// Embracing bodyweight training

by Aaron Whear

The challenge: to provide clients with productive exercise sessions with no equipment and limited space. 
The solution: bodyweight training, one of the best methods of physical training that anyone can do. 

If your repertoire and use of bodyweight training exercises is not as well developed as you’d like, read on!
All well designed training programs allow for overload relative to the individual’s training background, which ensures physical improvement while at the same time allowing for sufficient recovery time for the client. Bodyweight training is no different. But, please don’t think that bodyweight training is only for the deconditioned. It can be tailored to any fitness goal provided the following six exercise program variables are used to ensure a safe and appropriate program. 

1. Choice of exercise 
• based on goals/ability of individual 
• use continuum model to select the right exercise at the right time for the right client 

2. Order of exercise 
• large muscle groups before smaller muscle groups 
• compound exercise prior to isolation 
• complex movement before simple

3. Number of repetitions 
• determined by needs of the individual 

4. Number of sets 
• the number of sets controls volume of the training program along with total number of exercises • inverse relationship between volume and intensity 

5. Rest intervals 

• different length rest intervals produce different effects on nervous system, metabolic system and hormonal systems (see Table A) 
• shorter rest intervals increase levels of waste products and fatigue the nervous system and will impede strength/ power development 
• longer rest intervals will allow for greater neural and metabolic recovery

6. Speed of Movement (SoM)

• Different durations of time can be used during the concentric, isometric and eccentric phases of an exercise to achieve different outcomes, e.g., power goals would focus predominantly on fast muscle contractions throughout all phases whereas a hypertrophy goal may
utilise a range of different speeds.

• Table B below illustrates how the various speeds of movement can be applied to different training goals.

The benefits of bodyweight training

1. Workouts can be done anywhere – no equipment needed and no queuing for gym equipment during peak times.
2. Improves strength and can result in hypertrophy – you only have to look at male gymnasts to see the results that doing exercise with your own bodyweight can bring.
3. When coupled with appropriate programming parameters, bodyweight exercises can increase muscular endurance and promote body fat reduction.
4. An effective full body workout can be completed in 30 minutes or less.
5. You can enjoy training outside in the fresh air and sunshine.

Putting a bodyweight exercise program together

A good quality exercise program that uses bodyweight exercises should have three components; a warm up, a conditioning bout and a cool down. The programs that follow use no equipment at all. If you were to add stability equipment such as fitballs, foam rollers or Dura Discs, then you could increase the number of exercise options infinitely.

Increasing the difficulty of bodyweight exercises

One of the common reasons given for not using bodyweight exercises is that bodyweight does not provide enough of a challenge for the intermediate and experienced training client. When performed correctly, however, bodyweight training offers a huge challenge. I would go so far as to say that clients really need to earn the right to use external loading, i.e., they should not perform barbell squats until they have mastered the bodyweight squat through a full range of motion. 

Following are some common ways of increasing the difficulty of bodyweight exercises prior to reaching the point at which it is necessary for clients to load up with barbells and dumbbells.

• Changing the lever length of an exercise, e.g., a lunge done with the hands on the hips is easier than a lunge with the hands across the chest, which in turn is easier than having the hands on the head, which is easier again than having the hands outstretched above the head.

In each of these versions of the lunge, the mechanics of the movement at the hip and the knee joints don’t change, but because the lever has been made longer with each example, the difficulty of the exercise has been progressed.

• The tempo of the exercise can be changed, for example if we asked a client to do ten push ups as fast as they could there is every chance that they would complete all ten repetitions in about seven seconds. However, if we then asked the same person to lower the push up for four seconds, pause the exercise for two seconds in the bottom position and then come up in two seconds we find that
each repetition now takes eight seconds to complete. This means that in both examples of the push up exercise ten repetitions are completed, but in set one the target muscles are only spending seven seconds under tension, whereas in the second example, 80 seconds is spent under tension which means the body gets a hugely different stimulus.

The principle of time under tension can also be reversed to give the body a new stimulus to which it will need to adapt. 

For example, a lunge that is slow and controlled could take a client six seconds in total to complete each repetition. If the client is then challenged to perform a jump lunge, the muscles spend much less time under tension, but in its place an explosive exercise now occurs, which provides the body with a whole new challenge. It is the skill of the fitness instructor to ensure that the right exercise program variables are being provided to the right client at the right time to ensure maximum results with minimum likelihood of boredom or injury. When applied correctly, bodyweight training can be used to achieve most client goals in a stimulating way with minimal equipment and in a variety of exercise settings.


Aaron Whear
Aaron is the managing director of Career Fitness and has helped hundreds of people train for and enhance their career in the fitness industry. Career Fitness offers a mentoring service for individual instructors and ‘in-house’ training workshops for gyms and personal training studios. To learn more visit www.careerfitness.com.au or phone 03 9395 4455.