No matter if you're a rank beginner or a veteran of “the fit life”, body weight exercises are a great option to burn calories, build muscle, and get results.
However, many individuals (typically the more advanced fitness enthusiasts out there) think of bodyweight exercises as only being useful for cardio or conditioning drills.
Well, we’re here to show you how you can easily upgrade the intensity (and muscle building power) of bodyweight exercises.
These 3 instant upgrades can be used by anyone regardless if you’re new to training or a grizzled veteran!
3 Instant Upgrades for Bodyweight Workouts
#1 Adjust the Angle of Your Body
When looking to increase the difficulty of your bodyweight workouts, one need look no further than the ultimate bodyweight athletes -- gymnasts.
These individuals have mastered the art of bodyweight training, building immense amounts of strength using nothing but their body, mother earth, and gravity.
The main way they continue to get results using only bodyweight workouts is by manipulating leverages.
Depending on how your angle your body, relative to gravity will affect how much of your bodyweight you’re lifting.
For instance, elevating your hands on a box, bench, or step reduces how much of your bodyweight you’re pressing up on a push up compared to a standard push up done on the floor.
On the flip side, elevating your feet on the same box, bench or step increases the difficulty and forces you to have to lift more of your body weight, increasing the challenge of the push up and forcing your muscles to work harder.
Applied to the inverted row, elevating your feet on a platform increases the challenge of the movement, while keeping your feet on the ground and/or bending your knees makes the move easier.
#2 Increase Range of Motion
Work, in the engineering sense, is force times distance.
Applying this to your training, if you want to do more work, you can either:
- Move more force over the same distance, or
- Move the same force over a greater distance
Since we’re talking about bodyweight training here, we’ll assume that you don’t have access to much additional weight, which means you’ll need to increase the distance you’re moving your body on a given rep of an exercise.
We do this by increasing the range of motion.
There are several ways you can do this.
For example, on a reverse lunge, instead of beginning on the ground and lunging forward or backward, you can elevate yourself on a small box or exercise step and then perform your lunge.
Since you’re beginning at a higher elevation, you will have to drop down lower to the ground to assume the lunge position (traveling a greater distance comparatively). This creates greater hip flexion, places a greater stretch on the quads and glutes, and ultimately makes your muscles have to do more work to return you to the starting position.
For push ups, you can elevate your hands on a pair of push up handles or a couple of thick textbooks. This allows you to drop your torso below the level of your hands, increasing the distance your body travels during the movement, which means your chest muscles have to do more work to press you back up to the top.
In addition to using deficits, another way to increase the range of motion is to use a technique called “1.5 reps.”
Using the bodyweight squat as an example, you would begin standing upright, lower into the bottom position of the squat, stand up halfway, sink all the way down to the bottom again and then finally return to the top.
This same technique can be applied to any other bodyweight exercise, including:
- Push ups
- Inverted Rows
- Pull Ups
- Pike Push ups
- Split squats
- Bulgarian Split Squats
- Sliding Leg Curls
Just be warned 1.5 reps are extremely demanding and will force your muscles to work incredibly hard.
#3 Increase Time Under Tension
Yet another way to upgrade your home bodyweight workouts are by increasing time under tension, which basically means how long your muscles are being stressed within a given set.
Instead of banging out reps of bodyweight exercises in rapid, piston fashion (one second up, one second down), slow things down and make each rep last longer...much longer.
For instance, instead of lowering your body in one second, take 3-5 seconds to lower, pause for a second or two, and then explode back up.
Another way to increase time under tension is to use something called iso/dynamic reps.
Here, descend into the bottom position of the movement and hold it for 10 seconds. After 10 seconds has elapsed, perform 10 regular speed reps.
After those ten reps, descend into the bottom position and hold for nine seconds. Following the nine second hold, perform nine dynamic reps.
Continue in this fashion until you are holding for 1 second and performing 1 dynamic rep.
Now, we realize this iso/dynamic rep ladder is incredibly daunting and even the strongest lifters will be challenged by it. Therefore, you can start at 5 or 7 and then work your way up 10 as you gain strength in the coming weeks.
This protocol also works wonders with dips, inverted rows, pull ups, and split squats.
When you know how to intensify bodyweight training, the sky's the limit. No longer are you bound to training at the gym. With these tips, you can continue to gain strength, build muscle, and get results for weeks and months to come.
And, if you’re still looking for ways to intensify the challenge of bodyweight workouts, you can always throw some heavy books or cans in a backpack and wear it while doing your bodyweight workouts.
Really, you’re only limited by your imagination, and your willingness to break from conventional ways to implement progressive overload (i.e. adding weight to the bar). Once you realize there are lots of ways to increase the intensity of your workouts, you will be able to get results no matter if you have no gym equipment or all the gym equipment you could ever want!