By Doug Balzarini
What’s your favorite piece of fitness equipment? Over the years I’ve been asked that question many times and over the years my answer has changed many times. Give me a bar and a couple plates and we’ve got the best, foundational movements available with deadlifts, squats, presses, and pulls. Give me a medicine ball and a wall and we are set for an explosive and challenging hour. Give me a TRX and I’m good to go for a demanding full-body workout that incorporates strength, endurance, balance, stability, and flexibility. These are all great tools; tools that I definitely use every week with all of my athletes and clients.
Today I’d like to update my answer – My favorite “piece” of equipment is my own body.
I’m definitely one who loves to utilize the latest and greatest equipment out there today. I love attending tradeshows to see what the new hot pieces are. I think it’s important to continue to challenge and improve our bodies in new ways. I think it is more important to make sure we are healthy and efficient moving in an unloaded environment first. We all have enough weight on our bodies to stimulate our muscles and our mind to work harder and get stronger.
One important, yet simple, question to consider when training a client or creating a program for someone is, “Why are they doing this exercise”? You should be able to support every exercise you have someone do and explain why that particular exercise is helping that individual get better and achieve his/her goal.
Let’s recap a typical day for the majority of the population…the “desk jockey”.
7:00am SIT DOWN for breakfast
8:00am SIT DOWN in their car to commute to work
8:30am After the Starbucks drive thru (Walk into the store? Please…), they arrive at work and SIT DOWN at their desk for the next 7-8 hours
*Let’s assume that over the next 8 hours they may stand a couple times to visit the copy machine, fax machine, vending machine, restroom (to sit some more), etc.
5:00pm Leave work and SIT DOWN to drive to the gym for the evening workout.
At this point their hip flexors, pecs, and anterior shoulder muscles are tight, and their gluteals are inactive. Their scapulae are stuck in protraction…we have your common upper-cross and lower-cross syndromes occurring. Why in the world would we have them come in to our facility and sit them down?! Why would we put them on a seated bench press machine for 4 sets and super-set it with some “6-pack toning” abdominal crunches? Unless we are incahoots with the local Physical Therapist, it’s just an unhealthy idea. We are providing our clients a disservice and, in the long run, doing them more harm than good. I’m definitely not saying that we shouldn’t bench and crunch (Well, I might be saying no crunches but that’s a discussion for another time), but I am saying that if you do have a client bench press; remember the question – why are they doing this exercise?
This typical client is a big reason as to why my favorite piece of equipment is my own body. So many clients today are walking into gyms and fitness centers with muscle imbalances and injuries. We need to “re-train” and “re-groove” a lot of their movement patterns with bodyweight exercises and corrective movements to reeducate them before we start to load them.
Everyone is unique; their goals, strengths, weaknesses, imbalances, etc. are all different. This is the reason why cookie-cutter programs are not very effective. Many of my new clients wonder when they are going to sit on the leg extension machine so they can rep out some isolated knee extensions or sit on the pec-deck machine and pump their chest. These STDs (Selectorized Training Devices) are not going to be included in the program I develop for 99% of my clients. Bodyweight movements, however, will be included in 100% of my client’s programs. Your typical client trains with you 3 hours a week, which means there are 165 hours they are not with you. Based on this limited time together we need to make sure we are helping them as best we can. We want them to be able to perform their activities of daily living effectively and pain free. Isolating the quadriceps in a seated position is not going to achieve these goals.
What about progressions
After I explain to clients the reasoning and benefits of bodyweight training (especially in the beginning), I typically hear that they won’t get a challenging workout without using equipment…”But I won’t get any stronger”, or “I’ve always used weights before so I won’t be working my muscles hard enough with just bodyweight”. Once the client realizes how demanding bodyweight movements and progressions can be, their questions and comments are quickly answered. There are many ways to incorporate progressions in bodyweight movements. Here are a few suggestions:
- Changing Angles – Elevating your feet in a traditional pushup will increase the percentage of bodyweight that you are pushing away from the floor.
- Stability – Changing your base of support from a wide stance to a narrow stance will increase the balance challenge.
- Plyometrics – Adding an explosive movement to an exercise will increase the demand. An example is a jump squat vs. regular squat.
- Single Leg – Anytime we go from 2 legs to 1 we incorporate a balance component. This is helpful in recruiting stabilizing muscles throughout the leg.
I should mention that for many individuals, especially those new to exercise, an extended dynamic-warm up (movement prep & muscle activation sections shown below) will be an adequate workout for the first few sessions.
Here’s a sample training session – 6 sections
A. Movement prep (5 to 10 minutes)
Movement: knee hugs, quad stretches, cradle walks, hamstring kicks, lateral lunges, butt-kickers, high knee runs, lateral shuffles, karaokas, skips
Stationary: 4-part squat to stands, jumping jacks, seal jacks, flings, gate swings, and balance reaches
B. Muscle activation (5 minutes)
Bridges (2-leg and 1-leg), side-lying ABD/ADD work, hamstring kicks, prone W-Y-T raises, bird-dogs, cats & dogs
C. Power/Plyo (2-3 minutes)
Perform all three movements for 2 sets
Burpees (10 reps), Jump squats (10 reps), Skater plyos (20 reps)
D. Resistance Training (15-20 minutes)
*Perform all 7 movements for 3 sets. For beginners, keep your rep range between 8-12.
*They can be performed in a circuit for an increased cardiovascular challenge.
- Reverse lunges
- Pushup variation
- Lateral lunges
- Elevated bridges
- Balance reaches
- Side planks
E. ESD-Energy System Development (15-20 minutes)
Hill Repeats: Find a local hill that takes 30-45 seconds to run to the top. Perform 10-12 runs. Walk down between every set for recovery.
Mixed Sprint Work: Locate some local landmarks (Telephone poles, city blocks, street signs, mailboxes, etc.). Sprint to a landmark and notice your time. Double that time for your recovery period. Repeat 10-12 intervals with this 1:2 work to rest ratio.
F. Flexibility (10 minutes)
*Flexibility is one of the most overlooked aspects of fitness. Take the time to stretch at the end of every session to aid in recovery and help reduce the chance of injury. Our “Flexibility for Performance” DVD provides great stretches for the entire body.
*Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds
- Seated hamstring stretch
- ADD/ABD stretch
- Butterfly (groin) stretch
- 90/90 stretch
- Pigeon pose
- Downward dog
- Standing side bends
- Standing neck stretches
You can see in this 60-minute sample routine that we only used one piece of equipment. I should also mention that “it” is easy to transport, there is no assembly required, and it’s so versatile that you can use it anywhere – your house, your yard, the gym, a neighborhood park…you get the idea.
There are a great number of variations to just about every exercise included in this sample workout. When it comes to using only your body, you are only limited by your creativity. Now tell me; what’s your favorite piece of equipment?
Doug Balzarini is a Massachusetts native, earned his Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science with a minor in Business Management from Westfield State College. Since moving to San Diego he has completed some graduate work in Biomechanics at SDSU, obtained an ACE Personal Trainer certification, the NSCA-CSCS certification, a Spinning certification, TRX instructor training, EFI Gravity instructor training, FMS training, and received CPR/AED instructor status. Prior to working with Todd Durkin Enterprises (TDE) and Fitness Quest 10, Doug worked for the American Council on Exercise as the Continuing Education Coordinator where he was responsible for managing over 400 continuing education providers. As Director of Operations for TDE, Doug is responsible for assisting current and potential clients determine what fitness and wellness programs would best suit their event’s needs.