Making Progress with Bodyweight Exercises
With these on and off lockdowns, and many gyms still falling victim to them, many of us are being forced to train at home.
Whether you’re training at home because of lockdown and a lack of gym access, or because you choose to train at home anyway, it doesn’t mean you can’t make good progress.
Yes, it’s nice to have weights to add resistance to your exercises and that is a more efficient way to do things (particularly if pure strength is your thing), but you can still increase strength, endurance and muscle tone without the weights, and for fat loss it’s almost irrelevant if you have weights available or not.
So no excuses, okay?
Here’s the deal.
Whether you’re lifting weights, or using your own bodyweight, your muscles respond to tension.
All weights do is increase that tension, giving you more resistance to push against.
Your muscles respond to tension regardless of where it comes from - they don’t know if you’re doing a lat pull-down or a pull-up, a bench press or a push-up - they just recognise the tension and respond accordingly.
So, as long as you can create tension in the target muscles, you’re set to make progress.
Progressive Overload is the main principle that ensures progress.
Basically, if you lift 50kg one week, you’d aim to lift 51kg the next… and 52kg the week after that…
If you follow this pattern, you will always be gaining strength and your muscles will be growing accordingly either in size or strength, or both.
Essentially, to make progress you need to constantly increase one or more variables.
The main ones are:
Load/Weight (as mentioned above)
Volume (sets x reps)
Tempo (how fast/slow you lift)
Rest time (how long you rest between sets)
Progressing the Exercise (i.e. doing a more difficult variation - push-ups > push-ups on a swiss ball)
With weights, the most obvious progression is to continually add more weight to get stronger and stronger (though improving technique should ALWAYS be a priority in ALL of these options).
If you don’t have access to weights, and you’re using your own bodyweight as resistance, then you’re still left with ALL of the other variables to work with, so don’t by any means feel you’re not able to get results.
Without the ability to increase/decrease load (i.e. using a fixed bodyweight or just one set of dumbbells) the most obvious and easiest variable will be reps.
As with load, adding 1kg per week as in the example above, you’ll simply add reps.
Workout 1 might be 3 sets of 10 reps
Workout 2 might be 3 sets of 11 reps
Workout 3, 3 sets of 12 reps etc. etc.
There’s a logical progression and as long as you’re adding just one more rep, you’re making progress.
It might even be just 1 rep over all - i.e 3 sets of 10 in workout 1, turns into 2 sets of 10 and 1 set of 11 in workout 2.
As long as you do something to make the workout that little bit harder than the previous workout, you’ll be making progress.
At the start, progress may be quite fast as you get used to the exercises and establish your maximums. Then it will start to get really tough to add reps, especially for the big exercises like pull-ups, but that’s where intensity and effort are important.
In the same way adding weight to the bar makes the exercise more difficult, doing that extra rep at the end of your set becomes extremely hard.
My main aim here is to reassure you that you can still make great progress without gym access.
> Set up your workouts according to what kit you have available.
> Choose exercises that you can perform with good technique and simply work to do more in every workout.
If an exercise gets too easy (maybe you’re quite comfortable knocking out 50 push-ups in one go), just change one of the variables - make it more challenging, add sets, reduce rest time, slow it down, make sure your technique is perfect… There really is no finish line!
As a quick note, I’d just like to mention that, in my opinion, the FIRST thing to do is make sure technique is perfect… THEN you can start to add reps/sets etc.
Do this at every level. Every time you feel you want to add some reps or sets, first ensure good technique.
Doing more bad reps isn’t as effective as doing BETTER reps. So lose the ego, your numbers are YOUR numbers, don’t compare them to anyone else’s.
Log your workouts so you know exactly what you achieved in the last workout, and what to aim for in the next workout.
In theory, you should be able to go for years progressing like this, so a few weeks or months of lockdown aren’t an excuse to give up and wait until the gym re-opens!
As always, if you need some help with this, get in touch and let’s discuss Online Coaching and you can work with me personally to ensure you’re training and nutrition are on point.
Or sign up to the next 30-Day Challenge to see first hand how this could work for you.