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When to Progress, When to Regress

Establish a Baseline

Before you can even think about progressing a client, you first need to establish a baseline. Every trainer should have a system in place for completing a starting evaluation. This evaluation should give you a comprehensive idea of what your client is capable of and what his or her limitations are.

Of course, you’ll want to modify your baseline evaluation according to your client’s goals and situation. For instance, a 25-year-old male weekend warrior is going to be in a very different place than a 45-year-old businessman who hasn’t worked out in years.

And if you’re assisting a client coming back from an injury, you’ll want to focus on the area that needs attention and will need to ratchet down the baseline evaluation to an appropriate level.

All About Quality

When you observe that an exercise is starting to become easy for a client, it’s time to progress him or her to the next level. But that doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. In the case of the businessman who hasn’t worked out in years, you may want to increase the number of reps performed, and then the number of sets, before increasing weight. For clients who train regularly, you can increase the weight sooner.

But as in most training, it’s about quality, not quantity. If a client isn’t able to perform a quality movement, regress him or her to a movement pattern that can be done properly. A strategic regression is safer and produces better results than simply piling on additional weight.

Modify, Modify, Modify

Just about every movement can be modified to suit a client’s ability. For example, we’re working with an NFL defensive player who’s just coming back from shoulder surgery. His entire job is to push offensive linemen.

We started him off just having him lie on his back pushing a stick in the air. We eventually will add lightweight dumbbells. Then we’ll progress him to wall pushups, bench pushups, and, finally, full floor pushups. If at any time he’s unable to properly perform the movement, we will regress him to the previous step.

It’s not just elite athletes who benefit from strategic training adjustments. Thoughtful, frequent and customized changes can fine-tune any program for any client.

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