By Isaiah Rhodes, NSCA-CPT
A lot of people tend to scoff at bodyweight exercises, figuring that they are an inferior method of developing a better physique. But bodyweight training can enhance your look and performance (see: gymnasts), and there are ways to make it more challenging and wholly more productive … as long as you’re willing to bust out of your comfort zone for a few minutes. Try one of these quick remedies to get a better workout the next time you decide to go ironless.
1. Pick Tougher Exercises
In your quest to have a more Arnold-like back, you have been using wide-grip pull-ups as your go-to move on the bar. But typewriter pull-ups, during which you pull up to one side then, remaining in that top position, drift to the other side before lowering yourself, are far more challenging. Other bodyweight-only exercises like dips, handstand push-ups, star push-ups and countless others offer real growth-inducing benefits if you’re willing to give them a try. Google “toughest bodyweight exercises” for about a trillion ideas.
2. Vary Rep Speed
Different rep speeds address muscle fibers differently, and bodyweight exercises grant you a lot of freedom in this department. On your next set of push-ups, start off with five explosive, plyometric push-ups, then do five super-slow reps, taking seven to 10 seconds to lower your body and seven to 10 seconds to press back up to full extension. Finally, finish off with five “normal” speed reps. This set of 15 will hit a variety of muscle-fiber types and make your set much more difficult than normal.
3. Devise A Goal
To get the most out of bodyweight training, it’s good to push yourself, and standards like these are just what the doctor ordered. Try aiming for 75 push-ups in one minute, 100 straight squats, 25 pull-ups in a row or a three-minute plank.
4. Do A Crazy Volume Day
Try telling a guy who squats 315 for reps to do bodyweight squats. He just doesn’t see the point. But have that same lifter try doing 315 bodyweight squats in a single session and he’ll get it: There’s more than one way to grow muscle. Super high-volume days can help you recruit dormant muscle fibers in a way that is less stressful on joints. And research shows that “lighter” training can help trigger new growth just as well as heavy iron, although it won’t have the same impact on strength. Aim for 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups or 300 squats in separate sessions, or try them all in that order in a single workout to rediscover what “sore” is really like.
5. Capitalize On Variations
Bodyweight exercises typically have a number of variations that can and should be used to fully develop muscular strength and detail. To use the example of the squat once more, narrow stances will target the outer quads while wider ones hit the inner thighs. You can do squat holds at various heights or go the explosive route to attack fast-twitch muscle fibers. One-leg squats increase overload on one side and also engage more stabilizer muscles. Don’t limit yourself to just one version of any exercise.