Qualified Personal Trainer

A Guide to the NASM Optimum Performance Training® Model

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When it comes to designing effective workout programmes for stabilisation, weight loss, power, strength, and endurance, Premier Global NASM personal trainers have a secret weapon in the Optimum Performance Training® model.

To truly know the power of the programme and get the most out of it requires earning your level 3 diploma, but this guide will give a helpful overview of each of the phases of the Model.

Jump to each navigation link and learn how each of the 5 Optimum Performance Training® Model phases corresponds to a different emphasis of exercise programming for your clients. 

  1. Phase 1: Stabilisation 
  2. Phase 2: Strength Endurance
  3. Phase 3: Hypertrophy
  4. Phase 4: Maximal Strength
  5. Phase 5: Power 

Let’s take a closer look at some of the ways you can apply each phase of the OPT™  model to your personal training.

The NASM OPT™ Model in Context: An Integrated Functional Training Model

OPT Model pyramidThe Optimum Performance Training® Model was designed by Dr. Micheal A. Clark, who is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and has worked with some of the best athletes on the planet - in their respective sports. 

With the full spectrum of athletic performance in mind, he set out to optimize the “relationship between the athlete and trainer”, and thus the model was born.

Although it has gone through many iterations since its inception, the OPT ™ model now is still the same  robust method for integrated functional training.

What is Meant by Integrated Functional Training?

In the context of the Optimum Performance Training® Model, integrated functional training means that movements are optimised through multiple exercise modalities that optimise neuromuscular stability, functional flexibility, functional strength, core stability, and reactive neuromuscular training. The purpose being to train the body for everything it’s able and meant to do.

What this ultimately means is that athletes and clients train the body’s physical capacities and abilities whether they focus on power, maximal strength, athletic performance, or strength endurance (to name just a few aspects of training. 

And after many years of optimising the model, it is now equally compatible with clients of varying athletic performance - ranging from your traditional client to an advanced athlete. 

Although a programme emphasis and outcome might change within each phase of the Model, the overall integrated training components stay the same throughout. These are:

  • Warmup
  • Stability
  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Balance
  • Power

Phase 1: Stabilisation

Stabilisation work is the foundation of the whole model.  You will spend some time in the stabilisation phase, as this will ensure you have developed proper movement patterns before moving onto the more involved stages - where intensity, volume, and velocity ramp up.

Because the model as a whole uses an integrated training approach, all exercises will still focus on the same central facets of integrated training as the other phases. The training variables will adjust though! 

Phase 1 is a great opportunity to focus on helping your clients optimise their movement with proper technique and slow, controlled reps. The focus on stabilising not only provides challenge but also creates the opportunity for clients to practice technique.

You can help clients learn the technique the right way when it comes to stabilising. Additionally, because of the neuromuscular changes being made by the body, some clients will still experience strength increases even with lighter weights.

You will be using questionnaires, fitness assessments, and preliminary warmup movements to start with any new clients you take on, so stability is a great starting point to bake into your clients’ routine. 

For example: Because you will be doing health and fitness assessments to start off - like an Overhead Squat Assessment - you have the perfect opportunity to observe specific strengths and weaknesses in your clients’ movements.

Exercise Approach During Stabilisation Training

Because the model uses integrated training, you will place a balanced emphasis on a warmup, core work, balance work, flexibility, and resistance training - all with lighter weights and high rep ranges. Training emphasis should be placed on lighter weight and longer duration reps for adequate muscle endurance.

For example, during phase 1, the range of exercises will look like this (with the exclusion of SAQ): 

  • A Warm-up - consisting of foam rolling and static stretching.
  • Core Exercises - planks or hollow body holds
  • Balance Work - single-leg balance reach, single-leg throw and catch.
  • Resistance - strength exercises that are unstable, yet controllable.

Don’t overdo the intensity for the first sessions - for core work, warmups, balance work, and resistance training. Start slowly with stabilisation work! 

A client’s intensity range is 50% - 70% of their one repetition maximum. So, nothing too heavy. You want clients to safely perform movements for at least 12 reps without compromising form. 

This means doing 1-3 sets of 12-20 reps, depending on what you find during your initial fitness assessments. The tempo should be slow and controlled during stabilisation. Generally a 4 second eccentric, a 2 second isometric, and then a 1 second concentric.

And again, make sure you are doing foam rolling or static stretching at the very least before you move onto any resistance work during the 1st phase.

Planks for a Stable Core

man doing a side plank

To bring some more context, let’s look at 3 quick plank variations you can do during Phase 1 (to cover core work). After all, planks - and their many variations - can do wonders for laying a stable foundation for a client. These isometric movements are a great addition to any stabilisation workout.  

Try one (just one to start during the initial workouts!) of these plank variations for a great core workout for your clients:

  • Spider Plank - in a traditional plank form,  have your client bring their knee to their elbows.
  • Foot Lift - Do a regular plank but bring the feet closer together and lift one leg and hold for a few seconds. Alternate legs!
  • Side Plank - Target the obliques with this side variation of the standard plank. Be sure your client stays tight and squeezes the gluteals. 

An Example Workout from the First Phase:

To design a truly effective first workout during the stabilisation phase, you can actually utilise a TRX workout, if you have the equipment and clients who are willing!

This workout can also be utilised without TRX equipment, as the rep ranges are consistent during the first phase. But be sure to adjust it to the fitness level of your client!

Start with core/balance work!

  1. Start by warming up with foam rolling, static stretching, or light cardio.
  2. Do 2 sets of 12 Floor Bridges.
  3. Do 2 sets of 12 Tube Walks.
  4. Planks for 30 controlled seconds. Do 2 sets!
  5. Single-leg balance for 2 sets of 30 seconds. 

Finish with resistance training!

  1. 2 sets of 12 TRX overhead squats.
  2. 2 sets of 12 TRX pushups
  3. 2 sets of 12 TRX bicep curls, shoulder flys, tricep extensions, and assisted lunges. 

This is a challenging workout, so make sure your clients can maintain technique and posture throughout each set.

Phase 2: Strength Endurance 

Although the first phase can also be considered a great phase for weight loss (over strength training specifically), the second phase of the OPT™  Model can be effective for clients who want to burn calories. Or for those who are not specifically wanting to gain significant muscle mass.

This phase will continue our focus on an integrated approach, which means an incorporation of stability, strength, flexibility, and balance work for adequate injury prevention.

This phase focuses on strength and endurance, which means that repetitions stay high, but the intensity also increases to result in a higher expenditure of energy. This will increase metabolism and help your clients shed weight.

So, if you are wanting to design a programme for weight loss, you will want to spend a considerable amount of time in the Strength Endurance phase. 

But in addition to weight loss, the second phase is the logical progression from the stabilisation phase and into an intermediate intensity range of workouts.

Let’s look at some of the details!

Volume and Intensity Needed for Strength Endurance

To get the best strength endurance results for your clients, keep reps high and up the intensity. For volume, this means your clients will be doing multiple sets of 8-12 reps, that are super-setted to get the necessary endurance work in. The intensity will increase to 70% - 80% of a one-rep-max as well to ensure a challenging enough workout.

Cardio can also begin using intervals by this phase. An example includes 1-minute work intervals followed by 3-minute rest intervals for a total of 30 minutes!

Supersets: The Secret Weapon of Phase 2

To achieve the best of both strength and endurance requires fashioning supersets within each programme. To utilise supersets correctly requires back-to-back sets of two mechanically similar exercises - With the first one focusing on strength followed by another focusing on stability.

For example: The first exercise would be a resistance-based exercise at 70%-80% one-rep max - usually a compound movement like a press, squat, or  dumbbell row - and the second a similar exercise with stabilisation as the focal point of the movement.

  • A squat ---> followed by a balancing lunge
  • A bench press set ---> followed by a set of TRX push ups
  • A heavier dumbbell row set ---> followed by unstable cable rows.

Example Superset Workout for Phase 2

Here is a simple total-body superset workout you can modify to fit the specific needs of your clients.

  1. Squat to press as the first set ---> 8 reps at 2/0/2 tempo at 80% 1 rep max.
  2. Follow up with a single leg scaption for 12 reps with a 4/2/1 tempo.

Here is a video demonstration of the single leg scaption for the proper application of the movement:

 

Note! tempo is broken down by seconds in this order: eccentric/isometric/concentric/. 

So a 2/0/2 tempo would be 2 seconds in the eccentric, 0 in the isometric, and 2 in the concentric. 

The success of the movements largely rely on how closely your clients follow the correct tempos, so be sure to cue them accordingly!

Breaking it all down

And here is a video breaking down a core superset you can try with clients - to really hit it home on supersets:

 

Important note about strength endurance workouts:

Returning to the weight loss benefits of supersets, they have the added benefit of increasing lean body mass by increasing the resting metabolic rate of your clients.

Another important thing to communicate to your clients is that strength endurance will not cause any unwanted muscle mass.

Or in other words, if your clients are wanting to lose weight, they can rest assured that the added strength training of the second phase (provided their nutrition aligns with their goals) won’t lead to unwanted bulkiness!

Phase 3: Hypertrophy

bench-press(1)

If your clients want to build strength as well as noticeably get larger muscles, Phase 3 is the place to do so. During the hypertrophy phase of the OPT™ Model, your clients’ programming will shift to more intense weight ranges to ensure that enough weight is being lifted for proper hypertrophy.

Keep in mind that the 3rd phase of the OPT is not strictly for bodybuilders or those who are really serious about gaining muscle. All aspects of hypertrophy can be modified to reflect any fitness goal.

To achieve hypertrophy means creating programming for your clients to impose sufficient muscular stress. Too much weight and too little reps will result in an increased emphasis on strength over hypertrophy.

Let’s explore a little more!

What is Hypertrophy?

According to the NASM guide to bodybuilding, to understand the process behind hypertrophy, you need to briefly understand 4 training principles of building muscle:

    1. Specificity - this means that movements and stimuli must be specifically catered to hypertrophy
    2. Overload - for any muscle to substantially grow, it must be overloaded with progressively larger (or more intense) weight to cause an increase in muscle growth.
    3. Adaptation - given enough time, stimuli, and period of rest, the body will adapt to meet the increased demands and grow accordingly.
    4. Reversibility - the body and muscles will, after time, return to a previous state of muscle growth if the stimulus is consistently stopped for long enough. 

Sample Hypertrophy Workout

Achieving hypertrophy will mean performing resistance movements - which will be where the adaptation occurs - for 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps per muscle group.

All of this should be done at 75%-85% of your clients’ one rep maxes. And all after an adequate warm up period.

Here’s a sample workout split your client could perform on a regular basis and under your expert guidance. 

RESISTANCE - horizontal loading Sets Reps Tempo Rest
Chest
  • Barbell Bench Press
  • Standing Cable Fly
3-5 6-12 Controlled 1-2min
Shoulders
  • Seated Barbell Shoulder Press
  • Standing Upright Barbell Row
3-5 6-12 Controlled 1-2min
Triceps
  • Standing Tricep Cable Extensions
  • Bent-over Single-arm Tricep Extensions
3-5 6-12 Controlled 1-2min

Phase 4: Maximal Strength 

Maximal strength, which is the 4th phase of the OPT™  Mode, is similar to hypertrophy in programming, but it focuses on higher intensity with lower reps per set.

So, this means that one of the largest differences between maximal strength and hypertrophy is in the amount of reps and sets: A maximal strength set will have fewer repetitions but more sets. The reason for this is because the load is higher. Whereas a hypertrophy set will be higher repetitions and lower sets.

Where specificity is concerned, movements are geared towards maximising strength over any noticeable gains in muscle growth (hypertrophy).

Here is a difference between the two in programming, if you want a quick snapshot.

hypertrophy versus maximal strength chart

What is Maximal Strength?

Maximal strength is defined as the largest force a muscle can produce in a single voluntary effort (2). This is best represented through a one-rep max of a compound movement like the squat, deadlift, or bench press. Maximal strength is then relative to the 1rm percentage of your clients and dwells within higher intensity efforts.

To achieve true strength training requires consistent neuromuscular adaptation (3). With the brain being so closely linked to physical performance, adequate neuromuscular communication is a key aim for strength training. This requires significant overloading through regular, intense loads of weight (relatively speaking).  

Phase 5 - Power

woman sprinting with explosive speedTo achieve power, according to the 5th and final phase of the OPT™  model, means to shoot for explosiveness in your movements. Power is defined as achieving the greatest muscular force in the shortest amount of time (2).

This phase will be geared more towards sports performance and the highest performing athletes, so not all of your clients will find this phase relevant. Yet, it can be modified and made to fit any power or sports performance goals your clients may have. 

Although it may be traditionally used more for athletes, every client can use some form of power training in their routine, so Phase 5 can be modified for the non-athlete.

The power phase is similar to the max strength portion of the OPT model (4th phase) with an added superset between max strength lifts (4).

This video from NASM is an amazing resource for understanding the Power phase:

Power Superset Examples:

A great workout for building power and explosiveness in the power phase can be any of your phase 4 routines (maximal strength) with an added superset. This is based on the principle of post-activation potentiation, where you are creating the potential to neuromuscularly activate type-2 muscle fibers.

For example:

  • Add a superset of squat jumps immediately following a max strength set of squats (6 sets of 1rm)
  • After a set of max strength leg presses, adding a set of sprints

The point being that you are activating muscle fibers post-maximal lifts with quick, explosive exercises! 

Concluding Thoughts

In summary, the Optimum Performance Training® Model is a powerful workout programming tool you will become familiar with during your studies and personal training work as a Premier Global NASM trainer

The overall model itself, although it ramps up in power and intensity, was designed so that you can cycle through it again if need be. The beauty of the model itself is its flexible design, so all you need to do is follow it and make minor modifications based on the fitness levels of the individuals you train!

References: 

  1. Schoenfeld B, Sutton BG. NASM’s Guide to Bodybuilding, 1st ed. Assessment Technologies Institute, LLC; 2013
  2. NASM Study Guide - https://www.nasm.org/docs/PDF/nasm-cpt-website-exam_study_final.pdf
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22642686
  4. NASM Podcast episode 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myXHt_lAooE&t
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3164001/
  6. CPT Basics: Stabilization Endurance - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5hC2hJE5OM0   

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