Variety is the spice of life. We all have our favorite tools, our preferred methods, and our go-to exercises. But if we continually bang away at the same thing, without mixing it up a bit, our training will eventually get stale, at best, or lose its effectiveness, at worst. There are many ways to mix things up, but one of the most fun and eye opening is the use of bodyweight exercises.
Unfortunately, bodyweight training hasn’t received its due in the past. Many believed it boring — lacking in choice and options. Others didn’t feel it provided adequate challenge. Well, that’s all changing. The secrets of ancient physical cultures are converging with the ingenuity of cutting-edge coaches to deliver captivating programs using only the trainee’s body weight to garner impressive results. And with the economic uncertainty of our times, bodyweight and other low cost training options are growing in appeal.
If we look to the past for inspiration, we can tap into rich traditions such as the Iranian Pahlavani and the physical cultures of the Indian peninsula. Even yoga, before becoming diluted and filtered for the West, was rife with examples of strong and wiry practitioners using the resistance of gravity on their own bodies to build incredible physical prowess. And much closer to home, strongmen of the early 20th century were huge proponents of bodyweight training and published dedicated tracts on the subject such as The York Hand Balancing Course.
Today, the treasures of the past are being resuscitated and imbibed with new life by innovators such as Scott Sonnon, founder of the Circular Strength Training® system. Anyone who has ever tried his FlowFit® program or any of the exercises from his Body-Flow™ collection know that these are not milquetoast exercise options.
Examples of great bodyweight movements are all around us
More modern day options are available through the study of athletes such as gymnasts, acrobats and even break dancers. The extent to which these athletes can control and manipulate their own mass in space is an inspiring feat. But beyond their jaw dropping skill and strength, they are also a deep well of training ideas for anyone interested in using bodyweight exercises in their training.
Building off such solid examples, we can create programs for many different goals. In fact, the new Bodyweight Exercise Revolution introduces five turn-key programs for fat loss, strength, hypertrophy, longevity and general athleticism.
Bodyweight Circuit Training
In order to explore the power of bodyweight training, let’s take a look at one of its most versatile uses, high intensity circuit training. By putting a bodyweight circuit together which taps into the range of high intensity exercise, we can use it for purposes such as fat loss or cardiovascular conditioning. This makes for an appealing alternative to conventional interval training, which can become tedious.
It can also be an excellent option for space and time efficient exercise when you are on the road or in the middle of a particularly busy period in your life. A small space in you hotel room, office or bedroom will suffice to receive the benefits of a hard-hitting conditioning session.
The ways you can set up your circuits are almost limitless. Here, we’ll borrow a protocol I learned from Scott Sonnon during a TacFit session in Bellingham, Washington. You’ll have three minutes per round. Each round starts at the top of the three minutes. So you’ll have to get in all your repetitions and rest within that timeframe. The faster you go, the more rest you’ll have.
I suggest you start with a thorough warm-up of joint mobility and movement prep. I use the Intu-Flow joint health and mobility program, along with a selection of movements from the Body-Flow library and some easy but sophisticated routines with my Mini Clubbells®. This gets the joints lubricated, the body temperature up, and the muscles all firing properly.
For each of the following exercises, I’ve provided only one level of sophistication. When working with clients, I have several levels to choose from depending on their development and preparedness. The choices shown are the standard options, from which I’ll modify down or up depending on the situation.
Metabolic Conditioning Bodyweight Circuit
3-6 Rounds of the three minutes using the following exercises. Each Round begins at the top of three minutes. The faster you get your reps in the more rest you get (ex. finish in 2 minutes, get one minute rest – finish in 2:30, get 30 seconds rest).
Quad Squat x 10
Leg Swoop x 10 left / 10 right (alternating)
Mountain Climber x 10 left / 10 right (alternating)
Jump Squat x 10
I hope you give this workout a try and use it as a springboard for exploring the potential of bodyweight exercise. Its uses and variety are limited only by your imagination!