Bodyweight-only training is strength training performed using your own bodyweight to provide resistance rather than barbells, dumbbells or exercise machines. DF Member pierini, a bodyweight-only training practitioner explains 4 different bodyweight-only training methods. Drawing on the talents of several DF members, pierini presents 7 video demonstrations of various bodyweight-only training exercises, and concludes his article by presenting a sample chest workout that includes all 4 training methods.
by DF Member pierini
Bodyweight-only training is strength-training performed using your own bodyweight to provide resistance rather than barbells, dumbbells or exercise machines. This training can be categorized and described as follows:
dynamic self-resistance (DSR) exercises,
dynamic visualized resistance (DVR) exercises, and
isometric (isos) exercises
In this article, I will briefly explain each method and present a video demonstration performed by a Discuss Fitness member. I will then give you a sample chest workout that includes all 4 training methods. I hope you will give this workout a try and tell me what you think of it.
Calisthenics - These are bodyweight exercises that allow you to develop your body from many angles and directions. The name calisthenics is Greek in origin, a combination of the words kalos (beauty) and sthénos (strength). Calisthenic exercises consist of simple movements usually performed without weights or other equipment that are intended to increase body strength and flexibility using your own bodyweight resistance. Pushups, pullups, bar dips and bodyweight (“air”) squats are examples of calisthenics.
Here are 3 video demonstrations of the Atlas pushup, named after bodyweight-only training legend Charles Atlas. It is a tougher variation of the standard pushup and is performed by placing your hands on blocks, chairs or steps to provide an extended range of motion that really challenges and works your pectoral muscles. Each video demonstration performs the Atlas pushup at a different level of difficulty.
Demonstration of Atlas pushup - basic version
Demonstration of Atlas pushup - a tougher version
Demonstration of Atlas pushup - the toughest version
Dynamic self-resistance - Dynamic self resistance (DSR) exercises are performed where one muscle group acts as resistance for another muscle group. The secret is deep concentration as one limb acts as resistance for another while allowing a full range of motion to occur. This way of training was the mainstay of legendary fitness greats Charles Atlas and Earl Liederman. Bodyweight-only fitness expert John Peterson has stimulated modern day interest in this exercise method.
You can control the intensity of DSR exercises by the amount of self-resistance you apply, just like the intensity of a weight-lifting exercise can be controlled by the weight you use. The greater the self-resistance you provide, the fewer reps you will be able to perform.
An example of a DSR exercise that works the pectoral muscles is the Liederman direct pectoral exercise, described in the book titled "Muscle Building by Earl Liederman” as follows:
"If the student is desirous of putting direct application on the pectoral muscles, this can be done by clasping the hands in front of the chest and while resisting, pushing one hand as far as possible to the right, then pushing the other hand upon the return count as far as possible to the left, continuing until both pectorals begin to ache."
Here is a video demonstration of the Liederman direct pectoral exercise.
Demonstration of Liederman direct pectoral DSR exercise
Dynamic visualized resistance - In the bodyweight-only training world, these are known as DVR exercises. DVR exercises use your self-created visualized resistance against an imaginary heavy resistance. The key is to maintain laser-like focused mind control and to think into the muscles as you work them. This was the strength training strategy of martial arts legend John McSweeney. He taught a system of 7 DVR exercises he called "Tiger Moves".
According to McSweeney, the "Tiger Moves" are based on ancient kung fu tension exercises. The ancient moves had a limited range of movement, but McSweeney altered these moves to cover a fuller range of motion. This alteration allowed complete expansion and contraction of opposing muscle structures. The key to these exercises is the tension used in the stretching. Vary the amount of tension until it feels comfortable.
Just like DSR exercises, the intensity of DVR exercises can be controlled by the amount of visualized-resistance you imagine. The greater the visualized-resistance you create with your imagination, the fewer reps you will be able to perform.
An example of a DVR exercise that works the pectoral muscles is the barrel squeeze pectoral contraction, one of the tiger move exercises McSweeney developed. Modern day bodyweight-only fitness expert John Peterson names this exercise the “full-range pectoral contraction” and describes it as follows:
"Hold hands in front, palms facing each other. Bring your hands back slowly with great tension until you feel your back muscles fully flexed. Hold for a count of one thousand one. Then move the hands slowly back to the original position while using great tension in your arms, shoulders, and pectoral muscles. Yes, the muscles will quiver."
Now here is a video demonstration of the barrel squeeze DVR exercise
Demonstration of the barrel squeeze DVR exercise
Isometrics - The exercises discussed thus far are collectively referred to as isotonic exercises. An isotonic exercise is any exercise where actual movement is required. Contrast that with an isometric exercise, one that strengthens a particular muscle by tightening it, holding it, and then relaxing, all without moving the joint.
Examples of isometric exercises include:
1) Holding a weight in a motionless state or maintaining a static position. For example, holding dumbbells out to the side in the crucifix position. A bodyweight example would be to hold a static position hanging from a pull-up bar.
2) The act of pushing or pulling against a stationary object. For example, pushing against a wall involves an isometric contraction. No movement takes place as the wall is immovable.
In his classic book “Isometric Power Revolution”, author and modern-day isometric exercise expert John Peterson defines 3 types of isometric exercises: (1) classic isometric contractions; (2) static isometric postures; and (3) peak contraction isometric power flex.
While isometric exercises utilize various levels of tension, this article will only discuss classic isometric contractions that Peterson describes as “the willful contraction of a specific muscle or muscle group against an immovable force, object, or another muscle group at ultra-high intensity”. In other words, no movement is possible.
Peterson provides the following description of a pectoral classic isometric contraction:
"Stand erect with your feet about 12” apart. Clasp your hands . . . with the fingers of your right hand in the top position between the thumb and forefinger of your left hand. Extend your elbows outward and slightly away from your chest. Press your hands firmly against each other wile slowly building tension as you inhale for 3 to 4 seconds until you reach maximum contraction. At that point, slowly begin a controlled exhale for 7 to 12 seconds while maintaining a maximum muscular contraction. Then slowly release the tension as you inhale deeply for 3 to 4 seconds. Relax. Take 7 to 10 deep power breaths . . . . “
Here is a video demonstration of this exercise:
Demonstration of pectoral isometric contraction exercise
Here is another video demonstration of this exercise with 3 short maximum contraction rounds, each round followed by a brief maximum relaxation rest pause.
Demonstration of pectoral isometric contraction exercise with relaxation pauses
Putting it all together
Here is a sample chest workout using all 4 bodyweight-only exercise methods:
Perform a single set of the barrel squeeze DVR exercise using medium visualized resistance for 10-20 reps to warm-up the muscles.
Perform a set of Atlas pushup calisthenic - 20 to 50 reps concentrating on deep-breathing and full-range of motion.
Perform a single set of the Liederman direct pectoral exercise DSR for 10 reps using maximum self-resistance. Clasp your hands at chest level.
Perform a set of the barrel squeeze DVR exercise using maximum visualized resistance for 10 reps.
Perform 9 sets of the pectoral classic isometric contraction described above: 3 sets with hands clasped at trunk level, 3 sets with hands clasped at chest level, and 3 sets with hands clasped at eye level.
Perform another set of the barrel squeeze DVR exercise using maximum visualized resistance for 10 reps.
Perform another set of the Liederman direct pectoral exercise DSR for 10 reps using maximum self-resistance. This time, clasp your hands at eye-level.
Perform 3 sets of partial 1/3 range Atlas pushups - one set to failure at the bottom 1/3 range, one set to failure at the middle 1/3 range, and a final set to failure at the top 1/3 range.
Conclude with a final set of the barrel squeeze DVR, this time using light tension for 50 reps.
Bodyweight-only training is a form of strength training performed using your own bodyweight to provide resistance rather than barbells, dumbbells or exercise machines. This article categorized and described 4 different bodyweight-only training methods and presented video demonstrations of each. A sample workout was also provided. Give bodyweight-only training a try and see how it compliments and enhances your current training. It is not easy training. You will never know until you give it a try.
I’d like to thank John Peterson for his consultation as I researched and wrote this article. Peterson’s website http://www.transformetrics.com is devoted exclusively to bodyweight-only training. I'd also like to thank DF members gymgirl and Bob44 who, along with me, demonstrated the exercises in the videos included in this article.