By Rick Richey
The OPT Model, or Optimum Performance Training Model, is a fitness training system developed by NASM. The OPT Model is based on scientific evidence and principles that progresses an individual through five training phases: stabilization endurance, strength endurance, hypertrophy, maximal strength and power.
In the inaugural episode of the NASM-CPT Podcast, host Rick Richey walks through exactly what the OPT model is, how it’s used and why it’s beneficial for trainers of all levels who want to help their clients.
With this easy-to-use model, you’ll be able to help clients achieve their fitness goals, no matter their age or athletic ability – from beginners, to pros.
The OPT™ model – and NASM as a whole – is simply powerful.
WHAT YOU’LL LEARN:
- What exactly the OPT Model is and how to use it for programming
- An overview of the three levels of the OPT model and the phases in
WHAT IS THE OPT MODEL?
It is a model designed for athletes. But if you look at regular people, regular individuals, and you say, “Hey are you an athlete”? The answer really should be yes. It just…kind of look at, well, what level athlete are you? Are you a weekend-warrior athlete? Are you a nana? And you wanna play with your grandkids athlete, and that’s really what you’re looking to do. Are you trying to find a place in your life where you can insert exercise, so you can get outcomes that you’re looking to have. What are the results that you want? And the OPT Model is a systematic needs of periodization that allows people to progressively work towards performance-based outcomes. That’s what the OPT Model is.
Now, if we look at historically the OPT Model, there was man named Dr. Mike Clark who did this as his thesis project, and he ended up implementing it into NASM and soon became the CEO of NASM. He has recently gone on and moved on to other things like a wonderful company called Fusionetics. But the OPT Model still exists, and it’s still an integral part of NASM, and it was the… THE Model that allowed NASM to move from being kind of like the many other certifications that just provided information about exercise. Here’s some information. Well, what do I do with that information?
Well, the OPT Model was a beautiful example of what to do with that information. It took that information and says, this is how you put it into play. This is how you utilize the model in order to get that outcomes that we talked about were possible. These physiological adaptations that are out there. These morphological adaptations that are out there. These performance benefits that are out there. You can get it by implementing in this model.
So, the model is very, very helpful when it comes to programming, and I think programming is vitally important for the trainer and the coach, because a lot of times people don’t program. They just provide exercise, and there’s a big difference between providing exercises and providing a program that has a very detailed progressive means of following a system in order to receive outcomes.
Now, we look at this model, it is really the cornerstone and anchor to what we do here at NASM. It is that model of periodization. It’s the model of which we’re going to make change happen, and not get stuck in a rut, and not find that plateau. BOOM. You hit that plateau and it’s really difficult to get past it, because the problem is if you never change, you never change.
So you keep doing the same thing you’ve always been doing. You’re gonna keep getting what you’ve already got, and periodization is a means to always move into a different type of training style, a different type of training modality, that allows your body to receive something new. And when it receives something new, it has to adapt to that new thing. And what we’re looking for, is yeah, we want efficiency in our adaptions, but, in a way, we kind of also want to create inefficiencies. So if I get really good at adapting to something, then, my body is doing what it’s supposed to do. It’s adapting. But as soon as I get good at it, it stops.
Adapt anything– it’s found its peak, it’s a plateau. So you have to shift away from that. And when you come back, you can come back bigger, better, stronger, faster, whatever it is… in a more all around way. So, you’ve got cross training. You’ve got different peaks and valleys. You’ve got this macrocosm of trainings so you have these macro-cycles, and you have these micro-cycles, and you have these mesocycles and all different means of implementing training.
A PERFORMANCE-BASED MODEL
So the blueprint for programming is really our client. And our client is gonna come to us, and they’re going to seek out things, like weight loss primarily. You’re gonna see a lot of this. You’re gonna as a trainer, we know we’re gonna get people to come to us and say that we want weight loss. Well it’s not a weigh loss model. That’s not how it’s designed. It is a performance-based model.
But through this performance-based model, because of how well it’s been put together with things beyond just resistance training, it is an excellence weight loss model, but I will also note that you may want to talk about well, what is a dietary change look like for your client as well. So that one, I would direct you more to like a behavior change and a nutrition coaching certification, a fitness nutrition certification, all of which are provided by NASM, but there are means for us to go and work with a client and deal with weight loss strategy beyond the exercise strategy.
Well, do people want to get stronger? Yeah, people are gonna come and want to you, as a trainer, as a fitness professional, to get stronger. The OPT Model offers that ability. It offers that means.
So, you know, maybe your goal is to choose someone to get winded, going up and down the stairs. And it’s pretty amazing the number of people through the years that I’ve worked with who just told me that something similar to that. They were going up stairs, and they were winded, and they realized that they were out of shape, and they knew that they should be able to go up a flight of stairs without getting winded. So after I said, “Hey, maybe you should get a medical checkup first before coming to me,” then we moved on into our training.
Some people, which I love now, are looking more for longevity. They want to feel function and live better for longer, and… I think this is really a valuable topic that’s coming around, and a lot of people are focusing on longevity, especially after they move out of the younger years of life when mortality starts to sink in, that there is a day that will be coming that you’re not always going to be as fit as you currently are, or necessarily your ability to recover won’t be as fast. And so people start looking for longevity and they focus on wanting to feel better and to function better and to perform better, and that’s where this model is really going to thrive.
Now, the model is based on… I mean there are numerous possibilities, but it just depends on how you implement the model. So let’s look at this.
THE THREE LEVELS OF THE OPT MODEL
There are three levels in this model. There’s stabilization, strength, and power. And it really is going to go in order, and ideally what you’ll do is you’ll create what’s called the linear periodization where you go through one step at a time and spend some time in each of those, before you start going into an undulating periodization which is kind of bouncing in between any two or three of these levels.
So you start off with stabilization, and we’re gonna have an episode specifically on stabilization in the future, but this is really looking at stabilization and the phase that’s in there, and the thing I like about what NASM does here is that they named the level, and they named the phases out, based on the outcomes. So, stability level, what’s your outcome? Well, it’s stability.
What’s that first phase in there? It’s stabilization endurance training. So within that stability level, you’re going to be incorporating stabilization endurance training, so you’re going to work on creating stability. Stability at your lumbo-pelvic-hip complex, your core, your thoracic, your cervical spine, you shoulder, your scapula, the hip complex, foot and ankle complex which will then in turn control the knee and the direction that the knee goes.
So, having stabilization is vitally important, but also, having the endurance to support that stabilization, to have the endurance to maintain stabilization, to maintain postural alignment, to keep everything in a nice, functional position where we’re looking at things like length-tension relationships, and we look at force-coupling relationships. We look at how our body functions in different ways, and we can all see that based off of what somebody’s movement patterns are like, and we want to build stability around that, and we want people to be able to use these smaller stabilization muscles and produce forces that support that posture and the stabilization for prolong periods of time, which is what endurance training is. And then you can move on to the next level. Once you built the base, you can move on to the next level.
That next level is the strength training level. And strength training level is going to have three phases in it. Now, when I first started training, there was only strength training level. That’s all that it existed. I remember working out. I was in college with my buddy Bart, and we were doing three sets of ten of everything, everything in life was three sets of ten. Three sets. You know what a periodization was? After months of working out, Bart comes in and he goes, “Rick, we’ll switch it up today man”. I said, “What, what are we gonna do bro”? He said, “We gonna do…” and he held up four fingers. Four. “We gonna do four sets”. And I was like, “Pshhh, yo Bart you were blowing my mind right now”. No doubt I was really sore for several days, because I added that extra set to my three sets of ten.
But when you look at something like this performance training model, switching between three and four sets of ten, that’s all within one phase, within one level of an OPT Model with still numerous variables to still go in between and to alter during this acute phase of training. So, what we’re looking at here, when we get into the strength level, there are three phases.
So phase one is in the stability level. Phase two, three, and four are in the strength level. So phase two is strength endurance training. So what you’re doing is you’re adding strength and endurance. So remember, they’re named after their outcomes, so the outcome is going to be both strength and endurance. That’s what you’re gonna get from doing this. And that’s… that’s gonna be a super set. It’s a super set with a… An unstable exercise whether that’s a push-up where you have to control your core. It might be a push-up with your feet on a stability ball. It might be a single-arm dumbbell chest press that creates instability. It might be single leg squats or a lounge to balance, but it’s something that’s gonna create instability.
All the exercises that would be in that phase one stability training, but now you start implementing that into phase two, and you create super set where you do that stabilization exercise, and you super set that with a strength training equivalent. So what that might be is… I worked with a guy, and he didn’t want to do stabilization training. My man just wanted do strength training. And I get it bro. I get it. You wanna lift big, I get it. But what I did, I said, “You wanna work with me, let’s go ahead”, and so I put him in phase two training, because he didn’t wanna do phase one.
So phase two is kind of the best of both worlds. It’s half of what he wanted and half of what I wanted for him, and what based on his assessment certainly was needed.
So I said, “Why don’t you pick. You pick an exercise”. So he picked bench press, of course. And so I was like, “Alright, cool. I’m gonna have you do a stability ball push-up first”. And we’re gonna do something, you know it’s all… How do I get people to buy into what I’m saying without really lying to them. I didn’t wanna lie, so I created this statement, I said, “We’re gonna do something called preexhaustion. So I’m just gonna exhaust your muscles a little bit before we do the lift”. And so… I said, “This is gonna be called a warm-up”. We’re not really exhausting. So we give one warm up exercise, and just have them do a set up push ups on the stability ball. Now, what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna do that strength training exercise, and we’re gonna super set it with stability exercise. So we’re gonna do strength training exercise, super set with a stability exercise. They say that backwards earlier? Well this is the right way.
Strength training as I did, strength training and you’re gonna super set it with a stabilization equivalent. So, we have him do is bench press, and then we had him do push ups on a stability ball. Well we couldn’t really get very far in that. He got about three reps, based on tempo, and again, like tempo slower on this, it’s a 2-0-2 tempo when you do the bench press, it’s a 3-2-1 tempo when you do the stability ball push up, so they’re slower than most. So we’re working on strength and hello, endurance. So we’re slowing the tempo down a little bit. And then, you know once that instability really kicked in, he looked like he was driving on an icy road when he was doing a push up on a stability ball, I mean he was all over, wiggle waggle.
So after three reps, because his body started really loosing its kinetic chain alignment, we took the ball, and we pushed it against the bench. So now the ball is more stable. The ball is still an unstable surface, but now it’s against the bench press’s bench, so it is now been stabilized. He was able to get about three more reps and then we moved the ball out of the way, put his hands on the bench from the bench press, had him do several more repetitions, and then finally we finished out with his twelfth repetition all the way to twelve repetition with him straddling the bench with his legs and doing his push ups with his hands on the bar that we did bench press with.
After he was done, I said “Cool, 60 seconds break, and then we’ll do it again”. And he was like, “What”? And I said, “Look man, we’re gonna take the ball out of it. We’re just gonna do a push up on the bench, but you still gonna keep your strength training exercise, and you’re super set it with a stability exercise”. And he bought in completely. He was really interested in the program, and he knew based off of how he was feeling that he was getting a good work out. It was metabolically demanding. He was sweating; But is he also getting the strength that he was hoping to get out of it? Yeah. I mean based on his time under tension, he’s getting a lot of manual work coming out of this. But he’s also able to get the endurance component of it that based on his assessment when I worked with him, that I was… I absolutely in favor of him, thought when this guy desperately needs this in order to really progress where he wants to go with his strength training.
The next phase is hypertrophy training. Well, obviously this is probably where this guy wanted to start with. Hypertrophy training was that three sets of ten, that my man, Bart and I were working on, but so is four sets of ten. And you’re looking at this set rep range, it’s very typical for body builders and it’s kind of changed in the last several years fortunately, that if you said, “Hey, what do you do when I was growing up, when I was in college, how many… How do you work out? It’s three sets of ten for everybody”. Bro, it didn’t matter. It matter who came into you, and they say, “Oh, my low back hurts”. They were like, “Alright, cool. Three sets of ten bench press, that’s should help”. “Oh man, my neck hurts”. “Cool, three sets of ten with our squats, and you should be good”. “Um, I wanna play with my grandchildren”. “Alright Nanna, three sets of ten”. So everything being three sets of ten is really old school thinking, but it had it’s place because it’s got its root in hypertrophy training. It’s very good for hypertrophy training. It’s just part of the system that’s offered there.
Now, hypertrophy training is what we called optional for performance training. So if you want to be a high-level performer in athletics, hypertrophy training may or may not be indicated for you. You may not need to get bigger muscles in order to perform better. In some instances, if you, obviously if you’re doing weight classes, and you need to cut weight, then hypertrophy training is not for you. But also, what tends to happen is people that are playing sports, hypertrophy training can slow people down. They can weigh them down a little bit more. And if you’re looking for rate of force production, how fast you can move, or you’re looking not to athwart some skillsets since you’ve already put into place, hypertrophy training may not be indicated. It just may not. It may be highly indicated, but we look at this as an optional component for our performance based training, cause it depends on your sport and what you’re doing.
Phase four, still under the strength training umbrella here in the level of strength training, we have max strength training. That’s how much you can lift. How much you can lift? So, when we look at max strength training, you’re looking for one to five repetitions, no super sets here. It’s just lifting heavy as fast as you can. Now when you lift something for three repetitions, as fast as you can? That’s not very fast. So you’re lifting as fast as you can, but you’re not focusing at a pause on the bottom or a pause on the top. You’re focusing on how quickly you can lower down and lift up and still be in control. And that’s vitally important to recall, still be in control so people start to lose form, if people’s technique starts to go out the window, that’s when we gotta stop it.
Alright, so always protecting the individual, protecting their body, maintaining excellent structural alignment and neuromuscular efficiency. So max strength is optional, and it’s optional for a couple of reasons. If you’re on speed, max strength is incredibly important in order to help you facilitate how fast you’re going to be to lifting. If you want to be stronger, obviously max strength is the way to play. But, we also have max strength components in the power phase of the OPT Model.
So when you go to the power phase, there’s gonna be a super set between a max strength lift, and something that you move incredibly fast, explosively. So what you might have is a traditional squat, and you would super set that, and it’ll be one to five repetitions in the power phase. Remember anytime you go from one level to the next, that’s gonna be a super set. And there’s one level in the power phase called the power phase, and you would super set that squat, with may a… squat jump or a box jump up or a box jump down. Alright, tuck jumps. Alright, you gonna add in something that’s bio-mechanically similar to that squat, and that’s based off a principle called post activation potentiation .
And that post activation potentiation, it really has a lot to do with your muscle fibers. And so what you’re doing is you’re creating through your max strength lift, increasing the potential to neuro-muscularly activate these type II muscles fibers and then, these fibers work best with both heavy weights and fast speeds. So you’re gonna do a heavy weight, and then you’re gonna super set it with as fast of a lighter weight that you can do and produce these forces. So it’s post activation with a heavy lift to increase your potentiation, or your potential, to produce forces quickly in the super set. So that is the power phase.