When it comes to training bodyweight calisthenics can be a good addition or start to any program. The key is knowing how to progress this training accordingly.
In a perfect world everyone has access to a full gym with barbells. One of the many advantages of barbells is that you can incrementally change the weight in small amounts to increase performance. Bodyweight movements don’t afford the same types of advantages, but you can scale them in a variety of ways to make them more or less difficult. I’m going to go in to a few ways to make things easier to start and progress from there.
If you happen to be in the group where your barbell is loaded a bit heavier than others let me introduce to you to the concept of box squatting if you haven’t already learned about it. Literally find a box that you can sit down to and stand up off of if you are very heavy and maybe even make sure there is a hand rail there so you can give yourself a boost. I have worked with a few 250+ lbs. clients and I always found this to be an easy way to start squatting. Every few weeks decrease the height of the box and then eventually remove the box altogether. It might sound dumb, but if you are a personal trainer working with a big person this can be a great option. Keep in mind when you perform a squat you are lifting around 80% of your body mass each rep so large people sometimes aren’t strong enough to do a full range of motion repetition in the beginning.
You can always start with your hands on a bench or with your knees bent. Both methods decrease the load by shortening the moment arm (levers) so you have to lift a lower amount of your body weight. Again a smith rack with the bar set high for big clients here has been a life saver. Once they develop the strength at one bar height lower the bar height down one notch and keep going until your hands are on the floor. Simple, not necessarily sexy, but it works well. Mixing in occasional sets of negatives with the legs straight then pushing up from the knees can be a good way to help show progress and give you some more variety for the training
The body weight low row, or lovingly referred to as fat man pushups are a great choice, doing them from an angle that has your client just lean back at a 60 degree angle to the ground should be doable for anyone. You can keep working them down lower and lower until their torso is parallel with the ground. This is probably the best use of a smith machine you can ever do. Just try and progress the barbell lower to the ground until you are running parallel and even elevate your feet. Same straight leg negatives and bent knees on the way back up to the bar from the push up part can be pretty useful here.
If your client is big this is probably out for a while, so I would use small step bodyweight step ups. Taking the stairs two stairs at a time might be maximal work for them, and that’s fine. Progress the step height with time. This is a point where using those aerobic steps can be useful for things other than handstand pushups (I’ll talk about that later). Now when you are trying the lunges finally having them perform them on a ramp lunging up it can be useful to make life a bit easier with the range of motion and having a guard rail to balance with.
Now let’s talk about hard mode:
One arm push ups, progress these the same way as listed in the previous push ups. These are fun since you feel like Rocky.
Handstand push ups
Anyone that says they are too strong for pushups I want to see them do handstand pushups. That pretty much never happens, and if they have that start increasing the range of motion by putting your head between benches, or use those aerobic benches I talked about earlier. (My little sis is visiting soon so she’ll take some pictures of this (I would take these pictures myself, but she told me I’m not good at it and she can do it for me)).
When these get to be too easy start doing muscle ups, body levers, and legitimate one arm pull ups (not that one hand on your wrist soft stuff).
Do these on one leg all the way up and all the way down. When those get too easy, quite being so damn cheap and either buy a weight set or a gym membership and start squatting with weights on your back.
One arm low rows are an option, or no legs on the ground body weight low rows.
One final note here is don’t think everything needs to be ACSM 3 sets of 10. When doing these movements like all others quality trumps quantity. Doing 6 sets of 5 with strict technique will pay more dividends. Since it is highly unlikely you will be gaining or losing large amount of weight focus on increasing your total training volume each time you train (AKA how many total reps you do) this will be a way you can show progression and improvement. If you have any questions or ideas you want to talk about please feel free to comment.