5 Advanced Bodyweight Exercises to Build Whole Body Strength
If you were to ask any big hulking guy at the gym what exercises to use to build up whole body strength, you would likely get similar responses. Squats, deadlifts, push press, maybe even a power clean or other Olympic lifts.
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.
Work up to pistols by getting assistance from TRX straps, a stable piece of furniture or door.
Practice holding the bottom position to gain flexibility and range of motion. This can be done by holding on to something to help stabilize yourself in the bottom range or holding a weight with arms extended to counterbalance yourself.
Stretch your calves and hips before you begin and foam roll your low back.
Like all advanced bodyweight exercises, this movement requires a large degree of full-body mobility.
It doesn’t matter how strong you ar
e 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.
Work up to the handstand pushup by starting against a wall. You can come off of it for a few seconds at a time until you have it mastered the technique. You can also perform assisted TRX handstand pushups.
Stretch your wrists and roll your forearms before you start.
Don’t allow your knees to bend or back to reach excessive extension. It may feel more stable but will result in less core involvement leading to back injuries.
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.
You can build to a muscle up by using a cable machine and mimicking the movement explosively. Start like a pull down bringing the bar or handles to your side by performing a tricep pushdown at the end.
Stretch your front delts and pecs, roll out your upper traps and posterior capsule before you do this exercise.
Practice pull ups as fast and explosive as you can. The more power you generate initially, the easier it will be achieving the end range of motion. You can also do a “jumping” muscle up to build to the real thing.
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.
There are many regressions and progressions for the plyo pushup. You can start elevated using a bench or table, and as you progress, go to a flat position or elevate your feet. You can also try clapping, double clapping, or even advance to the tough triple clap going behind your back. Heck, if you’re a total badass, you can do a barrel roll!
Before beginning a workout including this or other plyometric moves properly supplement with Sheer Strength Labs Creatine. Creatine increases your ability to generate ATP that is responsible for generating that explosive energy force.
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.
Before attempting on a straight bar, try it on something allowing you to reach the final position easier. This can be done by placing your upper hand on top of the pole or using something with parallel bars.
If you can’t hold the position, pop up and down in a controlled manner achieving the desired position for a few seconds at a time
Make sure your lats are loose, and roll your posterior capsule before attempting.
Start Incorporating Calisthenics
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
, 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.