How to make bodyweight training more effective

It feels like this lockdown has been dragging on foooooreeeeeveeeeer and if you’re a gym nut who just wants to get back to training you’ve still got a bit to wait.

Bodyweight training has been the go-to for most people over this time, and that’s great, but it can get boring fairly quickly.

Another challenge with bodyweight training is that it can be difficult to progress. Unlike barbell/dumbbell training where we can just add weight to make it more difficult, bodyweight training takes a bit more creativity.

Below are my favourite progressions and variations you can add to your bodyweight training to make it more interesting.

Isometrics

Isometric training basically means that the muscle is staying in the same position as it’s working. In practice this will look like a paused movement.

There are two ways we can incorporate isometrics into bodyweight training. The first is just to add a pause for a certain amount of time at a position in a movement. Think the bottom of a squat or halfway up on a push up.

The second way is to push against something that is impossible to move. Think about doing a bench press or a deadlift against a weight that you’re unable to move. The muscles are working extremely hard but there’s no movement.

I like to use a towel when using this method with bodyweight. Stand on the middle of a towel and grab an end in either hand. Then you can either squat against this as hard as you can to work your legs or pull against it as hard as you can to work your upper body.

Tempo

Tempo training means changing the time spent through certain phases of a movement. So you’d slow down either the descent/ascent/both of a movement. These are great for developing control in certain positions. A great challenge is trying to do 10 push ups with a tempo of 3s on the way down, 1s at the bottom, 3s on the way up and 1s at the top of each rep.

Partial movements

Adding a partial rep into a normal repetition is another way of making a movement more challenging. I like to use the one and a quarter style. I’ll use the squat as an example. You’ll descend to the bottom of a squat as normal. From here you’ll come up to just above parallel/halfway before going back down to the bottom. Then you’ll stand up. That’s 1 rep. I’ve used the mainly with squats, push ups and lunges but there are a whole lot of others that will work as well.

Ultra high rep sets

Using ultra high rep sets you’re able to create a lot of fatigue very quickly. With this you would either do a movement to absolute failure or for a very high number of reps (50+). The movement you’re performing will determine whether to go to failure or just a high rep set. Generally I’d use failure for upper body work and high reps for lower body work but there will be exceptions to this. I wouldn’t recommend doing movement variations will ultra high rep sets.

Bodyweight training can become stale quite quickly but adding in variations like these can keep your training fresh and keep your body progressing.

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