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The 3 Best Ways to Use Bodyweight Training

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How to Use the World's Oldest Training Method for NEW Results

Whenever a new bodyweight program comes out, people seem intent on using it as an excuse to get into a debate about bodyweight training vs. weight training.

Which, if you’ll forgive me for being so blunt, is an incredibly stupid debate to have.

Here’s the problem: there seems to be a disturbing trend in the fitness industry to “pigeon hole” and compartmentalize – that is, if a type of training is good for something, people immediately assume it’s good ONLY for that.

Hence circuits become a “fat loss” training method—despite the fact that circuits can be used to build muscle. And it happens with a variety of training styles, even one of the oldest and most commonplace: bodyweight training.

And, with respect to the aforementioned debate, it’s become very obvious that a lot of people hate on bodyweight training.  Or really, it’s not even hate—so many people simply discount bodyweight workouts altogether, and refuse to consider how much they have to offer.

But I’d go as far to say that not only does bodyweight training have merit, but it has some unique advantages over weight-bearing movements. (Seriously.) I am not trying to tell you that you need to use bodyweight training in lieu of weights; rather, I am telling you that you can use bodyweight training to get more out of weights.

That Most Basics of Basics

I’ll get to some specifics, but let’s first touch on some of the general advantages of training with body weight: cost and convenience.

You can get a  complete training session with almost no equipment at all.  I say “almost” because, admittedly, it’s very difficult to truly train your back with no equipment whatsoever. Of course, if we add a simply piece of equipment like a pull up bar (or a tree branch), you now have access to some of the best and most effective bodyweight exercises in the world.

That single limitation aside, you could do a bodyweight workout at home, in a hotel while traveling, or in the gym.

Of course, you knew all of that.  Just because a training method is cheap and convenient doesn’t mean it’s “good” right?  Of course not. Okay, smart-ass, fair enough.


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Photo: A&A Photography

3 Ways to Incorporate BW Training for Maximal Effect

1) Fat Loss

Due to the extremely versatile nature of BW training, it’s exceptionally easy to move seamlessly from one exercise to another. That, coupled with the fact that it’s simple to increase and decrease the intensity of the exercise, makes it very easy to see how bodyweight training can be used effectively for fat loss.

There are a few ways to do this, all of which are tremendously valuable.

  • A) Perform a single bodyweight-only workout per week.  This is extremely beneficial for people who are training mostly with weights and not doing much conditioning work.  BW-only circuits are great for fat loss not only because of the reasons above, but also because you’re employing a variety of training stimulus. Because I want to hook you up, here’s a bodyweight circuit you can try next time you’re at the gym.

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  • B) Pepper Bodyweight Exercises INTO a weight-training workout.  This is what I call, “the Dynamic Interrupt,” and is a great technique you can use to make any workout you’re already doing more effective for fat loss.Every 4-5 sets, simply take a break from your weight training routine and perform a few bodyweight exercises like jumping jacks or mountain climbers. You’ll jack your heart rate up, get your core temperature raised, and overall, make the workout more metabolic.Here is an example of a Dynamic Interrupt you can do DURING your next weight-training workout

Dynamic Interrupt

Quad Squat

50 reps

Mountain Climber

20 reps per side

Plank

30 seconds

As you can see, adding bodyweight training into a pre-existing program is an easy way to take your fat loss efforts to the next level.

2) To Increase General Neurological Efficiency

As we all know, strength isn’t just about the size of your muscles—if they aren’t wired right, you’re not going to be able to lift to your potential. Similarly, the more you can lift, the bigger you’ll get. It’s an upward spiral of strength and size, but it all depends on the nervous system.

Without falling back too heavily on bodybuilding clichés or so-called and oft-maligned bro-science, you’ve heard of mind-muscle connection—which admittedly sounds a bit like either mysticism or complete bullshit.

That said, mind-muscle connection is really just a colloquial way of referring to neurological efficiency, or the degree to which your nervous system will “allow” your muscles to get involved in a lift.  Put somewhat more simply, it’s learning to contract your muscles as effectively as possible by maximally firing up your nervous system.

Unfortunately, that isn’t as easy as it sounds. Our bodies are designed to perform tasks as simply, efficiently, and with as little work as possible.  Which means that all your body “cares” about is getting the job done; when set up to press that heavy bar off your chest, it doesn’t take into account the fact that you’re trying to grow your pecs.

Instead, you’ll recruit whatever muscles (and muscle fibers) lift the bar with the least amount of effort. If your triceps are dominant, they’re going to overpower the pecs and you won’t get the recruitment you need to stimulate your chest to grow.  Obviously, this is something best avoided on the road to a well-developed physique.

The simplest and most effective way to circumvent this is with bodyweight training. Bodyweight exercises serves is a great way to “close the chain” on corresponding weight-bearing exercises; allowing you to create mind-muscle connection and increase neurological efficiency. To do this, we alternate open and closed chain movements—and in most cases, that will involve pairing bodyweight exercises with load bearing ones.

To make things simple, let’s stay with the example of benching and chest. As far as bodyweight exercises, a push up, which is a closed-kinetic chain exercise (CKCE).  This is because your working limbs are grounded and fixed in place.

The bench press, on the other hand, is what we call an open-chain kinetic exercise (OCKE). In this case, the weight is free to move in space — a good thing because you’ll get more overall muscle recruitment and nervous system activation. But that uncertainty of the path of the weight could make it difficult to effectively isolate the firing of a specific target muscle.

Your open chained exercise requires more overall muscle recruitment and nervous system activation because of the need to stabilize the weight. But your closed chain exercise allows you to really fire up the exact muscles that you’re targeting.

By closing the chain, prior to the movement, you remove the uncertainty of the path of resistance, which in turn allows you to focus on and increase recruitment in the muscle you’re trying to develop—in this case, your chest.

Put simply, you start with a set of push-ups and then move onto the bench press.

As soon as you’ve done that set and amped up the timing and coordination of your pec activation, you bring that to bear on the bench press—you’ll notice that now, you can feel your pecs throughout the entire movement, allowing you greater recruitment, strength, and ultimately size.

Don’t confuse this with a pre-fatigue method though. You only want to do enough reps, say 8-10, to really get a feel for the pecs and get the nervous system primed. Start each rep by flexing the pecs and then explosively press of the ground. On the way down, focus on keeping the pecs actively flexed throughout the movement.

Another way to do this is to perform explosive push-ups, which have risen to popularity as part of what are called neural charge workouts.

By combining the bench press with a push up activation set, it’s like a neural 2-for-1, and the result is a more efficient firing of the nervous system, more strength and more muscle growth.

3) For Enhanced Strength and Speed

Along the same lines of using alternating open and closed chain movements to increase a general neurological efficiency, we can go a step further for a slightly more directed effect.

In this case, the goal is to utilize bodyweight movements to create a phenomenon known as post-activation potentiation (PAP).

Essentially, post-activation potentiation is a phenomenon by which certain muscular performance characteristics are briefly enhanced as a result of their “contractile history.”

Which is to say that your muscle tissue quite literally remembers recent stimulus, and, if coaxed correctly, can outperform previous set.

The way this is usually used is when exercises with a heavy load are done prior to explosive activity. This induces a high degree of CNS stimulation—the results of which is greater motor unit recruitment on subsequent sets, be they of the same exercise or something similar.

Simply, an explosive exercise done after a heavy one increases and potentiates the activation of the muscles involved in those exercises. Hence the name.  Get it?

Of course, one of the most convenient and effective ways to incorporate explosive exercise is with bodyweight exercise.

Here are a few great examples of PAP pairings:

  • Heavy back squats followed by jump squats
  • Dumbbell or Barbell Bench Press followed by explosive push-ups
  • Yates row followed by explosive inverted row

Keep in mind the reason for doing this—the explosive exercise increases CNS stimulation, and resultantly fiber recruitment.  Which means that, for example, your second set of squats could actually be MORE productive than your first, thanks to the explosive nature of the jump squat.

Over time, pairing exercises like this will lead to increased power, speed, and (assuming you pair the right exercises) greater overall athleticism.

Try this:

  • Back squat – 90% 5RM for 3-5 reps
  • Jump Squat – As many perfect reps as possible in 30 seconds
  • Rest 2 min
  • Back Squat – 95% 5RM for 3-5 reps

You’ll notice that the second set goes up smoother, easier, and ultimately just feels better.

If that’s not an argument for bodyweight exercises making weighted ones more effective, I don’t know what is. PAP is effective, interesting, and above all, cool. Give it a shot next time you’re in the gym.

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Final Thoughts on BW Training

As you can see, bodyweight training has a long and storied history of getting people into shape—and despite what many people erroneously conclude, training with bodyweight is good for more than just warm-ups and days when you “can’t make it” to the gym.

If used properly and under the right conditions, bodyweight exercises can be used to take your fat loss, strength, and overall training to the next level.  A tool in your toolbox, and one you can use in any number of situations.  Give these a shot and I promise you will not be disappointed.

Which means, of course, that while the Bodyweight BURN program is great on it’s own, if used withing the context of a complete and balanced training strategy, the program becomes even more effective.

By combining programs like Bodyweight BURN with more conventional workouts, you have a new weapon in your arsenal for fat loss and muscle gain.  A great example would be to take a moderate and balanced approach.  Four weeks of Bodyweight BURN followed by 4-6 weeks of Final Phase Fat Loss.

And that’s why I’m offering you bonuses that include weights when you pick up Bodyweight BURN — because used together, these methods are by far more effective than when used on their own with exclusivity. And so, when you pick up Bodyweight BURNI’m going to hook you up with HORMONAL SURGE TRAINING and FOUR MINUTE MONSTER SETS. Each of these is special in it’s own way – HST uses a completely unique mixed approach to optimizing your hormones, and 4MM is just some of the fastest fat-shredding workouts I’ve ever written.

Each of these is worth the price alone, but I’d rather hook you up and support a program I believe in.

Whether you decide to direct alternation, OR a more organically blended approach like those described above, it’s easy to see how bodyweight training can help you to take it to the next level. 

Okay – YOUR turn.  I want to know what you consider to be the most effective way to incorporate bodyweight training into your programs.  More than that I want to know WHY you think it’s important to do so.

About the Author

John Romaniello is a level 70 orc wizard who spends his days lifting heavy shit and his nights fighting crime. When not doing that, he serves as the Chief Bro King of the Roman Empire and Executive Editor here on RFS. You can read his articles here, and rants on Facebook.

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  • mark

    Bench then explosive pushups with legs uphim up onand ben

  • Recently it dawned on me that its very easy to lift weight than doing the body weight circuits.

  • Jordan chacon

    Burpee push up with a pull up is the best overall exercise

  • All I know is that every morning you have me doing a bodyweight circuit first thing after waking up and it has been doing wonders for my energy to start the day as well as helping me lose fat.

  • Often you have lifters bragging about how much weight they can bench, squat, etc… yet, their endurance sucks ass. Then you have skinny cardio freaks bragging about their marathon running abilities, yet they can’t lift for shit.

    Fitness is the melding of both strength and cardio, and bodyweight training is a great tool to add, to take your fitness to the next level.

    Whether I’m focussed on building mass, or getting lean, bodyweight workouts are always part of the blueprint.

  • Louis

    Thanks. This was really informative. I sometimes look down on Bodyweight training and this post has given me inspiration and new respect for it. I want to add it to my workouts by adding one day a week BW only (like you suggest).

  • Joseph Irons

    Done…I just bought it and the accelerated package…thanks for sharing

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  • Great post thank you for publishing it. Love your site

  • Scott

    Hi Roman, I'm starting the FPFL bodyweight, and have a question about running. I'm training for a half-marathon, would you advise that I cease my running programme for six weeks, or try and incorporate it into FPFL? Thanks in advance, Scott

  • Wes

    I was doing box jumps after heavy squats. Hard as hell and got me super winded, but I loved the intensity. I like adding in the BW stuff just to mix things up and keep from getting bored.

  • I like the tool in the toolbox analogy. For me, bodyweight exercises are “tools” for me to vary my workout. That is what I am using FPFL for. After 6 weeks of shoulder presses, switch to roca press. With the resistance bands, the possibilities are endless. Makes it fun, too.

  • laura

    I know you are a good friend of Craig Ballentyne so you wont hate me for telling you that I've been using his workouts (4 weeks) along with shapeshifter sample workout (2 weeks) and i have to say that they have been the best combination to getting real fatloss results and actually seeing a visual difference in my abs and arms. I'm not only losing fat but sculpting a great body…….and all of my workouts are done in a 10×10 area in my small apt!

    bodyweight workouts in combo with weight training are an excellent way to gain strength and build muscle and of course shed crazy fat.

  • Peter

    I use push-ups, pull-ups, BW squats, bridging, handstand pushups, BW rows and various BW abdominal exercises 1-2 times per week and usually hit the weights on similar moves about as often.

    I used to just work out with weights 4-5 times per week but read an earlier post (by Roman) about mixing in the BW work and the advantages of OKC and CKC and noticed some real strength increases and busted some plateaus.

    There is a lot of great new information on this oldest of strength training techniques. Thanks for contributing, it's made a difference in my training.

  • xena

    In June 2012 I'm going to be a show off doing Push ups(both and one handed!),Pull ups,Roll up-Standing Ups with no hands,Dips, One Legged Squats, Quad Squats and Hanging Leg raises!!

    To me it is like if u can do these particular BW moves that I mentioned here with good form for a fair amount of reps you are freaking AWSOME(not to mention strong,flexible,very fit and undoubtly very very cute,ha!) And furthermore I see BW workouts as a good stand alone training if u detest weights or as a in between training to take things easy or for recovery purposes between weight training programs!! So yeah I like both concepts! :)

  • Les

    Hey, I bought Shapeshifter- how do we get your free workouts?

    Also, since I bought FFFL 1.0, is there an upgrade rate?

  • Jacob

    The reason I think it's important to incorperate body weight into lifting is because I've seen it work. My goal this summer is fat loss. I have been trying to achieve fat loss for a few months now and haven't accomplished much.

    I got sick of doing cardio after every workout for nothing so I stopped. Instead I decided to just have one day (Sunday) of the week be a fun day. Do whatever physical activity sounded fun. Most times I choose a body weight work out and have noticed fat coming off even more now. Nothing different but just adding the bw workout.

    I will be trying your above mentioned work out this Sunday.

  • Joe

    Roman,

    This is a fantastic article you wrote. Not only did you include ideas I never thought about, the way you incorporated it makes PERFECT SENSE. When I took Karate(back in my 30s), the first thirty minutes were bodyweight exercises. I felt stronger, more athletic, and FLEXIBLE. Not to mention I lost a lot more weight and I was ripped at 38. Now at 47…I want those days baaaack(sniff).

    OK…I digress. ANYWAY, I don't know what the debate is about. I find that bodyweight exercises have increased my ability to tackle the weights with lots of focus and I get great results. My brother(who is a trainer also) and I talk about this all the time and we shake our heads about the “sudden debate”. And I sooo agree with what Mickey Glick posted. It's all good, folks!

    Thanks again for the article…this is a keeper!

  • Ryan Carow

    Hey Roman, I think this article is a great combination of “bro-science” and real science which is usually kind of hard to find on the web.

    Personally I've always liked using BW exercises because as an athlete that is what you need to manipulate in space the most, and my goal has always been to be all-around athletic, so movements like jump squats and pushups have always felt really effective for knowing how to control my own body is space.

    Great article man, thanks!

  • Many of the people slamming bodyweight exercises are the ones who need them the most. Guys who only care about how much they can bench but who can't do a proper pushup. People so inflexible in the hips or weak in the core who struggle with Spiderman Climbs. Bodyweight exercises can be tough! In many cases, it's far easier to plop yourself on a bench or machine and ego trip about how much weight you're lifting.

    My other point is why do so many people feel the need to pick one thing as the be-all, end-all of exercise? Kettlebells, suspension trainers, dumbbells, sandbags, barbells, bodyweight exercises, resistance bands- they're all tools. You wouldn't own a tool box with just a hammer, why would you want to consistently work out just one way?

  • Tony Roe

    Besides all the reasons you listed above (probably my favorite/most intriguing being PAP), I feel like bodyweight training helps keep you grounded.

    By that, I mean that by training with bodyweight you have more respect for what types of weigh you are moving and you have a good frame of reference.

    An example for me would be something like a bench press or squat variation. I note how much I'm moving and often (sometimes subconsciously) compare it to my bodyweight. I just think it's kind of fun to think about benching yourself for X reps. Incorporating pull/chin-ups and dips is almost a must in my opinion, too.

    Good stuff, Broman!

  • david

    If nothing else, dips and chins. Beyond that, especially when higher repetition ranges are called for in a program, I add lunge variations, one legged squats and deadlifts. If fat loss is part of the cycle; burpees, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, etc.

    Oh, and loved Final Phase Fat Loss – Bodyweight. Just loved it.

  • Hey Roman. I've always been a proponent of body weight training for a variety of reasons.

    1. Activation. As you mentioned with PAP I've found that having clients doing 1-2 explosive jump squats allows them to lift more on a low rep squat. Also, it forces them to focus in on the recruitment. If their heads aren't completely into it (after 2.5-3min rest when doing singles) it's a good way to refocus.

    2. Funny I never explored the difference between close and open chain movements. They work beautifully in getting clients to 'feel' muscles when coaches properly. Hip bridges / glutes activation and push ups or even push up +'s work well.

    3. Working out outside. There isn't a better feeling then jumping up and down in the park like a madman while having weekend warrior types thinking you're crazy.