That is what our ancestors did, that is what we should do. “The strongest will survive”, as they say.
I don’t know whether you’ll be able to do the bear thing using the principles I share in this piece, but you’ll definitely get much stronger than you are now. The goal of this article is to show you how to get strong with bare minimum equipment.
In my experience, the most cost-effective set of tools is the mix of bodyweight, kettlebell and sandbag strength training. It is cheap, it requires almost no space (thus can be used even in a small apartment) and it’s brutally effective.
Calisthenics are probably the oldest form of strength training. We can’t say for sure but, I think, at some point in time, people just figured out that they can get stronger by pulling themselves up on tree branches or pushing themselves up from the floor.
Although “bodyweight training” can be a quite broad term, I’d like to concentrate on progressive calisthenics.
What does it mean?
Progressive calisthenics is such type of bodyweight training where we move from easier exercises to harder as our strength grows. There is no point in doing endless Push-Ups or Sit-Ups if your goal is strength. Once you can do more than 8-10 reps in any given exercise, it is time to move to a harder version. For example, let’s assume that regular Push-Ups became easy for you. You have several options:
You may instantly object by saying: “But these exercises are much harder and require decent skill!” That is the main trick. To be able to progress to any high-level bodyweight skill, you need to divide it into smaller, more attainable intermediate skills.
Let’s assume that your goal is the Handstand Push-Up. After mastering regular Push-Ups, you can just put your legs on the wall (where you find it comfortable, above your shoulder level) and try to progress in this exercise. After mastering it, you need to put your legs higher and repeat the process. In the end, you should be able to nail the Handstand Push-Up. That is just one progression option. And the beauty of bodyweight training is in ability to work up to advanced exercises through different ways.
Advantages of Bodyweight Training:
Disadvantages of Bodyweight Training:
Some Additional Thoughts:
Upper body work is limitless with progressive calisthenics. You can always find a harder variation of an exercise. If you can do One-Arm Chin-Ups, then you can add weight, perform them grabbing a towel, or hold the bar with less fingers, you can progress slowly to One-Arm Muscle-Ups, etc. However, leg exercises are actually limited to One-Leg Squats. Although, it is not really a problem. That’s just one of the reasons why we need kettlebells and sandbags too.
In addition, there is a way to skyrocket the intensity of your upper body calisthenics training.
Have you heard about gymnastic rings?
These bad boys will keep you busy forever.
Being a Ukrainian, I am proud to state that kettlebells are my native strength training tools. They were here for ages, but it took Pavel Tsatsouline to popularize kettlebell training in US, for regular people in Ukraine (not athletes) to take this type of training seriously.
Kettlebells always were staples in routines of the manliest people on Earth. Arthur Saxon, probably the strongest man ever, was a big fan of them. Pyotr Kryloff used them almost exclusively in his training. He was able to press 32 kg kettlebell 86 times with his left arm. If you are still not training with them, you are missing out big time.
Advantages of Kettlebell Training:
Disadvantages of Kettlebell Training:
Some Additional Thoughts:
What’s the most interesting aspect of a kettlebell as a training tool?
It has an offset center of mass. This makes it instantly heavier than a dumbbell of the same weight, and thanks to the laws of physics, it gives us an opportunity to perform unique ballistic exercises like Swings and Snatches. By the way, the manliest skill you can develop with kettlebells is the Double Snatch. It’s a staggering view when performed with a heavy weight.
Although in US and other developed world kettlebells can cost some decent money, here in Ukraine I bought the pair of 32 kg bells for less than $40 at the scrapyard. Therefore, that wasn’t a disadvantage for me.
Regarding “adjustability”, yes, when you master, let’s say, 24 kg bells and need to go heavier, a conventional approach is to buy 28 kg or 32 kg kettlebell. The jump in intensity is quite high. What you can do instead is to take 1-2 kg little plates for a barbell and duct tape them to the bottom of the kettlebell. It may be not that pretty, but it is way cheaper than buying a new one.
Sandbag strength training is still highly underappreciated nowadays despite all the attempts to popularize it. I think there are two reasons for this:
Any exercise performed with a heavy sandbag is a test of willpower, and it is so ferocious that it will leave you lying in the puddle of your own sweat. If you still doubt that sandbag is one of the manliest training tools out there, I challenge you to try it.
You can buy all that you need in any home depot. You can even steal sand from the nearest sandbox. Take a duffel bag, stuff it with 50 kg of sand and try to lift it overhead. In any way you like just get it done. Perform 5 sets of any amount or repetitions. I guarantee you will feel it the next day. The soreness will be in places you didn’t even know you have muscles in.
Advantages of Sandbag Training:
Disadvantages of Sandbag Training:
Some Additional Thoughts:
What’s the trick with this sandbag thing?
This implement doesn’t have the traditional center of mass, it is always changing (similar to the kettlebell but at a whole new level). When you try to lift the sandbag, the sand inside just moves in unpredictable directions. This means that it is much harder to lift the same amount of weight this way comparing to the good old barbell. This trick makes your stabilizer muscles work way harder than in conventional weight lifting.
As for “it is cheap”, I got my last sandbag for less than $5. I don’t mean to sound like a conformist, but if you don’t have that much money, maybe it is time to get a job.
Regarding disadvantages, I wrote them just to balance out the benefits. They are not that critical for a real man.
Now it is time for the fun part. The information written above is useless without proper practical implementation. First of all, you should understand how to choose exercises.
There are 3 basic movement patterns (it’s not a science, just an observation):
Pushing category includes all the exercises, where we press the resistance away from ourselves. For example, Bench Presses, Handstand Push-Ups, Kettlebell Military Presses, etc. Some people divide this category into horizontal and vertical pushing. However, let’s keep it simple.
Pulling category includes all the exercises, where we pull the resistance to ourselves. For example, Bent-Over Rows, Pull-Ups, Kettlebell Renegade Rows. The same thing with horizontal and vertical pulling.
Legs category includes all the exercises that are based on a squatting movement pattern. Although a Deadlift is not the same thing as a Squat, you still bend your hips, knees and ankles. Examples of this category are Kettlebell Swings, Sandbag Zercher Squats and Pistols.
Now you can take any program and just change the exercises to the ones you like according to the movement patterns. For example, let’s assume that the original workout looks like this:
Obviously, it contains 1 ‘Push’, 1 ‘Pull’ and 1 ‘Legs’ exercise. Just switch them to similar exercises from a relevant category and you are good to go. For example:
You can mix and match any way you like. Just use an exercise from a relevant category.
Of course, it is just a spotlight of what you can do. It will take some experimenting and education to make it all work. Anyway, I did my best to show you that you always have options. If you want to get strong but have no desire to go to the gym (or don’t have access to one), this is a good article to start with. Calisthenics, kettlebells and sandbags are simultaneously tough and rewarding training implements. Use them and get strong finally. Thanks for reading.
If you have a fitness-obsessed friend, you can do a good thing and share this article with him.
P.S. If you have any thoughts regarding the topic, let’s chat in comments.
Alex Zinchenko is a strength addict, a coach and the author of the Rough Strength blog, where he shares his crazy ideas regarding training and nutrition. He is honest to toothache, straightforward like a train and too daring to believe that heavy calisthenics, kettlebell and sandbag training along with intermittent fasting can deliver all the results you want.
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