When I start with a new personal training program, there are a few typical steps that we go through. We sit down, chat about the client’s goals, what their experience with exercise/activity has been in the past, what health concerns or barriers they may have, and we even do a little assessment to see how well they move.
It’s not until afterward that we begin putting together a workout program. We’ll start with picking a few basic movements that get them moving more regularly and address some of the barriers and problems that may have shown up in the movement screening. Honestly, sometimes I look at it on paper and I think: “Oh man. I need to give them more to do.” “It’s too simple or easy.” “We didn’t do this or that yet. They’re definitely gonna need some of these exercises because kettlebells are the coolest thing since NWA.”
So I used to add the extra stuff and clients would come in and maybe it would go well. They might get blasted and love being pushed. I’d get texts about being sore and that they were excited to do the next one. Or worse, it would be too much for them and I could tell they felt disheartened and I’d have work to do to build them back up due to my over exuberance.
But then we’d meet again, and they could only remember half the stuff I’d coached them through. They would say they were too sore to practice much or any of the stuff I’d given them for homework. And the stuff they did remember wasn’t done all that well either.
I’ve learned that less is often more. I have regressions and progressions for just about every exercise and barrier I can think of. We use them all the time and things go much more smoothly. The best coaches I know do this really well. They’re able to get their clients to practice this stuff on their own time in a way that allows them to feel successful and make progress.
Eating is another similar story. Many people receive no nutrition advice. The other 167 hours of the week is simply left to chance, and it’s assumed they have to sweat harder in the workouts.
The lucky people that do receive some nutritional guidance are often hit with the standard one-size-fits-all program. When they mess up though, it’s not a matter of how can the program regress or change to fit the person. It’s usually looked at as how is the person going to change to fit the program.
I’ve been guilty of not providing nearly enough support for clients and their eating changes in the past. I’ve given a half dozen new things to do and another half dozen things they should no longer eat. Only in a few rare, super-self-motivated exceptions has this been a successful initial approach. Usually, little time goes by until another “12 weeks to ripped abs” diet plan hits bookshelves to give people too much to do with too little support and leave them feeling like they’re not capable of eating well and it’s not worth trying.
Ask about the barriers, listen to the limitations and scale the eating skills. Successfully getting from sedentary to HIIT takes time and progressions. Getting from Starbucks and Skittles to food planning Jedi will need progressions and regressions too. Overcoming each individual’s eating barriers is just like exercising around their injuries and limitations
Being able to provide more options and regressions for eating habits takes some mental flexing if you’re not used to it. But it’s another repertoire of potential regressions and progressions to specifically meet people where they’re at. It will help people to achieve more success, building even greater confidence in their ability to overcome future fitness hurdles and lifestyle changes. It sets good coaches apart from the mediocre.
So what are your regressions and progressions for food? I’m far less interested in the carb cycling and perfect macros. I’m focussing on goblet squat scrambled eggs, elevated push up tacos, chin up hang broccoli and the uphill walking of drinking water. The best coaches don’t have to give their clients everything all at once. They provide a way to make things work one at a time and set people up for lots of wins on top of wins.
Brian Tabor is a personal trainer at San Diego State University and owner of Strong Made Simple in San Diego, CA. He works with campus organizations to provide accessible strength and fitness programs for students, faculty, and the surrounding community, empowering them to do the things they love to do. You can follow him on Twitter at @thebriantabor.