Bodyweight Training: How To Make The Most Of Your Workout At Home

Bodyweight Training: How To Make The Most Of Your Workout At Home

With gyms and Crossfit boxes closing around the world, the need for other ways to maintain and improve physical fitness has never been more critical.

Unfortunately, most equipment is expensive and challenging to store. As a result, you've probably considered that bodyweight exercise may be the right answer.

However, bodyweight training provides a unique set of challenges. These challenges mean that your training methods and goals will need to be adjusted.

In light of my gym closing its doors, I've determined some key points of consideration for developing an effective bodyweight program. If used properly, these factors can help ensure that your bodyweight program is effective and also enjoyable.

To come, I'll share these factors of bodyweight exercise so that you can make the most of your workouts while stuck at home.

Why Bodyweight Workouts Are Different

Why Bodyweight Workouts Are Different

Before jumping into these points, I'd like to touch on how bodyweight workouts are different from resistance training. Making this distinction is essential for building an effective bodyweight program.

First and foremost, exercise of any sort is stressful. This stress is what drives adaptation and improvement.

When you run, your muscles and respiratory system are stressed to metabolize energy and supply your muscles with oxygen. If you run consistently, your body adapts to be more efficient, making you a better runner  (1, 2).

Similarly, for resistance training, the external load stresses the muscle through tension, causing fatigue, and in some cases, damage. Again with consistency, this stress can force your muscles to grow bigger and stronger (3).

The main point here is that the type and magnitude of stress you encounter during exercise is what drives your progress. If you run, your endurance improves. If you lift weights, the external load results in greater muscle size and strength.

But now, you're stuck with bodyweight workouts. Without the external load that you get with resistance training, how do you match that stress using only your body?

If you're a beginner, adding exercise of any sort will stress your muscles more than usual, resulting in improvement. But if you've been training for years using resistance, development without that external resistance can be very challenging.

Fortunately, there is some research to suggest that even for experienced individuals, building and maintaining muscle is possible when using low amounts of resistance (4, 5).

However, this research suggests that to do so, you have to approach muscular failure on most sets. Otherwise, your muscles won’t be fatigued enough to stimulate growth (5, 6).

If you learn nothing else, remember the following:

If you have experience with exercise, taking bodyweight exercises to failure should be a primary focus. And even if you're a beginner, taking bodyweight exercises to failure is still recommended (3, 5, 6).

Now, let's dive into some other best practices of bodyweight training to help ensure your workouts are effective.

Bodyweight Training Challenging Exercises

Prioritize Challenging Exercises

The problem with bodyweight training is that some exercises will be very challenging to hit failure in a reasonable amount of time.

As a personal example, I can reach muscular failure for push-ups with 30-40 reps on my first set. From there, I might begin hitting failure at 15-20 as I become more fatigued. That’s reasonable.

For bodyweight squats, though, it takes me between 150 and 200 bodyweight squats to hit failure. Since bodyweight squats take so much effort to hit failure, I try to prioritize more challenging exercises that allow me to do so faster.

For instance, while I still use bodyweight squats, I’ll prioritize more challenging movements like the single-leg pistol squat. For the pistol squat, I’ll hit failure between five and ten reps per set, which is much more efficient.

The takeaway here is that high-rep sets to failure are acceptable. But, they aren't always necessary if you can use a more challenging exercise that allows you to reach failure with fewer repetitions.

Here are some exercises that I find very challenging even without resistance:

  • Single-Leg (pistol) Squat
  • Foot-On-Couch Bulgarian Split Squats
  • Stationary Stop and Go Lunges
  • Inverted Table Rows
  • Single-Arm Door Frame Rows
  • Table-Supported Triceps Extensions
  • Pull-Ups

Bodyweight Training Reach Failure

Use Techniques To Reach Failure

Even when I have resistance equipment available, I like to use advanced techniques like triple AMRAP (as many reps as possible) sets, super and giant sets, and timed AMRAP sets to find new ways to reach failure. Fortunately, all of these methods can be used with only your body weight, too.

Triple AMRAP Sets

  1. Select your exercise
  2. Perform AMRAP
  3. Rest 15 seconds
  4. Perform AMRAP
  5. Rest 15 seconds
  6. Perform AMRAP
  7. Rest 2 minutes and repeat as desired.

The above is considered one set. Perform as many of these sets as you can or desire.

Supersets & Giant Sets

For supersets, simply perform two exercises back-to-back, with as little rest as possible. For giant sets, combine three or more exercises.

Now, you can also make things more challenging by pairing exercises that target the same or different muscle groups.

For example, in one workout, you might pair two pressing exercises like the push-up and dips. In the next workout, you might pair exercises that target different muscle groups, like the push-up and inverted table row.  

Timed AMRAP

Another great technique is to perform as many reps as possible in a specific time frame.

Typically, I like to select a time that’s longer than what I can perform an exercise for and try to rest as little as possible. If I can do push-ups for 30 seconds straight, I instead select 60 seconds and see what I can achieve.

This type of challenge not only forces you to reach failure, but it gives you a baseline to improve on when you repeat workouts.

 

Get Creative With Resistance

Even if you don’t have access to resistance, you can still find ways to make bodyweight workouts more challenging through parts of your home and even natural structures.

For example, a table provides a sturdy platform for back exercises, such as an inverted row. You can also use the edge to place your hands while doing bodyweight triceps extensions (like a skull crusher).

I also like to leverage other platforms like stairs or a couch to change angles such as feet and hand elevated push-ups or Bulgarian split squats. Even a sturdy tree branch can be useful for pull-ups.

Remember, there are many ways to make standard exercises more challenging. You just need to be creative and experiment.

Bodyweight Training Different Exercise Variations

Try Different Exercise Variations

Believe it or not, most standard bodyweight exercises like the push-up and squat have many variations. Using these variations can help improve the effectiveness and enjoyment of your workouts (7).

Push-Up Variations:

  1. Standard push-ups
  2. Wide hand push-ups
  3. Narrow hand push-ups
  4. Feet-elevated push-ups
  5. Hand-elevated push-ups
  6. One hand elevated push-up
  7. Reverse hand push-up
  8. Single-arm push-ups

    Squat Variations

    1. Standard squat
    2. Sumo squat
    3. Narrow squat
    4. Side lunge squat
    5. One-foot elevated squat
    6. Heel-elevated squat
    7. Toe-elevated squat
    8. Single-leg pistol squat

      I recommend using different variations each time you perform workouts for the same muscle group.

      For example, perform standard and narrow push-ups for the first workout. Then the next time you train chest and triceps, incorporate feet-elevated and wide-hand push-ups

      Bodyweight Training Challenges That Motivate You

      Find Challenges That Motivate You

      Finally, even though bodyweight workouts probably weren’t what you envisioned for 2020, you should accept this reality and determine new challenges to overcome. I find that setting new goals will help keep your training fresh and motivating.

      Before the beginning of self-isolation, my primary goal was to develop my lower body size and strength. Since I don’t have access to leg machines or a squat bar, I’ve instead decided on new leg challenges like lunging as far as possible or trying to hit 500 bodyweight squats in a row. 

      These new goals have allowed me to focus on my leg development, and move past the fact that I can’t train how I wanted to. These goals have also allowed me to find the motivation to train, making my workouts more effective.

      To make the most of this strange situation we're all a part of, I suggest finding new goals that are possible through bodyweight training and that motivate you to improve.

       Cardio Surge Energy

       

      To help get you started, here's a 10-day bodyweight workout example plan. Use this as best as you can, and get creative!

      Bodyweight Training Program

       

      Workout 1: Full-Body Circuit

      Circuit Rounds: 3

      1. Bodyweight Squats: 30-second AMRAP
      2. Rest: 30 seconds
      3. Push-Ups: 30-second AMRAP
      4. Rest: 30 seconds
      5. Alternating Lunges: 30-second AMRAP
      6. Rest: 30 seconds
      7. On Elbows Plank: 30 Seconds
      8. Rest: 30 seconds
      9. Lying Bicycle Crunches: 30-Second AMRAP

      Rest after completing all exercises: 2 minutes

       

      Workout 2: Full Body Triple AMRAP Sets

      1. Close-Hand Push-ups: 3 Sets
        1. AMRAP
        2. Rest 15 Seconds
        3. AMRAP
        4. Rest 15 Seconds
        5. AMRAP
        6. Rest 2 Minutes
      2. Single leg Bulgarian Split Squats: 2 Sets Each Leg
        1. AMRAP Left Leg
        2. AMRAP Right Leg
        3. Rest 30 Seconds
        4. AMRAP Left Leg
        5. AMRAP Right Leg
        6. Rest 30 Seconds
        7. AMRAP Left Leg
        8. AMRAP Right Leg
        9. Rest 2 Minutes
      3. Sit-Ups: 2 Sets
        1. AMRAP
        2. Rest 15 Seconds
        3. AMRAP
        4. Rest 15 Seconds
        5. AMRAP
        6. Rest 2 Minutes

       

      Workout 3: Supersets Circuit

      Circuit Rounds: 3

      1. Wide-Hand Push-Ups: AMRAP
      2. Inverted Kitchen Table Rows: AMRAP
      3. Rest 30 Seconds
      4. Heel-Elevated Bodyweight Squat: 60 Second AMRAP
      5. Planks: 30+ Seconds
      6. Rest 30 Seconds
      7. Pike Push-Ups: AMRAP
      8. Single-ARM Doorframe Rows: AMRAP Each Arm
      9. Rest 2 Minutes

       

      Workout 4: Timed AMRAP

      1. Bulgarian Split Squat: 2 Minutes AMRAP Each Leg (4 Minutes total)
      2. Rest 3 Minutes
      3. Hands-On-Couch Triceps Dips: 2 Minutes AMRAP
      4. Rest 2 Minutes
      5. Alternating Lunges: 3 Minutes AMRAP
      6. Rest 3 Minutes
      7. Feet-Elevated Push-Ups: 2 Minutes AMRAP

       

      Workout 5: Full-Body Combination Circuit

      1. Bodyweight Squats: 100 Reps
      2. Push-Ups: Triple AMRAP
        1. AMRAP
        2. Rest 15 Seconds
        3. AMRAP
        4. Rest 15 Seconds
        5. AMRAP
        6. Rest 2 Minutes
      3. Scissor Kicks: 45 Second AMRAP
      4. Sumo Squats: 50 Reps
      5. Mountain Climbers: 30 Second AMRAP
      6. On Stairs Calf Raises: 150 Reps

      Workout 6: Explosive Bodyweight

      1. Squat Jumps: 30-Second AMRAP
      2. Hand-Release Push-Ups: AMRAP
        1. Attempt to push hard enough to have hands come off the ground on the top portion.
      3. Platform Jumps: 3 Sets x 10 Jumps
        1. Jump on to a sturdy couch, box, step, or platform. Safely return to start position.
      4. Stationary Long Jumps: 20 Jumps. Rest 20 seconds between jumps.
      5. Lunge Switch Jumps: 30-Second AMRAP

       

      Workout 7: The Gauntlet

      Distance: 1-2 Miles

      1. Lunge: 0.25 Mile
      2. Run/Sprint: 0.25 Mile
      3. Rest 1:30
      4. Repeat until distance goal is satisfied

       

      Workout 8: Full-Body Circuit

      1. Jumping Jacks: 2 Minute AMRAP
      2. Lying Scissor Kicks: 45-Second AMRAP
      3. Glute Bridges: AMRAP
      4. Hand-to-Elbows Plank: 45-Second AMRAP
      5. Feet Elevated Push-Ups: Triple AMRAP Set
        1. AMRAP
        2. Rest 15 Seconds
        3. AMRAP
        4. Rest 15 Seconds
        5. AMRAP
        6. Rest 2 Minutes
      6. Knee Pull-In Crunch: 45 Second AMRAP
      7. Hands-On-Couch Triceps Dips: Triple AMRAP Set
      8. If you repeat the circuit, Rest 2 Minutes between rounds.

       

      Workout 9: Distance Fartlek

      Choose running distance: 1-3 Miles (or more depending on fitness).

      1. Run: 0.25 Miles
      2. Jog/Walk: 0.25 Miles
      3. Repeat until the distance goal is satisfied.

       

      Workout 10: Core

      1. Sit-Ups: 60-Second AMRAP
      2. Rest 60 Seconds
      3. Side Planks: 30-Second Each Side
      4. Rest 30 Seconds
      5. Cross-Body Crunch: 45-Second AMRAP
      6. Rest 45 Seconds
      7. Leg Pull-In Crunches: 30-Second AMRAP
      8. Rest 30 Seconds
      9. Mountain Climbers: 60-second AMRAP

      Click To Download This 10-Day Bodyweight Workout Routine!

      Best protein powder for women

      References:

      1. Daniels, JACK T. "A physiologist's view of running economy." Medicine and science in sports and exercise 17, no. 3 (1985): 332-338.
      2. Williams, Keith R., and Peter R. Cavanagh. "Relationship between distance running mechanics, running economy, and performance." Journal of Applied Physiology 63, no. 3 (1987): 1236-1245.
      3. Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research24(10), 2857-2872.
      4. Stevens, M. (2019). Effects of low load resistance training on muscular strength and hypertrophy gains: a literature review.
      5. Schoenfeld, B. J., Grgic, J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Strength and hypertrophy adaptations between low-vs. high-load resistance training: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research31(12), 3508-3523.
      6. Schoenfeld, B. J., Peterson, M. D., Ogborn, D., Contreras, B., & Sonmez, G. T. (2015). Effects of low-vs. high-load resistance training on muscle strength and hypertrophy in well-trained men. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research29(10), 2954-2963.
      7. Fonseca, Rodrigo M., Hamilton Roschel, Valmor Tricoli, Eduardo O. de Souza, Jacob M. Wilson, Gilberto C. Laurentino, André Y. Aihara, Alberto R. de Souza Leão, and Carlos Ugrinowitsch. "Changes in exercises are more effective than in loading schemes to improve muscle strength." The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 28, no. 11 (2014): 3085-3092.
      Samuel Biesack
      Samuel Biesack - Author

      Sam is a strength & conditioning coach who specializes in exercise and nutrition research. He holds a Master's in Exercise & Nutrition Science and is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist. If he's not lifting in the gym, he's probably running a trail in Colorado or playing video games.


      Also in Training Ground