While these are good responses, the truth is you can use bodyweight exercises to achieve the same effect.
Not only can you build total body strength using bodyweight movements, but there are other benefits you get as well. They include high caloric burn since all exercises are full body and involve dynamic movements where your entire body is engaged to provide stability. Because you are not using any benches or machines, your core is more engaged, and the functional movements increase coordination and the neural connection you have to your muscles. Making you more efficient at all types of movement or exercises.
You can also build explosive power quickly by doing plyometric bodyweight exercises. Though, it’s not really a good idea to try plyometrics with weights. Muscular endurance and flexibility are improved through these dynamic full range of motion exercises – they are versatile and can be performed anywhere. You’ll have less chance of injury because the movements are using bodyweight and are completely functional using your natural range of motion.
If you’re new to calisthenics, you should start with the basics – including push ups, pull ups, lunges, planks, etc. Once you have mastered some of the beginner movements, try more advanced bodyweight exercises increasing your physique and strength.
The pistol squat will unveil your muscular imbalances as it requires a large degree of mobility. If you have tight calves, lower back muscles, or hip flexors, this exercise is a nearly impossible to do correctly. However, once you have the required degree of mobility and flexibility, this exercise is great for building strength and size in your legs, especially the quads.
Think about the mechanics and weight distribution of a typical barbell back squat. Let’s say you are a 200 lb guy squatting 300 lbs. That 300 lbs is equally distributed between both legs and heavily involves the glutes and hip muscles. You could also do a pistol squat with all the weight distributed over one leg with more of an emphasis on the quads, essentially placing a heavier load on the legs than when using 300 lbs of weight.
To do a proper pistol squat, you must initially “shift” all the weight into doing the work. Hold your arms and leg out in front of you for balance, and begin your descent. Make sure your knee is not turning inward and limit the shifting of your weight forward to minimize flexion of the lumbar spine. When you begin your ascent make sure once again your knee doesn’t default inward.
Like all advanced bodyweight exercises, this movement requires a large degree of full-body mobility. It doesn’t matter how strong you are if you lack the required extension of your wrists. Additionally, you need shoulder socket full range of motion, and the ability to completely lockout your arms. Some people have biceps or triceps that are so tight they cannot reach full extension of the elbow under load. The spine also must be properly aligned to maintain neutrality throughout the movement.
One benefit of the handstand pushup is you place a direct load onto the delts. Often during overhead pressing movements the weight is not pressed directly up, but rather up and slightly forward. This over emphasizes the front delts and results in instability of the shoulder. In a handstand pushup, all the weight is loaded making it impossible to press any way but straight up leading to a proper load on the delts. The core is also more heavily involved in this movement as opposed to a seated or standing press.
When doing a handstand pushup, start by spreading your hand and fingers out as much as possible. As you prepare to start “screw” your hands into the ground outward creating external rotation of the shoulder for more stability. Getting into the upright position may be tricky at first. To make it easier tuck your chin as you are inverting your body. Fight the instinct to lift your head slightly putting your cervical spine into extension. This throws off your neutral spine and makes stability difficult. Once upside down, squeeze your butt and quads then begin your descent while maintaining external rotation of the shoulders through that “screwing” of your hands into the ground.
The muscle up can be a tricky exercise because having common imbalances actually makes achieving the final position somewhat easier, but you get there through improper mechanics and shoulder instability. Most weightlifters have internally rotated shoulders and overactive upper traps. This allows the transition from the pull up to the end range easier through excessive internal rotation but does not properly engage the posterior delts, lats, lower traps, rhomboids or even triceps to their full extent.
This exercise is essentially two different movements combined, the pull up and a tricep pushdown. Because you must initiate the pull with speed and power to make the transition at the top this results in more explosive strength. Additionally when done properly shoulder mobility will be improved.
The muscle up begins as a simple pull up. To start with proper form make sure the low traps, and posterior delts are engaged by “breaking the bar” thus creating external rotation of the shoulder (see the common theme? Externally rotated shoulder = stability). The elbows should not flare outward.Do not flail legs for momentum. Begin the pull up explosively and when you reach the point of transitioning to a muscle up, keep your shoulder girdle from rolling forward. Your upper body will rock forward over the bar as you initiate the press. Keep your elbows tight as you press to the end position.
The plyometric pushup is one of the easier exercises to perform correctly, but there are still some common issues. One is flaring out the elbows, especially on the landing. Your elbows should always be lined up over the wrists. Fight the tendency to break your neutral spine position by thrusting your butt upward for more momentum. Begin like you are doing a normal pushup, but use as much speed as possible to achieve lift off maintaining a plank position while in the air. As you advance try to get the feet off the ground as well. When you land, immediately screw your hands into the ground and descend.
It’s not a good idea to throw barbells, so bodyweight is the best route when looking to increase explosive power of the pecs. This leads to lifting more weight on your heavy chest presses so you can generate more force at the bottom range of motion.
While the flagpole is an isometric exercise, don’t be fooled thinking it doesn’t build total body strength. It requires an incredible amount of strength from the core, grip, lats, and shoulders. If you do not have a neutral shoulder girdle, don’t expect to perform this movement correctly as your lats will become over involved.
When performing an advanced flagpole, you‘ll typically grab an upright bar with a mixed grip. The hand closest to the ground is supinated while the upper one is in a pronated position (see picture). Although very difficult, you can progress to a double supinated grip or even double pronated. Before you attempt to get into position make sure your arms are fully locked out but your traps are “down” and your shoulder girdle is neutral. Once you elevate yourself, straighten your legs, squeeze your quads and flex your butt to get your hips aligned and your core fully engaged.
Whether sprinkled in your normal workout routine or you dedicate a day solely to bodyweight work incorporate these type of movements into your program. When you combine these with traditional resistance training, HIIT, proper diet and Sheer Strength Lab supplements, your physique and performance will be greatly improved.
* Other reference:
Video of Chad Mendes plyo pushups: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWJ6znk8fYk
Jonathan Warren is a national level physique competitor and personal trainer with multiple certifications including NASM, NCCPT, and IKFF. His specializations include mobility training and corrective exercise as well as contest preparation.
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