How To Structure An Adult Fitness Program

Throughout my college days of studying exercise science and various courses in regards to fitness, I always found myself wanting to train athletes to some degree. However, since I’ve started here at Upward in May my general population clients have been a much bigger focal point than I expected. 

It took a couple weeks (maybe a month or two) to get in the groove of how I go about training adult fitness clients, but I think I’ve finally figured out a system I’ve been using that has seen results and has built an adult population that I’m proud of. This blog post I’ll be breaking down how I structure a workout from minute 1 to minute 60. 

Dynamic Warmup (~5min)

The warmup is going to be one of the most important aspects of your training session. A good warmup that increases heart rate, improves tissue quality, and breaks a sweat will help ease you into the main movements of the day and help attack the whole workout.

Below is a sample warmup that I’ve been giving our classes and my one-on-ones that should take no more than 5 minutes. I first start off with dynamic mobility while incorporating as many lunge variations as I could think of. After that we get into our main movement to spike the heart rate in order to get ready to do more power based exercises.

10 yards each movement:

  • Knee hug to forward lunge
  • Quad pull
  • Leg cradle 
  • Reverse lunge w/ twist
  • Lateral lunges
  • Hamstring scoops
  • Skips
  • Lateral skips
  • Shuffles 
  • Carioca 
  • Back pedal + jog back

Power Circuit (~5min)

In this circuit I utilize med balls, kettlebell swings, box jumps, hurdles, or broad jumps to potentiate our central nervous system and “wake up”. I often get asked why we jump or do athletic based movements, and my joking response is usually “to get off the toilet when you’re 80.” Although that response is pretty sarcastic, it’s the truth. As we age we lose our ability to produce power because our Type II muscle fibers fade away at a much faster rate than our type I fibers do.. It’s more of a “if you don’t use it you lose it” deal when it comes to power based activities, so I will always incorporate some level of “fast twitch” exercise in our daily routine.

Main Strength + Mobility (20min)

This portion of the lift is our meat and potatoes. Now after your warmup + power based circuits you should be pretty warmed up and ready to attack the main compound of the day. I keep it very simple by having an upper/lower day where we focus on movements in the 1-5 (sometimes 8) rep ranges where strength is our main priority. When we train for strength, we need to make sure we’re resting at least 2-3min in between attempts. To avoid sitting around or feeling bored, I fill up this blank space with either mobility or some kind of corrective (ex. banded face pulls).

You can pick whatever main movement you want, but the 4 I choose typically are 

  • Barbell Bench
  • Front/Back Squat (rotated monthly)
  • Incline DB Bench
  • Trap Bar Deadlift

For your main movement you need to make sure you’re utilizing compound movements like the ones I’ve listed because they’re multi joint exercises that will bring you the best results in the shortest amount of time. Seems like common sense, but when you try to explain to a high school boy bicep curls aren’t a main movement, common sense isn’t all that common. Getting really strong in these movements will also help carry over to increasing weight in your accessory movements so it’s a win win.

Accessories (Hypertrophy) (20min)

This portion of the lift is something I like to call the “armor building” phase of the day. Here we attack weak points most people have due to their daily living habits. Sitting at a desk all day in a hunch back position? Your back muscles are probably not strong enough to keep your posture upright. We focus on hammering something called the posterior chain. Think of all the muscles in the back of you as the “go” muscles (hamstrings, glutes, back calves), and the ones you see in the mirror are the “show” muscles (chest, biceps, quads). 

The movements I pick also focus on core stability and overall strength. If you’ve ever done a dumbbell farmer’s carry, you probably have heard me say “don’t drop the groceries!” since it’s very similar to how you’d hold your bags after a trip to ShopRite. Working on things like grip, balance, stability, and while building muscle all at the same time is a goal I try to hit every session and is why you’ll see much higher reps in a 3-4 exercise super set.

Conditioning (~5-10min)

Here comes the good burn everyone craves from a hard workout. This part of the workout I just try to crush you in the safest way possible. Leave it all out there and have fun while doing it by pushing sleds, jumping rope, high rep med ball work, battle ropes, or the assault bike. My idea with this portion of the lift is to make you breathe hard of course, but also build up something called your aerobic capacity (how conditioned you are). Since you’ve hit all major parts of the workout already, it’s time to lay it all out there and see what you’re made of for the day. What I’ve also realized is that this is where groups become much more comfortable with each other because if you’re all doing something that sucks you all have something in common! So you’re welcome for all the new friends you’ll make and as well as seeing progress in the mirror.

Brett Hart, Head Coach
coachhart@performupward.com