BODYWEIGHT BEATDOWN From the Old School Gym
By Dustine Myers
What are the first types of exercises that come to mind when you think of gaining size and strength? Probably heavy compound movements. What do you picture when someone mentions a training protocol to improve conditioning and definition? I’m willing to bet that you think of monotonous hours spent on a treadmill or bike.
Although heavy lifting and cardio training are the standard catalysts for strength, size and definition, if those are the only weapons in your arsenal of gains you are doing yourself a disservice. It’s time for you to take a serious look at the classic bodyweight movements as an essential supplement to your weightlifting. Many lifters include these exercises, but as more of an afterthought - a few sets of push ups or pull ups for a warm up, or a few sets of body squats on a de-load day. For years I have utilized body weight exercises as a key component of my training regimen alongside heavy weight training and cardio. I’m not talking a few repetitive sets here and there - I utilize full workouts comprised only of #bodyweight exercises as either a second workout of the day or my primary workout on a busy weekend when I can’t make it into the gym.
So…what are the benefits?
Bodyweight training builds “real world” functional #strength. Now I know the term “#functional” gets thrown around a lot now a days in the fitness world, but lets look at it in the simplest form. Most Bodyweight Exercises (BWE) require the use of your core and many other secondary muscles to stabilize your body during the movement. Think of a pull up contrasted with a lat pull down. I love lat pull downs but you are essentially anchored into position, where as during a pull up you must use your abs, lower back and glutes to stabilize your body as you pull (unless of course you “kip”…but that’s another story for a different day). This recruitment of your core muscles during BWE builds that real world strength I was referring to - and you will be happy you have it if you ever find yourself hanging for dear life off of a rooftop.
Not only do the majority of BWEs utilize and build core strength, but the most effective core exercises themselves are bodyweight based. I’m not talking about your traditional crunch variations, most of which are isolation movements for the abdomen and have little value when it comes to strength training. From a weightlifting perspective, the most important role of the abs is to provide stability for the torso during heavy lifting such as squats and deadlifts. Compound power exercises such as ab wheels, ring lay outs and planks build stability and recruit all of the various muscles of the core to fire and work together, rather than just tone the abdominals.
Another benefit of #BWE is that they tend to be easier on your joints and give your body a break from the heavy pounding of weights. I typically lift each muscle group fairly heavy 1-2 times per week, but I am able to get another pump in at some point using BWEs. My body can handle 2 heavy back workouts plus another 2 pull up routines during the same week - but if I tried to do 4 heavy weight routines that targeted my lats I would probably be sore and injury prone. Heavy squatting takes a toll on your lower back, knees and hips, so a good way to get an additional leg workout in for the week is 15 minutes of continuous body squats or walking lunges. All gains, no joint pain.
Some people would be quick to point out that they would think it is difficult to put on size using bodyweight exercises, due to the high number of reps they are capable of. This is where I encourage you to get a little creative and think outside the box. Weight is only one variable, and a fixed one in this scenario, so you won’t be able to put on mass or increase strength the old fashioned way by lifting heavier. However, by utilizing and increasing the Time Under Tension (TUT) for each rep you will be amazed at the amount of progress you can make.
Here is a great routine where I utilize a 5/5/5 TUT + 5-10 additional reps on each set. 5/5/5 TUT denotes the pace of each rep - 5 seconds on the eccentric (lowering) portion of the movement, 5 seconds isometric (pause) contraction at the bottom, then a 5 second concentric (the way up) movement. Each rep lasts 15 seconds total. Once you have completed 5 super slow reps, complete 5-10 additional regular pace reps.
TIME UNDER TENSION
***Each set is 5 reps of 5/5/5 tempo + up to 10 regular reps
A. Superset: 3 sets
• Split Squats (each leg)
• Pull Ups
B. Superset: 3 sets
• Underhand Chin Ups
• Narrow Push Ups
C. Superset: 3 sets
• BW Skull Crushers
• Single Leg Glute Bridge (each Leg)
• Single Leg Calve Raises
D. 6 minute Plank
On the first superset start with Bulgarian Split Squats utilizing 5 TUT reps plus an additional 10 regular on each leg. Once you have completed both legs, transition immediately to pul ups, following the same rep scheme. Follow suit on Dips then rest 1 minute before starting the next round. Complete 3 sets.
The second superset is 3 rounds of Squats, Underhand Chin Ups and Narrow Push Ups. Make sure when holding the bottom (isometric pause) position of the squat to keep your chest up and in good position.
The third superset is 3 rounds of Bodyweight Skull crushers, Single Leg Glute Bridge, and single leg calve raises. When performing BW Skullcrushers, place your hands on either a plyo box or a bench and point your elbows to the floor as you touch your head to the back of your hands. The lower the box (and the closer your body is to parallel to the floor) the more difficult these will be. Close out this workout with the ultimate TUT core workout, a 6 minute static plank. Switch to side planks when necessary, but try to make it the entire 6 minutes without taking a break.
ONE HUNDRED REP COUNT DOWN
While the TUT bodyweight routine is more geared toward gaining size and strength, I also utilize BWEs for conditioning. One of my favorite ways to get a great pump and send my metabolism thru the roof is using the 100 rep method. The 100 Rep Method is pretty simple - pick an exercise and do max reps for as many sets as it takes to get to 100 total. The goal is to complete 100 of each exercise (and the entire workout itself) as quickly as possible.
Here is an example of one of my 100 rep staples:
100 Box Jumps
100 Pull Ups
100 Chin Ups
100 Push Ups
100 Ab Wheels
Remember to complete 100 total before moving on to the next exercise. Time the entire workout and the next time try to finish sooner. There are different strategies you can apply - doing 10 x 10 with minimal rest, 4 x 25 with longer rest between sets, or simply max effort on each set - and each one will give you a completely different workout. This routine is perfect for an “off day” or as a second workout after a heavy session earlier in the day.
Another tool that I have used over the years to dramatically improve my overall strength and stability is gymnastic rings. Because of their unstable nature, doing any regular BWE on the rings recruits numerous muscles to stabilize and hold position. Gymnasts are some of the strongest, well built athletes in the world, and after doing this workout, you will see why.
A. superset: 3 sets
• Ring Dips - 10
• Ring Row (Wide overhand grip) - 10
B. Superset: 3 sets
• Ring Push Up - 10
• Ring Row - Neutral Grip - 10
C. Superset: 3 sets
• Ring Skull Crusher - 5-10
• Ring Curl - 10
D. Superset: 2 sets
• Ring In & Outs - 5 each side
• Ring Lay Outs - 10
• Ring L-Sit Hold - 10-20 seconds
For all of these exercises, set the rings at a height that you can grab without lifting your arms (just below your waist). During Dips, keep your arms tight to your sides, do not let your elbows flair out. The Ring Rows involve laying underneath the rings with your feet in contact with the ground as you pull/row your chest towards the rings, keeping your body perfectly straight. To make the Push Ups more challenging, try putting your feet on a bench or a plyo box. Similar to the skull crusher, the closer your body is to parallel to the floor, the more difficult it will be. For Ring Curls, grab the rings and walk backwards until your body is at 45 degrees and your arms are extended out in front of you. Keeping your elbows up, curl your hands to your forehead, squeezing and keeping tension on the biceps the entire time. The starting position of the in & outs is the same as a push up. Slowly lower into a push up, but extend one arm out while the other stays in. Think of this movement as a hybrid between a push up and an ab wheel. Alternate sides each rep. The lay outs are similar to an ab wheel or barbell rollout. It’s very important to keep your abs tight and don’t let your hips sag as you extend your arms out. For the L-Sit, start in a dip position then slowly raise your legs out in front of you, pausing at the top. A good starter version is to hold the position with your knees bent as if you were sitting in a chair.
Hopefully now I’ve changed the way you think about body weight movements and they will no longer be an afterthought in your strength program. When utilized regularly, these workouts will help you become stronger, leaner, and more well rounded athletically. If you would like to see a demonstration of technique, I have posted form videos of each workout on my YouTube page - make sure to subscribe to oldschoolgymOH, and be sure to follow me on Instagram @coachmyers_gutcheck for daily motivation and unique training ideas.