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'Holistic' Session Delivery

Its 'personal' first and 'training' second. Delivering great value to your clients each and every session requires you to consider all of your clients systems...not just their muscles!

There is a fundamental concept that all trainers need to understand; personal training deals primarily with ‘people’ first then ‘training’ second.  As such it bridges across all systems of the person and is therefore ‘holistic’ in nature.personal training holistic session

Humans have several systems that collaborate to ‘run’ the body.  They are loosely described as follows;

The limbic system – the brain and nerves
The endocrine system – the gut, viscera and hormones
The musculoskeletal system – the bones, muscles and connective tissues

These systems are described ‘separately’ at times but they all interact moment by moment.  They communicate as one complete system that makes up the control and response mechanism in the human organism.

As such, if you stress one system that stress will be translated into another system.  An example would be that if I stressed your limbic system by screaming at you your muscles would tighten up.  Another example is if you had just snapped your achillies tendon and were going into shock you’d be anxious, fearful (both limbic system) and likely you’d not want to eat due to the stress (an endocrine response).

So these systems within the human organism interact.  A ‘stressor’ in one system has an influence in another system.  Likewise a lowering of ‘stress’ in one system improves the health of the whole body.  This is where we get the cross-over benefits of exercise (at the right volume) into the other areas.  For example, the research showing that attention and mental performance is better in those who are regularly active.

Now let’s have a look at a diagram that will show you these systems alongside one another and in each I’m going to put some examples of the stressors that can occur.

Limbic (brain and nerves)

Endocrine (gut, viscera and hormones)

Musculoskeletal (bones, muscles and connective tissues)











High sugar

Low sugar

High fat


Illicit drugs


Bacterial infection

Viral infection





Muscle tension

Postural misalignment

Joint pain / disease


Given any client on any day can turn up with a mix of these things going on you can understand why your session design and delivery must be both well structured and planned, but also flexible.  You will need to accommodate the clients ‘state’ at the time they arrive so that you don’t introduce too much stress in their musculoskeletal system given their overall condition.

personal training stressedHere’s why.  When you stress an organism you create a stress response.  The stress response is a physical and mental ‘gearing up’ to take on the challenge that has presented itself.  By ‘gearing up’ and completing the task that is stressful the organism can improve through adaptation.  An example is with exercise.  You go through the physical challenge of exercise and you get stronger, fitter, faster etc depending on the type of physical stress you were exposed to.

This is a good stress response if it’s managed but only if it’s managed in context – that is if the exercise delivered is done so with the whole person in mind.  An example, now let’s say your client turns up and they are going through a lot of relationship stress, they are very anxious, they have been drinking at nights to cope and using coffee to keep themselves going in the day.  They no longer cut their lunch but eat on the run and that means high fat, high sugar right now.  They are taking in the same amount of water but urinating more due to the caffeine and alcohol (both diuretics).  They have been taking anti-depressants too on a prescription as they are trying to cope.  They are also experiencing, fear, depression, loneliness and anger.  What shape should your session take now?  Should you just deliver what you did previously?female trainer with obese client

The answer is no.  The key with good personal training is to concentrate on the human in front of you and show due care, empathy and understanding – certainly NOT the "yell at your client and punish them" approach that is unfortunately all too popular on the mainstream media. 

Because personal trainers work with people, often several days a week for up to an hour at a time, we have a massive opportunity to help de-stress them and provide positive/good stress (eustress they call it). personal training happy clients

This process of de-stressing the systems and introducing just the right amount of positive physical stress is how you improve the wellness of clients every time they see you.  It’s exactly why ‘effective exercise’ is only one part of three in session delivery.  The other two ‘emotionally pleasing’ and ‘experientially rewarding’ are equally important as they speak to the whole person.

When you look at the ‘treatment’ or ‘interventions’ that people receive to help them with different types of stressors it is typically ‘system centred’.  If you feel depressed, you see a psychiatrist or psychologist.  If you have a cold (viral infection) you go to the doctor and usually end up with anti-biotics or cold-relief pills.  If you have tight muscles you might see a massage therapist or if you have an injured muscle you might see a physiotherapist. 

Here’s a summary of some of the practitioners working in each area

Limbic (brain and nerves)

Endocrine (gut, viscera and hormones)

Musculoskeletal (bones, muscles and connective tissues)











Massage therapist





All of these practitioners deal with just one system usually.  The good ones will deal with two or more.  They charge more per hour than personal trainers and usually have government funding to support their practises.  It is our view that personal trainers can provide significant week to week stress management support through their interactions and conditioning of a client.  They can, and do, provide opportunities for clients to unload limbic stress, change habits that are producing endocrine stress and undertake physical stress that is tailored and causes safe responses given their overall condition.  Personal training, when delivered well, is possibly the single best investment in long-term wellness and health any individual can make.

Session delivery and the practise of ‘looking after’ your client therefore should consider and provide improvements for the limbic, endocrine and musculoskeletal systems.

This means when you look at the session delivery template and the general practises we suggest throughout the session delivery frameworks pages that you should consider how they affect client stress and therefore wellness.  You should also reassure yourself of the value of personal training for clients. personal training smiley face

Providing space for clients to share their limbic stress through discussion with you, discuss and improve their nutritional behaviours, and experience the joy of engaging in pleasing and rewarding exercise experiences with a purpose is holistic and highly valuable.  If you want to be significant and have a purpose in your career – try giving people more life in their years and more years in their life.  It is addictive!


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