Sunday, September 1, 2013

Bodyweight Training

Body weight training can be done anywhere, requires no elaborate equipment, no trips to the gym and produces unique results you can't get in any other way. Body weight training can produce fantastic results in strength, balance, coordination, proprioception and physical grace.

The neural training aspects of bodyweight training are unmatched requiring Kinesthesia, coordination, proprioception, motor control and balance.

Body weight work can be done for:

  • Strength
  • Cardo/metabolic work
  • Coordination
  • Agility
  • Balance
  • Often combining one or more of these aspects of functional fitness like no other training can do.

Bodyweight movements can be very frustrating, often progressions are not obvious.  There is a "can or can't do" aspect to a lot of bodyweight/gymnastics movements. Either you can do them or you can't.  There are often few gauges to progress.  Trainees can get stuck at certain progression points for weeks or months at a time.

Bodyweight work tends to produce the most efficient physique possible.  The goal is to become pound for pound as strong as possible in order to move your body efficiently through space.  There is an inherent bodyweight control aspect that isn't present in powerlifting, where often heavier is stronger.  when combined with resistance training the most efficient, functional and aesthic balanced physique is produced.

Think of pull ups(especially for women), muscle ups, push ups, handstands, handstand push ups.  These movements are not like resistance exercise where we gradually increase weights and reps in a double progressions.  You can either do them or you can't.  There is however a way to build progressions into these movements:

Modifying a pushup, as progress is made, the foam roller
moves farther down the shin, until over time it is at the ankle.
Instead of progression by adding weights, think of bodyweight progressions as adding or subtracting leverage.  Take for example the pushup.  If a trainee is unable to do a good form pushup, often the progression recommended to modify to a pushup form the knees.  The problem is that many women get stuck at this position and have trouble developing the full pushup.  Another way to modify this exercise is to start with the knees on a foam roller.  Once the trainees can do a reasonable number this way, the foam roller is moved a couple inches down to the shin.  Again the goal would be to work back to say 12 reps at this new position.  Once accomplished the roller is again moved a few inches further down the shin, and so on until the roller is at the ankle.  Soon the roller is removed and the trainee is now doing full pushups.  

For more advanced trainees who can string together say 40 pushups, elevating the feet changes the leverage and provides more difficulty.  Additionally this trainee can move to hand-release pushups which provide a dead stop aspect to this movement that eliminates the stretch reflex.  Think of this in terms of the squat v. the deadlift.  In the squat you are starting from the top, move to the bottom position where the stretch reflex becomes actives to help you propel out of the bottom.  In the deadlift there is no stretch reflex, you are starting from a dead stop at the bottom, which is much harder.  Same with the hand release push up, when the hands are released(lifted off of the floor) you are starting the push up from a dead start position, similar to the deadlift. 

Pullups are a challenge for many people. One of the most effective ways to modify the pull up is to use
gymnastics bands.  One end loops through the bar and the other is looped around your foot, with the other foot placed on top of it to keep the band from slipping. The same bands can be used to assist the dip, where the one end of the band is looped around one side of the parallel bar(or ring) and the other is held fast with the opposite hand, with the band looping around the knees.  Of course most gyms have the combination  pull up, dip assist machine.  The problem with these machines is that an ideal pull up wants your body in a hollow rock position (more on this in a future post) and the existing pull up assist machine requires bent knees, which prevents the hollow rock position and introduces a whole host of other form problems.   

The other option for scaling, which is really just another way of modifying leverage is to either limit range of motion(to make the movement easier) or increase the range of motion, to make is more difficult.  For example in the handstand push up mats or yoga blocks can be stacked between the hands to limit the range of motion.  As the trainee progresses the mats or blocks are gradually removed until the full range of motion is achieved.  To increase the range of motion for say the handstand push up or regular push up plates or yoga blocks can be placed under the hands increasing the range of motion. 

Tools to provide progressive leverage:

  • Foam roller - strarting with the rollor toward the core and greadually moving it toward the extremeties. 
  • Plates or a mats: For push ups, or for handstand push ups,  Stack mates between your hands to limit range of motion and decrease the leverage.  Stack plates under your hand to increase the difficulty and provide a longer range of motion.  
  • Yoga blocks or paralets for handstand push-ups 
  • Benches, jump boxes, etc. to increase height of the extremety.

Sample Body Weight Movements To Get Started:

Air squats: See Squats Part 3: Air Squats and Goblet Squats

Burpee: Originally developed by the Military as the most efficient way for a soldier to get off the ground when lying flat on the front.  Also, a fantastic all around body exercise combining the squat, plant, pushup, jump and inverted crunch.  Often best done for multiple reps, providing great stamina nd cardio-respiraroty training effect.

Push Ups - Will be covered in detail in a future post.  For now maintain tight glutes(squeeze your but), maintain a rigid plank position and don't flare your arms out to the side.  Elbows should be 45 degrees back and in external rotation(This will also be covered in detail in a future post as it applies both to arm and leg movements).  The push up is a simple exercise, but there is a great deal of complexity that may be considered in doing it well, for many reps safely and injury free. 

Wall Walks -  a great progression to the handstand.  From a position lying face down walk you feet up a wall using you arms and shoulders until your chest touches the wall, walk yourself back down, and repeat.

Handstands and handstand pushups - We will cover these in detail in a future post.

Ring work - Ring work requires a whole new level of stabilization that isn't present when working against a stable floor or bar.  We will cover ring work, ring dips, ring pullups, progressions and the muscle up in a future post.

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