Bodyweight Training Programs

Motion

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
  • Rotation

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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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“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.

No matter…

…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.

 

Kyle

 

The Swinging Plank

Quick Tips

The Swinging Plank is a brilliant hybrid exercise designed by Scott Sonnon, founder of TacFit training systems. The movement will put your upper body strength, endurance and multi-planar core strength and stability to the test.

If you’re looking for a non-traditional movement challenge, this is it!  hat will burn out your core and arms, the swinging plank will deliver, even at low rep ranges.

The swinging plank is a tough motion that pays high dividends in a short amount of time.

For the last several months, I have beating on this exercise (and it’s variations) hard.  Even today, I’m still impressed by how much energy it takes to complete mild rep schemes.

Technical bodyweight movements like this will get you functionally strong in a hurry without much bulk, which is great for someone who want’s to function the way they look.

Bodyweight control…

Those of you who’ve been loyal to traditional forms of resistance training will find ground-based bodyweight exercise to be an incredible supplement workouts.

The swinging plank embodies current fitness trends: the shift away from structured exercise and into exploring integrated movement training.

And its not that traditional exercise is bad, it’s not, it has its place and will always have it’s place.  The idea is that at some point, the body and mind crave freedom of movement, beyond what adding more weight, reps, sets can offer us.

Patterns like high and low crawling, narrow surface balancing and hanging exist.

Ground-based exercises that require full bodyweight support (hands and feet in contact on the ground) are fantastic for building functional strength, or in some cases where injury is present, a gentle re-introduction to loading.

By movement design, the swinging plank elicits a minimal amount of stress to the lower body, making it ideal for non-competing circuits or training days where the lower body needs a break from exertion.

However, execution of the exercise will require adequate mobility in the hips, knees and ankles, so if you’re extremely restricted, free up those joints first.  One look at this drill and you can see that lower body joint mobility is a pre-requisite for proper technique.

A fusion of exercises…

Elements of yoga and familiar bodyweight exercise fuse to create the swinging plank.

The static plank, chaturanga, push-up, dive-bomber and crawling all merge to form the swinging plank exercise.

At the midway point of the drill, you’ll find yourself in chaturanga (Four-Limb Staff Pose), one of yoga’s asanas (“postures”).  In chaturanga, the body is gracefully lowered toward to the floor, stopping where the elbows reach 90 degrees and tucked into the ribs, core fully activated.

 

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Chaturanga

 

Pressing back and out of chaturanga feels a lot like a push-up or a dive-bomber.  Dive-bombers are a real shoulder burner when performed strict.  Because the movement is backward and not straight up, it’s hard to relate the stress as being identical to a push-up.

Now, what you came here for…

How to do The Swinging Plank

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1. Start with weight on the balls of your feet (knees and hips flexed into a squat position) hands extended out in front of the shoulders with palms placed firmly on the ground, eyes gazing between the hands or slightly in front of the hands.

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2.  In a front to back motion, lunge your body forward out in between the hands, keeping the elbows against the rib cage, body rigid and low to the ground.

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3.  Rotate the chest and torso over the hands and onto to the opposite side, pressing with the arms and pulling slightly with the legs back into the starting position (#1), now facing the other side.

In full frame, here is TacFit Commando creator Scott Sonnon demonstrating the swing plank…

The starting position of the swing plank looks a lot the start position of a bear crawl, except in the swing plank, the shoulders are situated just behind the hands verses over the top of the hands.

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Start position of a bear crawl.

I’ve found that using this prone table top position (picture above) is a great way to get hand/foot spacing correct.

Technique tips continued…

Technique-wise, it’s important to force the hips into full extension.  Create a straight line from heels to the crown of the head.

Core should stay “soft” yet active to control body position.  Avoid over-tensioning or you’ll be too stiff to flow through the movement.

*** To avoid hand slippage, place the hands on a surface that gives you a good grip. On the way out and back in, you’re not going to be over the top of your hands like you would be during a push-up. Rubber gym matting, grass, a quality yoga mat with some stickiness or a a grittier surface like concrete all work well.

 

Swing Plank exercise progression…

If you’re quite not ready for the swing plank or maybe you’re looking for a soft progression to get there, here are some drills to work through (in order from top to bottom):

  • 1. Static Prone Plank (Hold for 40 seconds or longer)
  • 2. Static Lateral Plank (Hold for 30 seconds or longer each side)
  • 3. Rotational Dynamic Plank Variations (see here)
  • 4. Bodyweight Push-Ups (15-20 reps)
  • 5.  Dive-Bombers (eccentric and concentric phases, 8-10 reps)
  • 6.  Piston Planks
  • 7.  Swinging Planks!

Look, not everyone is going to need all of these exercises.  You might be ready for the swing plank right now.  If that’s the case, great!  But if you’re not, work through 1-7 exercises until your body is acclimated enough.

There’s no need to rush into a sloppy movement patterns for the sake of rushing into sloppy movement patterns. Aim to do it right, or quite honestly, don’t do it at all.

Long-term, dialing in proper technique and learning movement is best practice.

If you’re wobbly in the swinging plank because it’s new, that’s one thing. If you’re wobbly in the swinging plank because you skipped the basics and went straight to the sexy stuff,  that’s another.

You’ll get a phenomenal training effect by hammering away at each of the exercise progressions above will provide a tremendous physical challenge despite. Building the foundation crucial.

 

Fix mobility restrictions…

If you’re lower body lacks ideal joint mobility, address these limitations first.  Fixing mobility restrictions is essential to maintaining joint health, injury prevention, and getting the most out of your workouts.

During the swing plank, your hip, knee and ankle joints should move freely without restriction, aches or pains. The starting position of the swing plank places the ankle, knee and hip joints into a very demanding range of motion.

If you find yourself locked up and struggling to get into position without rounding the lower back, I recommend addressing mobility restrictions first.

Scott Sonnon’s training system is all-encompassing, and extend beyond tactical conditioning.  His mobility and yoga programs are world-class, here are three I recommend…

Six Degree Flow
Progressive Yoga
Primal Stress

Progressive Yoga proved to be a game changer for me, as calming the body, turning the focus inward is extremely rewarding.

A huge mistake people make with exertion intense exercise is failing to remove yourself from it.

Opting for too much “pedal to the metal” high tempo training will rip your body apart in time, you’ve got to slow it down, relax and restore.

Where does the swinging plank fit into a workout/program?

In short, anywhere you want.

Personally, I prefer swinging planks mixed into work capacity focused training sessions, leveraged as a transition exercise.

But the reality is that the options are limitless.

Because of the minimal lower body stress, the swinging plank is a perfect transition exercise between upper (vertical pressing, push-ups, dive-bombers) and lower body exercises (lunges, squats, deadlifts, kettlebell swings).

A sample sequence:

8-10 minutes continuous of:

1a) Bodyweight Lunge x 6 right/left

2a) TacFit Swing Plank x6 right/left

3a) Bodyweight Chin-Up x6

Using a non-competing exercise format provides an opportunity to focus on movement technique. Accumulating fatigue degrades exercise technique quickly, but the active rest from choosing a non-competing exercise order will aid in maintaining technique.

Random Discussion…

Deconstruct and go slow. I suggest you break the swing plank down into segments in order to appreciate the movement.  Practice the swing plank in slow motion for fewer reps. Do it right. Pause when you reach extension (chaturanga-like posture). Connect your mind to each muscle and transition.

Be critical of your hand, foot, torso and head position. Pay attention to your breathing throughout the range of motion. Are you breathing or are you holding your breath? Make sure that your tongue stays relaxed and you’re breathing.

Stay low! You should have a little dirt on your t-shirt when you’re done. Not mopping the floor, but rather the staying low increases the challenge.

Maintaining a rigid posture while turning over from side to side will blow up your mid-section. The rotational core stability challenge is potent as you flow through each rep.

When performed for as a part of a circuit or for higher reps, the swinging plank elicits a potent cardio training effect, making it a great exercise for metabolic workouts.

Hybrid bodyweight training is highly effective and yet so often overlooked. It’s easy to become infatuated with numbers on the bar, fancy equipment and racing the clock.

Having full control over your body in many different positions is the ultimate safeguard against injury and gateway to performance.

Most who consider themselves strong lifters will be humbled by the challenge and the effectiveness of properly executed bodyweight training. Moving into (and out of) body positions that reveal weaknesses in stability and strength can deliver incredible conditioning and improve other lifts.

If you’re interested finding out about more unique bodyweight workouts that incorporate movements like the swinging plank, check out TacFit Commando.

 

 

Cheers,

Kyle