They say the Chuck Norris doesn’t do Push-ups instead, he pushes the earth down.
This is not actually possible of course, but it is a nice intro for my first post in 2017 under the topic of bodyweight training.
You see, I think it is a fair assumption on my part that anybody who trains for the purpose of improving their health, physical appearance and general well being are using some form of resistance training, because resistance training is the only natural way to change the shape, size, strength and endurance of your muscles. Simply put when a certain movement is made more difficult to do as a result of some kind of resistance that acts directly opposite to the direction of the movement and is repeated up to the point where the movement can’t be completed without having to rest, resistance training is achieved.
Resistance Training has a few amazing adaptive effects on your muscles. Firstly, the harder your muscles pull on the bones in your body in order to move against the applied resistance, the more muscle fibres are engaged through the activation of motor neurones in your muscles, which are responsible for recruiting as many muscle fibres as is needed to perform a certain movement. If the movement is repeated against sufficient resistance during training often enough, more motor neurones will be established giving the muscle the ability to contract more effectively, making it stronger. Also, if the load of training against resistance is high enough and repeated often enough, the muscle fibres will start thickening to overcome the load of the resistance more effectively. Thus resulting in a bigger, thicker muscle. These adaptive changes will result in muscles being stronger, more powerful and capable of coping with higher volumes of work and these changes will remain in effect as long as the muscles are subjected to the same levels of resistance which brought about these changes. In other words- Resistance training makes you fitter and stronger.
Notice that I did not mention what kind of resistance is required. Becuase it doesn’t make a difference. As long as the movement is made more difficult by adding resistance to the movement equation in a controlled manner, these muscle adaptations will be achieved.
Let’s get back to Chuck’s “push-ups”. The movement required is a synchronised combination of adduction at the shoulder joints, in the transverse plane and extension of the elbows…which is exactly the same as a bench press. So by sufficiently engaging the muscles in your chest, shoulders and the back of your arms, you will train your Pectoral, Deltoid-and Tricep muscles in exactly the same way while doing push-ups or bench press. The difference is that push-ups will have the added benefit that you get from engaging your core (butt, back and stomach) to ensure that you keep your body in nice straight form. Which is something that isn’t achieved by laying on the flat surface of the bench when you do bench press, so your core is not engaged in this instance.
Therefore, Bodyweight Training actually holds additional benefits over conventional weight training.
When you start to train with your own bodyweight, you still need to be aware of the basic principles of effective resistance training. These principles are:
- Stress/Rest. To gain muscle strength, the muscles need to be stressed, then they must be given sufficient time to recover and adapt. You’ll need to adapt this principle to your own experience level.
- Progressive Overload. As I explained before, your body adapts to the stimulus of training in a relatively short time, but once you are used to it, you’ll find that no further changes in muscle strength and size will take place. That is why I recommend that you don’t count your reps, but rather keep training until you can’t perform one more repetition with good form, rest and then go some more. Also, if you get to a point where you can do loads and loads of repetitions you should start doing exercises that require more skill and are generally harder to perform. For instance, if you have no problem doing 40+ push-ups, start adding clapping push-ups or one-arm push-ups to your workouts. If 10+ pull-ups are easy, it’s time to move on to commando pull-ups or even typewriter pull-ups. I’m sure you get the idea and the variations are endless.
- Specificity. This applies to training for specific goals: For instance, to train for maximum muscle strength and size you’d do exercises in which you reach the failing point in 8-12 reps. While doing exercises where you’d max out within 1-6 reps, will help you gain more power and explosiveness. But if you are more interested in improving you muscle endurance you should do exercises of which you are able to do more than 15 reps for a maximum effort set. Though you will make progress in a specific area training in this manner, it is important that you understand that fitness, by definition means that you improve in all these areas. So by improving your rep count, i.e endurance will also mean that you will gain strength to a lesser extent and by focusing on doing explosive low-rep exercises will also improve your endurance somewhat. All these benefits are linked to each other. Just know that the areas where you focus the most will show the most improvement. The below image will help illustrate this concept.
- Frequency: How often you should be training depends on how well you can recover, but also on how committed you are to reach your goals. Generally speaking, I would say 4 sessions per week with rest days in between is effective, provided you workout at the right intensity- 100% effort. As your fitness improves over time and as you start to identify specific areas that need more attention you could take it up to 6 days per week, but never disregard the value of good recovery through sleep, rest and good nutrition.
- Intensity: Never less than your best. Like all the rest of the aspects around your fitness, the intensity is also dependent of how well trained you are. The thing about training is that it should never get easier because as your fitness improves so should your effort increase.
- Time: The duration of your workout will depend on how many sets or rounds you plan to complete and also how long you rest in-between. The AlbieFit motto is to get the as much work as possible done in a relatively short time, so don’t rest too long. Never more than 90second between rounds or 60seconds between sets. This will also depend on the type of workout you are doing. If the workout is rep based and structured in sets and rounds, then timed rest periods keep you on track and allows you to accrue enough repetitions to effectively stimulate your muscles. However, if you’re focusing on conditioning to improve your cardio fitness and burn into you fat reserves- like during an AMRAP or FOR-TIME workout, your goal should be not to rest at all. If you can go the whole way without having to catch your breath, you are definitely not pushing hard enough.
- Type: Bodyweight training, of course, but also the type of workout you choose should be aligned to the goal for that particular session and form part of a well-designed training program. An AMRAP or FOR-TIME workout is great for burning fat and improving your conditioning but will be less effective if your goal is to improve your pull-up count.
- Symmetry. Never favour any type of workout or any muscle group too much. Any particular training week should focus equally on all muscle groups. In order to prevent muscle imbalances. Opposing muscles need to be trained equally. Push and Pull exercises should receive equal focus and the core( Abs, lower back and Glutes) should be trained daily. My tip is to do your least favourite workouts early in the week because chances are that those are also the workouts that focus on your weaker areas and lastly- NEVER SKIP LEG DAY.
- Ceiling Principle. Well-trained individuals may in time find it hard to make progress, especially when the same workout routines are repeated often. This is why it is important to mix things up regularly. Every other week, you should introduce some kind of variation on your training- Introducing Isometric holds or grip changes are two methods you can use to keep thing interesting.
- The principle of Maintenance. Your fitness gains can be maintained by training less often, but keeping the intensity high, but if you stop doing the work that requires you the engage your muscles to their full capability, you will start to notice a decline in your strength and ability
- The principle of Reversibility. Simply put- if you don’t use it, you will loose it.
Training with your own bodyweight is very effective, costs nothing and can be done anywhere at any time, while training alone or with a friend. I love it and I’m sure you will too.