Making Group Programming Individualized
Frameworks, Methodologies and Tools
The entire fitness industry is full of theoretical models based on scientific research on how best to train someone for health and or sports performance. Many of the programs are well researched and make up the curriculum for some of the best coaching certifications such as
- American Council on Exercise (ACE)
- National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
- National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT)
- National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)
- American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
- National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association (NESTA)
Unfortunately they are all missing a major aspect of the scientific theory; the practical application in the field within the confines of an organizational environment. They rarely teach a well thought-out implementation framework from which to apply the theory that was created in the lab. How many coaches and health practitioners graduate with excellent academic credentials and or the best certifications only to face the question of how and where to start to apply their knowledge in the client lifecycle?
The point at which science and theory meet real life training in the gym or clinic, usually falls apart because the science is hard to implement and tedious to track and is 180 degrees apart from the business and economic realities of industry. Approximately 90% of the health and fitness clinics lack proper onboarding procedures, risk mitigation screens, scientifically validated evaluations or any centralized formalized systems, frameworks, methodologies, procedures or processes. Given this, it is easy to understand the economic state of the health and fitness business today... build a big box, signup 10x more people than the building could ever hope to hold inside at one time, charge them $10 a month, give them machines they can't get hurt on, eliminate labor and make it so cheap that they don't think about quitting but will pay despite never coming in. Above all, results don't matter as it isn't correlated with the price they are willing to pay for membership.
Much of the independent and boutique health facilities instead decide to price at $129, $159, $199 or more, add a live energetic coach but leave them on their own to create numerous independent last minute training models depending on their mood or what they saw last night on social media. They forget the long-lasting positive affects that systems and frameworks will have on the results the client gets and the beneficial economic impact to the business. A lack of systems and frameworks that monitor and progresses individuals causes confused dissatisfied clients with a lack of results, low retention rates, lack of new registrations and burnout of coaches. This is why the industry has trouble charging an acceptable price that results in a profitable business model that can pay coaches and trainers a reasonable living wage.
Highly intelligent well certified Coaches and Trainers should not have to look online or to the latest IG post for programming inspiration, it should come from leadership of the organization. There should be a well documented system in place to properly classify and progress an individual through the various phases of their needs or their goals and objectives (client lifecycle). Instead we see evidence of a lack of assessments, screens, tests or surveys, or everyone doing something different with each client. Programs have no periodization, just random starting points, no clear path, no Framework. This is all made worse by the trend over the past decade to combine individuals from disparate health and fitness backgrounds all together in one class session.
This mini-course will give you a clear and simple example of how to use an internationally known and accepted framework from which to start and onboard clients into a health and fitness program while offering specific scientifically valid methodologies you can apply in the field to develop and progress clients. This method honed on professional and amateur athletes as well as general weight loss and lifestyle clients, will get clients the results that insure both their success and the success of the Coach/Trainer required to thrive in this industry.
Systems and Definitions
The implementation of any program can fall apart if you don't have a framework to assess, test and progress individuals through the various life cycles of their path to health, fitness and human performance. Six Sigma Fitness™ fills this gap from multiple perspectives offering a Framework of Methodologies and a set of technological and scientific Tools to implement the collection and analysis of the data, organize the research, apply the diagnostics and propose the protocols that will best meet the Athlete's or Client's goals and objectives. Frameworks, Methodologies and Tools have very specific and defined meanings within the context of the Six Sigma Fitness™ program and can be modified for one-on-one, class based and online coaching programs. The Framework is the same but the Methods and Tools change depending on the client access, the training environment and purpose or objectives of the program. The Framework is agnostic as to the Methods it employs but recommends scientifically valid and accepted Methodologies that can be selected as required to meet the needs of the circumstances. We will only touch on some of them briefly here but we will cover them in more depth in other training.
Overview of Six Sigma Fitness™ System
It should be noted that every aspect of improvement in any setting requires both a consistent applicable system or process to produce a result and a taxonomy of terms and definitions from which to gauge progression and determine the steps in the process.
As the purpose of this mini-course is to spotlight Training Programs we shall focus on one aspect of the Six Sigma Fitness™ system, the "I" which stands for "Improve" in the DMAIC Framework described below. Within the Improve category of the Framework resides the physical workout training sub-framework. It is this sub-framework that we will focus on as it serves as the foundation for any onboarding and training program for a Client or Athlete as they come off their off-season. Specific Athletic training frameworks will be covered in another training course.
In the Six Sigma Fitness™ we use a primary Framework called DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control). In short we Define the issues, problems and goals. We Measure the KPI's that drive those issues, problems and goals. We Analyze the data we collect in the Measurement phase of the Framework. We develop a program to Improve those issues, problems and goals and a way to monitor and Control the successful results or address the things that are deviating from the targets we set.
Define, Measure and Analyze
The DMAIC framework is applied using a 4 dimensional approach that includes a series of Methodologies and Tools that fall under one of the following categories:
The four categories comprise most of the Define, Measure and Analyze phases of the DMAIC Framework.
Each one serves a different purpose in the process that allows us to collect, analyze and track key data points as simple as training consistency or nutritional habits and as sophisticated as VO2max or body composition. Each category contains an ever evolving list of agnostic Methodologies that can be called on to develop the process from which a client can be assessed and a program developed to meet their goals and objectives.
Our Workout Programming module, habit and behavioral modification and nutritional monitoring is contained within the "Improve" section of our Framework, and is driven off the Define, Measure and Analyze sections of the Framework. The Framework is taught in more detail in our certification training which is integrated into our proprietary software app. Like all aspects of the Six Sigma Fitness™ app, the Workout Programming module also works as a standalone feature for those not utilizing this Methodology.
The core Workout programming system includes a proprietary and scientifically valid 4 Phase Program Training Model that includes specific Periodization for lifestyle and weight-loss clients as well as traditional athletic performance. Each step in the system dictates the next step within a broad framework to achieve the client's objectives. This method of weight-loss and lifestyle Periodization is patterned after and includes a similar framework used for high level athletes by universities, professional sports teams and Olympic training programs throughout the world utilizing proprietary methods developed for lifestyle and health clients.
GPP and Periodization
GPP and Periodization is a common method of training athletes, but as it relates to health and wellness or what are often termed "Lifestyle" clients, it is the most underutilized core concept taught in the health and fitness field. It is a de-facto standard and scientifically valid method of progressing individuals through their programming.
Within the context of the Six Sigma Fitness™ Improve Framework, GPP and periodization is at the core of both the lifestyle as well as the athlete training programs but unlike most systems it is distinctly unique and proprietary and like all aspects of the Framework it is an optional Methodology for the Coach or Trainer to use.
From a broad perspective most programming models utilize phases or stages which are often periodized and broken down into cycles of implementation. The definition of a phase or a periodized cycle of training is often blurred.
Periodization is normally an athletic progression reserved for those that wish to compete. Most health professionals consider this an advanced form of programming but in actuality it is a broad description for moving the least conditioned client to the most highly conditioned athlete to the next level in their progression.
Periodization is a preplanned method of programming over weeks, months and even years that uses both intelligent incremental progression and regular variation by manipulating variables such as sets, reps, rest and loads in distinct cycles to allow an individual to progress and adapt further and faster than with the constant variation often found in GPP (General Physical Preparedness) type workouts that normally precede a Periodization model. GPP is normally used as general training that improves your next phase of specific training by limiting your weaknesses, improving your quality of movement, and enhancing your body's ability to handle greater workloads. (More on GPP below) Although GPP is considered a Phase of Training rather than a type or Periodization model, it is the most common form of training found in the industry.
Periodization helps to prevent plateaus and overtraining that are the hallmark of clients who are perpetually in a GPP style of training program. The key to starting Periodization is a solid GPP program followed by an understanding of how to evaluate where they are on the progression spectrum and start them in the right place while applying the progression methodology in multiple training environments. If you start a client in the wrong place, you risk injury, lack of results or overwhelming the client with things they are not ready for. This is easier to apply in one-on-one or online coaching sessions but more challenging in group environments. See Can-the-same-workout-be-good-for-everyone/
It should be noted that periodization has come under scrutiny due to the oversimplified assumptions put forward in the early development of periodization theory that are not always applicable to the many other physiological and psychological effects of various training methods used in sport. The improvement of a lifestyle or weight loss client or an athlete varies depending on an individual's hormonal response, genetic predispositions, motivation, stress levels, as well as transient social and environmental variables. The concept of Periodization is solid, the limited ways in which it is implemented is where science and application begin to fall apart and where the Six Sigma Fitness™ system fills the application gaps.
past tense: periodized; past participle: periodized
divide (a portion of time) into periods.
“long-term cyclic structuring of training and practice to maximize performance to coincide with important competitions.”
Verkhoshansky, Y., & Siff, M. (2009). Supertraining. Sixth Edition. Verkhoshanky: Rome.
What are the various models of Periodization?
Periodization comes in many forms or models including Traditional or Linear, Block, Conjugate and Undulating. There are many other models that have evolved over time such as Reverse but are more specific to the needs of the athlete. These are the most common Periodization Models:
Linear (Traditional) Periodization (LP): Volume and intensity are systematically manipulated. Training cycle begins with a high-volume, low-intensity profile then progresses to low volume, high intensity over time.
Block Periodization (BP): Focuses on specific training periods of 2-4 weeks. Each block contains three different stages: General (accumulation - 50-75% intensity), Specific (transmutation - 75-90% intensity), and Competitive (realization - 90%> intensity). Block periodization starts with a block focused on strength endurance, followed by a block focused on hypertrophy, followed by a block focused on maximal strength, followed by a block focused on power and velocity, followed by a competitive block if you have an athletic event. (Issurin, Vladimir. (2008). Block periodization versus traditional training theory: A review. The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness. 48. 65-75.)
Undulating Periodization (UP) : Training volume and intensity increase and decrease on a regular basis but they do not follow the traditional pattern of increasing intensity and decreasing volume as the mesocycle progresses (Fleck & Kraemer, 1997).
Daily Undulating Periodization (DUP): Training volume and intensity increase and decrease on a daily basis (Rhea et al., 2002).
In a Classic Periodization program, training is broken down into training cycles:
Training unit - Refers to the actual "daily" workout or WOD
Microcycle - Training program lasting 1-4 weeks
Mesocycle - Training program of several weeks or months typically 4-7 weeks
Macrocycle - The largest unit of time lasting anywhere from 6 months to 4 years (Olympic cycle)
The problem with Classic Periodization is that it doesn't fit the new model of training in a group environment in person or online. It does not work well with class formats and is geared towards individual self training or one-on-one coaching due to its highly structured nature and inflexible progression requirements. In addition Periodization is geared towards the competitive athlete. There is no structured periodized system for general weight-loss and lifestyle clients that are often kept in a perpetual loop of GPP programming.
Group training has been established as the new dynamic in how we get our workouts in today when in-person and more recently sometimes online. Recent health developments are changing the landscape rapidly but Group Programming will still remain the most cost effective style of programming. Replacing its more expensive cousin, personal training, group training adds an element of social belonging and community that keeps people motivated and connected to their programs.
In addition, group training has allowed the fitness industry to reduce costs and increase profits by splitting sessions among many individuals rather than one.
What type of Periodization do most Group Training programs use?
Most Group training does not use any kind of classic Periodization but has patterned itself after a category of Program Training model or "Phase" called General Physical Preparedness (GPP) normally used to start a new physical regimen preparing for progression to higher level of efforts but not intended to progress a physical regimen targeting a longer term objective or goal. That is the role of Periodization.
- General-Physical Preparedness (OPP)
GPP often falls into a form of non-periodized training models often referred to as random or constant variation. Sometimes it can be categorized as undulating but in general it is normally non-periodized when utilized in large groups for an indefinite period of time. Non-periodized programs lack structured progression and are random by nature. By definition you can't periodize or progress a Group program if you don't know their specific goals and needs or which clients or athletes will show up on which day. In some gym settings GPP is a permanent programming fixture that never evolves. In the worst settings it is a Coach's afterthought on his or her ride to work.
When you attempt to use GPP as a progression for group training, it can become a very generalized one size fits all type of training due to its simplicity, making it suitable to large group classes but not for optimizing individual outcomes. When GPP is used properly as a preliminary phase before a formal periodized program, athletes work on general conditioning to improve strength, speed, endurance, flexibility, structure and skill for a specific fixed period of time. GPP can be a good starting place for deconditioned individuals or clients who are new to fitness. It is less about specific adaptation and more about getting the client or athlete moving again and working on basics and foundational skills. GPP when used effectively can last from 4-12 weeks depending on the athlete and training history.
When used for group training, GPP becomes a continuous loop of constant variation of whole body workouts that can be easily scaled up or down to meet the needs of each individual. "Scaling" is often used to compensate for the lack of formal periodization. Scaling a workout or exercise "up" by making it harder is an appropriate short-term solution but a poor long-term alternative to compensate for lack of proper periodized programming and should only be used during the well defined GPP stage of an Athlete or Client's preparation to move to more formal programs.
Scaling basically means that you change the intensity of the workout to make it easier or harder in order to match your fitness abilities.
“Scale the exercise by increasing or decreasing the weight, the sets, the reps, the rounds, the rest or the movement.”
Six Sigma Fitness (2019). Certification. Second Edition.
The weakness of using GPP as a long-term primary training program is that it lacks structured specific goal oriented progression required for higher performance levels. Although it can elicit a physical adaptation that propels the athlete to higher levels of fitness, it is not the most efficient way to progress and will normally hit a plateau much sooner that may lead to an over-trained state due to the limitations of the method. Intelligent periodization is the solution to avoid this eventuality.
Program Training Models
There are many Program Training Models but virtually all assume that every athlete or client has the same long-term objectives to progress to the highest level of the pyramid and as such use one linear system applied to everyone to achieve that objective. For example, the NASM Optimum Performance Training (OPT™) model assumes that everyone will progress through stabilization, strength and power and that those looking to lose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle will utilize the same programming techniques as those wishing to obtain competitive performance standards with some minor variable adjustments along the way. Although an excellent training framework model for ultimate performance it doesn't adequately address those that are merely looking to obtain a normal body composition and live a healthy lifestyle. This is where the Six Sigma Fitness™ 4 phase Program Training Model helps to determine where and how to start a new client and when and how to progress them to their Objective.
The first phase of the SSF Programming Model is GPP, but knowing when and how to progress the model after this phase is completed is where science often breaks down as it doesn't clearly meet the application objectives of the gen-pop client but is more geared towards meeting the goals of a competitive "Athlete". Progressing a client to become "athletic" is different from assuming they wish to become an "Athlete".
The traditional model that assumes your client wishes to become or already is an Athlete takes them through 3 main phases of programming:
The goal of the GPP phase should be to prepare the individual for the next phase of a more Specific programming model type that an athlete or client should progress to which can include:
- Objective-Specific Physical Preparedness (OPP)
- Sports-Specific Physical Preparedness (SPP)
- Performance-Specific Physical Preparedness (PPP)
The Four Phase Program Training Model
Specific Physical Preparedness (SPP)
In the general lifestyle population, Objective-specific Physical Preparedness (OPP) normally follows GPP and precedes, Sport-specific Physical Preparedness (SPP). It is the core of the training program that delivers results that meet the objectives of the athlete or client. In most General Population clients or "Gen-pop", their most common "Objectives" (OPP) normally include weight-loss and health and wellness. In other words they may want to look good and or feel good as their "Specific" goal. As they achieve those goals they often desire to move on to sport or performance goals and objectives in which Sport-specific Physical Preparedness or performance based programming becomes important such as training for a marathon, CrossFit® competition, power lifting...
Until a client is ready for this next phase, GPP is the normal starting point for all individuals who are deconditioned and or have not been training for some time. One type of GPP that has become popular recently is Constant Variation or randomized workouts. Rather than periodized progressive movement programming, Constant Variation changes the workout and exercise patterns each and every session. This type of programming challenges the body to attempt to optimize adaptational responses to neuromuscular signaling as well as energy production and storage as the body is constantly kept off-guard and therefore promotes a fast track to general conditioning for the general population starting a new program. It has been shown to be less effective in more advanced or experienced individuals who have optimized generalized movement and need to be more specific in their goal objective programming. That being said, it has shown to stave off the boredom that many individuals say they experience when performing the same movements over and over.
Popular forms of Constant Variation training would be CrossFit®, Insanity®, P90X®, and Orange Theory® and F45®.
Physiological Adaptations of GPP
GPP is intended to produce optimal initial efficiency of the two systems of improvement that account for what most people consider conditioning or strength gains when they first begin working out;
- neuromuscular signaling
- energy production.
Once these two systems become optimized, any strength and endurance gains begin to slow significantly as stress adaptation becomes much more difficult to solicit. Any repetitive movement becomes easier over time as the body becomes more efficient and economical thus reducing stress on the body. This is a natural survival response and accumulates to higher levels of fitness. Once this level of adaptation is reached, a Progressive Periodized Training Program can begin to elicit more targeted objectives and gains.
Scientific Explanation: A neuromuscular junction (or myoneural junction) is a chemical synapse formed by the contact between a motor neuron and a muscle fiber. It is at the neuromuscular junction that a motor neuron is able to transmit a signal to the muscle fiber, causing muscle contraction.
Layman's Terms: The first physiological system of neuromuscular signaling allows the individual to become efficient at performing movements recruiting more muscle tissue at first and then less as the body learns to do more with less effort. These learned movements are called engrams. Engrams are a means by which memory traces are stored as biophysical or biochemical changes in the brain (and other neural tissue) in response to external stimuli. This is also something we lose as we age due to a lack of sufficient stimuli. As you get better and more efficient at a movement, you experience less adaptive stress so the same amount of exercise gives you less and less benefit. In essence the training becomes easier in what is commonly experienced as "getting in better shape". To progress, one must take the learned response of being able to recruit more muscle fibers and force the body to do so through increasing loads and more difficult techniques. Stress must be increased to force higher levels of physical adaptation. This pronounced and rapid response to stress accounts for a major portion of a new athlete's improvement in the first 4-6 weeks of a training program and can last for up to 12 weeks depending on training frequency and genetic athletic predisposition. From thereon, physical adaptation may begin to slow but steady gains can continue to be made under progressive overloads.
Scientific Explanation: ATP is the primary source of energy in the muscle fibers and is responsible for causing the muscle contraction signaled by the motor neuron and it can be synthesized in 3 different ways:
- Phosphagen (immediate source)
- Anaerobic (somewhat slow, uses carbohydrates)
- Aerobic (slow, uses either carbohydrate or fat)
Glycogen is a substance deposited in bodily tissues as a storage form of carbohydrates. It is similar to what we call "starch" in plants.. Technically, it is a polysaccharide that forms glucose on hydrolysis.
Layman's Terms: The second physiological system that is optimized early on is energy production. Given any steady state level of activity, the body begins to optimize the energy usage and storage to fuel that activity until it peaks and is no longer being stressed and starts to plateau. This is normally experienced in a de-conditioned individual in the very first weeks of a training program as their glycogen storage systems optimize to match the level of work needed to fuel their physical output and their mitochondria begin producing ATP to match the demands. The initial lack of energy storage is often responsible for hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) that may happen in the early days of a client's training program often referred to as glucose depletion, bonking or "hitting the wall" during any type of endurance training. GPP trains the cellular tissue to store adequate amounts of energy to allow for a training session to be completed.
Typically, GPP precedes a more formal program of periodized training. It allows the athlete to begin getting used to physical stress and lays the foundation for cardiovascular conditioning. It signals the body to become more efficient at contracting muscle tissue to perform physical activity and storing more energy to match their new physical program thus optimizing neuromuscular signaling and energy production.
General Physical Preparedness (GPP) is well suited to be used as an introductory program for a deconditioned individual and prepare them for the rigors of more advanced Objective Specific Physical Preparedness (OSP) (weight-loss and fitness). Upon achieving a targeted level of "Fitness" they may then begin Sport Specific Physical Preparedness (SPP) (athletic training) that may be implemented to prepare someone for a contest, sport or event. At the highest level an athlete may then move to Performance Specific Physical Preparedness (PPP) allowing them to optimize at their specific sport or specific movements required to excel at their position.
Another way to view this 4 phase Training Model is that the first thing that needs to be accomplished during GPP, is to educate and get the client to begin moving again reducing potential for injury and increasing the ability to perform tasks at appropriate intensity levels to accomplish the next phase. The second phase, (OPP) should be geared towards returning the client to a healthy weight or BMI that would allow them to pursue their long-term goals of health and longevity or to advance into more progressive performance oriented activities. In athletes this phase could be skipped or may be similar due to a need to return to a healthy weight or for preparation for advanced movements for their Sport Specific Training (SPP) albeit potentially shorter in duration. Once a client achieves a healthy body composition or BMI as targeted by the Coach and Client, the decision to move towards SPP or healthy maintenance needs to be determined.
To make things more organized we categorize our Athletes or Clients by Level within the Six Sigma Fitness Programming models as follows:
GPP and OPP* - Level 0
SPP - Level 1
PPP - Local Competitive Athlete - Level 2
PPP - National Level Competitive Athlete - Level 3
PPP - Elite International Competitive Athlete - Level 4
* Graduation from OSP signifies a client that is now able to train for "Fitness" or athletic endeavor.
Client/Athlete Coaching Levels
GPP and OSP - Level 0
Client is deconditioned and or overweight. They must return to consistent patterns of movement, begin health lifestyle changes, and achieve a healthy level of body fat composition and BMI to move into a path to become Athletically Fit. This Level includes General Physical Preparedness (GPP) and Objective Specific Physical Preparedness (OSP) (weight-loss and fitness).
SPP - Athlete in Training
The client has reached a level of specified "Fitness" meaning they are now fit to take on higher levels of achievement to be classified as an "Athlete" This Level includes Sport Specific Physical Preparedness (SPP)
PPP - Local Competitive Athlete - Level 2
Athlete is beginning to achieve qualifying stats in their Athletic sport of choice to allow them to compete in their local regions. This Level includes Performance Specific Physical Preparedness (PPP)
National Level Competitive Athlete - Level 3
Athlete has placed or qualified in Regional competitions to enter National Competitive Events. This Level includes Performance Specific Physical Preparedness (PPP)
Elite International Competitive Athlete - Level 4
Athlete has placed or qualified in National competitions to enter International Competitive Events. This Level includes Performance Specific Physical Preparedness (PPP)
The 4 Phase Programing Model Flow
Most individuals would benefit from participating in a GPP program for at least 30-90 days until they can pass specific GPP assessments qualifying them to advance to the next level of training such as OPP or SPP. GPP need not be randomized in perpetuity like many of the popular programs. It can and should progress intelligently using a series of training cycles that evolves into an OPP training program.
Once an individual qualifies for a more advanced level of programming they may exit GPP and enter a formal Periodization program. Periodization can come in many forms including Traditional or Linear, Block, Conjugate and Undulating depending on the objectives of the client/athlete. The Six Sigma Fitness™ 4 Phase Training Model also includes 4 proprietary programs of Periodization within OPP based on the Six Sigma Fitness™ Regional Adipose Tissue Deposit Profile (RATDP) Assessment (discussed below) to address the needs of the weight-loss or lifestyle client that include:
- Metabolic Resistance Training (MRT)
- Lactic Acid Training (LAT)
- Density Based Training (DBT)
- Maintenance and Healthy Lifestyle (HESEA)
Periodization programming should be designed around the client/athlete's objective; weight loss, strength, health, competition, sport or event specific training they intend to progress towards.
For example, a competitive athlete would eventually move from GPP to OPP or skip directly to a SPP (Sport-specific Physical Preparedness) program matching their specific requirements. Depending on the sport, and the experience of the athlete and their goals, the coach may choose any of the above periodization templates to program the athlete's workouts. In reality Modern Periodization often includes some elements of all types of periodization.
That being said, in many cases the next step in the General Population's journey after GPP is likely the pursuit of Health and Fitness and not high level athletic endeavors. They may not desire to compete in an athletic event but rather need to lose weight and restore a minimum level of health and fitness (OPP). Although any appropriately planned weight loss program may be inserted within the OPP phase, the main Methodologies and programming Assessments for Objective-specific Physical Preparedness is the Six Sigma Fitness™ Regional Adipose Tissue Deposit Profile (RATDP). The RATDP is a proprietary assessment that analyzes the body fat deposition patterns and uses algorithms and artificial intelligence using evidence based scientific research to recommend changes to lifestyle, nutrition, supplementation and movement programs which includes 3 primary periodized weight-loss training programs (MRT, DBT, LAT) or 1 periodized healthy lifestyle maintenance program (HESEA) that would best achieve the client's objectives and optimize potential for success. These programs will be explained later in this mini-course.
An entirely random approach to training…is a mistake. Being prepared for any random task is not the same thing as preparing randomly for any task. The importance of this point cannot be overstated.”
Greg Everett, Catalyst Athletics, www.cathletics.com
Once an individual progresses through the phases of OPP and reaches an objective specific health and fitness goal, they will require progression on one of two paths;
The client will either wish to maintain and make incremental improvements as part of an overall healthy lifestyle or they will want to move on to a performance based program to compete or prepare for an event such as a figure competition, a tough mudder, CrossFit® competition or marathon. The majority of individuals will want an incremental maintenance program and even if they decide to train for an event, they will need to return back and forth between events and back to a maintenance mode. This is where group training sees some of it largest base of clients, the long-term regulars trying to maintain and make incremental gains as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Programming for the Group Environment
Typical group training commonly involves a pre-established Workout Of the Day (WOD) that is similar in nature for all levels of members with minor changes in the “scale” of the exercise to meet the client needs and abilities. In group training you don't control the member's schedule and attendance, nor is it practical to try and customize and adapt each and every program to large groups of varied demographics in age, conditioning and physical abilities. The downside of this type of programming is that the same workout doesn't benefit everyone equally if it is not customized to each individual's needs, abilities and objectives.
Typical high intensity short duration programs like CrossFit®, F45® or P90X® which are performed in a class format require a pre-established workout that is the same for everyone. Although it is relatively simple to individualize or scale a specific exercise for one person, it is cumbersome to do this in a class of 20+ and meet the needs of all members of the class.
Additionally, members train on different days and as such may receive an overabundance of one type of training during a microcycle as opposed to getting what they need on the day they train. This results in less than optimal outcomes, with everyone performing to the lowest common denominator within the class to meet the greatest needs of the group.
CrossFit® in general is responsible for a phenomenal increase in the popularity of health and fitness but is also focused around the premise of randomness through constant variation which only produces results for a set period where it then normally tapers off in diminishing returns as well. It is the definition of perpetual GPP. Eventually, even a competitive CrossFit® athlete will find their way to some sort of progressive form of periodization and specificity to make improvements in their weak areas. Initially this type of programming can be particularly effective as GPP in non-trained and deconditioned individuals or in athletes that have been specializing in only one type of programming such as bodybuilding or powerlifting often progress rapidly. It is also particularly effective in athletes with excellent recovery but normally can have less than optimal long-term results for a larger percentage of the population. It can create an opportunity for a hard plateau or even a reversal of health and performance as well as an over-trained state in gen-pop clients who don't focus on recovery techniques.
Lastly, all group programming suffers from the same problem in that the coach or trainer must take into consideration the client's conditioning levels, injuries, experience and capabilities and "scale" or modify each workout to meet the demands of the clients and thus often has 3-5 versions of a workout happening simultaneously.
Along with the sudden increase in popular methodologies surrounding high intensity short duration programming is the spike in health professionals entering the system in an attempt to spread the "word". The effect has been to allow poorly educated and inexperienced trainers to promote a training system they don't fully understand that throws together exercises and sets in a fashion that promotes exhaustion as a goal of a good workout, thus masking their lack of programming ability.
Group Program Solutions
One solution to these class based programs is to schedule and program both lower and higher level classes requiring multiple and overlapping time schedules and multiple coaches with varied experience to coordinate them, thus making attendance to classes inflexible for members and more costly to administer. Another solution often attempted is to scale programming on the fly in the gym environment. This solution requires a highly individualized and informal approach beyond the ability of most coaches' technical experience and or ability to track multiple members capabilities and progressions.
The Six Sigma Fitness™ system recommends a hybrid methodology for Group training or one-on-one utilizing the 4 Periodization models (MRT, LAT, DBT and HESEA) as the next step after GPP is completed..
If you utilize the Six Sigma Fitness™ RATDP assessment system, the MRT, LAT and DBT periodized programs would be the recommended forms of workout programming which are specifically dictated by the results of the assessment.
These programs are intended to last 4-12 weeks beyond the GPP ending date and continues in most circumstances until the client reaches certain prescribed body composition and BMI goals set by the Coach and Client. So a client might be in GPP for 12 weeks followed by OPP for 18 weeks before hitting a predetermined objective or goal set by the Coach/Practitioner and Client. Programming for GPP and RATDP programs and the KPI's that dictate their progression is beyond the scope of this training and is covered more extensively in our Level 1 certification course.
The RATDP programming of MRT, DBT and LAT can be run simultaneously along with HESEA™️ all in one class but does require planning on the part of the Coach to create workout programs in advance based on the three templates for this style of training. The Six Sigma Fitness™ web app makes this process easier and more organized for the Coach and Client/Athlete and can also be displayed on multiple electronic devices, printed and or copied onto a Workout board for in-person or online training. A whiteboard or a digital tablet that sends a signal wirelessly to a larger monitor is an ideal method to present group workouts. That being said they can be pre-programmed and presented on the Six Sigma Fitness™️ app as well.
For those not using the RATDP system or for those who are graduating from OPP but not yet interested in SPP or PPP but want a health and maintenance plan, we recommend an Undulating Periodization or Daily Undulating Periodization (DUP) which we have modified into a formalized program named HESEA™ (Hypertrophy, Endurance, Strength, Endurance and Active Recovery - described in more detail below). Six Sigma Fitness™ best practices is to use the RATDP first as part of OPP phase before progressing to HESEA™ but it is possible to program HESEA™ during the OPP phase as part of a group environment where simplicity is required in applied training programs.
To better understand how HESEA™️ was developed it is best to study the root of its origin in Undulating Periodization.
Daily Undulating Periodization or DUP, is a form of Periodization that allows much more programming flexibility in a group setting and is better suited for general health purposes. It is a form of training in which the rep ranges and variation of workouts is varied daily (Training Unit) as opposed to by Mesocycle (weeks-months).
A Comparison of Linear and Daily Undulating Periodized Programs with Equated Volume and Intensity for Strength
The purpose of this study was to compare linear periodization (LP) and daily undulating periodization (DUP) for strength gains. Twenty men (age = 21 +/- 2.3 years) were randomly assigned to LP (n = 10) or DUP (n = 10) groups. One repetition maximum (1RM) was recorded for bench press and leg press as a pre-, mid-, and posttest. Training involved 3 sets (bench press and leg press), 3 days per week. The LP group performed sets of 8 RM during weeks 1-4, 6 RM during weeks 4-8, and 4 RM during weeks 9-12. The DUP group altered training on a daily basis (Monday, 8 RM; Wednesday, 6 RM; Friday, 4 RM). Analysis of variance with repeated measures revealed statistically significant differences favoring the DUP group between T1 to T2 and T1 to T3. Making program alterations on a daily basis was more effective in eliciting strength gains than doing so every 4 weeks.
Rhea, Matthew & D Ball, Stephen & Phillips, Wayne & N Burkett, Lee. (2002). A Comparison of Linear and Daily Undulating Periodized Programs with Equated Volume and Intensity for Strength. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association. 16. 250-5. 10.1519/1533-4287(2002)016<0250:ACOLAD>2.0.CO;2.
In fact over the years, CrossFit® gyms have begun to include more varied undulating programming to their weekly classes.
Undulating Periodization is a mix of Mesocycles spread over just two weeks vs Classic Periodization which is normally spread over several weeks or months. The Microcycle which normally lasts 1-4 weeks is essentially replaced by the Mesocycle which is typically compressed into approximately 2 weeks and can include everything normally seen in all Mesocycles (Power, Strength, Hypertrophy, Endurance, Active Rest/Transition).
Six Sigma Fitness™ has taken the Undulating Periodization model one step further, modifying it for group programming utilizing a 15 workout Mesocycle concept which can be documented and tracked manually but is more easily implemented with the help of some technology such as the Six Sigma Fitness™️ app. This Undulating Periodization program is named HESEA™ (Hypertrophy, Endurance, Strength, Endurance, Active Recovery).
The Six Sigma Fitness HESEA™ Model is a new and updated approach to an age-old time tested method of periodization and intelligent progressive programming. It takes the principles of Undulating Periodization and replaces the Mesocycle with a targeted 3 week program divided into 1 week or 5 workout Microcycles. Note the concept of weeks and months is artificial as training density is based on sessions and governed by recovery. As such the Mesocycle is 15 sessions for as long as it takes for the athlete to complete the scheduled training. It applies the principals that allow your body to be stressed by adaptational forces in a progressive manner that increases results and minimizes plateaus. It takes the concept of randomized and constantly varied training like CrossFit and enhances the results by customizing the approach for each client so they get what they need on the days that they train as opposed to reducing or "dumbing down" the workout to meet the needs of the lowest common denominator in the class program.
Applying the Six Sigma Fitness HESEA™ methodology enhances results by meeting the individual requirements of each member in a formalized fashion at the time they are able to workout. Each member is performing the next session in the 15 session Mesocyle on the day they come in. This requires the Coach to plan workouts utilizing usually 3 groups (weeks) of 5 sessions or 15 total using the matrix in the table below.
For group classes such as boot camps or CrossFit® type training, each athlete can be performing a different workout based on their personal cycle. The Six Sigma Fitness HESEA™ methodology using a variation of the Undulating periodization model, fits the needs and flexibility of the member and the group training environment while maintaining both customization, progression and variation. From a more technical perspective, HESEA™ uses Undulating Periodization with Block Microcycles and Conjugate Mesocyles.
Power has been deliberately left off the initial HESEA™️ programing cycle. Power is force development with speed and requires a higher level of fitness, technique and athletic ability to accomplish properly. It should not be used until the client has reached Fitness Level 1 in preparation to move to Fitness Level 2. We define deconditioned clients and athletes that have not been training as Fitness Level 0 and should enter into GPP first. Given that Power is a very explosive sport or combative specific concept, it should be reserved for more experienced clients. It can be interchanged with Strength with the correct athletic Fitness Level evaluation.
Additionally, Power developed too early will lead to injury and or poor technique. Conversely if Power is not developed at the athletic stages of Fitness 2, 3 and 4, it can also lead to injury on the field during application. As such, the HESEA™ programming for general non-sport specific health endeavors, includes only the following 4 block phases of Hypertrophy, Strength, Endurance and Recovery. Substitute Power accordingly or when a more specialized periodization program is warranted to focus on one modality to increase progress. As HESEA™️ is a maintenance program, it would not be prudent to incorporate Power without developing a Sport-specific or Performance-specific goal. For example if you want hypertrophy focus on hypertrophic isolating movements or if you want Power focus on a Power program. If you want health and athletic maintenance then a more well rounded system like HESEA™ would fit better.
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Type of Workout (Unit)
Load % of 1 RM
Endurance - Aerobic/Anaerobic
Endurance - strength
- GPP is considered the best and most practical way to start a new and or deconditioned individual as more formalized progression is not required to make gains.
- Clients should progress to an Objective Specific model such as RATDP™ to optimize health and fitness to an appropriate level before moving to a Sport specific Physical Preparedness model.
- Endurance strength is written as "Endurance" for these purposes and does not solely mean bodyweight aerobics but any and all Metcon activities including and preferably a mix of high repetition weighted exercises as well as bodyweight movements. Additionally it should be alternated to included both Steady State and High Intensity training. The seven primary methods of cardio training are:
Low Intensity, Long Duration
Medium Intensity, Medium Duration
High Intensity, Short Duration
Aerobic Interval Training
Anaerobic Interval Training
- Power training requires speed and is more sport than health specific and increases risk of injury for the average individual due to its explosive nature. As such, specific Power training is left out of the HESEA™ programming model due to the higher risk of ballistic weighted movements. The system has been modified to meet the needs of both barbell and non-barbell programs with a Strength phase with set ranges of 4-6. Strength rep ranges of 1-3 are also advised to be avoided due to high risk of injury until the athlete becomes more advanced. Power can be added to replace Strength for more advanced students and athletes.
- Active Rest/Recovery/Transition/Mobility can also be accomplished through other types of training or activities such as stretching, foam roller, yoga, Pilates as well as biking, hiking or walking. Research also shows 2 sets of 5-8 reps of whole body concentric dominated movements such as deadlifts or squats at a load of 80% - 90% 1 RM is also an acceptable form of recovery, as well as cardio training at 72-88% of your max heart. The goal is to leave the session not feeling spent or exhausted and better than when you started.
the fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way.
"15 thrusters was close to the limit of her endurance"
HESEA™ Cycle Definitions:
Training unit - Refers to the actual "daily" workout or WOD
Microcycle - In this case it refers to approximately 1 week of training or 5 workout sessions
Mesocycle - In this case it refers to a period lasting approximately 3-5 weeks or 15 workout sessions
Macrocycle - The largest unit of time lasting anywhere from 3-6 months.
Research has found that undulating periodized programs are just as effective as linear periodized models for the development of strength power and muscle mass (Marx et al. 2001; Kraemer et al. 2000) and are more effective than nonperiodized programs.
One study by Rhea et al. (2002) found that undulating periodized training was more effective for developing strength compared to a linear periodized plan.
A Comparison of Linear and Daily Undulating Periodized Programs
Research has shown that on new individuals, a more randomized GPP approach to gain a foundation to work from is as effective as any other method. A study of 20 Brazilian Special OPs soldiers was performed using 3 different types of periodization and GPP. Although soldiers, they were actually not very strong or very fast so their general state of fitness was low. They trained 3 primary exercises for 9 weeks. At the end of the 9 weeks it was noted that all soldiers saw similar improvements.
Distinct Temporal Organizations of the Strength- and Power-Training Loads Produce Similar Performance Improvements - Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: January 2013 - Volume 27 - Issue 1 - p 188–194 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182503807
Mesocycle - (15 workouts/3-5 weeks)
Microcycle (5 workouts/1-2 weeks):
HESEA - Hypertrophy, Endurance, Strength, Endurance, Active Recovery
U-L-W = Upper body, Lower body, Whole body
HU = Hypertrophy - Upper Body
HL = Hypertrophy - Lower Body
HW = Hypertrophy - Whole Body
EW = Endurance - Whole Body
SU = Strength - Upper Body
SL = Strength - Lower Body
SW = Strength - Whole Body
ARW = Active Recovery - Whole Body
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Volume = Sets x Reps
Intensity = Load or weight (expended physical effort)
Power = Force x Velocity (Max power at max speed) - Power is not used in the initial stages of the HESEA™ Periodization Program (see notes above)
Workload = RPE x #mins training
The Six Sigma Fitness™
Programming Framework Applied
Six Sigma Fitness™ Beginner GPP Program
For beginners, novices and deconditioned athletes a more generalized GPP approach to start their conditioning program works very well. This includes a well rounded whole body movement curriculum such as a boot camp or a randomized approach such as CrossFit®. But even a GPP program should be monitored and progressed for movement abilities and conditioning so that the right stimulus continues to be used throughout.
Such a program is usually designed for 6-12 weeks depending on client’s experience, conditioning and athletic ability.
We utilize BMI to determine progression from a GPP program to a more targeted OPP program. Although BMI has come under scrutiny for its ability to predict health, it remains a good data point for both tracking progress and for understanding the relative level of obesity in the general population and is easy to calculate without invasive procedures. Note that extremely tall or short individuals as well as extremely muscular individuals may tend towards a high BMI despite being of normal body composition. Some latitude and interpretation is required on the part of the Coach.
Note that the Coach should resist performing formal body composition measures at this level of obesity as they serve little purpose and are hard to measure with extreme levels of adipose tissue making them prone to error. In addition it creates an awkward and stressful experience for the client. Any measurement tracking of metric data points should be weight and circumference only. Other non-numeric tracking such as consistency, behavior habits, or dietary recommendations will better serve the goals and objectives of the program.
We normally start everyone in GPP and transition into RATDP when they reach a BMI of under 32. Although this has been set arbitrarily, it is generally accepted that at this level or greater of BMI the client is likely visibly overweight and has been sedentary for a long period and likely has poor nutritional habits and is not prepared for OPP and should remain in GPP until they get below this data point. The Coach should focus on changing nutritional habits and getting the client moving again before progressing to more difficult or intense levels of activity. At this level of obesity more specificity is not required and general habit changes provide the biggest impact. That being said a Coach may modify this with each situation or choose a stricter standard such as a BMI of 30.
Depending on the client's history, conditioning and objectives, it will likely be necessary to start with a GPP program before they may progress to the Six Sigma Fitness™ Regional Adipose Tissue Deposit Profile (RATDP) program where the client is assessed with an ultrasound body composition or caliper to determine chemical factors contributing to their body shape and fat deposit locations. (Follow the SSF Framework Methodology Flow) Technically the RATDP™ is an Objective-Specific model of training. The end result of the RATDP assessment is a group categorization of Objective-Specific Physical Preparedness. This categorization is generated by the built in artificial intelligence algorithms in the Six Sigma Fitness™ app by evaluating the client's assessment results and recommending either Metabolic Resistance Training (MRT), Lactic Acid Training (LAT) or Density Based Training (DBT) for specific movement patterns and attributes that will best enhance and progress their health and fitness.
Clients will typically need to progress past this program when they reach signs of plateau which maybe as early as 7-12 weeks or when their Body Mass Index (BMI) begins to reach more normalized levels below 25 (normal build) to 27 (if tall or muscular) or when bodyfat reaches an optimal level of 15% for men and 22% for women depending on age. This is the ideal time to begin the HESEA™ program.
The HESEA™ program is ideal for a small group training environment where each client performs the next workout in order of the training template. In theory it is possible that all clients may be training together but performing different workouts depending on where they are in the HESEA™ cycle. In practicality HESEA™ can be applied on a M-F schedule with Saturday being a makeup day (see below).
Session 1 - Hypertrophy
Session 2 - Endurance
Session 3 - Strength
Session 4 - Endurance
Session 5 - Active recovery
Another common form of application of the HESEA™ program is to run a 5 day fixed training schedule as follows:
Monday - Hypertrophy
Tuesday - Endurance
Wednesday - Strength
Thursday - Endurance
Friday - Active recovery
Typical Six Sigma Fitness™ Applied Training Program Cycle
Is the client BMI above 30-32.5? Or are they visibly severely deconditioned or self-admitted non-athletes? These are signs that the individual has been both sedentary for a very long time and likely not following a healthy lifestyle or diet. This is a client that is well suited for GPP starting at as basic a level as may be necessary.
Start: Physical Assessment - Assess, Screen, Test and Survey
Assessment: Track weight and circumference measurements.
Screen: Biomarkers - Blood Pressure, FMS/Movement Screens
Test: Resting heart rate, Exercise Tests
Survey: Inquire into health profile including diet and lifestyle log
Determine baseline data points and goals and objectives for progression to next levels
Begin: First Mesocycle GPP1 - Non-barbell - approximately 4 weeks, continue working on Assessment weaknesses
Fail Assessment: Return to Mesocycle GPP1 - Non-barbell - approximately 2-4 weeks
Pass Assessment: Begin Mesocycle GPP2
Fail Assessment: Return to Mesocycle GPP2 - Non-barbell - approximately 2-4 weeks
Pass Assessment: Begin Mesocycle GPP3
Fail Assessment: Return to Mesocycle GPP3 - Non-barbell - approximately 2-4 weeks
Pass Assessment: Begin Mesocycle GPP4
Fail Assessment: Return to Mesocycle GPP4 - Non-barbell - approximately 2-4 weeks
Pass Assessment: Progress to OPP or SPP
Once the client has become regularly active, is making positive lifestyle and nutritional changes and is consistent in their health practices they may be progressed to their next phase or OPP. Often this will likely coincide with reduced BMI of 27.5-30 but is based on goals and objectives set in GPP phase.
Start: Physical Assessment - Assess, Screen, Test and Survey
Assessment: Perform Body Composition and RATDP
Screen: Movement - Biomarkers - Blood Pressure
Test: Resting heart rate - VO2 Max - HRV
Survey: Inquire into health profile including diet and lifestyle log
Begin: First Mesocycle (Six Sigma Fitness™ Beginner Intro Program) -12 session Movement Preparation Classes as necessary - Non-barbell - New Member Training - approximately 3-4 weeks
- Metabolic Resistance Training (MRT)
- Lactic Acid Training (LAT)
- Density Based Training (DBT)
Pass Assessment: Client has reached normalized BMI and or Body Composition targets, passes movement screens and is medically able to progress to higher performance levels.
Progress to HESEA™ Periodization Program or SPP
Once reaching their healthy weight and fitness level the individual will need to decide if they are going to maintain where they are at or attempt to enter into a more sport or performance specific program.
Most clients will initially choose to enter into a maintenance program with minor continued gains seen among all health modalities including muscle tone and size, endurance conditioning and strength. The Six Sigma Fitness™ HESEA™ program is ideally suited for optimal maintenance of all major health domains.
Begin: Training Unit - Hypertrophy - Medium Intensity / High Volume - low to moderate loads for high repetition
50-75% of 1 RM (Rep Max) and 3-6 sets of 10-20 reps
Movement Type: Slow concentric and eccentric
Next: Training Unit - Endurance - Low Intensity / High Volume - moderately heavy loads for moderately high repetition
40-50% of 1 RM (Rep Max) and 3-4 sets of 15-30 reps
Movement Type: Fast concentric and eccentric
Next: Training Unit - Strength - Moderately High Intensity / Moderately Volume - moderately heavy loads for moderately low repetition
75-85% of 1 RM (Rep Max) and 3-5 sets of 4-6 reps
Movement Type: Slow concentric and eccentric
Next: Training Unit - Endurance - Low Intensity / High Volume - moderately heavy loads for moderately high repetition
40-50% of 1 RM (Rep Max) and 3-4 sets of 15-30 reps
Movement Type: Fast concentric and eccentric
Next: Training Unit - Active Recovery/Mobility - Low Intensity / Medium Volume - Bodyweight loads for moderately low repetitions
Bodyweight and 1-2 sets of 10-12 reps
Movement Type: slow concentric and eccentric
Other influential components of any program include
- Choice of exercises
- Order of exercises
- Resistance or load
- Number of sets per exercise
- Number of exercises per muscle group
- Repetition range
- Type of contraction
- Speed of movement
- Rest periods between sets
- Rest periods between training sessions
- Nutritional status.
Further research remains to be conducted and evaluated. However, for more advanced resistance training designs, the evidence appears to strongly suggest utilizing a periodized approach as compared to constant repetition/set type programs.
Volume (number of sets and reps performed with the main lift and assistance work)
Intensity (the amount of weight on the bar)
Rating of Perceived Exertion (how close to failure you get with a set)
Progressive Overload Variables:
Lift more weight for the same amount of reps as a previous training session
Do more sets (adding volume via sets) of an exercise than a previous training session
Do additional exercises (adding volume via additional movements) for a given muscle than a previous training session
Do the same amount of weight with less rest than a previous training session (progressing by accomplishing the same workload in less time)
Similar to above, accomplish more reps in a given period of time