Tuesday, July 18, 2017


Ok, before I begin, that title is inflammatory, but it’s still how I feel right now.  Everyone is in such a rush to add weight to bodyweight movements that I think they’re seriously missing out on the benefits of just keeping these movements as is.  Fundamentally, I feel this is due to the total misunderstanding of how rep ranges work and the insanity inherent in the belief that you can only get bigger or stronger if you are hitting 5-10 reps in a set.  But I feel like I’m already writing the article in the intro, so let me get back on track here.

Image result for sabin suplex train
Get it?!  Getting off track?!  Because it's a train and...you know what, screw you, FFVI was awesome

Ok, a caveat to the caveat.  People love to be stupid when I talk about this stuff and act like they don’t know what a “bodyweight movement” is.  Yes; if we are being stupid and pedantic, we can say that a squat with a barbell is exactly a bodyweight squat with just weight added.  If you’ve ever actually squatted anything heavy in your life though, you know that isn’t true.  Meanwhile, a weighted dip really IS a dip with weight added, and a weighted chin is a chin with weight added.  We KNOW what the hell we mean when we talk about bodyweight movements; dips, chins, push-ups, sit-ups, GHRs, and other movements where moving your body through space around equipment/the earth is the objective.

Alright, now that we got our heads on straight and know what the hell we’re talking about, let’s get into the meat of things here.  Bodyweight movements are AWESOME.  People relegate them as some sort of second class citizen of the lifting world; something you do when you first get started but then never touch again once you can lift some serious weight unless you’re on vacation or in prison or something.  Once you can bench the bar, it’s time to start doing everything exclusively in sets of 8-10 so you can get bigger and stronger; that bodyweight stuff is for the chumps, and anything you can do for 30 reps is pointless.

Hah!  What an idiot.  Those will never get you strong.

BULLCRAP.  This kind of sentiment can only be observed by those that are trying to find a way to avoid hardwork.  How fascinating that it's always people that have horrible conditioning that seem to decry the value of any reps over 5.  Is it not merely coincidence that these people have decided that anything that gets their heart rate up and some sweat flowing is clearly ineffective for getting bigger, stronger and better?  What sort of insanity are we observing when people are fully committed to the idea that you can somehow train hard and NOT see results from it?

We KNOW that isn't true, simply from a Nietzsche-ian understanding of the necessity of struggle and overcoming in order to become greater.  We know that growth is a product of suffering, pain and toil, and we KNOW we can experience just that with bodyweight work.  But even outside of a pure conceptual understanding, we are constantly faced with evidence indicating that pure bodyweight work can absolutely result in significant amounts of strength and size.  We observe gymnasts and calisthenics freaks that develop very impressive physiques and absurd strength relying only on their bodyweight, spending long training sessions and many years creating something very impressive with work that is "worthless".  We've seen similar effects of low weight/very high rep work on farmhands and laborers.  When you subject the body to a lot of toil over a long period of time, it grows to get stronger to be able to overcome.  It can't count reps; it doesn't decide to quit getting better simply because you did 30 reps instead of 29.

Image result for squatting on a bosu ball
Although doing this might make it revolt on you

Now, can we make an argument about such a method not being the most efficient way to get bigger and stronger?  Absolutely.  However, as much as it might chap the internet to say this, efficiency isn't always the most important thing in training.  Sometimes, the most efficient strategy for short term progress does not necessarily ensure the best long term growth.  Everything we do in training has a tradeoff, and constantly pursuing efficiency can lead us to burn out, stagnation and eventually regression due to poor strategy.  We know that lifting heavy weights with grueling workouts is how we get big and strong, but we also know doing this is going to beat us down.  We are eventually going to reach a point where our body simply cannot endure anymore.  And as much as I love to write about overcoming the body's barriers and pushing on, even I have to acknowledge that a limit DOES exist.  The limits can be increased through constant punishment, yes, but they will still get reached at SOME point.  And when this happens, this is where pure, real bodyweight work takes over.

The slanderous statements against bodyweight work are in actuality its largest selling point; it feels like it doesn't do anything.  It feels like this because you don't have an external load crushing down on your joints, ligaments and tendons; you are working purely within the scope of your own body's weight.  Assuming you aren't morbidly obese, your own bodyweight most likely isn't enough to cause you significant stress on your joints, but it IS still enough to generate some degree of muscle stimulation.  This is where bodyweight work shines through; it fills in the cracks left behind from heavy weight work.  You can still train as hard as you can manage with weights, but you then accumulate even more volume with stupid high reps of bodyweight work.  And yeah; you'll need to do a lot of reps because the weight is so light; this is how volume is accumulated.  But you'll most likely find that, after a full heavy workout with weights, maybe you're not as good at bodyweight work as you originally thought.

Image result for Army ranger push ups
"Weird; push-ups were easier when I wasn't sleep deprived, freezing, and exhausted"

Adding weight completely defeats the point here; you already did that in the rest of the workout.  Enjoy and appreciate actual bodyweight work for what it brings to the table; an opportunity to fill in the gaps left behind from heavy training and really tap into some crazy volume while giving your joints a break.  In the end, you're always free to spend a few cycles strapping on the dip belt and seeing what you can do, but don't forget all the benefits to be had by leaving the weight behind and moving your body.


  1. Have you ever thought about doing the 5/3/1 BW assistance template?

    I've always wanted to do a program where I do only a few key lifts barbells such as squat, ohp, cleans, deadlifts, rows but literally everything else is BW. No cables no dbs/kbs, but literally all assistance in form of BW exercises with a high volume of reps. Just haven't truly committed to that thought yet though.

    1. A good majority of my assistance work in 5/3/1 is bodyweight work (lots of dips and chins), but as a strongman it'd not totally viable for me to neglect events. I could easily see running something like that in a long off season/retirement though.

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  3. Good stuff. Coincidentally, I've been adding in more bodyweight work over the last couple months.

    When I don't feel like doing sets of 20 on dips, one thing I've done is supersetted it with a triceps extension.

    Elevator pushups are something I got from Kroc and those are great.

    Picked up a squat circuit from somewhere that's a real burner. 10 goblet squats, 10 bodyweight squats, 10 jump squats, 10 lunges each leg. I'll do 3 rounds with 60-90s rest between rounds and I'm smoked. Eventually I'll be strong enough to do 15-20 reps on it.

    Alsruhe posted a couple similar options in his summer conditioning video. One off the top of my head is similar to the one above--20 bodyweight squats, 20 jump squats, 20 lunges, 20 jumping lunges. Haven't had the minerals to try that one yet though.

    An old favorite I think from Jamie Lewis is "blackjack." Numbers always equal 21--20 dips, 1 chin, then 19 dips, 2 chins, etc. etc. until you're down to 1 dip and 20 chins, then I guess you could work your way back up.


    1. Love all those ideas. There are SO many ways to make bodyweight movements brutal. Any combination of rest pausing, supersetting, pre-exhuast, etc is going to just ruin your day, haha.

  4. I'm using basic bodyweight exercises (pushups, sit ups, squat, chin ups) mainly because I am trying to get into the military right now and I have been finding that its actually rather beneficial. I did kettlebell swings for high reps after reading "I Will Be Iron" by Bud Jeffries.

    What's beautiful is that, if you turn bodyweight exercises into a circuit, it will work you. Also, you get to bring the gym with you, no matter your situation, because you become the gym.

    I wish i had gone this route sooner as poverty basically ensuree I don't get reliable gym access.