I am of the firm belief that almost every exercise has a rightful place in a client’s strength routine. If not to keep your client’s happy, but to keep you mentally sane after the 400th bench press of the day. Some of my clients are convinced I am making exercises up as I go and most of the time they are right! Exercise diversity is important for client progression and for avoiding plateaus. It can sometimes be difficult to decide if body weight or weight training is the right way to start a strength routine. Both body weight and strength exercises have their benefits and disadvantages when trying to increase a client’s performance. Here's how it breaks down...
Benefits of Body Weight
There are numerous benefits to doing body weight exercises and quite frankly they are my go to for new clients. I always have new clients go through a variety of body weight exercises during our initial consult. This allows me to assess form, mobility, balance and joint pain with the client being none the wiser. Another obvious benefit of body weight exercises is that they can conveniently be done anywhere with NO equipment.
Body weight exercises are best for beginners, allow clients to work on technique, great for joint stabilization, aide with balance and can teach body awareness. Many core exercises are basically a body weight exercise and you can’t get more fundamental than a plank. Even advanced yoga and power yoga include many different body weight exercises. I’ve said it many times before, but the four best exercises are the deadlift, squat, pullup and pushup. Four great exercises that all have body weight variations.
There are a few downsides to body weight exercises that I feel the need to mention. Although there is no equipment necessary, progression tends to be limited with body weight exercises. Once you have mastered the body weight squat, there isn’t much after that unless you want to do 100 reps, which can be an “ouchie” for the knees. A single leg squat could be a logical progression. However, this exercise is more complicated and may be too much of a jump after a simple body weight squat.
Pullups and pushups are often difficult body weight exercises for many clients to master. If anything, I have client’s work backwards starting on machines before progressing to these two exercises. Another thing to consider is that clients may not fully understand your body weight plan. Many clients feel that they aren’t doing anything unless they are throwing some iron around.
Add a little weight
There are a variety of situations where body weight exercises may not be the best place to start a client. In addition, more advanced exercises such as squats and deadlifts need a little weight to help que form. Ever asked a client to squat and it seems like they are break dancing rather than squatting? Then, throw a body bar across their shoulders, ask them to front squat and half those awkward moves disappear? Sometimes the body needs some added weight to do what it naturally knows how to do.
I like to find out my client’s hobbies so I can tailor their strength routine to meet their extracurricular needs. For example, avid gardeners need a strong back so deadlifts are a must. Adding weight to movements your clients do during their hobbies will improve their performance and keep them injury free.
Another thing to consider is that body weight exercises often times require clients to accumulate reps in order to see progression. More reps can be less productive than added weight for fewer reps. I would never have a client do hundreds of pushups when 3 sets of 10 reps with a decent weight would suffice. Overuse injuries tend to increase as repetitions increase. Also, weighted exercises may be easier to modify for clients especially when it comes to pullups. We’ve all had that client that can’t do a pullup or can only knock-out one rep. We would obviously start them out with lat pulldowns and assisted pullups in the hopes of progressing them to additional pullups.