I talk a lot about the benefits of working with free weights and bodyweight exercises vs. using machinery. For me, the benefits of free weights/bodywork are enormous;
– you work your stabilizing muscles
– when done correctly, the chance of injury is decreased as your joints move naturally in opposition to the fixed plane of motion on a machine
– You teach your body proper movement patterns
– Your core, which is the foundation of your body, works much harder and becomes much stronger using free weight compound exercises.
Now, while I promote free movement exercise, I also understand that many people may be intimidated by the free weight section when they are starting their fitness program. This is understandable as free weight exercises can seem dangerous at first and if performed incorrectly. The problem I have with starting out on the machines if you plan to move to free weights is that the movements don’t transfer and really don’t help you much when you transfer to free weights. Don’t get me wrong, you can get great results from the machines and if you feel comfortable with them or need to use them due to injury then go ahead as it beats sitting on a couch at home.
If you don’t have a qualified coach or trainer, working with machines is recommended as free weights are very reliant on proper form and execution to avoid injury. What I like to do with my clients who are uncomfortable with the idea of free weights is to use a series of progressions. The progressions give the benefits of;
– Make your shape solid
– Make your tendons flexible and strong enough to complete the movement without breaking shape or getting injured
– Gradually increase the confidence of customers in carrying out the movement.
Let’s take the squat for example. The squat is probably the scariest movement for many people, but it can also be the most beneficial due to its role in increasing strength and applications to sports movements; it even helps with fat loss. When I have a new client, I try to look for imbalances and weaknesses in the muscles and movements and then work to correct them before starting any progression. A squat with tight hamstrings or hips is a recipe for disaster. Once we address those imbalances, we move on to progressions. Every client is different and depending on the situation I will use a different set of progressions for each student. Below is a sample of what I can do with someone to prepare them for the free weight barbell squat.
– Have the client squat against a wall first to get the feeling in the legs for a squatting movement
– Start with the client reaching down to the bottom position and holding for 30 seconds to really have proper range of motion.
– Have the client squat with no weight and have their buttocks touch a bench or chair to illustrate how low they should go.
– Have the client squat with an empty bar and the bench removed
– And finally have the client do a full squat
As a strength coach, it is very important to me to constantly monitor and provide feedback on clients’ form and technique. We can use progressions with any lift and they are highly recommended for new lifts introduced into a program or new clients. Remember to always have a qualified trainer or trainer watching you when doing free weight compound movements, especially if you are just starting out.
If anyone has any questions feel free to email me and I’ll be happy to help.