Bodyweight training is a great option for clients that don’t have access to a gym or have limited time. While everyone has done some sort of bodyweight training in their lifetime, the difference between just going through the motions and getting quality results lies in mastering the fundamentals. Here is how to start bodyweight training and progress it over time as laid out by fitness coaching veteran James FitzGerald.
Bodyweight training is a type of exercise in which the only resistance used is the weight of the person performing it. Bodyweight exercises are done in six movement patterns: bending, squatting, lunging, pushing, pulling, and core. The main limitations to bodyweight training are relative strength and strength endurance. Unlike training in the gym, it is tougher to introduce variability to bodyweight training because of the lack of external load.
To start bodyweight training, as with any type of training, you need to assess the capabilities of your client. Learn more about the assessment process in this blog.
Since bodyweight training is a relative strength activity it can be performed quite regularly. Most clients will benefit from alternating bodyweight training and aerobic training. On the first day of training perform full-body resistance training in the six movement patterns. On the second day do sustainable aerobic training such as walking or riding a bike.
One way to progress bodyweight training is to increase the number of repetitions over time. This is also referred to as building volume. Start with a number of repetitions you know the client can complete, as determined by the assessment. During every session have the client track how many repetitions they can complete. Asking the client to track their own progress creates personal responsibility. Then over time add more repetitions. Learn four different methods of adjusting volume in our free Program Design tools guide.
As the client builds volume in bodyweight movements the muscle, joints, and ligaments will adapt to the mechanical challenge and the limitation will become metabolic.
If a client has developed motor control and strength endurance in bodyweight activities then the next step is building dynamic contractions. These are movements done with a higher amount of speed and power. An example of this would be going from regular push-ups to clapping push-ups.
Another way to add variation to bodyweight training is to alter the tempo, the speed at which the exercise is completed. Get a detailed explanation of tempo in this blog. Bodyweight training is a good opportunity to use long eccentrics, the negative or lowering of an exercise, for example, lowering into a squat for 8 seconds.
It may be tempting to give your clients high intensity-training or HIIT-style bodyweight workouts to make them feel as though they have worked hard. However, there are negative side effects to this type of training. High-intensity training can create poor movement patterns under fatigue.This type of training will also spike cortisol, the stress hormone. While high-intensity workouts may be effective for a short period of time, prolonged exposure to cortisol can impair cognitive function, disrupt blood sugar regulation, and create poor behaviors around exercise.
The key to avoiding these negative side effects is to keep bodyweight training within your client’s capabilities and progress them gradually over time.
Bodyweight training is a great way to keep clients moving with little to no equipment. The secret to getting results from bodyweight training is to track the repetitions and add volume over time. To do this effectively you must understand what the client is currently capable of performing. Guessing will not suffice. Learn how to assess your client’s current capabilities and design a progressive training program in our free coaching course.