- No load exercise is a powerful tool for training around injury or dysfunction, but isn't a good long term solution.
- In part 2, I analyzed a basic no load exercise plan that you can use, as well as some ways to progress it, but I realized that there are many other useful tools I haven't yet mentioned.
- Blood flow restriction allows you to get a greater training effect out of a lighter exercise, and can be combined with other methods.
- Bands are a cheap and portable exercise tool, and band exercises are easier on the joints, making them useful for beginners.
- The TRX is a tool which allows you to perform bodyweight exercises with assistance, making it a great tool for transitioning into fully weighted bodyweight exercises like squats, pushups, lunges, and more.
- When in doubt, focus on endurance exercise over strength, adding reps before weight.
In the previous articles on no load exercise, I covered first the theory and principle behind no load exercise, and second a basic exercise program you can use to apply that theory. I also covered how you can use blood flow restriction (more on this in a minute) in conjunction with no load training in order to improve your results.
One of the topics I realize I’ve left unexplored is what to do next: how to transition out of no load exercise and into traditional weighted exercise. While in some cases it may be possible to jump directly into weighted exercise without much effort, there are still many methods you can use to ease this transition.
Here are a few steps you can take to add difficulty without overstressing your ability to adapt and recover.
Blood Flow Restriction
As explored before, blood flow restriction increases the difficulty of an exercise without adding weight.
A pair of cuffs are applied to the legs or arms, restricting blood flow exiting the limb after exercise, causing a buildup of metabolic byproducts until normal circulation resumes. This buildup helps signal for greater muscular growth when compared to the same exercise performed without the cuffs.
While blood flow restriction does carry risks, it is generally safe and the benefits are exceptional. Being able to get a greater effect out of lighter weights makes it great for those recovering from injuries that make it hard or impossible to handle heavier weights.
Like with standard no load exercise, band exercises don’t take up much space, and can be easily performed at home with nothing except a bit of space to move around in and a bit of creativity with how to anchor those bands in order to appropriately load up the exercises you’re performing.
This is one of the reasons I highly recommend them as an excellent home gym and travel workout tool in my home gym guide.
Bands are well known for providing a different kind of stimulus than regular weighted exercises. While the band applies resistance on the same movement patterns, they don’t apply resistance in the exact same ways.
Traditional weight is resisted by gravity, meaning that at all times, you have to work against resistance that is essentially moving in an up and down, vertical pattern. The resistance is always pressing downward, in the direction of gravity. This means that in order to make effective exercises, we have to place the body in different positions to take advantage of this.
For example, in order to train the chest muscles, which move horizontally when standing, we need to perform our exercises in a horizontal position, which makes them move in a vertical direction relative to the ground. This is why we perform push ups with a horizontal body, or bench presses while lying down on a bench. (Make sense?)
Bands don’t operate on gravity, but instead on the elastic resistance that they provide. This means that there are two major implications for training.
The first is that we are no longer bound by the up and down constraints of gravity. Provided we can anchor the bands in the right position, we can stress the body in new and different ranges of motion. For example, we can perform a standing chest press by anchoring bands horizontally.
The second is that band resistance is not constant throughout the motion.
A dumbbell weighs the same throughout the motion, since gravity is constant. A band, however, provides more resistance when fully stretched than when unstretched. Think of a rubber band - it’s limp and loose, but as you stretch it out, it wants more and more to snap back to that original position. It’s the same with exercise bands.
What this means is that exercises performed with bands will typically weigh less at the beginning of the movement and more at the end of the movement. This is why band resisted exercises just “feel” a bit different in general.
Normally, this difference isn’t super important - you can still add weight, add reps, tire out your muscles, and build size and strength. However, one cool benefit of this is that it tends to be easier on the joints, since joint stability is often most compromised at the ranges at which bands apply the least resistance.
This makes it a bit easier to get into exercises using bands than using weights, particularly with ranges of motion in which you have compromised strength or stability.
Another of my favorite home workout tools, the TRX is a suspension training system. You anchor it to a doorframe or something similar, and then you hold onto the handles attached to the straps and use this to perform exercises.
One of the cool things about TRX is that it enables you to perform bodyweight exercises at a lighter weight.
Squats, lunges, pushups, and pullups are all exercises that you can modify with a TRX to be easier. This makes it an excellent tool for beginners looking to transition into heavier exercises. You'll need to do a bit of studying to learn how to use them properly, but TRX are a very powerful bodyweight exercise tool once you've got the exercises down.
Light Dumbbells, Endurance Reps
When you’re ready for loaded exercises, light dumbbell exercises (generally similar to what you’ve already been doing with no weight or band loaded exercises) will be the next step.
In terms of advancement, it's often better to focus on endurance work than strength work, particularly since adding a lot of weight quickly is a recipe for injury when working around injury or dysfunction. In this case, a simple progression is merited:
Perform 3 sets, adding reps slowly until you're able to perform 20-25 reps total. Only once you can consistently handle 3x20+ should you consider adding weight, at which point you drop back to 3x8 and build back up.
This progression is slower, more conservative, and more endurance focused than typical strength or size progressions, and works well when heavier weights aren't recommended for any reason.
- "No Load" Exercise For Those With Impaired Function
- No Load Exercise Part 2 - A No Load Exercise Program
- The Home Gym Guide
- How To Use Light Weights To Get Big
Are you interested in perfecting your deadlift and building legendary strength and muscle? Check out my free ebook, Deadlift Every Day. Or maybe a well-rounded beginners program for those looking to build strength, muscle, and endurance? Check out my other free ebook, GAINS.