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Choosing the Right Training Modalities

May 16, 2012 by NCSF 0 comments

The proliferation of functional equipment and related devices provide personal trainers with greater opportunities to challenge their clients through engaging activities. These products offer added diversity in movements and oftentimes allow for training in environments that previously presented limitations and obstacles. Fitness entrepreneurs now commonly have a trunk full of equipment that can turn any park or playground into a viable training zone. Suspension devices, battle ropes, kettlebells, and the like all add to the exercise selection both in and outside the traditional gym setting. This is particularly helpful for trainers or clients that do not have access to facilities, or for trainers that schedule clients on Monday at 6 pm.

The discovery of these modalities often excites newer users, and it is common to want to exploit the potential in these devices. But, be cautious of the temptation. Too often, trainers become overzealous in their use of a particular modality, gravitating towards an inappropriate level of favoritism. When you take a weekend class to become “certified” in a modality, you do not become a kettlebell trainer or TRX trainer; rather, you become a personal trainer with a potentially greater ability to use a particular device with your clients. Centering your programs around a single piece of equipment does not make sense if other devices or resources provide a better option. Likewise, clients must be aptly capable of using the equipment for its defined purpose. Consider the application simply another tool in the trainer’s tool box. Sometimes it is a great idea to use a particular modality, especially when it best creates the desired stress for the client. In other cases, while the potential for improved adaptations may exist, in less-conditioned clients, the continuum of safety versus effectiveness suggests a different course of action may be necessary.

Another word of caution: be careful about exploiting the equipment’s potential in the public domain. Attempting to stand on a physioball or stacking kettlebells overhead may present an interesting challenge, but these challenges would be unsafe for most participants, and the risk-reward relationship is too out of balance. Personal trainers performing feats of strength or impressive stability acts in front of fitness enthusiasts can potentially encourage the witnesses to attempt the dangerous act themselves. Think of it this way: since trainers are assumed to be knowledgeable in exercise safety, why would they perform an exercise if it is unsafe?

When using new modalities in training, it is important to ensure the equipment is safe and can stand up to physical forces. When using suspension devices, be sure the equipment is properly secured to an immovable or stable object. Incidents of unanchored equipment being pulled over are on the rise. Likewise take the time to instruct clients on the new equipment in a controlled environment, using an appropriate load. Do not assume a single demonstration is adequate for motor readiness; inexperienced individuals mirroring kettlebell snatches can be badly hurt without proper instruction and management. Likewise, ensure the movements and stresses are appropriate for individual capabilities, particularly when using ballistic exercises that require deceleration. In some cases, only limited options are available due to the cost of the equipment. Gyms often have the full spectrum of dumbbells, but they may only offer a few kettlebells, or they may only be able to provide one or two ropes. The weight of these pieces of equipment plays a significant role in their use; always match the equipment to the user and be prudent in the decision-making process. Never force a modality when the loading is not appropriate for the client.

The functional modalities can motivate clients and make their workouts seem more entertaining. However, keep the following in mind when using the equipment, and remember that more instruction is always better than not enough.

  1. Become competent with the device and the methods of instruction
  2. Ensure the client is ready for the level of stress the equipment demands and can safely use it
  3. Be sure the environment is safe for the equipment and adequate space is available
  4. If the equipment suspends, be sure it is anchored safely
  5. Match the resistance or load to the exerciser’s ability
  6. Always error on the side of caution if you are unsure about the client’s safety


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