How to Vary your Workout-Exercise Modality
By Ralph Klisiewicz-Chicago personal trainer, certified muscle activation technique specialist
It is well understood that our body adapts to a workout by getting stronger. However, after some time the workout no longer yields the same results. At such time, a personal trainer needs to implement a change to a workout routine. This can be achieved through several means, but one that is most commonly used is exercise modality.
A skilled personal trainer usually can modify each routine to achieve specific goals like balance/stability, muscular hypertrophy, and muscle explosiveness, or muscle endurance. Each modality has its specific goal. When intelligently put together, exercise routines of several modalities can add variation and enhance an entire exercise program. In this article I will discuss how a personal trainer can implement different training modalities and how these modalities can be put together into a comprehensive exercise program.
The purpose of integrative exercise routine is to strengthen several muscle groups together. It is important that muscles work in concert. Many muscles work together to move a single joint. Furthermore, often in more complex movement several joints must be orchestrated. For example, squatting is a complex movement that requires several joints to perform different task at the same, resulting in a collaborative movement.
Therefore, when a personal trainer assigns a client an exercise under integrative modality he is not targeting a muscle group like chest or legs, he/she is aiming to coordinate the strength of several groups of muscles. A personal trainer may emphasize a muscle group that is the primary mover, however, always in perspective are other muscles groups that must also move or stabilize the body to perform a given exercise.
For example, Plank (fig 1) is a very simple integrative exercise. There are two main groups working; trunk flexors and hip flexors. In addition the shoulders have to exert force to provide a stable anchor. In addition, back extensors help abdominal muscles to keep the torso straight.
Another example of an integrative exercise, which is far more complex, is a lunge with rotation (fig 2). This exercise works the legs as they descend the body, and the torso muscles that must rotate trunk. Independently, these muscles groups are going to be much stronger. Adding a lunge and rotation to the same exercise synergistic increases the difficulty of the exercise. You can imagine how nearly every muscle in your body must be at work to perform this highly coordinated movement.
A personal trainer needs to remember that it is the control of movement/or position that is the key and not progression through weight. Therefore a smart personal would add variables that challenge the stability and balance of the exercise versus resistance.
All exercises under integrative modality should be performed slowly and while keeping a continuous velocity (in other words do not jerk movement). An ideal number of repetitions for an exercise with in this modality is 15-18 repetitions and 2-3 sets.
It is unfortunate that this type of exercise modality has been reduced to something fitness centers shove their novice members onto. In fact, when I first started my career as a personal trainer, I was told that if prospect is not likely to buy a personal training package just put him through a circuit workout on some of the machines during the initial meeting and then part away. Hence, circuit training has stuck with me, and many other personal trainers, as a “throw away“ modality.
It is true, the circuit training can be the easiest in its design. However, recently I have realized the true benefit of circuit training. Circuit training is an excellent modality to train endurance.
The premise is putting together 4-5 exercises that are to be performed one immediately after another. I found it to be effective when I start with an exercise that is rather complex, one that moves through several joints and therefore involves several muscle groups. The last exercise should be the simplest, involving small muscle groups.
The following is a good example of a small circuit set:
Standing shoulder press
Standing leaning DB rows
It is important to remember that the circuit training should get your heart rate up, you should be breathing hard after completing a set of exercises. Each exercise should be challenging, working to about 80% of your capacity for about 15 repetitions. It also important that exercises should work different muscles groups or different planes of motions (see article). Once again, in circuit training the goal is to increase muscular and cardiovascular endurance not stimulates one muscle group into growth.
General Strength Training
The general strength modality is what most people do when they decide to lift weights. The goal of general strength modality is to stimulate muscle to grow (aka muscle hypertrophy). The concept is rather simple, stress a muscle group with resistance so that it is forced to adapt by getting stronger. To achieve this, the muscles need to be accurately targeted. So If I want the chest muscles to grow I want to use exercises that train chest muscles and put least amount of load on other muscles (notice how this is opposite to integrative training)
Most of those who use this modality split body parts through out a week. This is based on traditional body building model where you, for example, work chest on one day, back on another and legs on another, and so on. However, as a personal trainer I have often used the upper-lower body split. This worked for clients that could workout 2-3 times a week. Moreover, unless you are planning to be a body builder the upper and lower body split should suffice. On remaining days other modalities or cardiovascular exercise can be added.
Some good examples of Strength exercise is biceps preacher curls (fig 3). By sitting in this bench the biceps are isolated for movement and the rest of the body is anchored so that all resources are focused on the work of biceps (although more accurately should be stated elbow flexors since there are more than biceps at work)
This modality can be exhausting because the key is to perform an exercise for 8-12 repetitions to nearly muscular failure. After the exercise it is advised to take a longer rest period (1-2 minutes) as compared to other modalities to allow the muscle group to recover. Another option is to perform two exercises that work opposite muscle groups and then take a longer rest period. This is often referred to as super-setting.
Explosive Exercise Modality
This is my favorite modality. Through explosive modality a personal trainer wants to achieve quickness and power. In reality, this modality could be split into two modalities, speed and power, however they are similar enough for the purpose of the current discussion.
Power can be defined as ability to produced greatest amount of force in shortest amount of time. Jumping is a perfect illustration of power. In order to elevate my body up in the air against gravity I need to produce plenty of force but I also need to do it quickly. Quickness would be best identified by ability to change direction in the least a mount of time. Basketball point guards are required to be quick but are rarely as powerful as their power forwards.
Good example of pure power exercise is clean and jerk. Ability to lift the weight depends both on strength and speed at which the exercise is performed. Jump rope is an ideal example of quickness exercises. Unlike clean and jerk, which requires to lift heavy weight, the emphasis in this exercise is placed on the coordination and speed at which a light jump is performed.
Therefore, in dynamic modality a personal trainer will likely manipulate both the resistance and time at which the exercise is performed. Quickness exercises will place more emphasis on the time variable where the power exercises will place more emphasis on the strength variable.
As the name implies these exercises are to be performed at fast tempo. It is assumed that a client performing dynamic exercise has properly progressed to the movement. For power exercises, I would recommend repetitions between 5-8 and taking at least 2 minutes in between sets. Quickness exercises can be performed one after another, especially when training for a sport that requires conditioning.
Putting it all Together
First, it is important to note that these modalities are not rigid. In other words, a dynamic modality can include exercises that are not dynamic. For example, I often spent 15-20 minutes performing integrative exercise, especially those that mimic the dynamic movement and those that work the mid section. The point of modality is emphasis. So my previously described dynamic modality might include few integrative exercises but the main event will be composed of dynamic exercises.
When I plan a workout for a client I use modalities to plan for the long term. For instance, I might spend 1st month on integrative routines, 2nd month on strength modalities, and 3 rd month on dynamic. Often, however, the plan is not so dry. I might have a client do integrative modalities 2 days and 1 dynamic within one week.Lastly, there are exercises that do not easily fit into any modality. One good example is a squat with the bar. Squat is one of the most integrative exercises you can perform. I don’t think there is a muscle in the body that is not working when squatting with substantial weight. Many think of it as a strength exercises because the nature of movement is slow. However, the movement only looks slow, yet the body is producing force as fast as it can, so one could consider squat as a power exercise. In fact many exercises that are performed under slow control can be performed at a fast explosive pace making them dynamic. The point here is that modality is what is emphasized. Therefore, it is not the exercise but how the exercise is performed and the goal that one is trying to achieve performing them.