Bodyweight Training

Prioritize Relative Strength

Relative strength for the vast majority of humans is much more important and much more applicable than absolute strength.  

Relative vs Absolute

Relative strength focuses on your strength related to your own body, more specifically, being able to perform numerous movements at your bodyweight.  Absolute strength does not care about how much you weigh, it is all about the maximum amount of weight you can lift for an exercise, think of powerlifters and offensive linemen.  While it would seem logical that these two would be linked, that if you improve your absolute strength on a lift that would immediately translate to your relative strength it simply does not work this way.

Relative Movements

The most simple relative strength test is the pull up.  Can you perform X number of strict pull ups?  This can also move into dips and pushups.  Those three movements are the starting point.  A guy who can bench press 415 pounds may not be able to do a single pull up.  Another guy can only bench 225 pounds, but can do 20 strict pull ups.  In this scenario it is also likely there would be at least 100 lbs separating these two individuals in bodyweight.

THere are very few times in your life where actually doing a max effort movement applies in real life.  Especially when you consider the positioning and setup most high max lifters utilize when performing a lift.  But I would bet every single person out there needs to move their body around using pulliing and pushing movements similar to pull ups and dips.  Getting out of a pull is essentially a muscle up where you pull yourself out of the water, then dip all the way up.

Relative Progressions

I am a lifelong meathead who has always loved pushing the iron around, and often going as heavy as possible, sometimes beyond.  Over time, this beats the living shit out of your body.  I always did dips and pull ups so my relative strength was quite solid from a baseline perspective.  What I did NOT know was the level of progressions that were possible.  If you do not believe me, and you can do pull ups and dips from bars, than try doing them on rings.  You are welcome.  This is a whole new world on rings and it will absolutely humble most of the strongest people on the planet.  I certainly was.  

Perfect Athlete

A perfect athlete would have a unique combination of Speed, Strength and Flexibility.  Along with a whole lot of skill in their specific sport.  But if you were to take someone with extremely high levels and scores on strength, speed and flexibility it would be HIGHLY likely that that athlete could be dropped into any sport and perform above average.  These are the types of physiques we should be chasing as well.  Think NFL running backs, receivers and defensive backs.  Think gymnasts and MMA fighters.  These are the bodies most of us should be chasing.  Guys with incredible relative strength along with flexibility and speed.  Not offensive lineman who can move the most MAX weight, but at the expense of carrying around an extra 100 or more pounds.  Not bodybuilders who cannot perform ANY sport at a reasonable level.  No thanks.

Getting Too Big

One major problem with bodybuilders, especially professional level bodybuilders, is their complete lack of flexibility and even relative strength.  Some guys in the gym can work themselves into a fury, setup on the bench with an incredible bridge and bench a house.  Yet they cannot do a pull up, their dips are shit, and in the case of many of the massive bodybuilders they cannot wipe their own ass.  Is this an enjoyable state of every day living?  ALmost always sore and probably too big for their own good.  And as a bonus when it comes to many day to day activities they are actually weak as shit.  No thanks.

Priority

Priority is an extremely simple thing that most people butcher.  When asked for a list of top five priorities from your boss, you now know your boss is a moron.  There can only be 1 priority.  There can be only one winner at the end of the day if you have to choose 1 person to eat over every other choice.  The same is true in training.  You can do a lot of different things that mix in max lift days and bodyweight relative strength days.  But if you have to make a choice of continuing to push your max XYZ lift up, versus no longer being able to do Pull ups or Dips or really anything with your bodyweight because you got too big or heavy, then skip the max shit because you may get absolutely stronger but at the expense of becoming a worse athlete.

Bodyweight Training 101: Power of High Frequency

High frequency bodyweight training is among the most tried and true methods of strength training.  Due to its simplicity bodyweight training does not require a ton of equipment; therefore it does not sell a ton of gym memberships or fancy personal training signups.  In fact, if a personal trainer would actually apply these methods a lot of clients would probably walk out as it seems too simple to actually work.  And that is the beauty of it; it is so F-ing simple to follow and the results are staggering.

How?

You identify 2-3 exercises, circuit through them for X number of rotations and that is your day's work out.  Then you rinse and repeat X days per week.  The overarching goal is to get to a certain number of reps for that workout, which add up to a goal number of reps for the week, which add up to a goal number of reps for the month.  As an example maybe you want to get to 500 pullups for the month by starting with 15 pullups day 1, add 1 each day over the course of 20 workouts in month (5 workouts per week, for 4 weeks), by the end of the month you will be doing 35 pullups in the final workout.

High Frequency?

Definitions vary, but high frequency means hitting an area 3+ times a week.  In the case of bodyweight type exercises it is more like 5 times a week as the tax your body has to pay from a single workout is not that tremendous compared to a max effort day of deadlifts, bench presses or squats.  You simply add a rep or two per exercise each day and the cumulative volume over the week forces your body to adapt.  And that is the magic formula, doing numerous sets for an amount of reps that is a challenge, but a single set is not grueling effort.  By the last set the difficulty will definitely increase but should still not be impossible.

Now go in the next day and do the SAME exact exercises, but add 1 rep to the total for each exercise for that day.  Do this 5 times a week for a one month.  

Doubts?  See Gymnasts

If you have doubts regarding this style of training being effective, take a look at gymnasts.  Especially gymnasts on the parallel bars and rings.  Gymnasts are among the athletes with the most desirable bodies from muscular and symmetry standpoint.  Gymnasts are properly proportioned with functional muscle, and of course, biceps that POP.

Gymnasts perform some accessory lifting but the meat and potatoes of a gymnast's workout program consists of actually performing the bodyweight exercises.  Muscle ups and handstands are a couple of the most difficult exercises to perform; these are exercises that I would doubt most bodybuilders or powerlifters could even execute.  Gymnasts do these exercises by the 1000s per week.

Getting stronger and looking better are almost always the primary goals of training.  And if girls want to lose fat the BEST way is by getting stronger.  If you pattern your goals around a type of athlete who would you rather look like?  

An impossibly strong Powerlifter who has amazing max lifts but is very bulky and possibly has a lot of noticeable body fat?  A marathoner who can run very long distances and has a great cardiovascular capacity, but no muscle tone whatsoever?

Not many people would seek either of these types of bodies for themselves yet too many people train in either of these manners.  Too many people either lift WAY too heavy, all the time.  Or too many people in an effort to lose weight do countless hours of cardio which rips away as much muscle, or more, than fat.

Closed Chain Rules

The last piece of this is the bodyweight exercises which should really be its own post.  For the upper body there are few exercises that are more effective than Pull Ups, Dips and Pushups.  And if you can do Handstand pushups against a wall, you are set!  These are all closed chain exercises which are MUCH more effective as the body was designed to do these.

A closed chain exercise can be explained as follows:

  1. In a Pulling scenario when doing a pullup we are pulling our body to something.
  2. In a Pushing scenario when doing a pushup we are pushing our body away from something.

This is why a Pullup is a MUCH more effective exercise than a lat pull down.  This is why a pushup is more effective than a bench press.  One negative with pullups and pushups is there is a challenge to adding a lot of weight.  We can add some but adding enough weight for a 1 rep max on a push up would be difficult which is why bench presses, rows, etc. are needed as well.

 

Conclusion

High frequency bodyweight training can be highly effective due to the cumulative effect it has on the body.  By doing A LOT of pullups, pushups or dips your body is forced to adapt.  And pullups dips and pushups work because close chain exercises are AWESOME.