Official Website of Sarah E. Rippel, BS, CPT, FMS

-“Thinking Outside the Box”: Program Design-

Before I get to writing, I just want to say “THANK YOU” to all those who have checked out the new issue of TRAINER NATION!!!!  If you haven’t seen it yet, shame on you! 🙂  Tons of people have already read it, and i’ve gotten some great reviews!  You won’t be disappointed!  

With that being said, on with today’s post!

I recently responded to a thread on the Super-Trainer Forums, in which a trainer said:

“Ok so i feel i can always design programs which are fun, however it never goes a stray to have a resource to get exercises from… i was just reading the TRAINERNATION e-magazine and found some fun and exciting exercises that i never had thought of. There was a fair few plyometric drills and other activities in the home trainers tool box section…. So now i am wondering if there is any resource out there that you may have come across which has helped you in your program design? Whether it be an online resource or a book from the library, i’m all for new exercise… anyone??”

Since I am the author of the “home trainer’s tool box” article that was mentioned, I wanted to offer my $0.02!  So, here’s what I wrote:


I have a TON of books…wow…I like to pick what I feel is the “best” from the “best” out there. I also like to put my own “spin” on things, so my clients’ workouts are fresh and fun  Over the past four years or so, i’ve really been able to put together my own “system”, so to speak, which is a fusion of several different approaches. I am a big fan of JC Santana, and he’s got an excellent book on program design that should give you some new ideas (The Essence of Program Design). 

A great way to “think outside the box” when it comes to exercises is to do this:
1. Make a list of the “basic” movement patterns (ie – push, pull, squat, bend, etc). You can break down push and pull into horizontal and vertical.
2. For each category, make a list of “basic” exercises (ie – for horizontal push, you could say: push-up, bench press, etc)
3. For each exercise, think of ways you can “tweak” it to create different exercises (ie – change the stance, equipment, angle, limb involvement, etc)
4. Come up with an exercise that fits into each “tweak” category (ie – change of stance for a push-up might be staggered hands, equipment used might be hands on dumbbells, angle change might be placing feet on bench, limb involvement might be a one-arm push-up…yeah, I know, that last one is a little far-reaching, but…) 

When you sit down and begin to look at things this way, you will be able to build a “list” of exercises! Also, you can use this type of thinking to come up with exercises specific to your client!

Here are two examples of how i’ve put my “spin” on basic total-body exercises. 

The first is what I call as “Unveven Pushup Plank with Rotational Knee Drive.”  Here i’ve taken a basic Pushup Plank (what most call a “high plank”) and made it more “fun” by adding the knee drive.  In addition, i’ve thrown in rotation with the knee drive, which makes it more challenging.  Obviously i’ve made this exercise even more unique by using the bleachers.  What I found to be really great about this particular variation is the fact that the non-moving leg must really work to maintain proper stabilization, while the moving leg “drives” the rotation.  Also, you’ll notice that the opposite shoulder girdle and hip are the one’s in charge of stabilizing the body.  These hurt!

The second exercise i’ve put my “spin” on is a Reverse Bridge.  I’ve taken this static position and added a knee drive to it, thus making it an “Unveven Reverse Bridge with Knee Drive.”  What’s going on here is dynamic stabilization!  The posterior chain is tested, and the non-moving hip is really getting challenged.  I must add that these are much easier to do with the feet in a lower position (as in the video)!  This is a great progression to work up to doing the same movement on the floor.


6 responses

  1. Sarah, your article was TOP-NOTCH!

    February 25, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    • Thanks, John! I feel the same way about yours! …and the entire magazine, for that matter! 🙂 It feels good to be a part of it! I love to write and I love the fact that through the magazine, and through this blog, i’m able to contribute my $0.02!

      February 25, 2009 at 4:10 pm

  2. DDRdiva

    John, thanks for the magazine; great stuff as usual.
    Sarah, what do you think of going “outside the box” when it comes to kettlebells? As you know, they’re the next big thing and we’re seeing group instructors putting out DVDs that rankle the “purists” to say the least. I completely agree that a tool is just a tool and the bottom line is to get off your bottom and move, but with kettlebells, some folks go to extremes to be different…I think you know what I mean! Where should the line be drawn? I gotta admit, some of the dances with kettlebells look fun, but I don’t know how to separate genuine safety concerns from the, ya know, us-vs.-them drama.

    February 26, 2009 at 11:14 am

    • Wow…great question! 🙂

      I feel that kettlebells are another tool, and because of this, there are endless possibilities for exercise variations. I give kudos to those who are innovative BUT I do not agree with SOME of the new stuff i’ve been seeing (such as Kettlenetics, KettleWorx, etc). Not saying ALL of it isn’t my cup of tea, because I haven’t sat down and gone through the new stuff in depth. I have gotten glimpses of it and it’s been enough for me to disregard it and continue what i’m doing.

      Let me preface this by saying that i’m with you – I am all for people getting off their butts and MOVING! Movement is what it’s all about, and if a certain program or DVD gets a person excited about exercise, then that’s awesome!

      With that being said, I am not one of the kettlebell purists who just does kettlebells at the exclusion of any other forms of training. Y’all know this already! I feel no one training tool is supreme. There are many out there who put the kettlebell up on a pedestal and worship Pavel, etc. I’m not one of those types. I LOVE kettlebells but I have found a way to work them into my clients’ programs as well as my own, without excluding everything else. I think the purists do scoff at these “new” kettlebell workouts because they feel THEIR way is the ONLY way. This, my friends, is a cult-like mentality that does nothing but create separatism within the fitness industry. I don’t like it one bit.

      Why do I have a problem with the “new” stuff? I feel it’s just another way people are taking advantage of the kettlebell’s almost-overnight blowup in popularity, and people are just trying to cash in on it. I am all about being “different” and finding new and innovative ways of training, but kettlebells can be dangerous, and in uneducated hands, someone could really screw themselves up.

      Now, with a 3-4 lb kettlebell like those used in the these “new” programs, I don’t feel it would be easy to injure oneself, but…you never know. I also think some of the dancey moves using the mini-kettlebell look fun, and hey, again…if it works for someone, then that’s a good thing. What happens when semi-out-of-shape grandma thinks “hmmmm, I wonder if I can do these exercises with an 8kilo kettlebell?” Then she is performing crazy jumping lunges while swinging the thing overhead and ends up messing up her rotator cuff. That’s where I have a problem.

      The woman who created the Kettlenetics program has a dance background and she’s found a way to fuse that with kettlebell training. Kudos to her for “thinking outside the box” this way. Kudos to any fitness professional, for that matter, who takes risks and is able to get their “message” out there. I have been trying in vain to do this for most of my career, and will most likely never attain “celebrity” status (nor do I wish to) like some of these people. I just want to get my “message” out and if i’m able to help a handful of people, then i’ve done my job. I am not a sellout, nor would I ever feel good about creating and selling a book or DVD of my own that didn’t 110% reflect MY philosophy and standards.

      I have come across snippets of video from various “up and coming” DVD stars, and find it interesting that the basic techniques are badly demonstrated. For example, I have come to learn that a kettlebell overhead press is not performed like a standard “shoulder press.” In fact, and you are probably already aware of this, the overhead press isn’t really a shoulder movement, per se. There is a tremendous amount of work being done by the lat, especially on the eccentric phase of the lift. So, how come i’m seeing this movement done with the kettlebell held like a dumbbell, out to the side of the shoulder, versus starting the in rack position? I see this and immediately think “they have no clue what they are doing.” I’m not an RKC, but I do know technique and have become quite proficient at kettlebell training through my own practice and research.

      When I see sloppy technique period, I tend to write-off whoever is presenting it…it doesn’t matter if it’s dumbbells, bodyweight, stability balls, you name it. If I see a “fitness professional” going through exercises (with the goal of instructing others) with poor form, I am appalled, first, and then get a bit mad at the fact that they are even putting that kinda stuff out there. The trainer side of my brain goes “how dare they?” The business side of my brain goes “how dare they make money off that crap?”

      The ability for people to blindly follow gurus in our society has always scared me, for I have always tended to be off in my own little corner doing my own thing, while the majority follows the herd. There are so many egos in this industry that it’s pretty ridiculous. I’ll continue to take a back seat and let them duke it out, while the rest of us are entertained.

      Yours in Health,
      Sarah E. Rippel

      PS – by the way, I am going to use your question and my response as a blog post! Thank you! You got me on my soapbox and I kinda like doing that from time to time! 😀

      February 26, 2009 at 12:21 pm

  3. JMJ

    Sarah-still using those worn out ol’ bleachers?! Ha. Just kidding. I guess you haven’t made your way into the LSU stadium yet.

    February 28, 2009 at 11:04 am

    • LOL!!!!!! 😀 Thanks for reminding me that I still need to look into that! My LSU-fanatic friends and clients would LOVE video of me working out in Tiger Stadium, so I need to get on that! I’ll even go visit Mike the Tiger in his swanky million-dollar “home”…they built this fancy “cage” for him a couple of years ago. LSU fans are “out of the box”!!!!

      February 28, 2009 at 11:59 am

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