Want a Foolproof Planning System for Group Workouts?

by Andrew Read on September 5, 2013

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Just like there’s more than one way to skin a cat there are many, many ways to create a training plan. When it comes to training individuals this is usually fairly easy as you are able to adjust according to the individual’s response to the previous sessions and there can be a large amount of communication back and forth regarding what they enjoyed, felt was beneficial or potentially too much for them. But that relatively straight forward planning process changes immensely when you start to look at group training.

I know many trainers these days have gone to group training in an effort to better leverage their time but one of the consequences of training a group is that everything has to become far more general and very often individual needs are lost in the change. Recently there was a post on the Dragon Door Certified Instructors facebook page regarding just this problem so I thought it might be helpful to outline a system that allows you to plan any workout.

The thing about this system is that I found out recently that it is also the exact same method being used to plan sessions by guys like Alwyn Cosgrove. The main thought that goes through my head when I train groups is that I want to be sure that we hit the most important things for everyone. Everyone needs more mobility and core work, no questions. So no matter what we need to hit those things in every single session. Not only that, but as Ian King told me we need to make sure that we place our priorities first in the session so that we can attack then when we have the most focus and energy. It’s no good saying we’re all about core training and doing five minutes of it tacked on at the end of the session.

While these two things need addressing we also need to understand that while strength is important so is movement. And if, like many, you came to kettlebells to increase athleticism then we need some form of movement work in our session too. This doesn’t mean we need to go jumping around like a ninja on amphetamines but it does mean we should consider doing some work that isn’t bilateral and maybe is from a split or single leg stance, or it could be rotational work, or may even include some running or agility drills.

Finally, no matter how people choose to argue it, there needs to be some kind of fitness or conditioning work. Your heart is a muscle too and needs to be worked through all ranges for health. However, this work can take many forms from competitive games like a head to head workout, or a simple run around the block. The actual format doesn’t matter as long as you do something that gets your heart rate up.

I’m reluctant to call these rules, as I think of them more as a set of guidelines as to how a session should be run to ensure that we make the most of the time we have for training. Warm up Extra mobility work based on your warm up. Core work. Skill practice, power and speed work.Strength.Competition/ conditioning /Cool down.

I won’t dwell on warming up too much as I hope most people understand what it is for. A warm up should start generally and end specifically. If your session is to include overhead pressing, for instance, a warm up might have joint rotations through the major joints, then stick dislocates, Y and T work with a light band and then some light pressing. All of this lets you know where your body is up to prior to actually testing it with today’s main work. The warm up includes essential mobility work. Good examples include, after joint rotations, brettzels, armbars, and Cossack squats. The next stage of the warm up is often forgotten except by veteran trainers, or those who have finally understood that they have issues that need to be constantly addressed. A good option here is to allow people five minutes of their own time to address their individual needs based on what they felt was stiff or tight during the warm up. This is also a great time for all your lazy clients to do the therapy work that their physiotherapist gave to them, because there’s a large chance that it isn’t being done at home. This extra mobility work can be different from session to session and is not set in stone – it needs to be driven entirely individually.

I’ve been on both sides of the core training argument. From, “I lift heavy therefore my core gets all the work it really needs in preventing my trunk from collapsing” to doing specific core only sessions twice a week that were an hour each. Unfortunately my clients don’t have two spare hours each week to do core only work but I can make sure that they do at least some each time they train. Core work needs to involve both resistance to flexion and rotation such as planks, as well as exercises that strengthen those functions like sit ups or hanging leg raises as well as exercises like the get up or windmill that tie them all together. I know many will suggest that it not a good idea to hit core work before you do any heavy lifting but the reality is that most people are lifting nowhere near their absolute potential and whatever fatigue you cause in the muscles that stabilize the spine is negligible compared to the benefits you get from putting this most vital piece of the training plan at the front of the session when it can be addressed with full attention.

In terms of training sequencing you should always hit the most demanding efforts before the less demanding efforts. This can be a little confusing as many equate work that leaves them out of breath as demanding, however in this context it relates to CNS demand. So speed and power exercises go before maximal strength work, which goes before strength endurance work, which in turn goes before pure endurance work. If there is no need for speed and power work within the session, and for many there isn’t as the risk is simply too high versus the possible reward, you can still use low level power activities such as jumping rope, or skipping and running drills. These will serve to really wake the system up and get it ready for the main body of the workout. Strength work will form the majority of your training session.

Maximal strength has a carryover to many other activities and is also the thing that is most responsible for changing people’s bodies the quickest when combined with a good diet. The competition and conditioning phase is an ideal part to set up a head to head style workout, or do any of a number of complexes or hybrid workouts such as higher rep kettlebell ballistics combined with endurance activities like running or rowing. Finally the cool down should include the same elements that were included in the warm up. This is a final chance to check that the body is still operating at least as well as it did when you started as well as a chance to bring the body and mind back to a resting state.

Here’s a sample session with the deadlift as the main lift:

Warm up

  • Butt touches (face away from wall and hip hinge until your butt kisses the wall, then extend hips until lockout). 3 x 20.
  • Body weight single leg deadlifts for 10 each leg paired with 10 body weight squats. Repeat sequence so you’ve done 20 reps for each.
  • Lunge walk x 10m forward and back. Crawl x 10m forward and back.
  • Two-hand swing 2 x 20. Extra mobility – Towel toe touches. (Roll up a towel and place it between legs, just above the knees. Reach down and touch the ground, squeezing the towel hard between your knees. Bend your legs as needed to touch the ground). Pair this with cobra stretches. 2 x 10 each.

Core work

  • Get up 1/1Crawl 10m forward and back Plank hold for 60 seconds. Repeat three times.

Power and speed work

  • Power clean 5 sets of 3.

Strength

  • Deadlift 1 x 10 @50%, 1 x 5 @ 70%, 1 x 3 @80% then 5 x 2 @90%

Competition/ Conditioning

  • Kettlebell snatch x 10/10
  • One hand swing x 10/10
  • Row 250m Repeat five times.

No rest between exercises but take two minutes rest between rounds. The goal is to keep the rowing pace even through all five rounds. (FYI the standard at my gym for this is a 24kg for men and holding under 50 seconds for the 250m row, and for ladies the 16kg bell and holding under 60 seconds for the row). Cool down – Repeat the warm up sequence in reverse so that you start with the twenty rep sets of swings and finish with the butt touches.

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About Andrew Read, Master RKC, Dragon Door Australia: Andrew Read, Master RKC, is head of Dragon Door Australia and Read Performance Training. Recognized as Australia’s leading functional strength trainer he is a regular contributor to Blitz, Inside MMA, International Kickboxer, Oxygen, Ultrafit and Breaking Muscle. His coaching background spans nearly twenty years having worked with many Olympic and world championship level athletes.

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  • Michal Vratny

    Great post, andrew, thanks for the effort. One question, thoug. You dont do stretches in group setting?

    • Andrew Read

      We rely on our clients to stretch on their own. We do the mobility work at the start and then we train. Our attitude is that we have limited time, and we train adults who take it seriously and understand that they have work to do on their own outside of the class setting. I’m a huge fan of stretching, but our group training time is training time. We also don’t do rehab or corrective work in classes – that’s for PT sessions. We even have a clause in our client contracts that says that group training is not a right but a privilege earnt by having no pain and adequate mobility. For some it means they never get into group class. We put very high expectations on our clients and have a fairly restricted set up. This makes all our clients very hard working and conscientious – there are no slackers or lazy people in our groups.

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