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Neighbors of Kane County

The Secret Ingredient for Better Workouts

By Richard J. Wolff, RDN 

In a world plagued by chronic illness, the promise of strength training is a vibrant, disease free life.  As good as this sounds many adults still avoid strength training.  A common barrier is the lack of knowledge required to strength train.  Walk into any fitness center and this becomes immediately obvious.  It’s normal to see people using equipment improperly and performing exercises incorrectly.  It goes without saying, if you want the benefits, you need to do things right.  However, this is easier said than done when it comes to strength training.  

When you evaluate the past two decades of strength training research, one thing stands out.  Health benefits increase when strength workouts are supervised.  Hundreds, if not thousands of scientists have led studies where the subjects were supervised.  When studies conclude, it’s common for scientists to debate whether results can be sustained in an unsupervised environment.  In my opinion, they can’t!  I say this not because I’m pessimistic, but because I’ve seen what happens with our clients when they are not supervised.  The overwhelming majority don’t strength train, and those that do, aren’t as consistent.  This is by no means a character flaw, it’s just easier to skip workouts when you’re not being supervised.  It’s also easier to not push yourself, despite the fact that high levels of effort are necessary to maximize health benefits.   

Turns out, supervision is the “Secret Ingredient” for strength training!  Supervised workouts are simply easier to comply with and more effective!  A landmark 2017 study published in BioMed Research International measured the effects of supervised strength training against unsupervised strength training (working out on your own).  The study examined effects of a progressive, high effort, strength training program over six months in older adults.  After six months of supervision, researchers reported that high intensity strength training is well tolerated and effective at improving strength, body composition, function, and well-being in older adults. 

In contrast, unsupervised strength training provided no benefits.  That’s right, no benefits! In other words, those that trained on their own experienced the same outcomes as those that stopped strength training.  This is a wakeup call for older adults training in unsupervised environments.  The authors of this study attribute the lack of benefits to the reduced effort that’s common in unsupervised workouts. 

In recent years, scientists have also begun studying strength training supervision ratios.  Supervision ratios measure the number of participants to trainers.  A supervision ration of 4:1 is four participants (i.e., clients) per trainer.  At the 2018 REC (Resistance Exercise Conference), Dr. James Fisher reported on three studies linking favorable results to fewer participants per trainer (i.e., 4 clients per trainer versus 10 clients per trainer).  Dr. Fisher attributes the greater results to the higher level of effort associated with lower supervision ratios (i.e., clients work harder when they receive more coaching).  Supervision ratios greater than 4:1 could potentially reduce coaching effectiveness and workout benefits.           

Lower supervision ratios (fewer clients per trainer) provide more effective coaching and workout customization.  Appointment-based programs offer optimized supervision ratios (1-2 clients per trainer).  During appointment-based workouts clients typically receive individualized coaching, and targeted workouts that lead to greater overall results!   

MEDFITNESS is a strength training studio that specializes in efficient workouts. 


1. BioMed Research International. Volume 2017, Article ID 2541090, 14 pages

2. Arthur Jones; Exercise Science Pioneer, An Evaluation of Principles. James Fisher, Ph.D. 2018, REC Conference, Minneapolis, MN.

3. Reach New Customers by Providing Small Group Strength Training at Any Time, Richard J Wolff, RDN. Club Industry, August 2016. 

Source: Richard Wolff , a regular contributor to Neighbors Media, is founder and owner of MedFitness, St. Charles, a strength training studio that specializes in on-demand personal training.