Exercise Programming - Don’t Think in Boxes, Look for Continuity

By Niels Kingma, Physical Coaching Academy

Selecting (programming) exercises for a client - specifically in corrective or specific learning situations should be an analytical, cognitive process. Variation is an important aspect of training, but simply varying exercises for the sake of variation limits progression of your client. I’ve already written about the need to program in terms of specific planar needs for your client in some corrective phases, but let’s go a step further. Since the aim is progression, are you actively putting in place movement foundations as well as opening pathways for your client? In other words; are you thinking “where did I come from?” and “where do I need to go?”.

As an example of this process, let’s take a standard core exercise in strength phase within NASM’s CPT course such as the Cable Rotation. One reason to execute a Cable Rotation could be to prepare sports/ functional rotational activities through the capacity to drive leg strength through the hips/ trunk as opposed to simply using upper-body transverse plane torque. This relies on the capacity to maintain functional rates of anti-rotation in a standing position. A perfect lead-in exercise for Cable Rotation would be the “Pallof Press”.

While the Pallof Press is not explicitly mentioned in the NASM course manual, ideally your cognitive skills should have led you to start including this exercise in your client’s exercise regime in the sessions preceding the change to strength level exercises. Among the skills learned besides anti-rotation, would be appropriate “grounding” habits (active proprioceptive contact with the floor and appropriate kinetic chain positioning) which will also open the door to better capacity of force production in standing exercises.
On the other end of the spectrum when we’re looking for progression from the Cable Rotation exercise to more dynamic exercises such as power exercises with medicine balls (e.g. Rotation Chest Pass, Woodchop Throw), we could include work with free objects such as barbell discs, manipulate ROM in function of the need to increase/decrease movement range, and/or manipulate the speed of the movement.

Tempo thus needs to be considered as a progressive variable in the need to prepare transition to power (high rate of force production in the concentric phase) but also make the link to the static nature of Stabilization level training. Tempo for the strength phase is defined vaguely (except 2-0-2 for stable resistance exercises in phase 2) as “medium”. The trainer then must define what “medium” should be in a progressive program. Given that we’re generally coming from 4-2-1 tempo’s, it could be interesting to progress through 3-2-1 or 3-1-2 tempo’s (depending on the importance we accord to the isometric phase) towards 2-0-2 and finally progressing to a 1-0-1 before starting power-type exercises.

The structure of the NASM model should be a starting point for your programming, not an endpoint. It should guide your cognitive processes to ensure progressivity which adheres to motor learning precepts. Continuity, not boxes!


This article was brought to you by the Physical Coaching Academy, Belgium, an EuropeActive accredited training provider. Following an accredited course at the Physical Coaching Academy automatically leads to an EREPS membership. Author Niels Kingma is a NASM certified Personal Trainer and Master Trainer (CPT, CES, PES) and lecturer at the Physical Coaching Academy.