The ABC's of Personal Training

When training our clients, or ourselves, it's important to exercise functionally. There has been a lot of talk about function in the past few years. Functional exercises are moving in a way we would move during the day.

Most of the exercises we are taught to do are sagittal plane exercises - push and pull exercises. We do push ups, bench presses, rows, lat pulls, bicep curls, hamstring curls, triceps press downs or dips, squats and lunges, and many more like this. While this sounds like a great list of full body exercises, it isn't necessarily.

Humans have five basic movement patterns: push, pull, bend-lift-&-carry, rotate and balance.

Sure, keep doing the chest presses. But why not do it with one arm on a cable, while lunging with a slight rotation at the end of the press. Think about how you would throw a shot-put or play tennis. You could do a split squat standing one arm row with a slight rotation at the end. Think about how you would start an old-fashioned lawn mower. Exercise while standing on one leg. Bring cables or weights across your body instead of just pushing and pulling. And get off your butt. Don't do a seated anything. Instead stand, lunge, squat, rotate. Just don't sit. Doing so engages so many more muscles than seated exercises and mimics functional movement more. When training, consider the ABC's of movement. Agility, Balance and Coordination.


Agility training is the ability to move easily and quickly. The ability to change and control the direction and position of the body while maintaining a constant rapid motion. This type of training is beneficial to athletes for sports such as soccer, basketball, football, etc., where speed and directional changes are crucial to the sport. But your non-sporty clients can benefit from this too. Training for agility can help you catch yourself if you trip to prevent falling.

There are several factors that will help you progress the intensity of agility drills: increase the speed, complexity and direction of the movement and introduce resistance such as pushing a heavy weight.


Balance training means spending less time on two legs. Balance will help, not only the athletic client, but will help your non-athletes to move more confidently, hike on uneven terrain without falling, participate in more sports without falling and can help prevent age related balance issues. Experts in sports training and physiotherapy in addition to strength training we need to do balance training. This helps our body with proprioception - the sensation of where our arms and legs are in space.  Balance training can prevent injury and reduce the risk of joint problems in athletes.

You can do things as simple as standing on one leg while waiting in a line at a grocery store, or while brushing your teeth. Advancing to more intense balance training you could try throwing and catching a ball while standing on one leg. Training for balance strengthens the muscles in your legs, not just front and back, but side to side as well. Try one legged deadlifts instead of two. Try split squats while transferring your weight from leg to leg, or Sumo lunges while moving from side to side while pulling a cable across the body. Practice squatting or getting on and off a bench while on one leg without using your hands to push off.  Give your clients a heel/toe walk like on a tightrope.

Coordination training means hand/eye coordination. There are several levels to coordination. Balance - which we discussed above. Reaction time - increasing the speed in which you respond to something. This can be done while throwing and catching a ball back and forth faster and faster. Tempo - changing up the speed of the exercise. Push a medicine ball away slowly, then quickly to another person. Height - when throwing a ball back and forth, try catching and throwing above the head, by the knees, at the chest and by the hips. This helps with your reaction time, balance and, of course, coordination. Terrain - have your clients train on different terrain, not just a flat surface. This strengthen so many more muscles around the leg and the core as we try to steady ourselves on the uneven surfaces. Working out at the beach can be an excellent (and very difficult) workout.

Some instructors use exercise as punishment. You know that instructor that teaches boot camp and tells the losing team to get down and do 50 push-ups. That goes against everything we should be doing to encourage the joy of movement. Remember what it was like as a kid to play dodge ball, or knee tag. How much fun you had and how much you laughed. I think we need to get back to that.  Adults seem to have forgotten how to play.  Watch and learn from the 4-year-old kid as they climb, run, jump, balance, roll and move. And put the fun - and play-  back into our lives.