Understanding The Training Process

Author - Stephen Griffith C.S.C.S. 


Emily and Kate were coworkers in a nearby finance firm. The hours were long, the work was hectic, and after a few months they noticed the toll it had taken. They felt weak and sluggish, there bodies had grown in all the wrong places, and there dissatisfaction grew with it. Finally they decided it was time to hit the gym and make a change.  

In three months time, Emily dropped 4 inches off her waist, lost her goal of 10 pounds and increased both her strength and muscle tone. As a trainer,  these are the transformations that make waking up at 5 am worth it. Kate however did not see any change in her appearance. I chose this story because both women came to the gym 2-3 times a week and faced similar work constraints. It begs the question - why did one see great results while the other did not?

The reason for the difference wasn't due to a lack of effort,  but a lack of direction. 

Kate's typical week involved signing up for group fitness classes - on days Kate couldn’t attend a class she branched out on her own. She meandered around the gym usually going from one cardio machine to the next. 

Emily wanted to achieve her goals but acknowledged that she didn’t actually know how, so she invested in a trainer to guide her. Her trainer took her through the stages of the training process.  

The process began by making a plan. The two of them defined Emily's goals, and went through a series of fitness assessments to identify any limitations or areas of need.


With the goal always in mind, Emily was set up with a training program that addressed her needs.  Over the next few months Emily built a solid foundation of movement and as she became proficient with exercises her trainer would then make adjustments so she remained challenged. After 3 months Emily’s relationship with her mirror was repaired.

The difference was that Emily trained while Kate exercised.

Exercise is done in the moment. In and of itself it leads only to momentary benefits; a quick rush and a nice sweat. Gym-goers, in the beginning, will see slight changes in their physical appearance and strength with any exercise regime but eventually progress stalls leaving the person feeling stuck and frustrated.

In contrast, training is structured and purposeful. When you train, every workout and exercise serves the purpose of helping you achieve your goal.  Each workout is connected, building off the last and preparing you for the next in the same way a staircase takes you from one floor to the next.


Not everyone has the money for a personal trainer. However, the process used to achieve results can and should be used by everyone. In this article, I aim going to show you where to get started and what to expect along the way.  To do this we will go through the three main phases of training that a person starting off will go through.


Foundation Phase

The foundation phase is the first and most important phase of any training program.  

“Done correctly, it sets the stage for a lifetime of proper training habits, long term progress, and athletic achievement far above what would be possible without it,"  - Practical Programming for Strength Training - Mark Rippetoe  

The foundation phase has two parts. First is gathering information to create a training program. Second is executing the program.

A training program bridges the gap between present you and future you.  Planning starts  by defining your goals,  figuring out your starting point and then creating a plan that gets you from point A to point B.

A glimpse into the process.



  1. Goal setting - Finding what you are looking to achieve.

    1. SMART Goals: Goal should be  - Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Timely

    2. Common goal categories : Fatloss, Strength,  Hypertrophy, Health  & Movement, Performance.

  2. Finding a starting point - below are factors that will be identified. Each factor plays a key role in determining what an effective training plan looks like for an individual.

    1. Nutrition (diet, caloric intake, macro nutrients, food quality)

    2. Movement (mobility, coordination, stability)

    3. Skill Level  (Novice, Intermediate, Advanced)

    4. Current Fitness (strength, speed, endurance etc.)

    5. Potential Challenges (lack of time, money, work schedule, getting motivated, eating right etc.)

    6. Availability to train (How many times a week, for how long, Equipment available etc. ) 

    7. Mental Status (Are you ready, willing, able for each of the given task?) 

    8. *This list is not exhaustive. Many other factors could play a role in how your program is designed; such factors might include commitment level, personal preference, and equipment

Principles of Training -The keys to a successful training program

Programming - This is where we bridge the gap between current you and future you. Using the information gathered above we can map out a plan specific to your needs and goals.

The end result is a training program individualized to your current needs, specific to your goals and which progresses over time until you reach your goal.

Your job now is to simply follow the plan. 


As simple as following the plan…

If lack of planning is mistake #1 then mistake #2 is not sticking to the plan.

One reason it’s hard to stick to a program is because whatever program your on now has to compete with the large ocean of flashy workout programs and grandiose claims of overnight success.

The exercise program your not doing always looks more appealing than the one you are.

One way to help stick to a program is to make sure you have realistic expectations of what to expect. Jumping into a program with unrealistic expectations or an overzealous attitude can leave you feeling impatient when the program doesn't yield those immediate results.

That feeling of impatience often leads to skipping ahead or skipping around to other programs. You have to trust the process.

Like many task, success depends on mastering the basics before moving on to the "fun" stuff. Failing to address the fundamentals first will compromise your results, and exacerbate any muscle imbalances you may have. Long term you risk injury or damage. 


The foundation phase is where we prepare the body to handle the greater work and intensity to come later. The goal at this time should be to developing efficient movement and addressing physical limitations such as mobility, joint stability, and muscle imbalances. It’s not always fun, and it’s not always the sweat dripping exhaustion we expect of a ‘good’ workout but it is necessary.

Remain consistent, diligent, and most of all patient.

A good foundation phase starts with learning how to move properly. A good starting place are the fundamental movements patterns. These movements form the foundation for all the more complex exercises you often see on youtube or TV. Mastering the movements means cutting down learning time when you progress into harder exercises. For example, if you can master the basics of a Body weight squat, then you’ll be able to quickly learn how to do all of the other cool variations - goblet squat, front squat, back squat, jump squat, zercher squat ect.

All the basic movements such as squatting, hinging, pulling, and pushing are performed with compound exercises. Compound Exercises use multiple joints, large amounts of muscle mass, and require coordination of the body. Think of these as your big money exercises providing the most benefit for your time and effort.

Exercises that fall into these movement patterns include the squat, deadlift, bench press,  overhead press, pullup, pushup, and row. Each exercise requires practice for you to receive the full benefit of them.  

To learn more about choosing the best exercises 

How to choose the best exercises


The first 4-6 weeks of a program are usually reserved for building this foundation. This entails learning how to move and preparing your muscles and joints for the stresses that lay ahead.  

During this time you can expect to see significant gains in strength.  However these gains will come primarily from your body learning how to properly recruit and coordinate the muscle as opposed to changes in the muscle itself.  So don't feel discouraged if your body isn’t changing as quickly as you’d like - that will come in the next phase. 

Aesthetic changes during this time are due to diet more so than the workouts. So get your diet in order.  

Patience is key during this phase. Learn the movements, build your discipline,  get your diet on track and begin forming good habits. Don’t skip ahead before you're ready and don’t get caught doing too much, too soon before your body can handle it.

“If you don’t have time to do something right, When will you have time to do it again?” -UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden


Developmental Phase

The foundation phase can range in length based on a person’s starting point. My clients often reach the developmental phase after 4-8 weeks of training.  During the developmental phase, the pace picks up. There is less time spent learning movements and more time spent performing and refining them.

It’s a time to ingrain those movement patterns until their automatic.  The developmental phase also prepares you for the volume and intensity that is performed during the results phase.  

Aesthetically this is when you can expect to see your body begin to change. With the rapid strength gains exhausted during the foundation phase the body now must make structural changes such as adding new muscle mass to meet the demands of the workouts.


Desired Results


I like to categorize the phases as your need phases and want phases. To get to what you want, you have to do what you need. The foundation and developmental phases are your need phases. They are the phases in the process where you take care needs such as, proper exercise selection, habits, nutrition, correcting imbalances and, learning proper technique.

The desired results phase is the product of that early foundation. You began your journey with an idea, a goal, an ideal vision of yourself. This is the part where you realize that vision. Workouts are higher in intensity, density, and volume. In the developmental phase you may have noticed changes;  The results phase is when others start to take notice.

I often fine this occurs after about 8+ weeks of training. Many programs you find online are often designed to be 12 - 16 weeks long because its after that 8 week mark when the results start to become noticeable.

This timeline is just an estimation. It may vary based on your starting point. I've worked with clients who have picked up on exercises rapidly and were able to progress quicker. I've also worked with elderly or injured clients who have taken months to get past that foundation phase. Take as much time as you need, just keep moving forward. 


The content of this article is a message I drill to my clients and athletes: Reaching your goals requires dedicated work; It requires a plan that is specific, structured, and purposeful. 

You need to train for a goal and you need to understand that training is a process that shouldnt be skipped or accelerated because you want to get to the fun stuff. 

Make a plan, understand why, understand what to expect, and then stick with the process.


Stephen Griffith