With many gyms around the world still closed and with the possibility of gyms closing again even if they reopen, many trainers have had to learn how to train clients without a gym, either face to face or online.
Although outdoor or home training can be fun and offer a new and novel training stimulus and environment, it can get old very quickly when trainers run out of options to give to their clients.
There are only so many with exercises one can do when training limited equipment and load. As a result, trainers need to get very creative with their exercise selection and the loading methods that they employ when training their clients outside of the gym.
The biggest challenge most trainers face when designing outdoor training programs for their clients is progressing the intensity of the workouts.
When you are limited in load and exercise selection one exercise with your bodyweight may be too easy while another exercise is too difficult. Or if you have adjustable dumbbells that only go up to a certain weight such as 10kg, then there is only so much you can progress the weight itself.
This is where trainers can employ a variety of loading modalities to help their clients progress the intensity of their workouts by making certain exercises easier, and other exercises more difficult!
This is a good strategy if someone doesn’t have sufficient strength to perform a movement. It could be used for basic exercises like dips and chin-ups, or more advanced exercises like single-leg squats and Nordic leg curls. To put it simply, it involves performing only the eccentric or lowering phase of an exercise, in a controlled manner. Since you are stronger eccentrically, this method enables you to perform exercises that you would not normally be able to do. As your eccentric strength increases and you can perform more eccentric reps, your concentric strength will also increase, and eventually you will be able to perform full reps.
Isotension involves isometrically contracting a muscle while performing an exercise so that you are generating an internal as well as external torque. An example would be performing a push up while trying to squeeze the floor together with your hands which will create internal torque on the pecs. Since there is no limit to how much isometric tension you can generate, this method will allow you to fatigue very quickly using only limited weight. Another example would be trying to perform pull ups while spreading the bar apart.
This method involves performing a full repetition of an exercise followed by a quarter repetition in the weakest position of the exercise. Typically for exercises like lateral raises this would be at the top of the movement, while for exercises like split squats or push ups it would be at the bottom of the movement. By performing a quarter rep in the weakest position of an exercise after each full rep, you are spending more time at that point in the strength curve where a muscle is under greater tension, thus making the exercise much more difficult!
Similar to one and one quarter reps, paused reps involve pausing at the weakest position of an exercise for a couple of seconds, before completing the rep. By pausing in the weakest position, again you are spending more time at that point in the strength curve where a muscle is under greater tension, and we are making the exercise more difficult. Paused reps are preferable to one and one quarter reps for beginners because they require less neuromuscular coordination.
Agonist supersets and even tri–sets involves performing two or more exercises in a row for the same muscle group with limited rest in between. The limited rest between exercises causes metabolites to build up in the muscle, which brings on muscle failure prematurely due to metabolic fatigue. This is very beneficial in this circumstance because it allows you to fully exhaust all the motor units within a muscle group with limited load. The latest research shows that for muscle growth the load is much less important than we previously believed (1). As long as you fatigue the muscle thoroughly, it doesn’t matter that much how you get there.
Blood flow restricted (BFR) training is another method using low-load resistance exercise that has been shown to induce similar gains in muscular strength and hypertrophy as using moderate-to-high-load resistance exercise (2). BFR training works by applying external pressure cuffs over the most proximal parts of your limbs such as the arms or legs which causes occlusion or blockage of venous outflow. This causes the pooling of blood and metabolites within the muscle and rapid accumulation of metabolic fatigue, even with minimal loads.
As you can see, there are several options available for making even the most basic exercises more or less difficult, just by changing how you perform those exercises. On top of that, there is a wide variety of resistance exercises that you can perform from home using minimal equipment such as your own body weight, bands, and a set of adjustable dumbbells.
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Schoenfeld BJ, Grgic J, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Strength and Hypertrophy Adaptations Between Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. J Strength Cond Res. 2017;31(12):3508–3523. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000002200
Hwang PS, Willoughby DS. Mechanisms Behind Blood Flow-Restricted Training and its Effect Toward Muscle Growth. J Strength Cond Res. 2019;33 Suppl 1:S167–S179. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000002384
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