elitefts™ Sunday edition

No Dumbbells, No Barbells, No Problem

Muscles are just plain dumb. Despite their ability at some levels to perform amazing Cirque De Soleil type feats, muscles only "know" two things—tension and stretch. They can’t differentiate between tension or stretches (whether the stretch is coming from yoga or from Tae kwon do kicking).

Let’s Talk Tension

As far as a fitness enthusiast is concerned, muscle tension comes when you place resistance on the muscles. It doesn’t matter what form that resistance takes. As far as the muscles are concerned, resistance is resistance is resistance. The muscles have no idea what form the resistance takes, whether it is a dumbbell, a resistance band, a barbell, or your body weight. Free weights are superior to machines when it comes to building strength because free weights require you to stabilize the load in three planes, however, the weight on the muscles is not any different.

In fact, the only reason to ever use an external load (i.e. weights) is because your body weight is not enough resistance. Most guys are making exercises harder by adding an external load when they aren’t even capable of handling their body weight in the same exercise. I’m constantly amazed by how many people I meet who can bench press whatever pounds of weight, but are unable to perform 10 correct push-ups (typically due to a lack of core strength and synergistic muscle stability). As far as I’m concerned, unless you can do an easy 20 push-ups, you have no business getting under a bar for bench pressing. In my training facility, everyone begins with body weight exercises. You have to earn the right to lift weights.

Now, I’m sure some of you are jumping up and down, convinced that your body weight is not enough for you to get a ‘good workout.’ You think you’re much too strong. And you’re probably right. If you’re an Olympic gymnast, that is. Remember that most gymnasts use primarily their body weight in their conditioning programs, and they have no problems developing great physiques and great strength levels. I’d go as far as to say that most gymnasts have better physiques than most weight trainers. And these guys train exclusively for performance—not for mass or aesthetics. Former conditioning coach to the Great Britain Olympic gymnastics team, Nick Grantham, CSCS, noted that the majority of male gymnasts, after years of body weight training, could typically bench press double their body weight the first time they ever benched. If that’s not evidence of the efficacy of body weight training, then I don’t know what is.

The key to effective body weight exercises is the same as with any exercise—time and tension. We need to select exercises that load the muscles effectively through the entire range of motion, and select a speed of movement that eliminates all momentum.


Lower Body

A1: Bulgarian split squat: 2 sets x AMRAP each leg at 333, 30 sec rest

A2: Hip thigh extension: 2 sets x AMRAP each leg at 333, 30 sec rest

B1: Partial co-contraction lunge: 2 sets x AMRAP each leg at 333, 30 sec rest

B2: Step-up: 2 sets x 15-20 each leg at 201, 30 sec rest

C1: Single leg partial squat: 2 sets x 15-20 each leg at 333, 30 sec rest

C2: Single leg RDL: 2 sets x 15-20 each leg at 333, 30 sec rest

D1: Single leg squat: 2 sets x AMRAP each leg at 303, 30 sec rest

D2: Single leg deadlift: 2 sets x AMRAP each leg at 303, 30 sec rest

Upper Body

A1: ‘T’ push-ups, left arm: 2 sets of 15 reps at 211, 30 sec rest

A2: Inverted row: 2 sets of AMRAP at 211, 30 sec rest

A3: ‘T’ push-ups, right arm: 2 sets of 15 reps at 211, 90 sec rest

B1: Mixed grip chins: 2 sets of 5-6 reps EACH SIDE at 222, 30 sec rest

B2: Dips: 2 sets of AMRAP at 211, 30 sec rest

B3: Prone jackknife: 2 sets of 10-20 reps at 232, 30 sec rest

C1: Pike push-ups: 2 Sets of AMRAP at 222, 30 sec rest

C2: Reverse crunch: 2 sets of 15-20 at 111, 30 sec rest

Advanced options

So, is body weight training too easy for you? Yeah, right. If that’s truly the case, then here are a few variations that you can use for any of the exercises to dial up the masochism factor.

Oscillatory isometrics: This is an exotic name for what is essentially the performance of 4–5 short-range mini-reps at the end range of the exercise. For example, perform the concentric portion (the lifting portion) of a chin up at normal speed. Then, lower yourself down an inch or so, and ‘bounce’ (controlled) up and down in that end range for 4–5 reps before lowering yourself back to the start.

Dynamic isometrics: Not a misnomer—just a combination of two complete opposite methods. This involves maintaining an isometric contraction in the toughest position of the lift for 4–5 seconds. Then, perform the concentric and eccentric portions as fast as possible, and return to the isometric position. For example, you would be doing a tempo of X5X. Hold the bottom of a push-up position for five seconds, and then straighten and bend your arms as fast as possible.

Iso-explosives: This just takes the above a step further. It’s a combination of isometric holds in the toughest position with an explosive exercise. For example, hold the bottom of a Bulgarian split squat or a push-up for 4–5 seconds. Then, as you press back up, explode with maximal force so that your body actually leaves the floor.

One and a quarter reps: Perform the entire rep. Then, perform an additional quarter rep in the toughest part of the range (typically the bottom). This overloads your weakest angles by performing twice as many reps in that range.

Ladder reps: Break the exercise up into thirds—the bottom third, the bottom two-thirds, and the full rep. For example, perform five dips in the bottom third of the range (the toughest portion). Then, perform five reps in the bottom two-thirds of the range, and finally perform five full range repetitions. This means you will have performed fifteen reps in the toughest range of the exercise, but only five in the easiest range.

Once you are capable of performing 15–20 reps of each of these exercises at the given tempo with ease, you are ‘allowed’ to grab a five pound dumbbell and start over!