Lead Story: Help Clients Spring Into Cardio—Both In and Beyond Your Sessions


Help Clients Spring Into Cardio—Both In and Beyond Your Sessions

Spring is the perfect time to get clients out of the gym and into a new cardio routine. “I look at cardio on a bigger scale than many trainers,” says Bryan Vahjen, NASM Master Trainer and Senior Program Advisor. “I often assign homework in the gym, but I also encourage people to get outside to hike, bike, run, kayak. I like to find cardio people enjoy. We live in Arizona, where there are so many great ways to enjoy cardio!”

Vahjen is well aware, though, that a personal trainer’s time with clients is limited, so carving out even a few minutes for cardio can prove challenging. “Don’t look at [it] as your client cheating on you with another exercise modality,” he says. “It is an important part of fitness programming.”

Here are a few of Vahjen’s suggestions for working cardio into clients’ programs:

Sneak it into intervals. “I incorporate high-intensity cardio intervals into traditional resistance training routines,” he says. “These cardio bouts can be challenging but short in duration—about 30–60 seconds.” What’s more, high-intensity intervals will burn a great number of calories, he adds, and a large portion will come from fat, not just carbohydrate. “Do it consistently, and body composition will improve.”

Assign it as homework. “My first goal for general health for clients in regard to cardio programming is 150 minutes a week—or five 30-minute sessions a week,” says Vahjen. “But it can be very challenging to fit that into one-on-one time.” His solution is to task clients with doing cardio on their own, and he says it’s a great way to perpetuate healthy behaviors in clients. “I only have the luxury of seeing clients three or so times a week, so I am always asking myself, ‘What other opportunities do I have to draw them into a healthy lifestyle?’”

Make it a side goal. “Many times, I build programs for clients who have outdoor cardio goals,” says Vahjen. For instance, along with a client’s main weight loss goal in preparation for a wedding, he might encourage the client to work toward completing a 5K or trail ride. “I do about 20 bike races a year,” he adds. “It allows you to check out different parts of the world. I even did a 4-day race in Baja, Mexico, where you ride on the cliffs overlooking the ocean!”

Use it to assess and inspire. Conducting consistent assessments provides additional data for tracking a client’s progress. Vahjen suggests adopting the YMCA 3-Minute Step Test and the Rockport Walk Test, both of which are described in NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training (Jones & Bartlett Learning 2018).

“Sometimes body fat measurements don’t tell the whole story,” he says. “If a client has a flat [fat loss] measurement but is able to complete way more work in their cardio session than they could 2 weeks ago, that is an opportunity to celebrate their success and keep them engaged.”

Go along for the ride. “When I can, I enjoy a good cardio session with clients,” says Vahjen. “It keeps them engaged, and they feel like it’s a celebrity workout. Cardio with friends is always easier!”


Last November, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released an update to its physical activity guidelines—about a decade after the first edition was produced. Chances are you haven’t gotten to read the whole guidebook, which spans 118 pages.

Fitness professionals using the NASM Optimum Performance Training™ model may already be on point with many of these “new” recommendations. A good example, says NASM Product Manager Ian Montel, MS, NASM-CPT, CES, PES, involves the guidelines for older adults. “This group is now encouraged to use a multifaceted approach to their physical activity, with a focus on balance training for better stabilization and avoidance of falls,” he explains. Chapter 10 of NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training provides programming guidance on balance training, including appropriate progressions and regressions, using the NASM OPT™ model.

Below are some additional highlights Montel says may be of interest:

The minimum of 10 minutes per bout of exercise has been removed. Any amount of physical activity is now viewed as preferable to no physical activity.

The update acknowledges a broader range of exercise-related health benefits. New research has led HHS to include additional immediate perks (better sleep, lower blood pressure, less anxiety) as well as new long-term benefits—specifically, reduced risks of excessive weight gain, injuries from falls, dementia and eight types of cancer.

Pregnant women have the same exercise goals as other adults, unless directed otherwise by their doctor. Exercise may also be effective in reducing symptoms of postpartum depression.

Specific guidelines for preschool-aged children have been added. Kids aged 3–5 are encouraged to engage in a variety of different types of physical activity throughout the day.

Bone-strengthening activities have been added to recommendations for children and adolescents. The short-term goal is to include these moves 3 days a week as part of their hour-per-day of exercise, with the long-term goal of staving off loss of bone mass later in life.

Business Builder
Get New Clients—Without Advertising

NASM Master Instructor Mallory Fox loves to get new clients, but she is not fond of traditional methods of advertising for her personal training business, Foxy Fitness, based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Instead of using conventional channels, Fox partners with local businesses—private, franchise and big-box—to create events that benefit all parties. This has involved her offering free classes at local retail stores, including lululemon, Athleta and Fleet Feet Sports™. Most of her events benefit a charity, making them win-win-win-win opportunities.

“We hosted a yoga class at Scottsdale Beer Company last Memorial Day—my husband is in the military—and we raised close to $4,000 for a military charity,” she says. “About 70 people showed up.” For that event, she donated a yoga class and raffled off some personal training sessions, the brewery offered each attendee one free beer, and businesses provided raffle donations. “I’ve had clothing stores donate a private shopping experience, where the raffle winner can invite 10 friends to join them for a yoga class and a free outfit or a percentage off the merchandise,” says Fox. Other businesses like local coffee shops and fitness facilities have gotten in on the act, too, providing gift cards or other donations.

How does this help Foxy Fitness’s bottom line? “I don’t do any advertisements for my business outside of these events and client referrals, and my schedule is always full,” says Fox. “In this day and age, that’s incredible. I’m really lucky.” (Check out her 10 tips, left.)


We asked Mallory Fox, NASM Master Instructor and owner of Foxy Fitness, what she wishes she had known when she began event planning 10 years ago. Here, her top tips:

Think about your “perfect client,” then partner with businesses that want to attract the same type of person.

Visit local businesses as a customer and get to know the people working there before you ask for something.

Offer businesses a perk for participating. For example, maybe say you’ll hold a class for their employees after hours.

Go in with a clear plan. This will make it easier for store managers to say yes. (Keep your first event simple!)
Plan 4 months in advance. Stores follow a quarterly calendar, so you need their buy-in well before the proposed event.
Start promoting the event 30 days out. Ask the participating businesses to do so as well.
Put everyone’s logos on all marketing materials, T-shirts and anything else you can.
Involve a charity. Choosing a different charitable organization each time can bring in a whole new group of people.
Ask about liability. Generally, big stores have their own waivers.
If not, use yours. Ask your carrier about adding the site as an “additional insured.”

Don’t get discouraged. It took Fox several years to get her first event off the ground, but now she holds about eight per year.

Form Fix-Up With Mike Fantigrassi: Box Jumps

One of the most common misapplications of box jumps is using them as a conditioning exercise, says Mike Fantigrassi, NASM-CPT and Master Instructor. “There are a lot of issues with that. One is that form typically begins to break down when people do them quickly. Also, people don’t pay attention to the landing, so they aren’t absorbing the force very well. That’s very stressful on the body. If you land wrong one time, you can tweak something.”

Here are his tips on making the most of this move:

Look at the launch. Squatting deeper doesn’t make you jump higher; it just slows you down. Instead, start in a quarter-squat or half-squat, at most. “Basketball players aren’t going into a full squat before a rebound. You don’t need to go low to jump high,” adds Fantigrassi.

Never “stick” the landing. When jumping back down, never land with straight legs (like gymnasts do). Keep the landing soft, allowing joints to flex slightly to absorb the impact.

Keep reps low. “The goal of box jumps is to be explosive and jump high, so each box jump is a 1-rep max,” says Fantigrassi. “There are a lot of other moves we can do that are safer and lend themselves better to repetition.” His advice: Keep box jumps to 8–12 reps with up to 60 seconds of rest in between, and give it your all during each one.


Progressing clients through this series of exercises may take some time. If a client can do 10 of a particular move while maintaining proper form, that’s a good time to increase the challenge.


  • squat on floor, body weight
  • squat on floor, loaded
  • squat jump with stabilization
  • box jump-up with stabilization
  • box jump-down with stabilization
  • box jump (jump up, step down)
  • step up on box and then jump down
  • depth jump (step off box, land with both feet and immediately “explode” into vertical jump)
  • lateral or multiplanar box jumps (any type)

Note: Lowering the height of the box is a good way to regress the box jump.

Think before you leap:

Stick with a box or other sturdy surface. Stacks of weights, weight benches and overstacked (more than two high) aerobic-exercise step platforms aren’t meant for jumping and can be unstable. Also, there’s no need to go superhigh. Generally, says Fantigrassi, when you get to this point, you’ve just turned the move into a tuck jump, where you’re pulling your knees higher—not increasing your vertical jump.

Cardio Report:
Is There Such a Thing as Too Much?

In recent years, experts have asked this question: Is there a cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) upper limit at which health perks plateau—or CRF turns harmful?

To find out, researchers from the Cleveland Clinic Foundation embarked on the largest reported cohort study of adult exercisers engaging in exercise treadmill testing (ETT), the gold standard for CRF measurement.

In the resultant report, published in JAMA Network Open, Kyle Mandsager et al. reviewed medical center ETT records for 122,007 adults from 1991 to 2014 (2018; 1 [6]: e183605). Former studies had focused largely on moderate (not elite) CRF levels and had relied largely on self-reported data, which can be unreliable.

A retrospective comparison of CRF data and age of death revealed two things: Not only was all-cause mortality inversely related to CRF at all levels of fitness, but having a low CRF was a risk factor comparable to or greater than “traditional” factors such as coronary artery disease, diabetes and smoking.


Virtual Reality Activity Feels Easier Than It Is

A recent study published in Games for Health Journal looked at the effects of active virtual reality games (AVRGs) on the VO2max of 41 healthy adults in their 20s (2018; 7 [5]). Since previous research had shown that VR use could increase exercise enjoyment and adherence, the purpose of this study was to quantify its effects on heart rate, VO2max and rating of perceived exertion.

During the study, participants engaged in three games—Thrill of the Fight (boxing), Audioshield (defending/blocking incoming orbs) and Holopoint (shooting)—for 10 minutes each with 5 minutes of rest between bouts. TOF required full-body motion, while AS and HP focused more on the upper body.

As expected, heart rate and VO2max were significantly higher during each of the games than at rest, and the more movement a game required, the greater the gains. More interesting, though, was the finding on RPE: Gamers rated VR activities as less vigorous in intensity than was indicated by VO2max and metabolic equivalents.

The researchers concluded that AVRGs may be a good solution for motivating reluctant exercisers. As specific data on METs becomes available for consumer AVRGs, fitness professionals will be able to use that information to integrate VR workouts into client programming.


In a recent study of 106 adults aged 65–75, researchers from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland tracked the effects of a 9-month period of supervised resistance training on inexperienced exercisers. Each participant was assigned to a group that trained once a week, twice a week, three times a week or not at all. Questionnaires and interviews were used at several points to gather information on exercise continuance, motivation, self-efficacy and planning.

Results reported in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports showed that adults who took part in a resistance training intervention were, at the end of the study, more intrinsically motivated to continue exercising. One year later, nearly half of these participants were still training either once a week (22%) or twice a week (24%) (2018; doi: 10.1111/sms.13236).

These results can also be motivating for trainers: The findings offer some evidence that a little guidance from a qualified fit pro can eventually lead to a love (or at least enjoyment) of exercise.

Tai Chi and Yoga for Stroke Survivors

Every 4 seconds, an American has a stroke. That equates to about 795,000 people per year, according to Stroke Facts released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( Of those people, nearly 25% have had a stroke before. For any stroke survivor, mindfulness-based interventions (which use physical movement to focus mental energy) may be a smart addition to other rehabilitation protocols.

Recently, Australian researchers conducted a scoping review of 26 studies (dated 1985–2017). The results, published in Future Neurology, noted that both yoga and tai chi may reduce high blood pressure by as much as 16/9 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury). This is important because hypertension is “the leading cause of stroke and the most significant controllable risk factor for stroke,” according to the American Stroke Association.

Further, these Eastern exercises help to improve blood lipid profiles and blood sugar levels. With high cholesterol and diabetes making the ASA’s list of risk factors for stroke, there is even more reason for sur­vivors to talk to their doctor about joining a yoga or tai chi class.

Get FIT for 5x More Weight Loss

The University of Plymouth in Australia, on its Functional Imagery Training landing page, describes FIT as a behavior change strategy “that uses mental imagery to motivate change. . . . Users have described FIT as a ‘mindset shift,’ where they exercised or ate healthily because they wanted to, rather than feeling they had to.” According to an article published by the Plymouth press office, “FIT goes one step further than [motivational interviewing], as it makes use of multisensory imagery to explore changes by teaching clients how to elicit and practice motivational imagery themselves.”

Researchers from Plymouth and Queensland University recently published results of a trial they conducted on 141 adults with a body mass index greater than or equal to 25. Each adult received 4 hours of intervention using either MI or FIT. The outcome, reported in the International Journal of Obesity, was shocking: People in the FIT group lost an average of 5 times more weight than the MI group (2018; doi:10.1038/s41366-018-0122-1).

The study’s lead researcher, Linda Solbrig, PhD, from the School of Psychology at Plymouth, describes the technique and how it emphasizes emotional and physical sensations through imagery:

“We started with taking people [through an exercise] . . . about a lemon. We asked them to imagine seeing it, touching it, juicing it, drinking the juice and [feeling] juice accidently squirting in their eye."

“From there we were able to encourage them to fully imagine and embrace their own goals. Not just, ‘Imagine how good it would be to lose weight,’ but, for example, ‘What would losing weight enable you to do that you can’t do now? What would that look/sound/smell like?’, and [we encouraged] them to use all of their senses.”

Want to give FIT a try? There’s an app for that, created by these very same researchers. The Fitz app, launched last October and now available for free on Google Play and iTunes, provides motivational guidance via a “simple chatbot.”

Meet our experts

AFM_Author_Quaglio Laura Quaglio, has more than 18 years of experience as a writer and editor for numerous magazines, books and websites on such diverse topics as wellness, nutrition, fitness, finance, after-school activities and parenting.

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