How To Incorporate Bodyweight Training into ANY Type of Program
In the past, we’ve discussed the benefits of bodyweight training within the context of neuromuscular activation and muscular recruitment. Today, I want to talk to you about my personal experiences with such training, and how they led to a new program.
I started my training career as an athlete, mostly wrestling and football, and I was introduced to bodyweight training almost immediately. From the time I first stepped onto a wresting mat or jog out onto a football field, push-ups, crunches and jump squats were a part of my life.
Perhaps because I was exposed to them early and told I wasn’t “ready” for weights, I developed a strange sort of prejudice where, despite all of my formal education, on some level I came to believe bodyweight training was for “beginners.”
After one session, I was thoroughly humiliated by my own performance. Later that week, I constructed four bodyweight routines and was cycling them over a week. That was about seven years ago, and bodyweight training has been a mainstay for both my clients and myself ever since.
But while I’ve always appreciated the results, on some level I felt it was a little boring.
In the past few years, I’ve come to know a lot of the more innovative (and successful) bodyweight “specialists” like Adam Steer. I’d be an idiot if I didn’t learn what I could from the experts and put it into practice alongside my own stuff, and that’s why I’ve always partnered with Adam to help create bodyweight programs for my own clients.
Adam has just re-released his most awesomest-est program to date, Bodyweight Burn. In this updated version, Adam’s added high-definition follow-along videos for every single workout.
With that in mind, and in the spirit of the release of BWB, I thought I would tell you the three most common ways I incorporate bodyweight training into your programming.
I wish it was different, but sadly most athletes (even the higher level guys) take a good part of the off-season…well, off. They come to me about 8 weeks before they’re expected to return to camp and need to get back into shape.
In most cases, I start them with bodyweight-only training for about a week. We focus on form and primarily use a mixture of unilateral exercises, explosive exercises, and agility drills. To put it into context, we’d really be doing the dynamic style of workouts from BWB.
Weeks 2 and 3 we generally do two bodyweight workouts, and one full body weighted workout. At this point, we might get a little fancy-schmancy with the bodyweight stuff and have one of the workouts be density based.
Weeks 4, 5 and 6 we take a bit into more traditional territory, and transition into an upper body (weighted) a lower body (weighted) day, and then a single bodyweight day. In this case, the bodyweight workout would be one of the strength circuit type workouts from BWB.
Weeks 7 and 8, the goal is complete integration: 3-4 workouts each mixing in bodyweight and load bearing exercises.
When deconditioned athletes come in from 2-4 months of sitting around, honestly, most of them can’t perform for crap. Not only do we often have to worry most about strength, we also have to be concerned with strength and endurance.
Moreover, because most elite level athletes will generally have a very high level of strength, even starting with their off-season weights can be dangerous, as they are lacking efficiency and can compromise joint health.
By starting them at bodyweight, we can train with pretty high reps without risk of injury, while at the same time do a good job of elevating the heart rate and cranking up their conditioning.
As they build muscular endurance and increase lactate threshold, we can slowly push them towards weighted exercises without them a) vomiting or b) screwing anything up because they forgot how to bench press and just muscle the weight up.
Bodyweight training allows me to train these athletes while we get their bodies (especially their joints) ready to handle the loads they’ll work with to get back to game-ready form.
For these clients, let’s assume they have no injuries and are just not seeing the results they want.
In this case, we’ll generally train with weights once per week (if they’ve been consistently training) and bodyweight twice per week for about a month. Going forward from there, we’ll move to a weight and bodyweight hybrid.
The goal with fat loss clients is always to lose weight and bodyfat in the fastest but safest way. Utilizing bodyweight training initially provides a different stimulus than either weighted stuff or interval work, allowing for a larger variety of exercises and training conditions.
And because you can transition seamlessly from exercises to exercise and from a “muscle exercise” (push up) to a “conditioning exercise” (mountain climbers), it isn’t hard to see how this can lead to some breathtaking circuits and pretty rapid fat loss.
One of my favorite things in this instance is the immediate increase in exercise selection. Off the top of my head, I can think of maybe 6 different variations of the lunge, most of which are more suitable to training without weights. Not only does this make my job easier as a coach, but also keeps the training fresh and the client motivated.
All of those factors weigh heavily into the results equation. In cases such as these, I can usually run them through something very similar to the Bodyweight Burn without having to change much.
This is the situation I see the most often: The fairly strong guy who wants to get bigger and hasn’t grown in 6 months. Of course, we address diet and all other factors, but I like to get BW training in right away.
With this guy, screw integration. He’s been doing the same stuff for 2 years, and needs some time off from the repetitive nature of his training. With such a client, I do FOUR straight weeks of bodyweight only training before transitioning back into heavy lifting.
Simply put, chances are this guy isn’t as in touch with his body as he thinks he is. If he really is doing “everything right” in terms of both training and nutrition, we have to assume there is a disconnect somewhere.
In my experience, growth stagnation stems from stagnant training. That is, he needs to change things up as drastically as possible, and of course, bodyweight training fits the bill.
However, it’s effective for other reasons as well. One of the things I notice about clients of this nature is how “locked up” they are; that is, they’re a bit stiff in their movement patterns. I don’t need to get into a lengthy description of pattern overload, but it’s enough to say that training in singular planes isn’t great for your nervous system over the long haul.
Enter bodyweight training for strength. Here, we can get our guy moving in all sorts of different directions, as well as make tiny variations that we don’t have the option to do with traditional training. Even something as small as offsetting one hand during push-ups will give the client a different training stimulus than that to which he’s accustomed.
More importantly, and for my clients who want to gain muscle this is really the main thing: There are just very important neurological adaptations that occur when you switch from training with weights to training with bodyweight.
That is, by replacing open chain kinetic exercises (like the bench press) with closed chain kinetic exercises (like push ups) our trainee is going to stimulate his nervous system in a completely new way. This in and of itself is likely to push the client towards new growth.
In addition, he’ll be deconditioned from loaded training, and when he goes back to that (after the initially re-learning) he is likely to experience a good amount of supercompensation in response to what is now “new” stimulus.
Not only do we get him growing… We do it twice as fast.
To make this most effective, the bodyweight workouts will be a mixture of density based training and strength circuits—that way, our lifter stays strong and increases his work capacity, in addition to all of the other benefits.
Three ways I incorporate BW training into my programs for various types of clients; methods that get better every time I try them out. Simply, the more I learn from masters like Coach Steer, the better results I get.
I want you to reap the benefits of bodyweight training – the improved neurological efficiency, the greater muscle recruitment, the heightened stability and athleticism – but you need a plan. To attain maximum benefit from bodyweight training, it needs to be incorporated in a specific, periodized way.