This is a guest post by Rachel Guy. Her full bio is at the bottom of the article.
I won’t lie, I love lifting heavy shit off the floor. I love rock music, I love hitting bags, I love weighted chin ups and doing all that other bad ass stuff with chains and bands! However, I also love soul-destroying bodyweight training sessions!
And what’s not to love? Bodyweight training is versatile, functional, and…you don’t need any equipment to get it done (duh!). It’s can also be used when trying to increase volume in client’s program without adding any extra joint stress. This fact alone would be enough to convince me of its value.
If that wasn’t enough, bodyweight training can be used for virtually every exercise goal.
Strength? Chin ups, pull ups, muscle ups.
Power? Jumps, plyometric push ups, sprinting.
Muscle Mass? Dips, chin ups, push ups.
Prehab/Rehab? Planks, scapular push ups, 1-leg RDL’s, glute bridges, bird dogs (I rarely see even bird dogs done correctly!).
And my favourite -
Conditioning? Sprawls, alternating lunge jumps, squat jumps, scrambling drills, wall walks, height changes, bear/crab crawls, hip escapes, hand walkouts.
Contrary to popular belief, bodyweight training isn’t just for beginners. Sure, it’sa great tool to teach beginners proper technique, while also building some strength and muscle, but they’re not exclusively for beginners.
So what is it?
Bodyweight exercises are like any other movement; you need to start off with basic movements that suit your level of proficiency, and then progress to more difficult variations once you outgrow them. This is important, because most people who think that they’re ‘out-grown’ bodyweight exercises do so because they fail to recognise that there are harder variations of the movement available.
In fact, some of the more advanced bodyweight exercises are some of the toughest exercises out there. If you think that you’re too advanced for bodyweight movements, let me ask you this…
Can you do a Pistol Squat with perfect form?
What about a 1-Arm Push Up?
Muscle Ups for reps?
If you answered yes to all of the above, then congratulations, you’re either a freak…or a liar!
If you answered no to any of them, however, then a congratulations is also in order for you too, because you still have something to gain from utilising more bodyweight movements in your program!
The effectiveness of bodyweight movements all comes down to knowing when to progress them to harder variations. As a general rule of thumb, when training for strength and muscle mass, once you can do more than 10-12 reps on a bodyweight exercise at a slow and controlled tempo, it’s time to progress to a harder variation.
For example, Push Ups 3-4 sets of 12reps on a 4110 tempo may be progressed to Feet Elevated Push Ups as demonstrated here:
Here are some examples of situations where bodyweight movements are a preferred choice of mine -
I’ve already touched on this a little already, but bodyweight training is not only a great way to teach beginners proper technique, but also to build connective tissue strength, which can help prepare for progression onto bigger movements such as the squat or deadlift.
It also teaches them how to move several parts of the body harmoniously. A great example of this is the push up. Those of us in the know understand that a push up isn’t just chest/tricep movement. To execute the perfect push up you need great core stabilisation, glute activation, and shoulder stability. You also need to know how to activate the lats by ‘pulling’ yourself into the movement, while also packing the neck to keep your head from dropping forward.
Bodyweight exercises can be great as accessory movements or finisher to give your client a bit of higher rep work after a heavy main lift such as a squat or a bench press. Movements such as dips, reverse lunges, pistol squats and inverted rows can all act as great accessory lifts, while improving relative strength and packing on size.
Metabolic Finishers and Conditioning Work
Last, but certainly not least, you can use bodyweight circuits for a fun, yet effective, finisher to elevate your heart rate towards the end of the session.
To do this, all you need is to choose exercises that you have already mastered perfect form on, a stopwatch, and a towel for all of the sweat that will be dripping off of you!
And the best part about creating bodyweight circuits is that you’re really only limited by your imagination!
As some of you may be aware, I work in an MMA Gym. Because of this, I use a lot of MMA drills in my own training and also when torturing my colleagues and co-workers with ball-busting bodyweight circuits. They’re fun and brutally effective!
So, to leave you with a gift, here is a sample bodyweight training program you can use as a short 20-minute conditioning session. I love these types of sessions in any phase of my training. I try to get at least 2-3 sessions in like this a week during the ‘bikini season’, especially when I am time-poor!
The circuits are based on 1-minute ‘rounds’ comprising of a 45-second ‘work’ period, followed by a 15-second rest period. Each 1-minute round is spent at a different exercise station, with there being 6 stations (so 6-minutes per circuit). You’ll complete 4 total circuits, with 1-minute of active recovery between each, which can consist of either skipping or shadow boxing.
Here is the set up -
A1) Scramble Drill
A3) Wall Walks
Or with external load as a session finisher
A4) Hip raise, Side reach
A5) Height changes
In this video I train with a weights vest and medicine ball. For bodyweight only height changes, place your hands on your head.
A6) Hindu Push Ups
Another variation of this type of circuit, to make it more MMA specific is to make a “drill” out of it. For example, start by standing 4meters away from the wall, sprawl, scramble, shrimp to wall, wall walk, and then finish with a forward roll back to your starting point. I feel like a ninja when I do forward rolls!
So, if you take nothing else away from this article, take this – don’t discount bodyweight training, or throw it I into the ‘too easy’ category. It simply needs to be taught correctly, and progressed accordingly for it to be a great addition to a program for any goal.
Have fun training!
Rachel Guy is Head of Strength and Conditioning at Platinum Extreme Gym in Sydney. She is also a physical therapist and fitness model competitor. Rachel is an international presenter and involved in content development for the FMA Strength Training Certification program and is a regular contributor to Mens Fitness, Shape and On-Duty Magazines.
Rachel has also just joined forces with one of her colleagues James Garland of www.fatlossmadefun.com to launch one of the most comprehensive ONLINE COACHING programs in the industry. To register your interest and to find out more about training with Rachel, email email@example.com
Got a great bodyweight training routine or want to’weight in’ on the subject? Comment below and, as always, please share.