Just look at high level gymnasts. Most (if not all) of their training consists of high level bodyweight exercises…and they’re jacked.
To build strength with just bodyweight exercises, you’ll need to keep progressing through harder and harder variations of the exercise.
Listed below are 3 ways you can make bodyweight exercises harder.
#1. Change the leverage
Archimedes joked that he could tip the world with a long enough lever. He was talking about leverage.
No different when it comes to bodyweight exercises.
Body weight strength training can be as simple as applying basic physics to the body, in order to create mechanical disadvantage, which in turn makes the exercise harder, your muscles work harder, and thus builds strength.
The basic principles of leverage:
• The longer the lever, the easier it is to move an object.
• The shorter the lever, the more effort required to move that same object.
Leverage applied to body weight exercises:
• The more elevated your feet, the harder the exercise becomes (ie…L-sit pull-ups, handstand pushups, and body rows with your feet on a box)
• The more elevated your hands, the easier the exercise becomes (ie…wall pushups and standing ring rows)
2. Re-distribute your weight
Another technique to make BW exercises harder is to simply re-distribute the weight of our body.
I first learned about this technique while reading a book called, “The Naked Warrior” by Pavel.
In it he talks about the concept of weight re-distribution.
Removing a hand or foot places nearly 100% of the demand on the other limb. Here you’re thinking one handed pull-ups, single arm pushups, and single leg squats (pistols).
However, removing an entire limb really ratchets up the difficulty of the exercise.
Instead of going for broke and removing an entire limb completely, simply shift more of the weight to the other side of the body. Instead of a 100/ 0% approach you are aiming for more like 70/30 or 80/20% weight distribution.
Examples of this are staggered hand pushups, using assistance to help you move through single leg squats, or using assistance to help you progress towards single arm pull-ups.
Through simple weight distribution we can make body weight exercises extremely challenging.
(Quick little strength builder workout with handstand pushups, and pistols)
3. Increase time under tension
Increasing the time it takes to perform a single repetition is a great way to build strength with bodyweight exercises.
When a muscle contracts against resistance it becomes stronger.
If you want to see what I mean, try this workout:
Slow Push Down
Do 5 sets of 2 pushups, but take 30 seconds to complete each one. Ten seconds to lower, ten seconds of holding the bottom position, ten seconds to raise.
If you’re not used to this by set 3 or 4 your chest muscles are going to be quivering. And, that’s just 10 total reps.
You can slow down the time for most bodyweight exercises (not just pushups).
You absolutely can build strength using just bodyweight exercises. Use the techniques above to help you get started.
Two other great resources, for building strength with bodyweight exercises, which are worth checking out are:
- “The Naked Warrior” by Pavel Tsatsouline
- “C-Mass” by Coach Paul Wade
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