A bodyweight workout is an effective way to achieve meaningful training stimulus with limited to no access to conventional strength training equipment. For athletes, these workouts offer the chance to improve mobility, work capacity, speed, and strength, no matter the gym setup or training situation. Athletes can execute a bodyweight workout practically anywhere with free space and the time to do so.
While many may not associate Westside Barbell with bodyweight workouts or exercises, it is essential to understand what the Conjugate Method aims to accomplish. Over the years, Lou worked to build a system capable of building a complete athlete, using various methods and training tools to achieve this goal. Bodyweight workouts and exercises are important to the sports preparation training puzzle.
Bodyweight training also provides a strength-training modality accessible to anyone regardless of fitness or training experience. Whether dealing with an athlete completely new to exercise or an elderly individual rehabbing a knee injury, a bodyweight workout can be effectively applied.
The key to a successful bodyweight workout is a correct prescription of volume and intensity, along with smartly selected exercises based on the needs of the individual. Below, we will discuss a few of our go-to bodyweight exercises at Westside Barbell, along with programming suggestions to help athletes construct an effective bodyweight workout plan.
Lower Body Bodyweight Exercises
Enhancing lower body strength and muscle mass helps improve an athlete's strength, speed, and resiliency. The muscle groups that make up the lower body all play critical roles in athletic performance, so it is essential to have a comprehensive plan to ensure these muscle groups are properly developed.
Lower bodyweight training offers a way for athletes new to exercise to begin laying the foundations of lower body strength development while also benefiting experienced athletes by increasing work capacity, muscle mass, and tendon stiffness.
Some of our go-to lower body bodyweight exercises at Westside include air squats, split squats, Cossack squats, squat jumps, lunges, and calf raises. We will perform these exercises for 3-5 sets of 10-15, 15-20, 20-50, or as many reps as possible. The amount of volume we program will depend on the selected exercise.
Here are examples of a beginner and an advanced lower body bodyweight workout:
Air Squats - 4 x 20-30
Split Squats - 3 x 15-20
Calf Raises - 5 x 30-50
Squat Jumps - 5 x 10-15
Cossack Squats - 4 x 15-20
Reverse Lunges - 4 x 15-20
Calf Raises - 5 x AMRAP
As you can see, the beginner exercises are accessible to all athletes regardless of strength or training experience. However, the advanced plan includes increased exercise difficulty and training volume. This programming strategy ensures all ability levels achieve adequate training stimulus.
Upper Body Bodyweight Exercises
Developing upper body strength and muscle mass is vital for all athletes. Bodyweight exercises provide the training necessary to improve the strength and size of the arms, chest, shoulders, and back. These exercises also help improve the mobility and durability of the wrist, elbow, and shoulder joints.
At Westside, we use exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, and dips when focusing on the upper body. These movements will be performed for 3-5 sets, with rep ranges varying from 15-20 reps to 50+ reps or AMRAP sets. The amount of volume programmed for the exercise will depend on the fitness level of the individual performing the exercise.
Our push-up training will focus on variations such as conventional push-ups, diamond push-ups, decline and incline push-ups, clapping push-ups, and plyometric push-ups. While the conventional, diamond, incline, and decline push-ups will focus on strength and work capacity, the clapping and plyometric push-ups will help to improve upper body explosive strength and tendon stiffness.
Pull-up training will include close, regular, wide, and neutral grip pull-ups, chin-ups, and inverted rows. These exercises primarily target the mid and upper back while also emphasizing the forearms and biceps. If you're looking for bodyweight exercises to make your back wider and arms bigger, look no further than pull-ups and the many pull-up variations.
Here are examples of a beginner and an advanced upper body bodyweight workout:
Push-Ups - 4 x 15-20
Incline Push-Ups - 3 x 20-25
Bench Dips - 4 x 15-20
Inverted Rows - 4 x 20-30
Plyometric Push-Ups - 4 x 12-15
Close-Grip Pull-Ups - 5 x AMRAP
Dips - 4 x 20-30
Diamond Push-Ups - 5 x AMRAP
Chin-Ups - 3 x AMRAP
We continue following the same programming strategy as we did with our lower body bodyweight exercise selection, with beginner exercises being simpler and lower volume overall and advanced exercises being more complex and performed at higher overall volume levels. This strategy ensures training is optimal.
Train Anywhere at Any Time
The primary benefit of the exercises and workouts mentioned above is the accessibility associated with bodyweight-style training. Unlike conventional barbell or athletic training, where specific pieces of training equipment are needed to achieve optimal workouts, a bodyweight workout only uses one training tool: your bodyweight.
For beginners, bodyweight training offers an immediate way to improve overall strength and physical conditioning. For the experienced athlete, bodyweight training improves mobility and work capacity without disrupting the overall recovery process. Whether an individual is beginning their training journey, returning from injury, or looking for an accessible way to improve strength and conditioning, bodyweight training can help achieve the training goals and improve the athleticism of all individuals.
As important as it is to mention the benefits of bodyweight training, it is also important to note the limitations of bodyweight training. If you are a beginner, bodyweight training is a great way to build baseline strength, muscle mass, conditioning, and mobility. However, eventually, the body will acclimate to the training, requiring an athlete to move onto more demanding forms of training to avoid accommodation.
Additionally, with experienced athletes, bodyweight training can effectively improve mobility and work capacity. However, due to the already established strength and fitness associated with an individual considered an advanced athlete, bodyweight workouts will fail to meaningfully improve important aspects of athletic performance such as absolute strength.
While the barbell will always reign supreme, bodyweight training offers options to athletes either new to training or struggling to find an adequate place to train. If you have open space and a free half hour, you can accomplish a bodyweight workout. The next time you're in a jam and need to train, consider performing a bodyweight workout.
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Zatsiorsky, V. M., & Kraemer, W. J. (2006). Science and Practice of Strength Training. Human Kinetics