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Your Guide to Structuring a Workout for Optimal Development



Man snatching a barbell


Creating an effective workout involves more than just picking exercises and going through the motions. A well-structured session should have clear objectives, a logical sequence of activities, and a focus on maximizing performance and recovery. Here's a detailed look at how a strength and conditioning professional should structure a workout for optimal results. If you are an athlete or training client, make sure your trainer knows this.


Every workout should have this sequential structure-


  1. Briefing

  2. Warm-up

  3. Main Part

  4. Cool Down

  5. Wrap-Up


Briefing the Athlete or Client


As a trainer, you should start each session by briefing the athlete/client on what will be accomplished that day, why, and how. You must explain the objectives for the session and the structure of the workout.


Trainer talking with athletes.

Objectives for the Session


Every workout should begin with clear objectives. Whether the goal is to improve strength, enhance Endurance, or develop specific skills, defining the purpose of the session sets the tone. It ensures the activities align with desired outcomes. Discussing these objectives with the athlete or client helps to clarify expectations and focus efforts on achieving specific targets.  Ensure the athlete/client understands how the session fits into the more extensive system of progressive overload training and their fitness improvement.


Structure and Activities


Before the workout begins, it's crucial to explain the general structure and specific activities to the athlete or client. This overview helps them understand what to expect, why certain exercises are included, and how the session will progress. This understanding enhances engagement and ensures they are mentally prepared for each part of the workout.


Warmup


A proper warmup is essential to prepare the body for the demands of the workout. It typically includes activities that increase heart rate, improve blood flow to muscles, and enhance joint mobility. Dynamic stretches, light cardio, and mobility exercises are commonly used to raise the body's temperature gradually and reduce the risk of injury.


At StratFit, we have our clients go through a comprehensive full-body warmup before any lifting or treadmill work.


  • Arm-Swings and Over-Unders

  • Hip Circles

  • Knee Circles

  • Boxer Circles

  • Standing Lumbar Crunch

  • Cat Screams

  • Roll-Overs

  • Fire Hydrants

  • Mountain Climbers

  • Groiners


Graph of female body showing muscles that are warmed up

Main Part


The main part of the workout is where the primary training objectives of the session are addressed. Here we implement activities to develop the primary abilities we are developing in the training period.  Activities are ordered to maximize efficiency and effectiveness, following a specific progression from cognitive-neurological activities to cardiovascular training. Here's the general order of abilities:


  1. Skill Work is particularly important for athletes and involves sport—or profession-specific technical and tactical exercises that require significant mental focus and awareness.

  2. Speed: Sprinting and agility drills are performed to enhance quickness and reaction time.

  3. Power: Olympic lifts, throwing, and jumping exercises happen here to develop explosive strength and power. These exercises involve high neurological demand and should be performed early in the session when the athlete is fresh.

  4. Strength: Compound barbell movements such as squats, presses, and deadlifts are performed to build overall muscle strength.

  5. Hypertrophy: This phase includes additional barbell and dumbbell work focused on muscle growth. Exercises are typically performed with moderate to high reps.

  6. Muscular Stamina: High-rep barbell, dumbbell, and kettlebell exercises are included to enhance muscular Endurance.

  7. Anaerobic Endurance: Treadmill running or other activities performed in the anaerobic heart rate range are included to improve anaerobic capacity.

  8. Aerobic Endurance involves treadmill running or other steady-state cardio exercises to enhance aerobic capacity.


It's important to note that most sessions or training days only include some abilities. We can train abilities out-of-order at times for specific short term adaptations; for instance we might do Skill and Speed work after Power and Strength work to get a Post Tetnic Potentiation effect to improve performance. A periodized program usually includes and excludes different abilities in different periods according to the athlete/client's competitive schedule or goals.

 

Cool Down


The cool-down phase is designed to help the body transition from intense activity to rest. It typically includes:


  • Yogic Breathing: Seated or lying yoga breathing exercises for 1-3 minutes (or longer if needed, up to 15 minutes) help to lower the heart rate and promote relaxation. Use a 1:1:2:1 cadence- Nasal inhale 3 seconds, hold 3 seconds, slow exhale through the mouth 6 seconds, hold 3 seconds. Repeat.

  • Passive Stretching: Gentle stretches improve flexibility and reduce muscle tension.


Here is a great comprehensive whole-body stretching progression (hold each for 30-60 seconds)-


  • Seated Neck Posterior-Chain Stretch

  • Face Down Hip-Glute Stretch

  • Lying on the side Quad Stretch

  • Lying on the side Low Back Stretch

  • Seated Shoulder Stretch

  • Touch the Toes

  • V-sit

  • Seated Groin Stretch

  • Cat Scream

  • Rear Delt Stretch

  • Hold the Rack Lat Stretch

  • Push the Rack Pec Stretch

  • Cobra Sprawl

  • Strapped Pull-Up Hang



Graph of female body showing muscles that are stretched


Wrap Up


After the cool-down, it is best to have a wrap-up discussion with the athlete/client. Here, you review the session objectives and discuss how you met them. Discuss how the session's developments fit into the bigger whole of the training program, and schedule the next session.


Conclusion

Structuring a workout with a clear objective, a logical progression of activities, and a focus on performance and recovery ensures that each session is productive and safe. By following this comprehensive approach, athletes and clients can achieve their fitness goals more effectively while minimizing the risk of injury. Whether training for strength, power, Endurance, or skill development, a well-organized workout is key to success.




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