The Value of Supervised Exercise

The Value of Supervised Exercise

We live in a world in which we seek professional advice in almost every facet of our lives. We have our insurance person, our dentist, our hair stylist, our lawyer, our tax person, our financial person, our IT person, our mechanic, our chiropractor, our handy person, our doctor, etc, etc. When it comes to hiring these professional services, we rarely even think twice (which is generally a good thing). However, all to often when it comes to resistance exercise, we hesitate to make the investment and assume we can accomplish the desired results on our own. Occasionally, we will surrender this stubbornness and hire an exercise professional, but reluctantly say things like  “I just want to learn how to do this on my own” or “I am just trying this for a little bit.” Ironically, the same individuals will be the first to admit the complexity of exercises and challenges faced when attempting to do it on their own.

There are many issues with this approach to resistance exercise from lack of knowledge of the complex machine that is the human body to the misunderstanding (or misguidance) of how to create a sustainable regimen, and of course, the thousands of perpetual myths that now exist because of the aforementioned issues. However, the single biggest issue with trying to traverse a resistance exercise prescription on our own is the absence of proper supervision.

When we analyze the research on this topic over the last few decades, we quickly see that benefits of resistance exercise are increased when supervision is increased. In 2017, a study published in BioMed Research International investigated performing supervised resistance exercise (working out with an exercise professional) versus unsupervised resistance exercise (working out on your own). The study examined the effects of a progressive, high effort, resistance exercise program over six months in older adults. After six months of supervision, researchers reported that high intensity resistance exercise is effective at improving strength, body composition, function, and well-being in older adults. However, unsupervised resistance exercise yielded no benefits. Put otherwise, performing resistance exercise on your own was equivalent to not performing resistance exercise at all. The drastic differences were associated with the low level of effort that is commonly seen when supervision is eliminated. We simply do not work as hard when we are not supervised.

Recently, scientists have begun to explore the ratio of supervision (number of trainees to trainers) and its correlation to benefits received from resistance exercise. The preponderance of research suggests that as we improve the ratio of supervision (1:1 compared to 3:1 for example) we see a direct increase in benefits received. Researchers have attributed this to the increased level of coaching that can be given to each trainee with a small ratio. The more coaching we receive, the harder we tend to work and thus the better results we receive.

As we consider the topic of supervision and incorporating it into our own workout routine the evidence is clear in two areas:

1) If we want to see results from resistance exercise we need to train with an exercise professional. Supervised vs. unsupervised training will always lead to better results. Period. This becomes even more pertinent as we age.

2) Consider adding one on ones into your workout routine. Results from resistance exercise improve as the amount of coaching we receive improves. Thus, a smaller trainee to trainer ratio tends to lead to better results.


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

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

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