The Art of the Trial Session

TAGS: ultimate workout, trial sessions, connor flahive, building athletic strength, training clients

The Art of the Trial Session

Many gyms and facilities give free trial sessions to athletes in order to get them in to test drive their program. It should go without saying that this trial session has huge significance. In fact, it is the most important moment of the entire training experience. Yes, it is only one training session. Obviously, one session doesn’t make a program, but if you don’t deliver a kick-ass experience for that one session, there won't be any program.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I despise the idea of the “ultimate workout” and the even worse idea that one good workout can make or break a program. A program needs to be long term with proper planning to ensure consistent development. But you have to keep one thing in mind—there won't be any properly planned program with logical progressions to ensure long-term development if the athletes don’t come back after the first trial session!

I learned this the hard way. In the beginning, I wanted my trial sessions to be absolutely perfect. I wanted to take the time to teach the intricacies of the movements so that the athletes got it right from the beginning. I spent more time teaching than they did working. This was a huge mistake.

Originally, my trial sessions reflected my overall training philosophy—multiplanar, multijoint movements progressed logically to produce performance based long-term athletic development (LTAD). But because the athletes were so untrained and had no idea what a good repetition looked like or felt like, the trial became all teaching. It was boring for the athletes, and there wasn’t a lot of hard work taking place. So I had to get off my perfect LTAD high horse and produce one workout that made it worth coming back. I realized that I couldn’t change a young athlete’s life if he didn't come back.

My experience

I had a group of high school football players come in for a free trial workout. They played for one of the best high schools in the state. Despite being from a state powerhouse, their lifting technique was horrible. With this in mind, I took my time teaching and correcting them. By the time we were finished, I cleaned up some of the major flaws they had, but they didn’t get much of a “workout.”

The athletes didn’t care that I had fixed their technique and that they’d be able to squat safely and efficiently. According to them, the workout was too easy. Because of this, I never saw them again. So after taking the time to teach them, I lost my chance to continue to work with them. But I did learn something extremely valuable—the trial session must serve as a selling point. It's a one-time shot to sell the athlete on the fact that you can provide the “ultimate program.”

I hated the idea of selling. I hated the idea of one workout representing my program, and I hated the idea of making an athlete puke because of a workout. But it's a necessary evil. If you want to ever have the chance to show them your true program and truly help the person, you must deliver the ultimate experience the first time they train in your facility. By the end of the trial session, you must have done enough that they truly believe your program is the ultimate way to help them become the ultimate athlete.

With everything on television and YouTube—World’s Strongest Man, Crossfit Games, and even the Biggest Loser—the perception of training has become some crazy workout that leaves you puking, and if you don’t puke, you haven’t done enough. If you don’t leave the training session crawling out of the gym, it wasn’t a good workout.

I’m completely against having people vomit during or because of a workout. There isn't any point to it. But don’t be naive. If you don’t deliver this hellish workout, you’re out. If there is ever a time and place for the "pukeish" feeling, it’s the trial session.

Sell them what they want; give them what they need

Trials don’t have to completely reflect your training program as a whole. Remember, the purpose of it is to sell them your training services. You have to deliver something that will test them physically and mentally. Unless your reputation speaks for itself, you must prove yourself during the trial session each and every time.

Some keys to help

Choose the right progression for the given athlete and train them hard! It’s all about easy to learn and easy to perform in the trial session. Find out their training experience and use the warm up to gauge their readiness.

Here are some guidelines that I use:

  1. Start with some type of jumping or speed exercise. I use line jumps for inexperienced young athletes and box jumps for experienced high school athletes. It’s all about jumping and speed nowadays. Unless they see that you can help them with speed and agility, they won’t get the ultimate experience.
  2. Use the hardest push-up variation (that the athlete is able to perform) for upper body training for young athletes.Stick with single leg variations for lower body training for young athletes. Unless they have some experience, it takes time to learn bilateral movements such as squats and deadlifts, but they can pick up split squats or lunges in a matter of seconds.
  3. Use a heavy dose of push-ups and pull-ups for young athletes. If they can’t perform them correctly, isometric holds or negatives work wonders.
  4. Use the trap bar deadlift for lower body training and the floor press for upper body training for experienced high school athletes. These are easier to learn and use.
  5. Use sleds, sleds, and more sleds.
  6. Finish with something fun. Tennis ball reaction drills are one of my favorite for young athletes. You can use different types of starts—prone and supine ground starts, half kneeling starts, jump back starts, and mountain climbers. For older athletes, we always end with some type of sled push or drag whether it's a relay race, head to head race, or the occasional Prowler® suicide.
  7. Use your best piece(s) of equipment.
  8. Make it competitive. Athletes love to compete, so let them! It will also make for a great atmosphere.
  9. Crank the tunes!

Again, I hate the idea of making a workout tough just for the sake of making it tough. One workout doesn't make a program, but if this one workout doesn’t exceed expectations, there won't be any program. You must go above and beyond with this workout. If you want to convert the athlete into a long-term athlete, you have to bring it!

Sell them what they want, and give them what they need. Supplying this “ultimate workout” and selling them on what they think they want isn't wrong or dishonest—it's a necessary evil. Following the trial session, you can implement your program (what they actually need) and develop them into a superior, well-rounded athlete.

Loading Comments... Loading Comments...