How to Customize Your Group Training

by | Dec 22, 2015 | Articles, For Fitness Pros | 3 comments

(Last Updated On: March 2, 2023)

Customizing Group Training

by: Josh Henkin

Sometimes one aspect of an industry transforms faster than another. That is what I have seen happen in the last 20 years with fitness and coaching. Don’t worry, I won’t talk about walking uphill both ways, but when I began in fitness, any good coach really did mostly one-on-one training rather than group group training. After all, it was called “personal training” not, “kinda generic, somewhat specific training”.

Groups and bootcamp training was often for those that just wanted to get a sweat on. The cardio group that pumped and toned, but no self-respecting coach or individual would go into a group type setting.

Wow have things changed! Pretty much the industry is gone to largely groups and semi-private training. It took us awhile, but we found a strategy that was a win-win for client and coach. The business model for training has changed greatly. Unfortunately, the actual training has not caught up as fast.

Don’t get me wrong, many aspects of training have improved, but the systems of coaching groups has not evolved as fast as the business. If you don’t believe me ask yourself this question, “do I mostly progress or regress an exercise by changing either load, volume, or speed?” Most coaches have missed some of the best options of giving people both great results and experiences at the same time.

In order to give people a customized feel in a group environment you need to really understand two concepts. Progressive Overload & movement. Yes, these two concepts you think you might know, but we are going to put a serious spin on them for you!

Progressive Overload

If I asked, “what is the number one principle for getting someone stronger?” Hopefully you would say progressive overload and not something like “squats and deadlifts bro!” Progressive overload is probably the most misunderstood concept we have in fitness. Most will think it means just going heavier, but the reality is that progressive overload is about adding a stress to the body greater than before. Like what? Eh, here is a “short” list….

  • Load
  • Volume
  • Speed
  • Density
  • Range of Motion
  • Body Position
  • Load Position
  • Plane of Motion
  • Stability of Implement

Oh great Josh, you are making my life SO much more difficult, yea, you might be thinking that. Hopefully, what you see are the reasons some of your clients don’t make progress as fast as you would like or think.

This really isn’t complicated, but rather new for many. In fact, most of you are probably using half this list, but not aware that you are. What most people ignore that can drastically change your training is the last four. Let’s take a few easy examples.

The Perfect Squat

When people ask what is the best way to squat, I often reply with, “it depends on the goal.” No, I am not going to talk about muscle activity, but rather what we are trying to achieve with the squat. What are we looking for in the squat, don’t say strong legs, don’t do it! We can get strong legs through a variety of mediums so what we really want to see is high level of the squat patterns. In other words, great movements at the ankle, knee, and hip.

You know, the parts of the body that make you explosive, but also not hurt? If we have good mobility there we will have a very  upright posture in the squat. What about the powerlifting squat? Are your clients powerlifters? Most aren’t so hope we can agree here.

If we agree that great movement is what we want out of the squat then we first need to establish the pattern and then we can challenge the pattern. In the video below you will see how we accomplish this with changing the position of the load.

The Best Deadlift

Coaches love to argue, what is the best deadlift, conventional or sumo?! Yea, I’ve heard all the emg talk, but I’ll tell you what it is really neither. Again, sadly it depends. Who is using it and what we are trying to get out of it. Why don’t I care about talking max glute max activity? If you understand movement, then you know, it isn’t about what a singular muscle does, but rather the kinetic chain.

If you don’t believe me then ask yourself why is it so challenging for clients to progress from a strong bilateral deadlift to a single leg deadlift? The body has to be able to integrate effectively and efficiently to perform the movement and balance at the same time. You can’t just have a muscle working you have to have them all working!

Oh yea, let’s talk about why we can’t get people to single leg deadlifts and feel stuck. Research has shown us in the last few years unstable surface training doesn’t improve core strength. The question should be why? The answer is because unstable surfaces are rarely progressive.

The same can be said with trying to get people to single leg deadlifts. Imagine if you did a set of deadlifts with 135, then I said for the next set we are going to hit 405. Would that sound progressive to you? Probably not. We do that with body position all the time, going from bilateral to single leg is a HUGE jump. So, what do we do? In the video below I take you through some DVRT (Dynamic Variable Resistance Training) progressions so you can see how manipulating holding position, body position, and plane of motion can unlock the keys to better training.

The Ultimate Solution

By systemizing movement better we can solve to HUGE goals for the coach. We can quickly customize a movement for any level of client allowing us to help more people. Our tools if you used wisely can do more for us and we don’t need as much to accomplish the goal of progressive complexity. Lastly, we start challenging people in real functional movement. While this may seem odd for some it helps us actually build the most foundational of all human movements, one we typically ignore in the gym environment.

As spine expert, Dr. Stuart McGill said, “The most essential of human movements is the ability to walk.” Try these concepts and see how your training becomes more effective and dare I say, functional?!


Looking for a way to mix up your group training?

Learn More About Ultimate Sandbag Training & DVRT

About the Author

Josh HenkinJosh Henkin is a certified strength and conditioning specialist with twenty years of experience in the fitness and sports performance industry. In 2005 Josh began the early development of his Dynamic Variable Resistance Training (DVRT) system as well as the creation of the Ultimate Sandbag.

After years of working with clients and himself, the DVRT program quickly became a unique form of functional fitness training. So much so, that Josh has become a highly sought after speaker and writer. His work has been seen in everything from Men’s Health, the CrossFit Journal, T-Nation, Self Magazine, and many more and has become a highly sought after international presenter and author on innovative functional training methods.


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