Barring the obvious exceptions of sumo wrestlers and single heavyweight lifters, nearly all athletes could benefit from more relative strength. Virtually all sports require relative strength, and body weight drills form the foundation for developing this physical quality.

Mastering body weight across a range of movement patterns provides the novice trainee with a broad base of physical literacy upon which specific biomotor abilities can later be trained. By developing movement skills in calisthenics through a complete range of motion (ROM), you not only reduce the risk of injury but provide a strong foundation upon which an external load can be applied. So body weight training is the cats meow. But what if body weight is too heavy for an athlete? Obesity, diminished movement skills, and subpar mobility and stability are the usual culprits here. Though these trainees are the exception, they do exist and, as coaches, we have to circumvent these shortcomings.

A traditional solution to this problem is to work within a limited ROM and progress it as proficiency increases. However, I’m not a fan of this approach. An athlete is typically weakest at the extremes of the ROM. To avoid this is to negate the weakness that requires the most attention. Given that training adaptations are joint angle specific, an athlete will progress most quickly by training at these extremes of the ROM, not avoiding them entirely.

Another approach is to train only the eccentric or isometric phase of an exercise. The pull-up typically gets this treatment when trainees lack the concentric strength to complete a rep. Like joint angles, adaptation is specific to contraction type. Simple physiology tells us that the athlete will be weakest in the concentric phase, so why cut it out? Again, the quickest progression comes from tackling a weakness head on.

Lastly, a coach will sometimes bypass calisthenic drills altogether and switch straight to machine or free weight drills. For example, if an athlete can’t perform a decent push-up, the bench press may be substituted in its place. To me, this is like walking out of the house wearing only a tie. Yes, you’re wearing clothes, but you’re still essentially naked. To bypass callisthenic drills is to bypass all the benefits I listed.

You will doubtless be familiar with the band assisted pull-up where band tension deloads the body, reducing exercise intensity. This classic exercise got me thinking about how other traditional body weight drills could be deloaded with bands.

Below is a list of modified drills that I came up with and have had great success. They may not be groundbreaking, but they are certainly effective. I encourage you to try them with your more deconditioned clients.


Place a bar in a power rack and then choke the band around it. Place the band around the torso under the armpits. Make sure there is still some tension in the band at the bottom position. If not, adjust the height of the bar in the rack accordingly.




Loop the band around the handles of your dip apparatus. You can put a twist in the band to increase the tension slightly and better secure it. Put your knees in the band and get dipping.





This classic needs little description. Choke a band around the bar, put your knees in the middle, and do a chin-up. Simple.



Join two bands together and then choke them around the top frame of a power rack. Place the bottom of the joined up band around your backside and put your arms through it like you're putting on a jacket. Use your hands to secure the band at the level of your chest and you’re good to squat.


Use a single band choked around the top of your rack. Place the arms through the band as with the squat.

Inverted row



At my current training location (interning with London Wasps rugby), the athletes perform inverted rows using blast straps attached to a chin-up bar. In this instance, I find that two bands linked together and choked around the bar works best. Place the bottom band around the torso under the armpits and then set up normally for the exercise. This has the added advantage of greater posterior chain recruitment than the bent leg inverted row that sometimes is used to progress to the straight legged version.

Note that if you perform barbell inverted rows, a single band choked around the bar will suffice.

These exercises allow the trainee to work through a complete ROM, which better engrains the motor pattern from the outset. They allow for all contraction types to be trained while still providing the benefits of calisthenics that I outlined earlier.

These lifts are simply progressed. Each time the trainee demonstrates satisfactory form in an exercise for the required sets/reps, reduce the band thickness/tension the next time around. Eventually, all assistance is removed and proficiency with body weight is achieved. Give these exercises a try today and get your trainees on the fast track to mastering their body weight.