Since a ton of people are now looking into working out at home and investigating how to transition to bodyweight exercises to maintain their gains (and their sanity), I’ve been noticing many recurring misconceptions that should be cleared up so that you can workout effectively at your own home!
1. Don’t mix up concepts of endurance training and strength training.
For some reason a lot of people (especially young folks) discover bodyweight-fitness and the first thing they think of is “I’m going to get really strong by being able to do 100 pushups in a row.”
Why would you think doing 100reps of something would get you so much stronger? It would increase your strength initially (after you’re able to do, say 20-30 reps). But the rest of the way toward 100 will just increase your endurance, not your strength. And if your goal is to have a better physique with larger muscles that pop, then you need to work on getting stronger.
If you were at the gym and wanted to build stronger and bigger biceps, would you choose an extremely light weight and do 100 bicep curls non stop? (Your answer should be a big fat no.) Instead, you would choose a weight of significant resistance that would allow you to do only 6-12 reps per set.
So why is it that when people discover bodyweight exercises and want to get really strong, they try to make a goal of doing 100 pushups? Maybe it’s because they don’t understand the concepts of progressive overload or know how to increase the intensity with bodyweight exercises? Well, no worries, because if you were in that boat, you’re about to get lifted!
2. Progression exercises are the key to getting stronger.
Sadly, I watched a few famous YouTubers trying to take advantage of the COVID19 situation by recommending “at home” workouts filled with a bunch of superfluous exercises that were to be done to failure without providing progression exercises to help you level up (or regression exercises to make them more manageable). This was really unfortunate because it’s just adding more bull-shit to an industry already rife with bull-shit.
The concept of progressive overload needs to be present in your training plan to have good results.
When strength training with bodyweight exercises, you cannot add/remove plates of weight, so to change the intensity (load), you would need to increase the difficulty by moving to a harder, more difficult variation of the exercise:
- If pushups are too hard, you could elevating your hands and do incline pushups.
- If pushups are too easy, you could elevate the legs and do decline pushups.
- When that becomes easy, then you could move onto pike pushups.
- When that becomes easy, you could do pike pushups with feet elevated.
- When that becomes easy, you move onto handstand pushups against a wall. See where I’m going with this?
You need to pick a progression exercise that is appropriate to your strength level, rather than simply doing an exercise that may be far too easy to make you get stronger, or far too hard to do properly. For more help on how to do that, read my blog post on how to make any bodyweight exercise easier or harder.
3. Train the movements, not the muscles. Or in other words, don’t focus so much on the individual muscles.
Many gym-goers work the body in isolated parts because they have access to machines or weights that allow them to. However, most bodyweight exercises are compound exercises, meaning they use many major muscle groups all at once. (Even in weight lifting this is true where people focus on the “big lifts” of squat, deadlift, bench, and overhead press.)
Think of graceful athletes, dancers, gymnasts, acrobats and martial artists: Do you think they got that way because they did bicep curls and tricep extensions? Or did they train the body as a whole, so that the muscles work synergistically all together in coordination? With bodyweight exercises, you’re often going to be using most of your body in that holistic fashion. The only time that a muscle truly works in isolation is when you’re using a machine or weighted exercise that isolated it on one axis of rotation.
Now, with that said, isolation exercises do have their place if your goal is to maximize your size and strength because they help you eek out more volume than you normally would get. For example, my hypertrophy routine uses isolation exercises because it’s a hybrid routine that utilizes both weights and calisthenics and is meant to maximize size and strength. My Smart Core program focuses on the core as well, because it’s a huge goal for many.
4. You could train your entire upper body with just Pulling and Pushing movements.
Instead of thinking of the muscles individually, if you focus on pushing and pulling exercises, that takes care of the upper body.
- Pushing exercises:
- Pulling exercises:
Structural balance takes care of itself if you train these two major movements. I would recommend you do slightly more pulling work than pushing, to counter our modern day sitting culture because we’re often stuck in a “push” position. My free, minimal routine offers a structured way to train these two together in a methodical manner.
A pullup bar is all you need. But the ultimate bodyweight fitness tool is if you get a pair of wooden gymnastics rings and find a place to hang them from. They’re pretty cheap and will keep you humble for life because there’s literally no limit as to how difficult you can make things on them. (I hang them from my basic doorway pullup bar in these quarantined days just fine.)
In regards to legs: Nothing compares to a barbell squat but the Single leg squat (“pistol squat”) progressions are pretty good and build balance. Start with chair pistol squats (with single leg squats standing up and down from a chair). When that becomes too easy, do them from a lower platform until eventually you need no platform. Holding a dumbell outstretched straight out in front of you will mitigate the ankle flexibility requirement when you get to the very bottom.
5. Common Complaint: “I don’t feel my chest working when I’m doing [insert pushup variation here]!”
Oftentimes I read statements like this. Just because you don’t feel it working there, doesn’t mean it’s not working there. Two people can do the same exact exercise and feel it in completely different places. Where you feel it, usually means you’re just weak there and that’s going to be super personal. But if you’re doing some sort of harder pushup variation and not feeling your chest, trust me, it’s still working. And it will get bigger if you keep putting in the work consistently and at the right intensity.
Personally, I workout because I want to do fun things and impressive things with my body and my good physique is simply a reflection of my capabilities. Instead of working out to get buff for looks, I workout because I enjoy it and getting buff is the side effect. When I need to pack on strength and mass, I do it because I need to achieve a move that requires strength. I find this way of thinking to be the most aligned with my personal goals. And with more people flocking toward finding ways to workout at home, I hope this blog post helps to make the transition into bodyweight-training a lot easier. If you’re looking for complete, comprehensive routines and tutorials, check out my previous blog post on how to get stronger and more flexible at home.