By Stefan Ianev

Two females training outdoors for progression

Exercise Progression & Training Outdoors


In previous articles, we have shared how you can make home or outdoor workouts with limited equipment more challenging by applying various loading methods such as doing more reps, slowing down the tempo, resting less, and so forth.

However, if someone is limited to 10 lbs dumbbells or some very light bands, there is only so far that those methods will take them!

In addition to those methods, personal trainers will need to have a wide arsenal of body weight exercises that they can progress their clients through as they get stronger. This will ensure they can continue to overload their muscles and keep progressing even with limited equipment.

This article will teach you – whether you are coach yourself – or an fitness enthusiast – how you can take many exercises to the next level!

A coach will need to have at least 5-6 exercise variations for each of those categories that they can progress their clients through. Those 3 basic movements patterns will work all the major muscle groups of the body.

Clients can then use isolation exercises with dumbbells or bands to do some supplementary work for the smaller muscle groups such as the medial/posterior delts and the arms.

Lower Body Exercise Progressions

Squat variations


For the lower body, a very unfit client can make do with body weight squats or Goblet squats with some light loading. As the clients gets stronger the best way to continue progressing is by introducing unilateral exercises.

Step up variations

There are various unilateral exercises they can implement based on the client’s strength level. The best starting point would be a low to mid step up. The step up is a great option because you can continue to progress the difficulty by increasing the step height, which in essence increases the range of motion, and the work performed.

Split squats variations

Once a client can perform a step up with the step at knee height for a sufficient number or of reps, they can either add some loading, or progress to a split squat. Split squats are more challenging than step ups because the knee is flexed through a greater range of motion.

The client can start performing split squats with their front foot elevated which makes the exercise easier by reducing the range of motion. They can then progress to doing the exercise with their front foot on the floor, and eventually with their rear foot elevated. A client can also make split squats more challenging by adding some light loading or adding one and one quarter reps at the bottom of the movement.

Lunge variations

Once a client has outgrown split squats, the next exercise progression is the lunge. A lunge is more challenging than a split squat because it is a dynamic movement. In essence you are accumulating kinetic energy and you need to generate greater eccentric forces to decelerate the movement when you land. That is why lunges typically tend to cause greater muscle soreness, even when using limited loading.

The easiest lunge variation is the reverse lunge because the plyometric effect on the working leg is much lower. However, it is still more dynamic than a split squat, and the range of motion is greater because there is more extension at the hip taking place.

The next most difficult lunge variation is the forward lunge. This places a greater plyometric load on the working leg because you are accumulating more kinetic energy since you need to stick the landing.

The next lunge variation is the walking lunge. This is more dynamic than a forward lunge because not only do you need to stick the landing, but you need to generate enough power on the way up to propel you to your next step.

Lastly, the most difficult lunge variation is the deficit lunge. This variation is performed from a block, which means you accumulate even more kinetic energy before landing.

By the way, you can add loading to all these variations by holding some light dumbbells in your hands before moving on to the next variation.

As a side note, we do not recommend side lunges. It is not an efficient pathway for the knee to travel, and it can end up causing knee problems.

Single-leg Squat Variations

The last class of exercise for the lower body is the single-leg squat variations. Although step-ups, split squats, and lunges are all considered unilateral exercises for the lower body, there is still considerable assistance from the non-working leg

The single-leg squat variations are the most challenging of all the bodyweight exercises for the lower body because the non-working leg is completely neutralised.

The easiest variation of the single-leg squats is the single-leg box squat. Sitting on a box or a bench makes the moment easier by reducing the range of motion at the knee. It also increases the angle of the hip which increases the contribution of the powerful hip extensors.

Once a client can perform single-leg box squat for a sufficient number of repetitions, the next step is to progress to assisted single-leg squats. Once you take away the bench the range of motion increases and you remain more upright which makes the movement considerably more difficult, and it requires greater balance.

Most people will not be able to go straight from a single-leg box squat to a single-leg squat without any support. Using support such as a pole or a broomstick allows you to assist yourself as much as you need, and you can gradually start taking away the assistance as your strength and balance increase.

Eventually, you should be able to do these without any assistance whatsoever, and possibly even start applying some external loading. And if you want to get really masochistic, you can even throw in someone and one-quarter reps here as well.

Now, of course, there are also other bodyweight exercises you can do for the lower body such as sissy squats, kneeling leg extensions, Swiss ball leg curls, Nordic leg curls, and so forth. Those are all good options too, and you can work them into the program.
The most important thing is to have a plan on how you can progress your clients through the exercises.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog next week, we will cover the progressions for the upper body.


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