The Clash of Class vs PT sessions: How to make them Complementary

Periodisation has never been the sexiest word in the fitness industry. I typed it into dictionary.com to see the literal meaning, and well let’s just say there’s a reason the boring definition didn’t make it into this article. So why then do I still deem it important enough to investigate the purpose of periodization in the industry? Stay with me to find out.

I am a HYBRID Coach. I have molded my fitness business on the ability to be an excellent coach with my 1:1 clients and to be an entertaining and empowering group fitness instructor. Having this combination meant that I was never without an engaged audience who would return weekly for PT sessions, classes, or both. If I did have a client who left a space in my schedule, I could mention that in my classes and within a week or two I would be back to full capacity.

In my mind, being a group ex instructor not only meant that I had this excellent lead generation source but was a way I could reach more people and help to influence their lives. Then when those people needed more specific, individualized help, I could seamlessly offer 1:1 sessions and it was a perfect symbiotic circle.

The need for periodizing my 1:1 clients and my classes became apparent when I noticed how much my classes affected my clients’ performance and vice versa. This article is about giving you a simplified 3 step checklist to create periodization whether you coach 1:1 or for a group.

Checklist Point 1: Why Vs Goals.

Everybody you encounter at a gym or training facility has an underlying emotional reason they want to achieve their goals. On top of that underlying emotional reason, most people have complex social, physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental challenges they are dealing with. A good coach knows their clients’ goals. A great coach knows and understands their clients why (underlying reason). A leading coach knows both of those and understands how the social, physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental challenges will inevitably affect their clients training regime.

A leading coach will have excellent personal connections with their clients and be able to translate their challenges into meaningful exercise selections. We would all love for our clients to continually progress in a liner fashion, but we know this doesn’t happen. Periodisation allows you to PLAN for your client’s specific up’s and downs depending on what challenge they’re currently facing.

Now for my group ex instructors reading along you may be wondering WHY this is important to you. Members will not return to your class unless they personally connect with how and what you are teaching. The WHAT you are teaching relates to the specific physiological outcomes people can expect to achieve by attending your class week in, week out. The HOW is how they feel about you personally. More than likely they will not be repeating your class if they do not connect with you in some shape or form.

As an instructor it is unlikely that you will know all the differing Goals and Why’s of your participants and I am not suggesting that you should. What you need to consider is getting clear on what your class offers people. If you were going to be recommending your class to someone, can you clearly explain in a sentence what they would expect to achieve? Can you explain how they should expect to be feeling upon leaving the class?

If either 1:1 coach or group exercise instructor is unclear about the Goal and the Why, it is possible that all the training we deliver is unspecific and off target. How can we as 1:1 coaches expect to guide our clients to amazing results if we don’t understand their life and environment? How can we as group ex instructors expect people to return if our deliverable product is untargeted or misleading? The first step in our periodization plan is to get clear on the Goal and Why and continually check in with ourselves and our clients to ensure we are on track.

Checklist Point 2: Training Vs Coaching. Attending Vs Experiencing.

Periodizing our classes and our sessions increases our value in the eyes of our clients and members. It’s what takes us from a trainer and ensures we are a coach. As a group ex instructor instead of people attending our classes, it becomes an unmissable experience. The key for both is listening and asking.

Instructors let’s start with you. ‘Listen’ in your classes means you are able to interpret body language and absorb small pieces of information members give you. It means being able to feel the energy of the room and influence it in the direction of the class goals. Asking means we give our members options in exercise selection and intensity. Asking means we let them choose their level for that day, for that given exercise. Asking means we use our cues and coaching points with pin-point precision so they can achieve the tasks we lay out for them feeling safe.

Asking your members instead of telling them allows them to listen to their body and assess what they can give at that time on that day. This level of autonomy in your classes makes them feel safe, connected to you and more likely to achieve the long-term goals of the class. Filming your class, getting a colleague or mentor to evaluate your class for feedback and asking for member feedback are all excellent tools for this.

Coaches we must learn to Ask the right questions consistently. We must be able to Listen to the answer and interpret that into how many reps, how often and how challenging. This is the hardest task as a coach as our clients usually have completely different needs, wants and challenges in their lives. This leads us nicely into our third and final checklist point. However, if you don’t ask and listen first, the third step cannot and will not work.

Checklist Point 3: Language & Metrics.

We have established the Why and goals; and understood how we continually evaluate ourselves and our clients; now it’s time to look at integration. The fitness industry has a language that we as coaches and instructors use all the time. Occasionally we will have clients and members who understand that language seamlessly. Most of our clients and members however will not comprehend the fitness industry language. In my experience this is where creating a simplified language with clear metrics breaks the barriers in ‘fitness industry’ language.

The Language is describing the goals of requirements of a 1:1 session or class in clear, layman’s terms. If they are required to work at high intensity – what does that feel like? What does that feel like in their muscles, in their lungs? What does it look like? The best language you can use for a client/member is one using words and descriptions most people know and understand already. For example, ‘Some feelings you can expect from your spin class are; being extremely out of breath by the end and legs that are as heavy as led”. No part of that language indicates how heavy they need to go, or what HR they are working at; instead, it relates it to something people may have experienced before, or something they can easily imagine.

From that simplified language we can then easily assign a unit of measurement to that feeling. These units of measurement are something you can include in your 1:1 sessions or in your classes. For example, ‘PT sessions are variably rated for overall intensity because we can manipulate them on the day where your classes you can’t. You have rated the classes as follows: yin yoga is rated 1, cycle is 5, Pilates reformer 3 and Zumba is rated 3.’

We can now start to build meaningful conversations around long term programming and planning with our clients. The social, physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental challenges your clients face during the week can now be factored in and we can help guide the level of intensity or load because of our metric system.

Instructors who understand the physiological outcomes of their class can now recommend other classes or exercise modalities that will complement your members training regimes. You may also use this system as a facility to make navigating classes and training sessions even less daunting to all members. The key part of Language and Metrics is to ensure you make it relevant for your members, clients and facility.

How do I start to periodize?

With the integration of your three checklist steps, you are now ready to use those metrics to map out a meaningful plan. I say meaningful because the meaning will change depending who it is for!

Coaches trying this out for your clients you will want these key points of information to drive your periodization plan:

  • What is the time limit/barrier/end point?
  • How do I measure the start and end point of my client’s goal?
  • Does my client want to know this plan in detail or do they want me to do this for them without knowing the details?

Once you have this information it is about inputting the time and metric system in place. In the example used above the days that are level 1 may be days my clients can’t get to the gym or have an event on. The days that are 5, you may give your client notice so they can prepare if they need to. We use the periodization plan alongside what we know about progressive overload and people’s need for recovery and work it into our programming.

The great news for instructors who want to periodize is you can do it in several ways. You can set a long-term challenge within the class and entice your repeat members to strive for those goals with you. For example, ‘For the next 8 weeks we are going to be working on leg strength’. Each week you would make mention of the timeframe and goal you have set for any new members and try to draw them into the experience. Or you educate your members to take a week off or take a lighter class week when you know they have been coming repeatedly for a while.

When programming periodization you can involve people in the process, or you can keep it as part of your behind-the-scenes magic. Either way you are helping to reduce injury risk, reduce the risk of burn-out and helping to create autonomy and experience for anyone who is working with you. You will stick true to the tried and tested progressive overload principles and continually change the lives of many humans!

Written by Vanessa Leone for the Winter 2021 Edition of Fitness Network Magazine.

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