If you had a nickel for every time someone asked a question about training frequency, how rich would you be? Some lifters prefer Monday-Tuesday-Thursday-Friday; some like Monday-Wednesday-Friday; and others like to hit different parts of their body everyday. Then there are questions about other nuances of a training regimen, like diet, reps, weight, hypertrophy, and so on. At the root of all of these areas of uncertainty should be the most fundamental question: what are you trying to improve, and why? If you hesitate for one moment on the answer to this question, then you are doing yourself a disservice.
Simplicity Makes You Smart
Strip away the gym, strip away clean dumbbells, take away your cool-looking workout gloves and your cutoff tees, and what’s left? What remains is the most fine-tuned, carefully-crafted workout machine the world has ever known: the human body.
For some reason, the majority of us have been trained to believe that in order to gain strength and size, external weights are our only option. Can they do the trick and fool onlookers into believing we’re super-strong? Yes. My guess is that whatever your goals are, the desire to improve on them and exceed them endures. If that is the case, then bodyweight lifts will help you gain strength, improve posture, reduce injuries, get bigger, and power through plateaus like a bulldozer.
The Magic of Calisthenics
There should be a word other than calisthenics to describe intense bodyweight exercises, but it seems that all we’re left with are words that conjure up Jane Fonda workout videos. The style of rugged intensity we’re talking about here should be used with words like extreme, deep, max, and infinite. That should give you a sense of what we’re going for here. There is something about pushing an immovable object with maximum force that just cannot be replicated by maxing out on an isolated lift like the bench press.
Every exercise we’ve selected here uses the majority of the body to be completed. At the same time for many of the movements, instead of reps, we are going for increases in the amount of time the lifts can be held to form. The benefit of using the whole body is that your isolated lifts will be improved with the extra synergy that your body is getting used to.
Upper Body Pushing
Handstand – The handstand may be the most important upper body lift that there is. Simply demonstrating a freestanding handstand is an exhibition of body control, balance, and all-around pushing strength. Handstands translate directly into increased military presses, bench presses, tricep, and overhead raises. Weaknesses in back and shoulder girdle strength also get shored up while performing handstands. Progressions can be made from wall-assisted handstands, to freestanding handstands, to walking handstands, to freestanding handstand pushups. Vary the width of your hands to tax your shoulders (wide hands) or your triceps (narrow hands).
L-sit – This exercise requires the activation of the triceps, shoulders, chest, back, upper and lower abs, hip flexors, and front legs. It is an essential hold for the core, and it increases in intensity as you move the hips forward and straighten and raise the legs. Improving your core reaps benefits for breaking through any plateau, and any gains made in this area will claim dividends in your other lifts.
You can always use dynamic movements at certain portions of these holds. L-sits become very difficult by including a dynamic dip while keeping your legs extended. This works best when you use parallel bars, a chair, or perform the exercise on top of something like kettlebells to give you extra height.
Upper Body Pulls
Muscle-ups – This upper body exercise is a staple of Crossfit routines because it requires the use of most of the muscles of the upper body. Pullups alone are an exercise that is disadvantaged from a leverage standpoint anyway, but including a dip/pushup makes it a pulling and a pushing exercise. Improvements in rowing, lat pulldowns, and all pressing exercises are side benefits of muscle-ups. A weighted belt can be used to make the exercise more intense. Another way of increasing the level of difficulty is to combine the pulling portion of the exercise with Hanging Leg Lifts for instance. Do this by raising your legs so that your feet come as close to your head as possible during the pullup portion.
Pistols – One argument to bodyweight exercises has to be the limits when it comes to their inability to wreak havoc on the legs. With the exception of external weight, there simply isn’t much that can improve raw leg strength when it comes to bodyweight moves. One-legged pistols do a decent job of improving squat strength – to a point. The main area of improvement with pistols is the way they can improve your active range of motion on squats. Good pistol form involves dipping so low that your butt scrapes the ground. Normal back squats rarely allow you to dip this low, especially when heavy, man-weight is used. You’ll be surprised at the extra power you can squeeze out of squats just by increasing your range of motion on the bottom end of pistol squats.
However, there does come a point where pistol squats won’t give you the intensity of contraction that you need to increase your overall leg strength.
Exercise Ball Squats – This exercise bridges the power gap that is left open from single-leg pistol squats. It’s basically a modified wall squat, where the exercise ball lies between you and the wall. You press back as hard as you can against the ball and the wall, then the ball allows you to squat down, while continuing to apply as much pressure as possible to the wall. The result is a dynamic wall squat that uses a contraction that is much closer to the max effort that we’re going for. To say that this exercise improves squat power and endurance would be an understatement – and you’ve probably never heard of it.
The human body is a weapon everyone has. However, when it comes to lifting weights and bodybuilding, not enough people use it to their advantage. You can truly transform your body without ever touching a dumbbell if you really wanted to. If you can find a good balance between lifting real weights and doing bodyweight exercises you will see results you never thought possible.