but if your client’s goal is not mass, this may be counter productive. This approach can also lend itself to far too much “talk time” between sets as the client recovers, which can decrease the efficiency of the entire program.

As an alternative, try a vertically loaded total-body program to benefit everybody from the client, to yourself, to even increasing your clientele (as you are doing something that is so different from what people are used to seeing). A vertical loading program is a form of circuit training in which strength training exercises are performed in rapid succession starting with the upper body and working down to the lower body. A vertical loading system of training can be very beneficial for allowing maximal recovery to each body part while minimizing the amount of rest time needed.

Vertically Loading Total Body Workout Program

The following is a sample vertically loaded total-body program for the goals of weight loss, core and joint stability, and muscular endurance. For individual programming purposes, first perform a comprehensive warm-up. Then perform the following program in two successive circuits with as little rest as possible between exercises.

Body Part Exercise Reps Sets Rest
Chest Stability Ball DB Chest Press 12 2 0 sec
Back Standing Cable Pulldown 12 2 0 sec
Shoulders Single-Leg Scaption 12 2 0 sec
Biceps Single-Leg DB Curls 12 2 0 sec
Triceps Prone Ball DB Kickbacks 12 2 0 sec
Legs 1 Ball Squats 12 2 0 sec
Legs 2 Floor Ball Hamstring Curls 12 2 0 sec
Cardio Elliptical 4 min 2 Rest 30-90 sec(repeat for 2 sets)

Benefits for the Client

Most clients that pay for personal training are interested in a trainer taking them through a challenging, fun, and progressive program. Clients not only want to see results, but want their personal trainer to hold them accountable to do something they wouldn’t do on their own.

As stated earlier, a typical, horizontally loaded program often leads to too much down time between sets, which can lead to a comfort level between the personal trainer and client where half the session becomes social. If the client is only exercising half the session, then the client’s results will suffer in comparison to them getting the full session.

By performing a vertically loaded program, this will help to keep the session moving from exercise to exercise because the only “down” time is the time that it takes to move to each exercise. This pace allows the personal trainer and client to accomplish much more in the session and should, in turn, provide better results (more work = more calorie expenditure). The pace and order of the program will also help keep the client interested as the environment will change from set to set. Lastly, the client will feel the tempo of the program become more challenging. This will re-enforce their decision to hire a personal trainer to get the best workout possible.

Benefits for the Personal Trainer

From a trainer’s point of view, his or her objective is to motivate and encourage their clients to get the best results, as well as to create a fun and exciting program to help clients achieve their goals.

Another reason a vertically loaded program can benefit the personal trainer in the gym is that during busy times it can be very challenging to use different pieces of equipment because of the volume of members. Using a vertically loaded program, the personal trainer and client only have to use one piece of equipment for one set and then they are moving on to another exercise. Other members will be more open to letting someone “work in” with one set versus the three to five encountered with horizontal loading. This makes it much easier to accomplish a workout without down time from waiting to use a piece of equipment for multiple sets.

The Author

National Academy of Sports Medicine

National Academy of Sports Medicine

Since 1987 the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) has been the global leader in delivering evidence-based certifications and advanced specializations to health and fitness professionals. Our products and services are scientifically and clinically proven. They are revered and utilized by leading brands and programs around the world and have launched thousands of successful careers.


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