“Standard” fitness plans – a health warning

When I was working as a project manager I came across a constant drive to produce “standard and repeatable” projects as a means to reduce costs.  It led to a number of “difficult” conversations as the more complex the task we were trying to solve or the processes of the target organisation the less likely it was that a “standard and repeatable” approach could be used, particularly if there was human interaction involved.  There were often basic tasks that were generally the same but beyond that every project was different.

In the fitness industry the same drive towards standardisation is everywhere – examples are standard workout routines, 10km plans and the standard “rules” upon which many diets are based.  Again, the trade off is between the need to cater for as many people as possible in one group (reducing the level of quality for each individual) against the extra work (and therefore cost) that comes from creating individual plans and workouts.

I’ve no issues with standard plans as a guideline but made a conscious decision that I wanted to cater more towards individual long-term development – that was one of the reasons why I took my GP Referral Qualification.  As a result I have developed three assessments (one of which is for children) at different levels but with a greater than average range of collected data.  I use the data I collect to either create individual plans or to grade the exercises for each client in group sessions appropriately.  I’ve found that the movement assessments, lifestyle and nutrition questionnaires and the monitoring of recovery have been the most powerful tools to determine the variables that make us all unique, and that factoring those into the plans I produce leads to a greater likelihood of success.

There are always certain exercises that will appear in most of my plans (runners are likely to perform some variations on single leg squat/deadlift for example) but there’s always a balance between stressing the body enough to provoke an adaptation and pushing it to the point where it breaks down.  It’s a fine line as can be seen from the number of injured runners at any one time.  Sometimes people just need someone else to tell them what they really know themselves – the particular stresses of their lives mean they need to give their body a rest so they can come back stronger.

My message from all of this is to always be aware of the limitations of standard plans and be prepared to adapt according to your personal circumstances –

  • If your training plan says you need to do a particular session be prepared to modify it if necessary – training works by provoking an adaptation from the body, if it’s over-stressed (from work/illness etc) it’s more likely to break down.  Make the hard sessions hard and the easy sessions easy (not all somewhere in between) and know why you’re doing each session.  Try to determine what the right level of stress is to push you personally from each session (to develop endurance/speed/strength/power etc).
  • Similarly, listen to your body.  If you know there’s something not quite right maybe that 22 mile run or track session isn’t the best idea even if the plan says so.  I’m a runner too – I know you all do it!
  • Determine your movement patterns and physiological structure before you select exercises, make sure you know how to do the exercises properly and perform a daily maintenance routine (for example if you lack ankle mobility then do some exercises each morning to address it).  What works for one person may be completely wrong for someone else.
  • Think about movement throughout your day.  If you spend a lot of time sat down then stand up often and move about.  The one hour gym workout you’re following won’t have as much of an effect on your body as the five hours slumped in a chair over a keyboard!
  • Choose a nutrition plan that you can live with for the rest of your life by making small sustainable changes.  The diet consisting largely of cabbage may cause you to lose weight in the short term but is it sustainable (or healthy) over a number of years (particularly if you’re not keen on cabbage).
  • The diet/gym workout/training session that a celebrity or athlete performs may well not be right for you.
  • Children need to be developed following an approach tailored for each individual as they will develop at different rates.  They definitely shouldn’t be trained using watered down versions of adult training sessions.

In summary, don’t forget you’re an individual!

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