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How “Movement Age” Impacts Program Design

Any half way decent strength and conditioning program must be individualized to the unique needs and goals of the trainee.  Developing programs that specifically address our clients’ “goals” is fairly straightforward, however, mastering how to design programs that also consider their “needs” can really take you to the next level as a personal trainer or strength coach.

When designing training programs, we often begin individualizing based on age.  That’s a great place to start, but there are many limitations with just using age.  I want to review how we design programs using “age” by starting with a review of chronological, biological, and training age.

More importantly, I wanted to introduce a new “age” we use at Champion called “movement age.”  This may be the most important, yet most neglected as well.

Chronological and Biological Age

Movement Age Program DesignAt the very beginning of the spectrum when discussing the “age” of your client is their actual chronological age, which is their precise age.  While this probably isn’t as big of an issue when discussing the training program of two people aged 34 and 38, it is much more relevant when comparing two people aged 14 and 18.

Chronological age is a good place to start, obviously, but their biological age is far more important. The anatomical maturity of a 14 year old is quite different from an 18 year old and does become a variable that must be adjusted for within your program design.

Line up 6 kids that are aged 14 and you’ll see the difference.  One looks like he is 10 years old, another looks 18, and the rest all fall somewhere in between.  According to the data accumulated at Wikipedia, girls will go through puberty between the ages of 10 and 16, while boys tend to go through puberty between the ages of 11 and 17.  That’s a 6 year range!

Our focus with those with a low chronological age is different that the older high school athletes.  While strength and power tend to become more of the focus in the older trainee, we focus on what we call the ABC’s of movement with our younger trainees, focusing on Agility, Balance, and Coordination.  Strength training is included but the results are obviously going to be limited by the hormonal and skeletal maturation differences.

But, I urge you to not downplay this stage of athletic development.  Developing the basics of movement skills is important and unfortunately this generation of children are not getting the same development as past generations.  In fact, our younger athletes at Champion see some of the biggest changes in athleticism.  These programs are impactful.

Here are my 2 and 6 year olds working on their athleticism!

So it’s apparent that chronological age has limited usefulness and biological age is a much better place to start.  However, chronological age does not take into consideration the experience of the trainee.

Training Age

As chronological age becomes less relevant with older trainees, the next variable to consider is their experience in training.  Image the difference in two individuals:

  • Trainee 1 – 28 year old – Wants to lose 10 pounds – Did not participate in athletics growing up, has never participated in a strength and conditioning program, currently has desk job.
  • Trainee 2 – 28 year old – Wants to lose 10 pounds – Was athletic growing up playing multiple sports in high school, and club sports for fun in college, trained at a sports performance center through high school, hasn’t trained consistently in 10 years.
  • Trainee 3 – 28 year old – Wants to lose 10 pounds – Was athletic growing up playing multiple sports in high school, and club sports for fun in college, trained at a sports performance center through high school, consistently trained through college and has continued since college.

We have people that are 28 years old and want to lose 10 pounds.  Same age, same goal.  Do they all start with the same program?  Of course not.

Training age takes into consideration the experience of the trainee.  Have they strength trained before?  Do they know how to perform the lifts with proper form?  Do they know how to exert force with intent (more on this in a future post…)?

Remember the success of your programs are based around how the body adapts to the stress applied.  You can pretty much do anything to Trainee 1 to stimulation enough stress to make a change, which is good because they have a lot to learn!  On the other end of the spectrum, Trainee 3 has a great understanding of how to train and has been exposing his body to different stresses for years.  To make progress in this trainee, you’ll likely need a more complicated periodization scheme to create a different stimulus for their body.

I have discussed these concepts in the past in my article Does Periodization of a Program Help Improve Strength and in more detail in an Inner Circle Webinar on Periodization for Strength Training and Rehabilitation.

There is one HUGE flaw with training age.  Just because you have been training for several years does not mean you understand how to train, or even that you know proper technique!

Don’t assume that since someone has been training consistently for years that they have been training correctly!

This is a common finding in people that have dabbled in strength training in the past and are starting a formal program or starting to work with a personal trainer or strength coach for the first time.

Movement Age

Poor Movement SkillsThe last age we consider when designing strength and conditioning programs is one of the most important, but often neglected.  We can have an advanced trainee in regard to chronological age, biological age, and training age, however, can they move well?  At Champion, we’ve started to use the terminology “Movement Age” to discuss someone’s ability to move.

We don’t even have to make this too complicated – can they hinge, squat, lunge, step, rotate, push, and pull?

We simply define the ability to “move” as using proper form through the movement’s full range of motion.  This then becomes a scale:

  • Can they move with assistance?
  • Can they move without assistance?
  • Can they move without assistance with load?
  • Can they move without assistance with load and speed?

When it comes to program design, “movement age” trumps training age every time. [Click here to tweet this]

It’s amazing how our movement skills have deteriorated.  How many of your high school athletes can touch their toes?  Isn’t it amazing?!?

In order to advance from beginner, to intermediate, to advanced trainee in our Champion program design system, you need to demonstrate maturation of your chronological, biological, training, and movement age.

On the Performance Therapy side of Champion, we work with a lot of athletes that want to optimize themselves and get the most out of their bodies.  It’s amazing how many of the “advanced” athletes we see have poor movement skills.  They don’t hinge well, or squat well past neutral, or can’t even balance themselves in a half kneeling position!

This can lead to imbalances, asymmetries, and compensation patterns that can suck performance, lead to tissue overuse, and eventually breakdown.  This is especially true if you try to just blast through your poor movement skills and add load and speed to your lifts.

Sometimes we don’t need an advanced and complicated strength training periodization scheme, sometimes we just need to clean up movement patterns.  Consider this taking one step back to take 5 huge steps forward.  Movement age may be the most important variable to consider when designing strength and conditioning programs.

3 Systems You Need to Have in Place to Be an Elite Strength Coach

Systems.  That’s a word I say VERY frequently throughout the day at Champion PT and Performance.  Our center revolves around systems.

The two biggest mistakes I see with new personal trainers and strength coaches are very simple:

  • They don’t have a plan
  • They don’t have a system of developing a plan

One of my biggest pet peeves in this industry is just slapping together a bunch of exercises without a solid rationale.  This often happens when you pick the exercise first.  Maybe you just went to a new continuing education course and learned a new exercise, or you just read a new article on the web, or saw an exciting new exercise on Youtube.  You’re excited and want to try this shiny new exercise.

The second phase of our coaching evolution often revolves around understanding the fact that it’s better to build a solid program first, then fill in the exercises second.

That’s great, you’re evolving.  But…  my second biggest pet peeve is writing programs month-to-month.  I use the phrase “start with the end in mind” quite often when it comes to program design.  Most of our clients have clear goals that we should be prioritizing when designing their program.

If their season starts in 4-months, or their wedding is in 12-weeks, to achieve the best results we should assure the program is designed to peak and maximize their performance at the perfect time.  You can’t do this when writing programs month-to-month.  You need to have the program mapped out ahead of time.  Sure, you’ll probably tweak the program a few times as the client progresses, that’s the art of coaching, but it’s always better to start with the end in mind.

3 Systems You Need to Have in Place to Be an Elite Strength Coach

I really think that if you want to become an elite strength coach or personal trainer (or heck, physical therapist…), you need to have a few systems in place.  It really all comes down to developing systems to allow you to quickly and easily provide your expertise in a consistent and reliable fashion.

You Need to Have a Program Design System

Program design systemWhen we are just starting out in this field, program design is one of the most challenging aspects your job.  It’s because you don’t have a system in place and try to re-create the wheel each and every time you write someone a program.

It’s daunting,

You don’t need to sit down and start from scratch with each and every client.  You need a program design system to accomplishes the goals you’ve established and style of training you provide.

You Need to Have a Periodization System

Periodization SystemOnce you understand how to design a program, the next system to master is how to string together multiple programs.  This is essentially periodization.

Again, you don’t need to get fancy and mix this up for each and every client.  I’ve overview a a little bit of my periodization system for strength and rehabilitation in an Inner Circle webinar.

There are periodization schemes that fit well with specific goals and specific clients.  Developing a system of categorizing all this is the next step in becoming an elite coach.

You Need to Have a Coaching System

Assessing overhead shoulder mobilityLastly, it doesn’t matter how good of a program you can write, or how well you periodize the program, your results are going to suffer if you don’t know how to coach.

The third system that I think you need to reach that elite level is a coaching system.  This involves developing a consistent approach to cueing, analyzing technique, making adjustments, progressing and regressing exercises on the fly, and connecting with you clients in general.

Just like anything else, this can be a system as well.

How to Develop Your Own Systems

Systems take time and experience to develop.  This is natural.  But finding an excellent mentor and always seeking out continuing education is a great step.  You have to find what works for you.

I’ve learned so much from some of the experts in the field by studying their systems.  I am always assessing how other people do things and trying to determine which aspects of their system I can adopt and integrate into what I am currently doing myself.

Alwyn Cosgrove has done a great job outlining his systems in his educational work.  Mike Boyle has as well.  But the person that I can say I have probably learned the most from over the years is Mike Robertson.  As my readers know, I really connect to Mike’s style of coaching, ability to teach information, and his focus on developing his own systems.

Physical Preparation 101

physical preparation 101Luckily for us, Mike has just released his latest DVD which completely overviews his program design and coaching systems.  And when I say “completely overviews,” I mean it!  Mike has just release Physical Preparation 101, a whopping 12-DVD set that discussing exactly how Mike has built his systems.

I watched almost all of the 12 DVDs over the weekend and can say that if you don’t currently have a system in place, this is the resource you should invest in to begin developing your system.

The program is $100 off this week for the launch and a must have for all of our educational libraries.  Click below to save $100:

Periodization for Strength Training and Rehabilitation

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on my Periodization for Strength Training and Rehabilitation is now available.

Periodization for Strength Training and Rehabilitation

Periodization for Strength Training and RehabilitationThis month’s Inner Circle webinar is on periodization for strength training and rehabilitation.  In this webinar I’ll discuss:

  • Why you need to understand periodization concepts to maximize strength
  • How to enhance strength by strategically changing aspects of your program to stimulate adaptations
  • The many different kinds of periodization and what really works
  • How I use linear, non-linear, and undulating periodization concepts
  • How to chose your periodization strategy based on the experience of the person
  • How to apply periodization concepts to rehabilitation

To access this webinar: