Picture this, you have decided to take a break out of your busy life schedule and go on holiday for the week. You arrive at your destination, the suns out, your accommodation is great and beach is pristine. But there is a problem. There isn’t a single gym within 30 miles.
Now for your average soap watching couch potato this would not be an issue, but you sir are a fine tuned dumbbell eating athlete who is used to training four times a week! So what do you do, lose your gains? Pshhh!!...
Step in Bodyweight Training. Bodyweight Training (or Calisthenics/Gymnastic Strength Training) has been around long before the first Weight Training machine was ever conceived, dating back to the days of the Spartans of ancient Greece some 1500 years ago. This type of training has been, and is still implemented today in a number of disciplines to produce some of the strongest human beings to have ever walked the earth. Elite gymnasts are often looked at as glitches in the Matrix for being able to achieve some of the amazing bodyweight feats that they can. Ever tried to perform a Maltese? Even world record holding Weightlifter Lu Xiaojun has been seen performing bodyweight exercises such as the Flag Press/Side Lever in training. Coincidence? I think not.
Bodyweight Training’s trump card though has to be the fact that the vast majority of it can be performed using minimal or zero equipment. As long as Gravity itself is present, along with a floor then you better believe you have enough equipment to train! (If you’re reading this from a space shuttle unlucky bro). For example, let’s look into the “Push Up”.
Everybody has at some point in their life either tried or seen a Push Up/Press Up. Even my friend’s baby who isn’t even born yet knows what a Push Up is. For this reason I am not going to teach granny how to suck eggs and talk about the full technicalities of this movement. A Push Up is essentially lowering your body down until your chest touches the floor, then extending the arms to push your body back up into the starting position (hands under shoulders/feet together etc). Push Ups can be performed in a gym, in the park, on the beach and so on.
Now the humble Push Up is merely a gateway exercise to numerous Bodyweight movements that have been forged to dramatically increase the strength of your “Pushing” abilities. So you can perform a set of 30 Push Ups? Awesome work, now try and perform a set of 30 with your feet raised on a park bench or a sun lounger. A little tougher? Ok Hercules now I want you to attempt a set of 10 Full Form Chest to Floor Planche Push Ups… can you see where I am going? Just as with Weightlifting, the load that we apply onto our musculature can be easily regulated by the choice of exercise or progression. Say your aim for your session is to perform 4 sets of 10 on Flat Bench, great! You add plates until you hit your working weight. You’re on the beach and you want to mimic what you would on a normal Monday evening session (Monday is still international chest day right?), so you perform 4 sets of 10 Feet Raised Diamond Push Ups.
There is a common misconception surrounding Bodyweight Training. People are under the impression that the exercises are so simple and easy that they should be performing them for 100s of reps at a time. Incorrect. If your goal is to build strength then you must choose your rep scheme accordingly. If you can easily perform regular Push Ups, make the exercise harder, increase the stimulus. Try raising your feet, add in plyometrics, remove a hand.
When I was training for Free Standing Handstand Push Ups, the majority of my work was done performing 5 sets of 5-10 reps. It works! Which brings us nicely onto my next point, balance.
Balance is a key element of Physical training that is often over looked. Ultimate human performance can be rarely achieved without a fantastic level of balance. With this in mind, let’s compare two different exercises:
1. Seated Shoulder Press Machine
2. Free Standing Handstand Push Ups (FSHSPUs)
Let’s face it, everybody loves jumping on the shoulder press and repping out until the sun comes up. It’s great. “You mean I get to sit down whilst I train? I’m in!” The problem with this is that by using such a machine, you neglect the smaller stabilising muscles that would be used in a more complete exercise. FSHSPUs maybe?
Do you know how many different muscles have to be activated in order to hold a Freestanding Handstand? Neither do I but I can guarantee that it is a hell of a lot. The beauty of this exercise is that not only do you have to have a tremendous level of balance to even qualify to attempt this movement, when performed it allows the shoulders to articulate naturally and comfortably, as opposed to being fixed along a single plane as seen in exercise 1.
Several years back I had rotator cuff problems due years of uneducated training when I was a teen. It got to the point where I was unable to press above my head on my beloved shoulder press machine. However much to my amazement, when I kicked up to the wall to perform wall handstand push ups, there was zero pain. Why? Because my head hitting the floor shortened the range of motion when I was inverted? Nope. My hands were on plates to allow full ROM. It was because my shoulders were allowed to move naturally. That session proved to be a massive turning point in my training career.
So my advice to you is this. Give it a shot and give it chance. If you already train then I don’t need to tell you that gains happen overnight, be patient and train hard. Next time you find yourself without access to a gym, give Bodyweight Training a go. Below I have attached a sample “Push Session” that I have used myself in the past to great effect. Give it a try and see what you think.
Plus, who looks more bad ass, the guy on the shoulder press, or the Ninja doing Earth Presses upside down!
A1. Shoulder Mobilisation
A2. Wrist Mobilisation
B. Wall Facing Handstand Holds 5 x 60seconds
C. Strict Wall Handstand Push Ups 5 x 5
D. Planche Lean Push Ups 5 x 5
E1. Feet Raised Push Ups 3 rounds
E2. Regular Push Ups
E3. Hands Raised Push Ups
A.Mobilise shoulders and wrists sufficiently before you begin.
B.Hands under shoulders, arms locked out.
C.If these are too easy, raise your hands to perform Deficit Handstand Push Ups.
D.If these are too easy, raise your feet using a box.
E.Perform E1 for 12 reps, E2 for 10, then E3 to failure (should be around 8). Rest, repeat.
Owner of CrossFit LST – The Agoge