Don’t get me wrong, free weights should have a place in any long term muscle building program. That said, consider forsaking the iron every now and then in order to practice some badass bodyweight skills. Bodyweight training can improve your balance, encourage your body to work as one unit, and bump up your overall level of fitness. Working with your bodyweight is also a great place for beginners to start. But – you have to know what you’re doing to keep the gains coming.
Don’t be too quick to discount bodyweight training…it just may humble you. Plus, you’ll pick up a lot of nifty bar tricks. Many get frustrated with bodyweight training due to either lack of progress or lack of aesthetic results. It doesn’t have to be that way. Implement these tips into your training to make your bodyweight training more worthwhile.
1 – Don’t Forget the Principle of Progressive Overload
Push-ups are great but eventually they’re gonna get easy. Upping the volume progressively will give you gains for a while, but eventually you’ll need to switch to harder variations like diamond push-ups, pike push-ups and when you get strong enough, handstand push-ups. Just like with the free weights, you need to raise the difficulty when you’re cranking out 12+ reps for multiple sets.
In addition to picking harder variations, find ways of adding additional weight to you bodyweight exercises. An example would be completing push-ups with backpack on or using a dip belt to add weight to chin-ups and pull-ups. Check out this guide for some pull-up progression tips.
2 – Form Comes First
When you move your body through space repetitively it can become easy to lose track of your form, especially once you start to get tired toward those last reps in a set. In the eccentric (lowering) phases of bodyweight exercise, don’t just let gravity slam you down. Instead focus on actively lowering yourself with control. After all, you wouldn’t just let the barbell fall into your chest during a set of bench presses (Ouch…). In addition to getting a better stimulation of muscle fibers, you’ll also minimize stress on your joints. Never sacrifice good form just to crank out some extra reps.
3 – Adjust Time Under Tension
An often overlooked tool of training with both free weights and bodyweight is the idea of increasing the amount of time you spend on each rep. You may be surprised to see how much more difficult a pushup becomes when you lower yourself down over 5-8 seconds before pushing back up. Employing this strategy can give you more options for how to increase the difficult of bodyweight movements.
I like to pick a cadence ahead of time and stick to it for all my reps. For example, I’ll perform “5 second down, two second up” chin-ups. They’re brutal at first but they’re sure to illicit some growth. Obviously you can vary the cadences to your preference, slowly making them longer and longer. When you get bored with this or feel it’s too easy, pick a harder variation of the exercise and repeat.
4- Stay Goal-oriented
One of the best things about bodyweight training is that you develop some impressive mind-muscle connections. There are lots of folks out there than can bench press hundreds of pounds with ease but cannot complete a single handstand push-up. You’ll feel amazing when you can perform impressive movements like the pistol (one-legged) squat and the one-armed push-up.
Pick some hard variations of the bodyweight exercises you enjoy and tell yourself you’re going to get strong enough to complete them. Some of the more impressive feats out there include handstand push-ups, one armed chin-ups, muscle-ups and human flags. There are plenty of milestones out there to keep you motivated in training with your bodyweight for years to come.
5 – Engage Your Core Constantly
This goes for free weight training as well, but having an active core is paramount when performing bodyweight movements. Keeping an active core will keep your body tense, allow you to balance, and allow for better form. Better form = more recruitment from the targeted muscles and less from those that compensate for bad form. A strong core will keep you stiff as a board in the push-up, stop you from swaying during chin-ups, keep your torso upright during pistol squats and keep you from falling over sideways during handstand push-ups.
Hopefully these tips will help you with your pursuits. Getting an effective workout using only your bodyweight is a great skill to have. You can stimulate muscle growth anywhere and everywhere, no gym membership required. Know that impressive results can be achieved through bodyweight training alone, though you may have to get creative in order to constantly challenge yourself.