It will happen every couple of weeks or so. A new client will come in for their first session with that look of absolute fear in their eyes. They are practically shaking in their old, dirtied up New Balance kicks. They haven’t worked out in a year. Some have never really worked out their entire life. They may be overweight. So what is this fear in their eyes all about? It comes from watching the Biggest Loser or from them hearing about how their out of shape friends just started Crossfit. From what they see and what they hear they should expect to be sore for a week, have to crawl up and down the stairs and come to their first session with a puke bucket.
Well, it does not have to be that way and definitely should not be that way. Should you expect a bit of soreness and some fatigue from your first session? Probably. But should you induce so much damage to your body during your first session that you are terrified to come back for your next session? Most definitely not. Believe it or not you can get some substantial work in by just moving or making small progressions or handling smaller amounts of work with each successive session. You should be in it for the long term. Not for one session or 14 days or 30 days or 90 days like some popular training program claims.
So what should your first session look like? Let me give you an example. It is nothing crazy. It is actually a workout that I would probably do with any new client that comes through the door, whether they are new to training or whether they tell me how great they are and how much they can do. That is when I hit the B.S. button. If you are in such great shape and can do this and can do that why are you coming to train with me? Anyways, essentially what I am trying to do during this first session is get you comfortable with the gym, get you comfortable with a few different pieces of equipment and get you comfortable with a few different movements. The uncomfortableness will come in following sessions.
Basically the first session should follow the same template as a normal training session minus the conditioning work at the end and fewer exercises during each part of the session.
So we will start with some foam rolling. Usually just hit the quads, glutes and upper back. We will usually stay away from areas that can be really tender such as the IT band or stay away from getting more localized with the lacrosse ball which can be pretty uncomfortable.
Alright, a few minutes have been spent getting an idea of what foam rolling is like and then we will move into some movement prep work. Most people are going to be locked up through the hips and thoracic spine so we will usually address those areas with 5-6 simple movements such as hip flexor pulses, glute bridges, quadruped extensions/rotations, high knee walks, and spiderman lunges. Nothing too crazy, but you may even have a little sweat going right now.
Next we will get into some mini band walks to wake up those sleepy glutes and do some prone planks to set the table for future core work. With the planks we are not trying to set any records. Some people will only be able to mange ten second holds. That’s fine. Do 3-5 ten second holds. All we are trying to do is get an idea of what a correct plank should look and feel like. Too many times I hear people talking about how they can hold a 60 second plank and by ten seconds their plank looks like nothing that resembles a plank. 60 seconds of a poorly performed plank might be worse than not being able to hold a ten second plank.
OK. Some foam rolling work has been done and the movement prep work has been done. Now onto the grass fed meat and sweet potatoes of the workout: strength training. And strength training is just as it sounds: training for strength. Strength is the foundation for fat loss, for power, for speed and even for injury prevention. Everything feeds off of strength and way too many people are not strong enough.
The strength portion of that initial session is where things can go haywire and you can really induce some big time soreness. Like I said, we should expect some soreness, but not some I have to slide down the stairs on my butt soreness.
With the movement prep work prior we have already gotten an idea of how mobile and how coordinated someone is so we will probably have a good idea of what exercises to use. Basically I will use 4-5 movements: a split squat variation, a half kneeling single arm cable row, a dumbbell bench press or incline press, a hip extension movement and a core exercise. Sorry if that’s not sexy enough for you.
With the split squat we will either go with a TRX assisted split squat or a regular split squat. The TRX will aid those that have stability issues and deload the exercise if I feel you can not control your own body weight. Usually we will do 8-10 reps here.
The half kneeling row is used to get you comfortable with the half kneeling position which we will use a lot in future workouts. The half kneeling position will help with hip stability. We will go any where from 10-12 reps here.
The dumbbell bench press or incline press is pretty straightforward. For people who have never used free weights before it’s really not that difficult of an exercise. Here we will do any where from 10-12 reps.
For a hip extension movement we have 2-3 exercises to choose from: Swiss ball bridge, feet elevated bridge or a single leg bridge. Here we are trying to get you used to feeling what locking up the glutes should feel like. “Cracking walnuts”. 10-15 reps will be used here.
And to finish off we will go with a core exercise. There are usually three movements I will pick from: side plank, tall kneeing belly press, or tall kneeling cable lift. If someone has some shoulder issues we will stay away from the side plank for now. If we do go with the side plank we have two variations to go to: the bent leg version, which we will call level one or the straight leg version which we will call level two. Same thing as the prone plank: either 3-5 ten seconds holds or one hold of 20-30 seconds on each side. If we go to the belly press press or cable lift instead we will use the tall kneeling position since this is the first progression in the progression of these exercises. It eliminates joints from the knee down so we have much less to worry about and again we are trying to promote hip stability.
So we’ll take those 4-5 movements, throw them into a little circuit allowing you to take as much rest as needed between each exercise, rest after the completion of the first circuit and then attempt to complete another round.
And then that is basically it. Maybe a few short intervals on the battling ropes if you have that look in your eyes like you want to do a little more. Or if you have that look in your eyes that says “I surrender” we are done. Time to review. Time to get a feeling of where you are at. Most people are surprised at how much work that really is even though it doesn’t look like a lot on paper.
I am not going to try and kill you. I am not trying to show you my “skills” as a trainer. I am not going to brag about how sore I can make you. This session and all future sessions are not about me. It’s about you. I do not want you feeling scared. I do not want you crawling on your hands and knees for a week. I want you moving better. I want you feeling better. I want you in it for the long haul.