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Turn Client “Work-Outs” Into “Play-Outs”

by Rodney Corn, MA on Oct 21, 2010

Personal trainers: when clients work a full day, then come to the gym for a “work-out,” are they truly primed for success? Or does the drudge factor hamper their progress and lead to boredom? Is there a way to inject fun back into the training? By sprucing up activities and finding fresh, stimulating ways to engage and motivate our clients, we can make a dramatic impact on them and on our industry. Read on for some useful ideas on how to “mix things up” in future training sessions.


The Metabolic Playground

To continue motivating our clients, we need to

  • infuse enjoyment into our exercise programs;
  • use new and stimulating exercises--both mentally and physically; and
  • train with progressive intensities.

To organize and apply these three factors, you need a systemic process. The “Metabolic Playground” is such a process. In short, the term metabolic refers to the demand placed on the body’s metabolism, or the intensity of training. We know there are three major energy systems and, though all three are used, we can focus on one more than the others during exercise. This is achieved primarily by exercise intensity and duration, and the work-to-rest ratio. The term playground refers to the sphere of unrestricted pleasurable activity.

The Metabolic Playground is a concept that offers us a different mindset about our exercise programs, which can now become “play-outs” with a purpose. Factors that determine the look and feel of the playground are the client, the desired outcome (goal), the preferences and abilities of the client (and trainer), and the trainer’s creativity.

Exploring the Metabolic Playground

The Metabolic Playground concept is based on five main categories, taken from the Gray Institute’s ( functional nomenclature:

  1. environment: surroundings, equipment and tools
  2. beginning position: position of person relative to the environment
  3. driver: what's moving and how, relative to the beginning position
  4. triangulation (direction, height and distance): precisely where the driver(s) are going in 3-D space
  5. action: desired motions and participation parameters
These categories provide a system for manipulating exercises so that trainers can advance the most basic ones or simplify the most complex ones to fit any client.

For example, take the seated shoulder press. By running this exercise through the Metabolic Playground system, you can create endless variations.

  • You can change the environment by using a dumbbell or barbell, kettlebell, medicine ball, weight plate or even balloon.
  • For the beginning position, you can opt for sitting on a stability ball, standing or lying prone.
  • The third option is the driver. Instead of doing the press with both hands at the same time, your client can use alternating hands, reciprocating hands or one hand only. And if the client stands with one foot on a slide disc (a driver), you can have her slide that foot back and forth during the shoulder press.
  • Triangulation involves moving in a different direction or plane of motion. You can instruct the client to rotate or press more laterally overhead (as if making a Y with the arms) and/or press more in front of the body instead of directly overhead.
  • You can alter the action. For instance, you may choose to add another action in conjunction with the shoulder press (e.g., a lateral shuffle through a speed ladder during the press).

This example takes a basic move and makes it more complex. In the same manner, you can change the variables of the Metabolic Playground to make the move less complex, depending on a participant’s ability level. Using this information, you can design programs for your clients that are enjoyable and varied, simply by using your creativity and the five categories to enhance or simplify any given exercise. For more examples of ways to use the concepts from the Metabolic Playground, see the full article, “Turn Your Gym Into a Playground,” in the online IDEA Library or in the September issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.

Video Web Extra! Click on the article link above to access a series of eight videos showing examples of Metabolic Playground–style exercises and program designs.

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About the Author

Rodney Corn, MA

Rodney Corn, MA IDEA Author/Presenter

Rodney Corn, is a co-founder of PTA Global, an educational company for fitness professionals. He holds a Master's degree in Biomechanics and is an adjunct faculty member at the California University of Pennsylvania and the University of San Francisco.