One of the most frequent questions I hear from new fitness professionals is about how they can increase their business. My response is to ask them about the programs they develop for their clients, says ViPR global master trainer Pete McCall, MS, CSCS.

Often, new trainers focus on giving clients a great workout for that one session – there is a tendency to overlook the opportunity to help a client understand the benefits of a long-term exercise program. One of the best ways to retain clients or small group program participants is to educate them about the need for exercise programs to periodically adjust in volume, intensity and level of difficulty. In order for a client to improve their movement skill and coordination, there must be some consistency in the exercises selected for a particular workout. However, the body is a very adaptable machine and the more it performs the same exercises at the same intensity, the less energy (calories) it expends to execute those particular movements. It's important to note that changing the exercises every workout is not the solution because exercise is a function of movement where movement is a coordinated skill that must be developed over time.

This can be a sticky wicket (challenging situation) for a trainer; on one hand, they want to offer variety to make the workouts interesting, while on the other they need some consistency so clients can have a sense of achievement. We can create added value for our services by using the science of periodization to provide a systematic way to constantly change the volume and intensity of exercise. The basic exercise movements can be consistent to provide for efficient learning, but the other variables of exercise program design – intensity, reps, sets, rest interval and tempo – can be manipulated to create challenging and, more importantly, engaging workouts. When we do this, we become more important to our clients because we're providing them with long-term exercise program solutions to help them achieve all of their fitness goals.

Understanding and applying the science of periodization is pretty straightforward when using traditional exercise equipment like selectorized machines, dumbbells, barbells or kettlebells, where adjusting intensity, reps and sets is a matter of simply changing the weight. What about applying the systematic methodology of periodization to non-traditional equipment such as ViPR? With eight different weights to choose from (4kg, 6kg, 8kg, 10kg, 12kg, 16kg, 20kg and 26kg) it might not seem like there is much diversity for programming needs; however, nothing could be further from the truth. The biggest benefit of using a non-traditional tool like ViPR is that intensity can be manipulated not just by the load of the mass but by the direction, height and speed of the movement. The purpose of this article is to provide a few ideas on how to apply the science of periodization to training with ViPR so you can create not just hard workouts but long-term programs that are dynamic, challenging, fun, and effective programs that help you increase your levels of client retention.

Periodization of strength training

The science of periodization is based on the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) developed by endocrinologist Hans Selye. <1> Exercise is a physical stress applied to the body. Every exercise stress that is applied creates specific biochemical, neurological and mechanical adaptations in the body. Selye identified three specific phases of how the body adapts to an exercise stimulus:

1.  Shock or Alarm Phase: The initial response to the applied stress of a training load. It is approximately two to three weeks in duration when the initial neuromuscular adaptations to strength training occur. An individual in this phase can feel fatigued, weak or sore as their body adapts to the demands of exercise but will soon overcome these symptoms.

2.  Adaptation or Resistance Phase: The body adapts to the applied stimuli by changing physiological structures and functions (e.g., muscle fiber cross-width and improved motor unit synchronization). This phase is characterized by progressive improvements in muscular force production (strength) due to the muscle growth and more efficient neural recruitment of involved muscle fibers and usually lasts from four to 12 weeks after the introduction of the training stress.

3.   Exhaustion Phase: The body can no longer tolerate the physiological stress of the applied load and overtraining may occur. The Overtraining Syndrome (OTS) has been described as being ‘under-recovered’ and can affect both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. OTS can lead to a host of physiological problems, including recurring illness, loss of sleep, moodiness, loss of physical performance and overuse injuries. <2> As a result of physical exhaustion or OTS, physiological adaptations may plateau and can even begin to decrease; this is the primary reason why personal trainers should educate their clients about the need for an appropriate long-term exercise program based on the science of how the body adapts to exercise.

Periodization calls for alternating phases (periods) of training based on volume, intensity, and movement complexity. The greatest benefit of periodization is that it uses rest as a means of allowing for adaptation to the physically demanding stresses of training. When training with ViPR, it's not just the muscles that require recovery from the training load, but with the stimulus created by the complexity of multi-directional movement patterns requires rest for the nervous system for optimal skill acquisition to occur. Understanding how to apply periodization for a systematic and progressive application of the variables of exercise program design gives you the ability to change the volume, intensity and complexity of a program at specific intervals to maximize performance while allowing appropriate levels of rest and recovery as a critical strategy.

Your clients who don't like to exercise will definitely appreciate the fact that you make rest a part of your long-term plan. Clients who love to exercise will need to be coached on the benefits of rest to allow the optimal adaptations to the exercise stimulus to occur.


<1> Baechle T, Earle R (2008), Essentials of Strength and Conditioning, 3rd edition, Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics.

<2> Bishop P, Jones E, Woods K (2008), Recovery from training: A brief review, The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22(3): 1,015-24.