When I speak of flexibility, I’m not talking about being able to do a split or twist into a corkscrew from some advanced-level yoga pose. I’m referring to the art of adapting to changing circumstances. I watch people work out in the gym and then suddenly become paralyzed if “their” machines aren’t available. Part of the training process is showing clients how to adapt and still get the work done. It’s important to be flexible and to learn how to improvise to make your workouts more efficient and effective, even in sub par conditions.
Prior to meeting with a client, a trainer will write out an individualized program that acts as a road map to help that client reach a particular goal. However, upon meeting the client for a session at 7am, I see that the gym is crowded during the prime-time rush and the squat rack is taken: there goes the first movement in my program. Now what? Do I wait for it to free up, wasting precious time with my paying customer? I’ve seen some trainers do just that, trying to fill the time with pleasant commentary while the antsy client feigns interest and bounces around to loosen up (and to burn a few calories).
Another way to adapt to less-than-ideal conditions is to analyze what a movement is designed to accomplish and most accurately simulate it with another modality. For example, I really wanted to do heavy front squats with Sally but my colleague, Ms. Ima Hog, is monopolizing the squat rack the entire session. So, I think about a few main concepts to formulate Plan B:
What a squat works: Bilateral (2 legs), triple extension
Muscles involved: Almost everything! (quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, erectors, etc.)
Where the load is located: Anterior (in front), above the center of gravity
At what intensity they were to be performed: Heavy, ~90%
Once I run through this checklist, I select an alternative—squats with dumbbells in a rack position—and get Sally moving. Even if you don’t know what those terms in the list mean (some trainer jargon), figure out the basics: In a squat you bend down and come back up. Stick with the fundamentals and grab some dumbbells instead of the bar. But you wanted the 20s and they are taken? Grab the 25s and do a couple less reps. Improvise.
Training clients in a gym is a good metaphor of this more universally applied concept of flexibility because change is the norm, not the exception. Those who practice greater skills of flexibility and improvisation tend to get better results.
Keep on Movin’