NaturalStrength.com is an online think-tank, dedicated to truthful drug-free strength training information, (weight training, weightlifting, olympic lifting, powerlifting, strongman, bodybuilding, physical culture & iron game). Good articles about strength training, strength research, the harmful effects of steroids, the mental aspects of training, and iron game - physical culture history are always wanted. Email articles to the editor: email@example.com
In setting up the program, we want to insure that the trainee benefits from the best selection of exercises and set and repetition scheme. Therefore we must be diligent in this process, and very receptive to the trainee’s specific needs, wants, and limitations. In the previous article we talked about learning about a trainees physical limitations. These are the first consideration in choosing exercises. For example, in my opinion, extremely overweight or detrained persons should not be doing free weight squats, deadlifts, bench presses, or overhead presses. Why such a harsh assessment? Not because of any problems I have with those exercises, but rather with the problems that can come about with their use by the above individuals. Obese individuals are typically “stationary”. Meaning that they rarely move around in their daily activities. Many sit at a desk all day, drive home, and sit on the couch or in an easy chair until it is time to go to bed. Their daily “motion” may be limited to trips to the bathroom or bedroom, and the necessary walking to get from one room to the next at work. Flexibility is poor, balance is poor, and strength is poor in “unused” ROM. Asking this individual to do a squat, even a “non-loaded” deep knee bend, is an exercise in futility, embarrassment, and possible injury. Better to place them in a machine exercise, with a “locked” movement and ROM, and allow them to gain strength over time, to the point that they gain the necessary strength, flexibility and confidence to do a correct squat. There is never a rush to get a severely detrained individual into free weight exercises. It is doubtful that a person 150-200 lb. overweight will be entering a powerlifting meet in the next 12 months, so don’t be in a rush to have them doing the “big three” as if they had to catch up to the competition. Rather get them “in motion” and slowly and patiently increase general conditioning, flexibility and strength to the point where you can move into compound exercises safely and comfortably.
With trainees in their mid to late 30’s and up who are not severely detrained, I find it best to begin a weight training program on machines, with some light free weight movements (curls, stiff leg deadlifts, dumbbell bench press). Many of these trainees are capable of learning and completing free weight moves very quickly, and can be moved into a more balanced routine (approx. 50% machines and 50% free weight) in several weeks. My experience has shown, however, that very few individuals who are non athletic and past the late 20’s in age can properly perform a squat or deadlift the first time in. Calf and hamstring flexibility, balance, and coordination all work against this move (and many others) in the beginning. I find it better for me and the trainee to work to some good intensity with machines, and come back afterwards to practice the squats, deadlifts, and other moves. The client is warm and loose. He or she has just “successfully” completed the primary workout and has been encouraged and complimented on their effort and performance (you do encourage don’t you?). They are in a prime place to begin to learn a new skill. These would be very light, low rep moves. Not another workout, but a skills training. This process can be a short one, lasting only a couple weeks, or it may stretch for some time with those who have poor flexibility or strength.
Some trainees may best benefit from only machines. One of my trainees is a middle-aged woman with severe rheumatoid arthritis. Due to poor flexibility and joint strength, she utilizes a “machine only” program, using the lowest possible resistance and high reps. She will use 25-30 reps on each exercise, increasing the weight by only 1 lb. per week, if she make all her reps. We must be very careful with her joints, so we err on the side of caution in everything we do. However, her strength is improving and her flexibility has increased to the point that she can utilize a Nautilus overhead press and Pullover in her workouts, where as in the beginning she had to use a broomstick for those muscle groups. She also has only 1 finger on each hand with any “gripping” ability, so machines are ideal for her situation.
In summary for that section is that trainees can benefit from the “good” free weight moves (squats, deadlift variations, bench press, overhead press, curls), and should utilize them when possible. Yet, one should not be too quick to move them into free weights if conditioning is poor to start with. If free weights are all that is available, be very conscious of limitations in strength and flexibility and be aware and alert to immediately take control of the weight, and possibly the trainee if the exercise or load proves too great for them. We must always remember that intensity is relative to the condition, abilities, and state of mind of the trainee. We should press for excellence and effort, but not at the expense of safety or common sense.
Possible beginning, intermediate, and advanced exercise selection:
Nautilus Leg Press
Nautilus Leg Curl
Nautilus Shoulder Press or manual resistance shoulder work
Skills coaching for squat and deadlift
Overhead press, dumbbell or barbell
Nautilus Compound Row
Close grip bench press with 2” bar
Reverse Curls with exercise bar or EZ curl bar
Overhead Press, barbell or dumbbell
Weighted chins or towel chins
Thick bar curls, followed by manual resistance curls with rope or towel
Now of course, none of the above are claimed as “the ideal routine”, but only used to represent a movement from an early reliance on machines, to a more mixed routine, to a routine with some fairly complex and skilled movements. This is also not to say that machines are not effective, or as effective for an advanced trainee, compared to free weights. I prefer a mix myself. But again, the idea is for trainees to learn to crawl before they can walk, and machines teach that skill far better than most free weight exercises and with less potential for injury. With advanced trainees on a machine centered program, one can get terribly wicked with intensity generating techniques and muscular failure sets. Wicked enough to have many less motivated trainees ready to find a good “barbell only gym”. Conversely, millions of trainees have gotten brutally strong and fit with nothing more than a barbell and some space to use it.
Individualizing routines calls for some imagination. If your trainee only has access to 5-10 basic machines, a squat bar, and a set of dumbbells, you only have a few variations on exercises, without delving into weird isolation exercises (one-arm-reverse-triceps-adduction across the neck). While very basic routines can be effective and intense, trainees often get bored with doing the same old grind day in and day out. The obvious choice for full body workouts (which is what I enjoy using for myself and trainees) is to have 2 weekly workouts, doing different things each workout. For example (for lower body):
(or go ahead and make it the “Filthy Five” as advocated by Ken Mannie in his section of Bobs page)
One could also move to a 3 or 4 workout rotation, keeping workouts at twice weekly, and each workout being done about 2 times a month.
Squats, high rep Stiff deadliftsSecond workout:
Heavy trap bar sets, 2-3 sets of 5
Super-slow leg press (20 second reps) Super Slow leg curl (20 second reps)
And lastly, “special days”, as advocated by Bob Whelan. Such as “50’s day” (50 rep sets), or “barbell only days”, dumbbell only days, and circuit days. My favorite circuit, by the way (it is always better to give than to receive, however):Dumbbell or trap bar deadlifts (15-20 reps; heavy and hard, but not to failure) Nautilus Overhead press (15-20 reps; duo-poly and to failure) Nautilus pulldowns (15-20 reps, to failure)
Run this cycle by having the trainee run through it twice with progressing weights and 5-6 reps for a warm up. Then run them through it 3 times with no rest between sets (or at least minimize the rest between sets with a whip and pistol). Finish with some abs and light grip work. Takes about 15 minute to complete with a wimp like me, and about 10 minutes with a motivated lunatic. Floor time is variable, however.
In summary, one should be careful in deciding exercise selection for new trainees. We want most everybody to progress to the point when they can do complex and skill oriented moves, however it isn’t always the case that it can happen immediately or even quickly. We should also be aware that even our better-conditioned trainees might need a break in period where exercise selection is simple in performance, and that more skilled moves are taught as an adjunct until they are strong and confident enough to make them the backbone of the routine. Lastly, we should be aware that the same old workout grind, day in and day out, could become tedious and even halt progress. We must be willing to experiment and be flexible in exercise selection and order.