Fitness Programming – A 5D Approach

number five

Most personal trainers cover 4 of the 5 dimensions of fitness programming – muscular strength, endurance, cardiorespiratory fitness, and flexibility. But, are rest days part of your fitness formula?

Rest is Crucial to Progress

The tough work, the “tearing down”, occurs during a tough workout. A client’s physical systems are challenged in new and progressive ways. The repair work, “the rebuilding”, is done during rest – both active and passive rest.

During rest and recovery (sleep), the body goes into overdrive to repair torn tissue (a natural result from a challenging resistance workout), synthesize new proteins to increase muscular strength, remove waste, and help the body prepare for the next workout. Without planned and encouraged rest days, the body won’t successfully recover and, therefore, progress to the next desired level of physical fitness.

The 5 Dimensions of Fitness Programming

Creating a comprehensive workout plan is a 5- dimensional activity – one that considers and respects the components of muscular endurance, muscular strength, the cardiorespiratory system, flexibility, AND rest/sleep.

Overall, the goal is to create balance within a program and to do so in a way that meets the needs of each individual client. Part of finding that balance is establishing active rest days and encouraging clients to focus on and intuitively connect with their sleep habits and patterns.

What do rest days look like?

Rest days will look different for each client. Consider your clients’ needs, likes and dislikes when offering ideas for rest day programming. It’s best practice to encourage both active rest days (light activity) and monitor clients’ sleep quality and quantity.

Active rest is a low-intensity and low volume workout. Like any aspect of fitness programming, it’s not a one-size-fits-all formula. The number and type of active rest days included in a client’s workout program will vary based on the client and his or her current goals and fitness level.

For example, a highly trained client might need one to two active rest days a week that involve hiking, yoga, or light swimming-type activities.

A client who is less trained and has a lower level of physical capacity may require more active rest days in a given week. Activities for this type of client might include a brisk walk on non-training days, playing with his or her children, or golfing (walking not riding in a cart).

The goal of any active rest and recovery day is to leave your client feeling energized, not spent or exhausted. Active rest is well-earned and a crucial part of enhancing one’s fitness levels.

What’s sleep got to do with it?

The magic happens during sleeping hours. Sleep is the one time that our bodies are “off duty” from the day to day demands. The body uses this time to “clean house” and make repairs and facilitate growth and change. If a client isn’t sleeping enough or the sleep a client is getting isn’t quality, it’s likely he or she won’t see further progress toward fitness goals.

True, personal trainers are not sleep coaches. We are also not sleep experts, but sleep is a necessary component to overall health and quality of life. In fact, quality sleep may just be the missing link between where a client currently is and where he or she wants to be. Just as we plan to reassess client progress at regular intervals, include an evaluation of their sleep.

Evaluating sleep doesn’t need to be in depth or complex – stay within your scope. You can do this by asking

  • “How are you sleeping at night?”
  • “Do you feel rested upon waking?”
  • “Do you find yourself feeling tired during the day?”

These types of questions can help you and your clients identify patterns and, therefore, find solutions to bridge the gaps.

Rest is indispensable and often overlooked. The next time you are crafting a workout program for your clients, schedule days for active rest and be ever mindful of how sleep (or a lack of) will impact goal attainment.


Dr. Erin Nitschke, NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Health Coach, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Therapeutic Exercise Specialist, and Pn1 is a health and human performance college professor, fitness blogger, mother, and passionate fitness professional. She has over 15 years of experience in the fitness industry and college instruction. Erin believes in the power of a holistic approach to healthy living. She loves encouraging her clients and students to develop body harmony by teaching focused skill development and lifestyle balance. Erin is also the Director of Educational Partnerships & Programs for the NFPT. Erin is an editorial author for ACE, IDEA, The Sheridan Press, and the Casper Star Tribune. Visit her personal blog at