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Coach and movement therapist Vanessa Leone explores how to create periodised training plans that incorporate PT and class workouts.




  • Periodisation allows you to plan for your client’s specific ups and downs
  • The first step is to get clear on the individual’s goal and why, and to then continually check in with yourself and your client to ensure you are on track
  • Asking members and clients, instead of telling them, allows them to listen to their bodies and assess what they can give at that time, on that day
  • With the use of simplified language, you can work with your client to assign a unit of measurement to their various physical activities, ranging from lowest to highest intensity
  • By considering all of these elements, you can create a periodised training plan for clients that combines a smart balance of PT and class workouts.



Periodisation has never been the sexiest word in the fitness industry. I typed it into to see the literal meaning, and well let’s just say there’s a reason the boring definition didn’t make it into this article. Why, then, do I deem it important enough to investigate the purpose of periodisation in the industry? Stay with me to find out.


I am a hybrid coach. I have molded my fitness business to encompass my dual abilities of being both an excellent coach with 1:1 clients, and an entertaining and empowering group fitness instructor. Having this combination has meant that I have never been without an engaged audience that returns weekly for PT sessions, classes, or both. If a space ever arises in my coaching schedule, I can mention it in my classes and within a week or two be back to full capacity.


In my mind, being a group ex instructor means that not only do I have this excellent lead generation source, but that I can also reach more people and help to influence their lives. Then, when those people need more specific, individualised help, I can seamlessly offer 1:1 sessions. It’s a perfect symbiotic circle.


The need for periodising my 1:1 clients and my classes became apparent when I noticed how much my classes affected my clients’ performance and vice versa. Here, we look at a simplified 3 step checklist to create periodisation, whether you coach 1:1 or groups.


✅ 1: Why Vs Goal

Everybody you encounter at a gym or training facility has an underlying emotional reason for wanting to achieve their goals. On top of that underlying emotional reason, most people have a range of other challenges they are dealing with. A good coach knows their client’s goals. A great coach knows and understands their client’s ‘why’ (underlying reason). A leading coach knows both of those and understands how additional social, physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental challenges will inevitably affect their client’s training regime.


A leading coach will have excellent personal connections with their clients and be able to translate their challenges into meaningful exercise selections. We would all love for our clients to continually progress in a linear fashion, but we know this doesn’t happen. Periodisation allows you to plan for your client’s specific ups and downs, depending on what challenge they’re currently facing.



If you’re a group ex instructor, you may be wondering why this is important to you. The answer is, participants will not keep returning to your class unless they personally connect with how and what you are teaching. The what you are teaching relates to the specific physiological outcomes people can expect to achieve by attending your class week in, week out. The how is how they feel about you personally. More than likely, they will not be repeating your class if they do not connect with you in some shape or form.


As an instructor, it is unlikely that you will know all the differing goals and whys of your participants, and I am not suggesting that you should. What you must ensure, however, is that you are clear on exactly what your class offers people. If you were recommending your class to someone, could you clearly explain in a sentence what they should expect to achieve, and how they should expect to feel upon leaving the class?


If either 1:1 coach or group exercise instructor is unclear about the goal and the why, it’s possible that the training being delivered is unspecific and off-target. How can we, as 1:1 coaches, expect to guide our clients to amazing results if we don’t understand their life and environment? How can we, as group ex instructors, expect people to return if our deliverable product is untargeted or misleading? The first step in our periodisation plan is to get clear on the goal and why, and to then continually check in with ourselves and our clients to ensure we are on track.


✅ 2: Training Vs Coaching

Periodising our classes and our sessions increases our value in the eyes of our clients and members. It’s what takes us from being a trainer to being a coach. As a group ex instructor, instead of people attending our classes, it becomes an unmissable experience. The key for both is listening and asking.


Instructors, let’s start with you. ‘Listening’ in your classes means you are able to interpret body language and absorb small pieces of information participants give you. It means being able to feel the energy of the room and influence it in the direction of the class goals. ‘Asking’ means we give our members options in exercise selection and intensity. It means we let them choose their level for that day, for that given exercise. It means we use our cues and coaching points with pin-point precision so they can achieve the movements we instruct, while feeling safe.


Asking your members, instead of telling them, allows them to listen to their bodies and assess what they can give at that time, on that day. This level of autonomy in your classes makes them feel safe, connected to you and more likely to achieve the long-term goals of the class. Filming your class, getting a colleague or mentor to evaluate your class for feedback, and asking for member feedback are all excellent tools for facilitating this process of autonomy.


As coaches, we must learn to ask the right questions, consistently. We must be able to listen to the answer and interpret it to inform the quantity, frequency and intensity of exercises we prescribe. This is the hardest task as a coach, as our clients usually have completely different needs, wants and challenges in their lives. This leads us nicely into our third and final checklist point. However, if you don’t ask and listen first, the third step cannot and will not work.


✅ 3: Language & Metrics

We have established the why and goals, and understood how we continually evaluate ourselves and our clients; now it’s time to look at integration. The fitness industry has a language that we, as coaches and instructors, use all the time. Occasionally we will have clients and members who understand this lingo. Most of our clients and members, however, will not . In my experience this is where creating a simplified language with clear metrics breaks down the barriers.


The language you use should describe the goals or requirements of a 1:1 session or class in clear layman’s terms. If the client or participants are required to work at high intensity, what does that feel like in their muscles, in their lungs? What does it look like? The best language you can use for a client/participant will feature words and descriptions that most people know and understand already. For example, ‘By the end of today’s cycle class you can expect to feel extremely out of breath, and as though your legs are as heavy as lead’. No part of that language indicates how heavy they need to go, or what HR they are working at; instead, it relates it to something people may have experienced before, or something they can easily imagine.


From that simplified language we can then easily assign a unit of measurement to that feeling, ranging, for example, from 1 (lowest intensity) to 5 (highest intensity). These units of measurement are something you can include in your 1:1 sessions or in your classes. For example, ‘PT sessions are variably rated for overall intensity because we can manipulate them on the day, whereas your classes can’t be. You have rated the classes as follows: yin yoga is rated 1, cycle is 5, Pilates reformer 3 and Zumba is rated 3.’


Colour coding classes by intensity can aid in the creation of periodised training plans


Now you have an overview of the client’s training schedule, both PT sessions and class workouts, you can start to build meaningful conversations around long term programming and planning. The social, physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental challenges your clients face during the week can now be factored in, and you can help guide the level of intensity or load because of the metrics you have established.


When you understand the physiological outcomes of a class, you can recommend other classes or exercise modalities that will complement a client or member’s training regime. You may also use this system to make navigating classes and training sessions less daunting for all members at your facility. This might involve a simple colour coded intensity indicator for each timetabled class, and some easy-to-understand messaging around including a good balance of intensities in their weekly or monthly training plans. The key part of language and metrics is making it relevant for your members, clients and facility.


How do I start to periodise?

With the integration of your three checklist steps, you are now ready to use the metrics to map out a meaningful plan. I say meaningful because the meaning will change depending who it’s for!




If you’re a coach trying this system out with a client, the following key questions will drive your periodisation plan:

  • What is the time limit/barrier/end point?
  • How do I measure the start and end point of my client’s goal?
  • Does my client want to know this plan in detail, or do they want me to do this for them without knowing the details?


Once you have this information, you can put the metric system in place. In the example used above, the level 1 days may be days my client can’t get to the gym or has an event on. For the level 5 days, you may need to give your client notice so they can prepare for a higher intensity session. We use the periodisation plan alongside what we know about progressive overload and people’s need for recovery, and work it into the client’s programming.


For instructors who want to periodise, a long-term challenge can be set within the class and regular members can be encouraged to strive for those goals with you. For example, ‘For the next eight weeks we are going to be working on leg strength’. Each week you would make mention of the timeframe and goal you have set for any new members and try to draw them into the experience. Alternatively, you could educate a participant to take a week off or take a lighter class for a week, when you know they have been attending your higher intensity class repeatedly for a while.


When programming periodisation you can involve people in the process, or you can keep it as part of your behind-the-scenes magic. Either way, by sticking to tried and tested progressive overload principles you will help to reduce risk of injury and burnout, and create highly rewarding experiences for clients and participants.



Vanessa Leone

A movement therapist and industry consultant, Vanessa’s purpose is to help people find betterment in their lives. She works with clients to achieve this through education, movement analysis, injury rehabilitation, fitness and strength gains, skill acquisition and behaviour coaching. / /



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