Bodyweight Training for STRONG PEOPLE

by: Josh Bryant

Josh coaches Nick “The Spanish Bull” Deltoro through a bodyweight session.

Two-hundred-fifty-pound Indian super heavy weight wrestling champ “The Great Gama” built a 56-inch chest, enjoyed a 50-year undefeated wrestling career, and was one of the strongest men in his day, while training with just his bodyweight!

Arguably the greatest running back of all-time, Herschel Walker, built his granite-like physique with nothing more than bodyweight training.  Lo and behold, what a true renaissance man Walker was being a national caliber track athlete, 5thdegree black belt, MMA fighter, Olympic bobsledder and even cut a rug for the Fort Worth ballet!

Furthermore, relying on a gym for your workouts assumes you’ll always have access to one. Anyone remember when liquor stores and peep shows operated freely but gyms were forced to close? 

Bottom line is, you are not guaranteed access to a gym.

So, it’s important you learn to train with your bodyweight whether for aesthetics, athletic performance, or frankly to avoid basting the formaldehyde turkey when things run amuck at the Waffle House in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.

Bodyweight Underrated 

There are three main reasons bodyweight exercises do not get the credit they deserve.  The first is: no equipment manufacturer or famous fitness personality stand to make money—they benefit the user and no one else!

The second reason is, as your strength increases, bodyweight exercises become less challenging. The law of overload states for muscles to get bigger and stronger they must experience stress beyond what they are accustomed. 

With a little outside the box thinking and carefully-crafted loading parameters and movement progression, the law of overload can be obeyed with bodyweight training.

The third reason is these exercises are too difficult for many beginners and the obese.  While neither of these issues SHOULD affect traditional or tactical athletes, let’s cut the bullshit and realize we are not in Utopia. Working with tactical athletes I was shocked to learn that many lack bodyweight strength proficiency resulting from a lack of post job physical assessments and very laxed hiring and recruitment standards.

Josh putting Nick “The Spanish Bull” Deltoro through a bodyweight trainings session.

Increasing Overload

Once you possess a high level of relative strength (strength to bodyweight ratio) you do not have to only train bodyweight movements for strength endurance! They can still be trained for STRENGTH, with the proper overload strategies.  The following seven strategies overload bodyweight training for the athletes with high levels of relative strength.

  • Accentuate the Negative- not only does this strategy increase difficulty but it helps build a “mind-muscle connection” i.e. feeling the targeted muscles do their work. As you lower yourself on a pull-up, push-up, squat or any bodyweight exercise, do it with control and focus on the muscles you are specifically targeting.  This prolongs the muscles time under tension and this element of control adds an element of safety. For example, if you can easily bang out 20 push-ups do a set of 12 with a five-second negative.
  • Move Away from the Midline. The proximity of your extremities to your core greatly influences the difficulty of the movement. In other words, as mechanical advantage decreases, the intensity of a bodyweight movement increases.  In traditional lifting, when an athlete is executing a deadlift and the barbell drifts away from his midline, the weight becomes much more difficult to lift.  The same concept applies to bodyweight training, it is more difficult to lunge with your hands above your head, than stationary by your side.  To increase the difficulty of push-ups, you can place your hands on the floor in front of your head.  These simple changes in limb position increase difficulty with bodyweight training, providing overload.
  • Increase Range of Motion. A deficit deadlift provides greater overload than a traditional deadlift, as does a push-up in-between boxes with a stretch at the bottom or a lunge off a step.  Both movements are more difficult than a traditional push-up or lunge.  Using a larger motion increases overload with bodyweight movements.
  •  Paused Reps. When strength training, your muscles work like elastic.  As you lower yourself on a bodyweight movement, you store elastic-like energy, like a rubber band being pulled back.  In turn, when you  reach the bottom portion of a movement, this rubber band-like effect helps you reverse motion and “spring” back to the starting position.  This is great for building explosive power. However, to build starting strength and provide additional muscular overload, pause at the bottom of a movement.  After a one-second pause, nearly half of all elastic-like energy is gone, after five seconds it’s nearly all gone. Just a one-second pause will overload the movement and force the your body to recruit new muscle fibers, this small pause will provide a large overload.
  • Unilateral push-ups and pull-ups might be easy for you but they will be much harder with one arm. Besides having to lift a lot more weight, this requires much greater levels of balance and core stability.Furthermore, single-limbed exercises manipulate the “bilateral deficit” which is articulately explained by expert strength coach, Christian Thibaudeau, “The sum of your maximum strength using both arms is less than the sum of the strength of your right arm and your left arm working individually.” In other words, if you can lift 150 pounds with two hands, but using your right hand, you can lift 85 pounds and can do the same on your left, 85 + 85 = 170. 170 is more than 150. Knowing this allows greater overload and the knowledge to build greater levels of muscle and strength.
  • Train Explosive Increases in both speed of movement (effects power) and speed of contraction (affects explosive strength), think back to high school physics class force = mass x acceleration!  Let’s not forget about the acceleration component, the faster you execute a movement the higher amounts of force you produce! This true maximum tension—higher amounts of tension equal higher amounts of muscular overload and power development.

Get the book that revolutionized bodyweight training HERE!

Final Thoughts

You are never too strong for bodyweight training! If all you have is you, you are good hands to make gains.