Implementing Resistance Training Modalities for Client Success

Posted by Stacey Penney

When you see a variety of different exercise equipment choices, do you feel like a kid in a candy shop? As a fitness professional or experienced gym-goer, all of these equipment options probably inspire you to try new moves and push your physical limits. But what about the client who is new to the fitness world?
They may feel overwhelmed, like an amateur do-it-yourselfer standing in the plumbing aisle of a home improvement store for the first time. Read on to discover how to make these exercise toys a successful part of anyone’s fitness routine.

From the regularly encountered gym standards of free weights, stability balls, medicine balls and a host of cable machines, to innovative equipment like the TRX®, Core-Tex ™, Halo®, ViPR™, BOSU®, sandbags, and kettlebells, what you choose and how you incorporate them in a training program can launch a client’s commitment to exercise or turn them off with frustration. Having a client experience success requires that you progress them to these alternate pieces of equipment when they are ready, along with providing them with plenty of positive feedback along the way.

With so many resistance-training modalities available, where do you start? That depends on your client and their current abilities. Generally (and note that every client is different as are trainers), starting clients in a less intimidating and muscle targeted modality, such as machines, may be a first step to get them ready to progress to more proprioceptively demanding whole body modalities. Machines are easy to adjust, don’t require a spotter or mastery of technique, and keep the client in a fixed plane of motion while offering extra support. Though machines can be used in all phase of the Optimum Performance Training ™ (OPT™) model, using other modalities will enhance core stabilization and improve neuromuscular efficiency.

Incorporating new exercise equipment typically requires a trainer to provide more focused feedback to the client regarding their performance. This can range from providing constant feedback repetition by repetition, initially honing in on just a few key performance variables, to asking clients how the exercise felt different between this set and the last one. Start with a tell-show-do approach, which requires that you, the trainer, are able to correctly demonstrate the movements (learn how to use the equipment correctly and practice!). “Tell” and “show” the client what you are doing and point out key aspects to address for safety. Let them “do” the exercise as you offer feedback. Focusing on proper form helps the client process incoming sensory feedback from the human movement system, allowing for optimal sensorimotor integration and ideal structural and functional efficiency. Select only a few points at a time to critique to avoid overloading the client with too much information, and keep the feedback positive while also offering the most pertinent corrections.

Once they are able to safely and effectively perform the exercise, then you can move into the not as critical performance corrections and progressions. By providing the client opportunities to perform the exercise with external feedback and experience success, they will become more confident to use these equipment options during sessions or even try these exercises on their own in the future. Recall that do-it yourselfer in the plumbing aisle-they probably aren’t ready to head home and replace all the house plumbing, but perhaps they are ready to tackle installing a new sink faucet and changing out the showerhead. That same approach can apply to the exerciser by introducing just a couple of new equipment experiences at a time.

For the experienced exerciser who has used most, if not all of the exercise equipment in your toolbox, keep their interest piqued by using their favorite toys. Add the fun-factor with multiple pieces of equipment in sessions and you may even see them crank out more reps than usual. Combine modalities to add unique challenges, perhaps a TRX push-up with feet in the cradle and hands on a BOSU flat side up. Be creative while also keeping safety at the forefront of client programming. Using multiple pieces of different resistance-training modalities during boot camp or group training sessions with clients of varying fitness levels can become a challenge. Offer progressions and regressions for each piece of equipment, and perhaps a body weight only option for participants that may not have the skills or confidence to use the equipment without feedback or a spotter. For example, using a Halo trainer on the ground for push-ups versus in conjunction with a stability ball versus a standard push-up without any equipment.

Don’t worry about dazzling new clients with all of the exercise equipment options you have in your toolbox in your first sessions. Introduce a piece or two over a few sessions so that they can be successful and confident, not frustrated and overwhelmed. Being able to get your clients to their goals doesn’t require a catalog of exercise equipment options, but it does require the skill to creatively progress their exercise programs.

Stacey Penney

About the Author:

Stacey Penney, MS, NASM-CPT, CES, PES, CNC, is the Content Strategist with NASM and AFAA. A 20+ year veteran of the fitness industry, she's worked with the top certification and continuing education groups. At NASM and AFAA she drives the content for American Fitness Magazine, blog and the social media platforms. Stacey received her degree in Athletic Training/PE from San Diego State University and an MS in Exercise Science from CalU, plus credentials in Health Promotion Management & Consulting (UCSD), Instructional Technology (SDSU), group fitness and yoga. Previous San Diego Fall Prevention Task Force Chair, she’s developed continuing education curriculum for fitness organizations in addition to personal training, writing, and co-coaching youth rec soccer.