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How to determine where a client falls on the training age continuum

This is an excerpt from Secrets of Successful Program Design by Alwyn Cosgrove & Craig Rasmussen.

Qualifying Training Age

One of the more challenging things to do in the programming process is to accurately determine a client’s training age and where they fall on the training age continuum (see figure 2.1). This is a source of much debate and opinion. It’s not very challenging to classify or rank a beginner that is at the very start of this continuum. If someone has no experience in resistance training, you know that the person in front of you is a beginner because they are untrained, but beyond that, it’s often much less cut and dried. This is because there is much more involved than simply asking the question, “How long have you been resistance training?”

Figure 2.1 Training age continuum.
Figure 2.1 Training age continuum.

What if a client has two or more years of resistance training experience? Are they now categorized as advanced or are they only an intermediate? Could the client still be a beginner? That answer of two years must be qualified and given context.

In our opinion, training age isn’t simply about the total amount of time that you have been training, it’s more about the time that you have spent performing quality training. The “quantity of quality” is what matters when determining training age. We are going to explain how we apply this context and qualify this status at our facility. It’s certainly not the only way, but it does provide some clarity to the process.

We can ascertain a solid estimation of training age, but we are never going be exact because there is always some degree of subjectivity. We work to minimize the degree of subjectivity by providing tools and knowledge to guide us on where to begin with a client when it comes to the programming options provided later on in the book.

Our programming options funnel our clients into one of two groups:

  • Beginner to Intermediate
  • Advanced

Just about everyone beyond the true beginner likes to fancy themselves as being advanced, or, at the very least, being an intermediate. The problem is that no one wants to be labeled a beginner. In reality, most people that believe they are advanced are far less advanced than they think they are. Our ego often gets in the way because there is a negative stigma associated with the idea of being a beginner and needing to focus on the basics. People often feel that this is too remedial. This mistake can come back to haunt you if you dive into training options that are unnecessary or that you are underprepared for, which can end up impeding your progress.

But guess what? Being a beginner is actually a great thing, so it’s wise to embrace it rather than fight it. It’s a chance to master the basics. The best in the world are often the best because they perform the basics better than others. Being a beginner means that you have the potential to make a great amount of progress in a reasonably short amount of time because your ceiling for adaptation is higher than that of the advanced person. This simply means that if you haven’t had many adaptations to proper resistance training, you have a lot of room to improve. This should get a person very excited. The gains that occur during this time can be incredible, and it builds a lot of buy in from clients due to the rapid progress that they can make.

“If something’s new to you, you’re a beginner,” Mark Verstegen, the founder of EXOS, has said. Mark’s quote is an elegant truth and it also helps to soothe the ego problem because it takes the ego out of it. It’s also the simplest filter that trumps everything else (even our rubric later in this chapter). We all have things that are new to us and when we accept this, we realize that it’s safe and it’s okay to be a beginner. Another training and coaching reality is that most of the clients that come to see us are going to be beginners. Very few clients that seek to work with a trainer will start out as advanced trainees.

But let’s say that you do have a client who has been training as a recreational competitive powerlifter for more than 15 years and decides to take some time away from powerlifting to really concentrate on fat-loss programming. Guess what? No matter how advanced the powerlifter may be, we would still assign this client to a beginner fat-loss program. Why? Because even someone very strong is underprepared to jump into an advanced fat-loss program; a person needs to build up to it progressively. It’s new, and being a beginner in fat-loss training methods, the client doesn’t need unnecessary programming complexity. There will be more return on training investment using simpler means.