"For client strength training, do you focus more on loaded movement or on fixed, machine-based weights? Or do you use both?"

Oct 25, 2016

Tricks of the Trade

Although I tend to focus more on loaded movements for most of my clients, there are people (beginners and those with poor mind-to-muscle awareness, in particular) who can benefit greatly from machine-based exercises. Machines can be less intimidating than the free-weight section of the gym. Machines can help to teach proper body alignment and how a muscle should "feel" when it's performing a particular movement. Using machines can help people feel more confident in their ability to increase the load on an exercise. All of these things are important precursors to lifting free weights effectively and safely.

   Tamara Grand
   Owner, Fitknitchick
   Port Moody, British Columbia


The vast majority of my clients' training is loaded movement training. It is simply what most people want and need. I do believe, though, that there is room for everything that is effective under the fitness tent. An exclusively either/or choice is an extreme position, and I believe that extremism is for lazy thinkers. However, since my role is to do what is best for the client, that means loaded movement—or even simply body-weight training—is the foundation.

Life is movement; train for it. People who don't exercise still pick up their kids or groceries, help friends move, garden or do other multiplanar, coordinated, full-body movements. Helping people discover how to better control, coordinate and move their bodies both in and out of exercise is an essential starting point. In my view, exercise is really just high-quality movement turned up to an intensity that creates the stimulus for physical change. Everything starts with a foundation of high-quality, efficient movement.

For some people, the comfort and relative ease of technique when using machine-based weights allow a more gradual, enjoyable adoption of regular strength training. However, even when using machines initially, to get "buy-in" for strength training from a client, I'll include some upright body-weight or minimally loaded exercises. From there, I begin to transition the client toward a higher number of loaded movement exercises. If we are to do what is best for our clients, then we must consider their lives. Many people sit too often and do not move enough outside of exercise. Getting them up and dealing with their bodies against gravity is training for life.

This past winter, we had the biggest snowfall total ever for where I live. In the week or so that followed, over a dozen clients thrilled me with stories of how they shoveled massive amounts of snow without subsequent soreness or injury. The physical characteristics necessary to shovel a lot of snow—and meet most of life's other physical challenges—are developed by loaded movement training.

   Jonathan Ross
   2010 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year
   Aion Fitness
   Annapolis, Maryland


While there is a place for all strength training, and personalization is pivotal, I find loaded movement training is where I focus the majority of the time. Loaded movement training is a great way to improve my clients' ability to execute a variety of tasks, from activities of daily living to specific sports-related movements. I train across the spectrum of clients—athletes to active seniors—and I find that loaded movements working in different planes of motion provide a great foundation from which to design exercise programs. My clients find that using lighter loads, often unstable (e.g., the Surge®, sand bells, BOSU® Balance Trainer) with varied velocities and movement patterns, is not only more "interesting" but also provides the added "total-body element" not found with machine-based training.

Total-body, functional training is beneficial to [daily] life but can also prepare my clients to be healthier and "younger" physically as well as emotionally. Multidirectional and multispeed exercises for the entire fascial network can actually reduce the effects of aging and help to produce more elastic tissue that is more youthful in architecture and function (Myers 2009; Schleip et al. 2012; Schleip & Müller 2012). Loaded movement training can promote elasticity and resilience of connective tissue—fascia that can also facilitate injury prevention.

   Beth Jordan
   Personal Trainer and ACE Subject Matter Expert
   Owner, Fullest Living
   Jacksonville Beach, Florida

References
Myers, T. 2009. Anatomy Trains (2nd ed.). London: Elsevier.
Schleip, R., et al. 2012. Fascia: The Tensional Network of the Human Body. London: Elsevier.
Schleip, R., & Müller, D.G. 2013. Training principles for fascial connective tissues: Scientific foundation and suggested practical applications. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 17 (1), 103–15.


I have always used a combination of fixed, machine-based strength training and loaded movement exercises because there is a place for each method. I believe it's important to have an open mind and to make decisions based on a client's present state of health, fitness and goals and not on the latest trend. I keep in mind that there will always be people for whom fixed, machine-based training is the most effective and only way to gain strength (e.g., people with severe balance issues or arthritis). But if clients can do loaded movement exercises, I like to use them because I think they help people become stronger and more functional in their "real-life" activities.

That being said, I think fixed, machine-based exercises are a place to start for many people. For example, with a client who has never done strength training before, I want to keep the movement simple and build a base of strength using fixed, machine-based weights. Then I move on to simple, single-plane free-weight exercises (e.g., triceps kickbacks). When I see good control of single-joint and/or single-plane loaded movements, I progress to more complex movement patterns, such as multiplanar exercises (e.g., walking lunge with medicine ball torso rotation).

Even when working up to a total program of loaded movement, I include all planes of motion in the workout, whether using fixed, machine-based weights or single-plane free-weight exercises. I start with split squats (sagittal plane), move to a crabwalk (frontal plane) and later progress to a seated cable torso rotation (transverse plane). I also introduce simple balancing exercises like heel-to-toe walks and one-foot balances on the floor and/or moving up onto an AIREX®. After the client's muscles and nervous system have mastered these exercises, I feel comfortable moving to true loaded movement training.

When programming, it is important to recognize that people are individuals with their own fitness and health challenges. Always do a thorough fitness assessment of your clients before they start an exercise program. This insures that you create a strength training program that challenges them physically, reduces injury risk and improves their quality of life. The program can include either loaded movement or fixed, machine-based strength training or both, as long as you keep in mind what is best for each client.

   Mary Miriani
   Exercise Physiologist
   Transfirmations
   Naperville, Illinois


I focus more on using loaded movement than other weight training when working with my clients. I give them exercise programs they can do at home because the majority of my clients do not have weight machines at home. Depending on the type of program clients are working on, I usually include a few functional moves that emulate daily activities. For example, I have clients do a "wood chop" exercise with whichever resistance equipment they have (e.g., dumbbell, resistance tube, cable machine). For my senior clients, I call it "putting away the groceries." They move as though they were picking a can out of a grocery bag and putting it in a cupboard. Or we may do the "lawn mower pull" (here in New England we call it the "snow blower pull"), where they bend down to one side and pull up and back with one hand, as if starting a lawn mower. In classes, we use dumbbells or resistance tubes for this exercise.

I try to make sure the majority of my clients' exercises involve the core and some balancing. Doing an anterior reach emulates throwing a ball. Adding resistance to the movement works the shoulder, biceps, triceps, abs, external obliques and back. Lifting one foot off the ground makes clients use stabilizing muscles to balance. I find that my clients get more out of these exercises than they do from a basic squat or biceps curl.

The more you can help clients increase their strength for daily activities, the more functional your clients will be in their lives. I have been focusing on baby boomers and seniors these past 5 years, and this is the best way to train them. For this population, it is all about being active, strong and able to function into their later years.

   Holly Kouvo
   Owner, Fitting Fitness In
   Stow, Massachusetts


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