Bodyweight training is an essential part of any serious strength training routine.
Contrary to what many people may believe, it is a great way to build muscle if you know how to properly integrate it into your training. It develops stability and balance, core strength, and will become more and more important as you get older. Plus some of the movements require some serious muscle to pull off.
Still have your doubts? Look at any male gymnast. Those guys train bodyweight all day long and they are jacked.[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzhQVDj0iOQ[/tube]
But, like anything else that you take on, to get good at it, you need to practice. The one thing I’ve found is that we get so busy with the other aspects of our training, like trying to set PR’s at the big barbell lifts, or gain weight by doing high-volume, moderate-intensity work, we neglect the bodyweight exercises.
Listen, I get it 100%. It’s tough to cram everything in. It’s hard for me to pry myself away from the bar too.
At one point, I really tried. I got really enthralled with bodyweight training and I decided to train that way once a week, in addition to a 4 day heavy strength training routine. I had grand plans of crushing pistol squats, and all of the inversions, and every single pushup and parallel bar exercises you could imagine.
I quickly learned something. My intentions were good, but you can’t get good at anything by doing it just once a week. Getting bigger and stronger is my priority, which requires heavy lifting. But bodyweight training is still an important component and I wasn’t going to neglect it. So I had to find a better way…
So what is the best way to incorporate bodyweight training into a regular weight lifting routine?
Strategy #1: Work It Into Your Warm-Up
Every time you train, you should be warming up. By working bodyweight movements into your warm-ups, you are practicing them upwards of 4 times a week.
Pushups, pull-ups, bodyweight squats, jumps, and lunges are all staples of Primal warm-ups. By the time we are done, we’ve already hit 100 reps of bodyweight work before the workout has even started. This allows you to keep your heavy weightlifting workouts the same, but still get in an ample dose of bodyweight training.
Strategy #2: Learn the Variations
This is a biggie. The key to building muscle with bodyweight training is learning the progressions.
A lot of times people master pushups or pull-ups and stop there. It’s “too easy” and they get bored.
But can you do plyo-pushups? Inverted pushups? Feet elevated pushups? Bet you can’t do one-arm pushups!
“I can squat 400lbs, so what do I need to bodyweight squat for?”
Sure you can, but what about jump squats? One legged squats? You are a real hard ass if you can pistol squat.
Maybe hanging leg raises are easy. How about front-levers?
It takes impressive muscle development to pull off these moves.
Learn the variations and work them into your training. Devote 10-15 minutes of your gym day to working on them. You don’t need to master them all of course.
Pick 1 or 2 and work at them consistently. Over time you will get better. Then you can work one or two more variations into your training at a time until you eventually build up a repertoire.
Strategy #3: Use Bodyweight as a Finisher
This is one of my favorites and a good way to have a little competition with yourself or your training partner.
Pushup or pull-up ladders are awesome. You perform 1 rep, your buddy performs 1. You 2, them 2. 3, 3. And so on. First person to quit loses. It wouldn’t be uncommon to get a hundred reps or more in just a few minutes.
Circuits are good here as well by picking a variety of bodyweight exercises and performing them one after the other for a set number of reps.
This time could also serve as your opportunity for practicing the variations I mentioned above. After a heavy squat workout, finishing the day off with several sets of one legged squats would be icing on the cake. Benched heavy? Plyo-pushups to add in a little explosiveness and power will serve you well.
Strategy #4: Bodyweight Only During De-Load Phases
If you are coming off a heavy duration of heavy lifting or high volume work, de-loading is something you probably need for a few weeks after several months of wear and tear. Or maybe you are just beat up from your previous workout and need “a break”. Bodyweight training is a perfect way to do this.
Whole workouts built around bodyweight during de-load phases are great opportunities for several reasons. One, you are protecting your body and central nervous system from prolonged bouts of heavy lifting. Two, you are working your body more with different movements that will train your muscles in new ways. Three, you will have entire workouts to practice the variations as opposed to 10-15 minutes a day.
As you get older, you will probably find your de-load phases will become more and more frequent. Hate to burst your bubble but you can’t escape it. Your ability to recover decreases and the aches and pains will probably increase.
But incorporating more bodyweight training and easing back on some of the heavy barbell work will keep you in the game longer. Don’t be stubborn. Accept it and prolong your shelf life.
Alright Primal Camp. Take these strategies and run with them. Using these will allow you to use bodyweight every day you train, without detracting from your normal lifting routine. Use them properly, and you can build some big-time muscle in the process.
NASM Certified Personal Trainer
Underground Strength Coach