7 Ways To Make Bodyweight Exercises More Challenging
Bodyweight training - aka calisthenics - is a great method of training for most beginner exercisers. It's easy to start with, and literally requires nothing but your own body.
But most people, once they reach a certain level in their training, abandon bodyweight training because it's "too easy". They think that lifting weights in the next step.
Now, there's nothing wrong with lifting some good ol' iron; weightlifting is a great way to add strength, and I think most people should be lifting heavy-ish loads. But bodyweight movements don't have to be only for beginners, as there are some really great ways to progress these "simple" calisthenic exercises. And you should, too; bodyweight training is a great way to train, as it's portable, you can do it anywhere, and some moves require immense strength.
In this post, we are going to go over 7 simple ways to take your bodyweight training to the next level. You can watch the video below for the quick version, or if reading is your fancy, head down to the post below.
#1 Use Single Limb Exercises
One super easy way to make a movement harder? Use only one limb. Instead of a regular two-legged squat, do a single leg squat, or a lunge. Instead of doing a regular push-up, do a one arm push-up.
Note: some of these single limb movements are HARD, so they may require some working up to. An easy way to get around this is to use assistance, like using the other limb to help out a little bit.
#2 Manipulate Tempo
Another easy way that you may have tried out or heard about, is to manipulate the tempo of an exercise. Tempo is the speed at which you perform a movement. Normally, you might do a push-up with a tempo of 2-1-2 (2 seconds down, 1 second pause, 2 seconds back up), but to take it to the next level, simply change the tempo to a much more challenging rhythm.
For example, you now do a push-up with a tempo of 5-3-5 (5 seconds down, 3 seconds hold, and 5 seconds back up), and while it may seem like a small change, it makes a big difference. Try it out for yourself, and manipulate the tempo to your liking.
#3 Use Pause Reps and Isometrics
Ever see those martial artists holding positions for hours on end? They are doing what is called an isometric exercise. These movements involve holding positions for extended periods of time for increased strength benefit.
Now I don't expect anyone to go and hold a squat for 5 hours, but the method of using a pause rep is a good one. It's similar to tempo, but all the focus is on pausing the movement for a few seconds at the hardest point in the movement.
You could also do an actually isometric exercise, which is when we apply force but the joint angle doesn't move. Here's a quick example: go to a sturdy wall, and push forward on it like you're trying to topple it over. Did it budge? Hopefully not, or now you have to go buy some wood and drywall. What probably happened is that you pushed and pushed, and applied a great deal of force, but nothing moved. Your muscles got challenged, but you didn't really lift anything. This is the beauty of isometrics.
#4 Use Pulsating Reps
Pulsating reps are what to use when you want to torture yourself. This terrible yet satisfying method torches the body, all without adding weight. What is it? It's basically when you do 1.5 reps. Here's how it would look: imagine you're doing a squat, and as you sink all the way down, you start to come back up to standing, but stop halfway. From there, you sink back down once again, and now finally you rise back up to the starting position. Check out the video above if you want to see what it looks like.
It may seem easy at first, but trust me - you'll be wishing you could stop (but you keep going because you're a champion, you beautiful fool). I like doing this for lower body exercises, because I'm a masochist.
#5 Manipulate Leverages
This is where things get a bit more complex. Manipulating leverages requires a thorough understanding of physics, and the four fundamental forces of the universe.
I'm kidding about that last part. Manipulating leverages just involve changing the center of gravity and the joint angle, thus making the movement much harder. For examples of this, look at gymnasts performing planches and front levers (which are also highly advanced isometrics).
#6 Challenge Stability
Another great way to progress your bodyweight exercises is to challenge stability. Or rather, make movements unstable.
You'll see this with gymnastic rings or TRX rings (both are a great investment), or certain plank variations, or other exercises. Unstable movements are a great way to challenge all of the other little muscles that we don't really use in stable movements, and are good for strengthening those forgotten areas.
#7 Use Plyometrics
I've saved the best for last. Plyometrics are one of the best ways to build speed, power, strength, and muscle. They are also one of the easiest ways to injure yourself. Only those who are advanced and know what they're doing should be using plyometrics in their routine.
Luckily, there are forms of plyometric-type movements that are hard to mess up. Things like upper body plyos are much easier on the joints, more so than lower body plyo moves. Hill sprints are a great explosive movement that is easier on the body than regular sprints. Even then, if you're going to use plyometrics, just make sure you stick to lower rep ranges; this type of training isn't meant to be done to fatigue.
Bonus Method: Combining Methods
You might be thinking, "Pshhh Gabe, I could do all this stuff in my sleep!" Well, you Greek god, you can always combine a few methods to make an exercise extra challenging. You could pick a plyometric movement (let's use a push-up as the example), change the tempo, and add a pulse to each rep. You could call it: pulsing plyo push-up with a pause! You could then take this newfound knowledge, and rewrite exercise science textbooks, and change the way movement is studied forever. You would go down as one of the greatest scientist to ever live, rivaling the likes of Telsa and Einstein!
Or maybe you'll just get a great workout in. In either case, it's a win-win.