Why is it that every time we open a health magazine or fitness article on the Internet, we are bound to come across an example of the “perfect fat burning workout”? Whether we are talking about an expectant mother or an elite athlete, this workout is bound to work, right?

Absolutely not. Putting on lean muscle, burning fat, and becoming more powerful cannot be achieved by means of the same workout for a range of individuals. Goal acheivement must be accomplished through individualized programs, not by a follow-the-leader path!

Designing the ideal training program is one of the most difficult, yet most critical tools that a personal trainer can prepare for a client. The trainer requires a detailed understanding of the client to even begin putting together any type of program. I, for one, never consider developing a program for anyone that I have not had the opportunity to speak with and learn more about. Don’t believe me? Last month my own brother requested a training program design for his friend who wanted to shed some pounds. I informed him that I would not do it until I had a chance to speak with his friend so that I could learn of any limitations, pre-existing injuries, or work ethic issues he might have. Once I had the chance to learn more about his friend, only then did I go about designing a program for him that allowed him to begin losing two pounds per week.

By offering lectures and working with students using the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) textbook, I have had the opportunity to truly understand the details of designing the ideal training program for each kind of individual. I preach five distinct phases for any program that is designed, for any individual looking to change his or her lifestyle. While there is much more that goes into every phase, these basic principles apply to each step leading to the top.

Below are the five phases of program design that I follow. Each phase has a specific amount of sets, repetitions, and rest time.

1. STABILIZATION – This is the first phase in which I start all of my clients in, whether they are fresh into working out, or professional athletes. During this phase, we focus on single-leg and single-arm exercises to build awareness of any stability issues in the ankle, knee, hip, and shoulder joints. In addition to single-leg exercises, I also implement the “fun stuff” in the gym. My clients learn to control their bodies while sitting on a stability ball, standing on a Bosu Ball, or performing single-leg kettlebell swings. This also allows me to distinguish which leg or arm is stronger, so that we can work toward strengthening the weaker limb which will lead to a more balanced body.

2. MUSCLE ENDURANCE – After all of our joints become more stable and equal in strength, we can move on to my second phase of our training program. In this phase, we work towards maintaining muscle contractions for an extended period of time. The longer our muscles are able to control contractions, the more muscle we put on, and the more body fat we burn.

3. HYPERTROPHY – The third phase of the program design is the muscle-building phase. Research indicates that a muscle must be able to maintain a contraction for a minimum of 45 seconds to see the slightest significant increase in size. This method, known as time under tension, can only be utilized if we have passed the muscle endurance phase.

4. STRENGTH – As the name states, the fourth phase of the program design revolves around strengthening the entire body as a whole. Because a bigger muscle will ultimately be the stronger muscle, we begin to work in this phase after we have increased our lean muscle mass throughout the hypertrophy phase.

5. POWER – The fifth and final phase of the program design is the power phase. This phase is the most important, but also the most dangerous of the five steps. Power cannot be established without a strong body, which is why it comes after we have worked on strength. As it is the most dangerous phase, I use extreme caution before making a decision to put any client of ST&F through a power program design. Once the decision has been made that a client will perform well in this last phase, maximal power exercises such as box jumps and Olympic lifts can then be incorporated into the program.

An effective training program will include all five of these phases, starting with the stabilization phase to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the client. They should continue to progress until they have hopefully become able to perform power exercises such as sprints, box jumps, and power cleans effectively. By neglecting one or more of the phases listed above, not only have we compromised the client’s safety by increasing the risk of injury, but also skipped fundamental steps necessary to progress the client optimally.

As previously mentioned, once we start building the program, it must include direction. The program that is put together must match the goals of each specific client. For example, if I have one client that wants to reduce their body fat percentage and another that wants to improve on their power cleans, there is no way I could put these two clients through the same training program and expect them to see their desired results. It is important to recognize that the first would require a program centered around muscle endurance and hypertrophy, while the second would require a program centered around strength and power. Program design is not a concern of how, but why we are providing the set amount of sets, repititions, and rest time.

Above all, please keep in mind that there is not a perfect training program that fits everyone. There is no perfect magazine or Internet article that will target the goals of everyone in the country. And there has never been one single perfect workout that will blast the fat from your belly, no matter what the magazines say!