Intelligently designed bodyweight strength and conditioning programs can turn a beginner into an absolute machine with little to no previous workout experience. The same programs can humble the elite who have a perception that bodyweight exercise has relevance to their situation.
I’ll come clean. It wasn’t that long ago that I believed bodyweight exercise could have zero impact to my own training. I’ve been designing my workouts for the last 10+ years or so, and I was completely wrong. It’s easy to evolve to have tunnel vision with fitness. You get used to doing things a certain way, and you discard anything that doesn’t parallel “that way”.
It’s why I support all forms of fitness and do my best to avoid being a zealot.
Bodyweight training, similar to more traditional externally loaded resistance training (barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, etc) is all about leveraging the principles of progression.
If you stay disciplined to practicing the progressions, you’ll make incredible gains in a short amount of time.
From my experience, the most profound improvements can be made by adjusting any one (or several at once) of the following training variables:
- Time under tension
- Movement complexity
- Stable transition to unstable (example: using 1 arm or 1 leg instead of 2 arms or 2 legs)
- Increase reps, sets, rounds
- Decrease rest periods
- Single plane exercises into multi-plane exercises
Coaches who are designing the best programs know that leveraging continuous exercise progression is the key to getting client’s the results they want.
I say again: smart progression and the willingness to continue to go outside of your comfort zone is what gets results.
While I feel that my own program design is solid, I do borrow ideas from programs and other coaches. Borrow and tweak, but always give credit where credit it due. That’s my philosophy.
So here we go. Below are some timeless programs, and also some of the hottest bodyweight-only training programs on the market today.
The best part? Once you have the program you’re good to go… no equipment necessary.
The Naked Warrior (Pavel Psatsouline/DragonDoor paperback)
The Naked Warrior was my first exposure to next level bodyweight strength training. It changed the way I viewed strength forever. After adding a healthy dose of pistols, dive-bombers and 1-arm push-up progressions to my training regimen, I had never been stronger.
Pavel Psatsouline is the godfather of modern-day kettlebell training, but he is also an accomplished military and sport performance instructor. He can be credited for making advanced bodyweight training mainstream and also for sparking the kettlebell revolution in the Western Hemisphere.
TacFit Commando (Scott Sonnon/RMAX)
The design of my personal bodyweight workouts involve a ton of exercise variations cherry-picked from Scott Sonnon’s TacFit Commando training system.
TacFit acknowledges the need for improving ROTATIONAL performance and addresses it with a lot of really unique drills. Rotation is rarely addressed by the fitness industry and often under-developed in a lot of people. Building rotational power and the ability to resist rotational forces is important for athletic endeavors and the demands of everyday life.
Improving rotational power can be a game-changer for weekend warriors, particularly those who enjoy playing golf, tennis, hockey or softball.
TacFit training systems are a melting pot of many training methods, which Scott collected and organized into a comprehensive program.
The attention to detail extends beyond smart exercise progression and into tactics for recovering from exertion and joint mobility, which again, is rarely discussed in most training programs. Doing the work at a high level is one thing, but more important is the ability to recover as quickly as possible from work bout to work bout.
TacFit addresses these lesser known concepts brilliantly.
Scott Sonnon is an accomplished martial arts athlete turned military and sports performance coach. He specializes in training the tactical sector (firefighters, law enforcement, military special forces, etc).
C-Mass (Paul Wade/DragonDoor e-book)
C-Mass is a bodyweight program for those who are interested in building a physique using nothing but the weight of their body. The exercise progressions in C-Mass are not for the faint of heart, but anyone who’s pursued building muscle aggressively knows that uncommon result require uncommon efforts.
I highly recommend this book for those interested in taking their training to the next level, all without touching a weight.
Pushing the Limits! (Al Kavadlo/DragonDoor e-book)
Just like Pavel Psatsouline is the godfather of kettelbells, Al Kavadlo can be pegged as the modern-day guru of bodyweight training.
Where Paul Wade’s C-Mass may be more appropriate for the advanced trainee, “Pushing the Limits” is packed full of exercise progressions to serve anyone. Personally, I’ve beat on Al’s 1-arm push up progressions to improve my pressing strength (and as a byproduct my core stability) well beyond what I thought was possible.
Whether you’re looking for clever bodyweight exercises to add to your current iron regimen or a guide to move you passed road that “The Naked Warrior” paved, this book is for you.
Street Workout (Al Kavadlo and Danny Kavadlo/DragonDoor e-book)
“Street Workout is an incredibly comprehensive collection of calisthenics concepts, exercises and programs.”
I’d consider this an equally comprehensive resource as TacFit, with unique bodyweight variations, tips and pearls for building to the next level.
Al and Danny are world-class calisthenic coaches that share a ton of tips and techniques in this book. You’ll be busy for some time with this one.
…what methods you’re currently leveraging for workouts, it is important to know that you always have options.
Bodyweight strength and conditioning is a tool in your training tool bag. Use it when needed, inject some difficult bodyweight exercises into your workouts, use them as a baseline for improvement.
Where can you progress? What should you regress and tweak to make the next jump?
Establishing an awareness of training options will keep your workouts fresh while avoiding that common cluelessness that many people have when the training space isn’t big enough, time is limited or equipment isn’t what they are accustomed to.
Bodyweight training is adaptive training, but it is also human performance enhancement training in its rawest form.
Bodyweight training strategies are an ace up your sleeve, always. Play it whenever you need to, and be confident that the workout is going to be HIGHLY EFFECTIVE.