Freehand Fitness

Many trainees dive right into weight training when first introduced to fitness. Weight training is indeed the premier tool for training the body. However, freehand exercise is an essential element for building the human body, and every wise trainer will instill in the trainee a familiarity with moving the body against its own resistance. Freehand training can also provide a great opportunity for a different style of training cycle.

Freehand training cycles are becoming more necessary as machine training becomes dominant in many gyms. Machine training often isolates the muscles, as well as locks the body into position for the ensuing movements. That serves a purpose, but it can also leave the body open to some problem issues. The human body is not robotic and moves in a flowing manner. Freehand exercise best addresses this area.

Outside of the gym, the body works best as a unit, and it is best to train the body (on occasion) in that manner. Freehand exercise is a great way to work the body as a unit and to get more than one muscle group involved in the action. This is not an argument against using machine weights, but an acknowledgment that machine weight training by itself is incomplete. Consider taking your clients through a cycle of freehand exercise and help them make it a part of their fitness package.

There are several tried and true exercises that work great for freehand fitness. These include the push-up, the chin-up (pull-up), the dip, one-legged squats and calf raises, and waist work. Together they combine to give the body a challenging workout.

The push-up works the chest and triceps, and to a lesser extent, the shoulders and waist area. The hand placement can be varied, but a shoulder-width range is the most common position. The body should be level (hips not too high or low), and your clients should go down to a point where they almost touch the floor. In fact, a judo test notes, “One push-up is counted after the chest touches the mat and the elbows return to full extension.”

You can have the trainee utilize rapid action or a slower model. Initially use a moderate pace, but once the trainee “gets it,” you can have the trainee perform some explosive push-ups, which work the fast-twitch muscles. Another tactic to employ with the client is the inclusion of narrow-hand-placement push-ups, which place a heavy emphasis on the triceps muscles.

The chin-up is an excellent exercise for the body and can be performed in a variety of manners. The schoolyard version, with a close, palms-in grip, works the biceps and the low back as the primary movers. A wide-grip, behind-the-head pull-up works the full, outer muscle group of the back. And a narrow grip, palms-away hand placement works the brachialis muscles as well as the back region. Introduce your client to all of these options over time, but start with a simple pull-up and have trainee concentrate on a full range of motion. Yes, some people may not be able to perform a full pull-up in the initial stages of their training — but fortunately, there is a “cheat” chinning machine that enables people to build up to chinning on their own gradually. Obviously, the sooner you can get them off of this and on to real chinning, the better.

The dip is another body-weight movement that works several muscle groups in a single exercise. As with the push-up, a full range of motion is essential to have the client get the most out of the action. Watch for a tendency in the trainee to start short-stroking the move as the repetition range increases.

The single-leg squat is an excellent training tool for the thighs. Have the client place one foot on a bench behind him, and squat down with the other leg. This move is great for building both strength and balance into the body.

The calves can also be worked in the single-leg style. Have the client get a deep stretch and then raise the heel as high as possible. This is an exercise in which a trainee can really feel the muscle work.

Crunches and half sit-ups are freehand exercises that work the midsection well. So does the waist bridge, which is performed from a prone position on the feet and elbows. Have the trainee use the waist bridge as a static movement; holding the arched position for 30 seconds at a time (the trainee may have to work up to this length).

Work the client through a couple of sets with as many repetitions that he or she can perform in good form for each exercise. Once the trainee has a grasp of how to use the body in these movements, increase the sets and push your client to get a higher repetition range as well.

One of the common complaints against freehand exercise is that it ceases to provide stimulation beyond the body’s weight. This limiting factor can be addressed by adding weight to the body (via a weight belt and weight), as well as the use of angles to make the movements more challenging.

For example, push-ups can be performed from a platform elevation for the feet, making the movement much more challenging to complete. The tempo can also be changed to make the standard freehand exercises more challenging. These exercises can be performed explosively or slowly. The single-leg squat and the single-leg calf raise, performed slowly, really give the leg muscles an intense burn.

Freehand fitness is an excellent tool for all trainees to have at their disposal. It provides the body with a challenging workout and can be super for those times when they don’t have access to a full gym. Introduce your clients to a freehand cycle soon.