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10 Best Bodyweight Exercises - Part 1: Mastery of the Exercises
Can you gain strength, body awareness, and self-esteem, improve your physique and feel like a million bucks with one category of exercises?
Whether you’re looking for improvements in your physique, increased strength, conditioning and fat loss, or exercises that can challenge you mentally and build your inner strength you can’t underestimate the power of bodyweight exercises.
Bodyweight exercises can be done everywhere, and they can be progressed and regressed to fit everyone. You can use them for strength gains and muscle gains, and you can put them together to form a circuit for conditioning and fat burning. They translate well over from the gym to real life as you’ll increase your relative strength; how strong you are relative to your own body weight. The best part about it is the increased self-awareness and how you can better move your body.
Narrowing these down to 10 is extremely difficult, but by becoming a Master in these exercises and variations of these you will be guaranteed to experience benefits like:
- Increased strength
- More muscle
- Lower body fat
- Increased self-esteem and well-being
- More energy as a by-product of increased relative strength
- Increased coordination, body awareness and athleticism
- Positive correlations to strength gains in other gym exercises
The 4 Essentials that form the out-spring for most variations:
Mastering the Pull-Up exercise is a goal most people set themselves when they step foot in the gym. Why? On an a physiological level there isn’t much that beats the feeling of pulling yourself up on a bar. You feel totally in control of yourself. Do not feel bad or ashamed if you can’t do them—it’s your willingness and determination to do something about it that matters. Whatever you’ve done so far, or haven’t done in order to not be able to do them is because of something you’ve created yourself, which is a positive thing because you have the power to create the change necessary to master a pull-up.
Level 1: Negative Pull-Ups. Jump up and hold for as long as you can. Do not lose motivation when each repetition feels worse than the former, but compare your first repetition with the first repetition the next day or next week. A good shoot is to be able to hold for 30 seconds in the lowering phase.
Level 2: Band-Assisted Pull-Ups: Attach a band to the bar and pull it under your foot or knee. Work up to sets of 10 repetitions
Level 3: Pull-Ups: You’ve now mastered the pull-up, so it’s time to explore a world of endless possibilities and variations to become a Master. Going from 0-1 is harder and takes longer than from 1-3 repetitions.
As with pull-ups, push-ups are great to be able to master—whether you’re working on your 1st, 10th or 30th
For mastering the first using this approach is a powerful method:
Level 1: Incline Push-Ups: Do push-ups against a bench; work up to 3-4 sets of 10 repetitions, then decrease the angle of the incline with a lower bench.
Level 2: Negative Push-Ups: As with pull-ups, we’ll go for negative. You’re much stronger in the eccentric, or negative, phase of the lift, so take advantage of it. Pull yourself down to the ground on a 3-count and hold the bottom position for another 3-count, then set your knees to the floor and push yourself up.
Level 3: Pushups: Stay commited to these variations and there’s not a doubt in the world that you will master the first push-up. And like the pull-ups, going from 0-1 is much harder than 1-3, or even 5. From there is a trip in wonderland with tons of variations to accomplish.
Known as one of the “Big 3” in strength training, just mastering the movement of squatting has become problematic in today’s day and age. With all the sitting and working on computers we become tight and get restrictive movement in places we don’t want. This can be a cause of a lot of your back and knee problems. Taking the appropriate steps to becoming a master of the squat can give a whole wonder of benefits:
- Increased flexibility and movement
- Less back and knee pain
- Ability to increase overall body strength
To master the squat, start with these two steps:
1. Stretch: At least once a day, stretch calves, hips, quads, hamstring and lats for 45-60 minutes on each side for each muscle group. Frequency trumphs as key. 1 minute each day is better than 10 minutes once a week.
2. Squat in your warm up: Practice makes perfect? Perfect practice makes perfect. Always include squatting in your warm up: not only will you get better in the move itself, but it’s actually a great way to increase body temperature and increase your movement before taking on more vigorous tasks.
The last of the 4 essentials is lunges. The Squat is a great move to master, but it can lead to some problems if movement is restricted. The beauty of lunges is the use of one leg at the time. Not only does it increase the time you have to work, but it allows for better movement and easier to use good form. If you’re looking to build leg strength, build muscle and lose body fat, lunge variations are a must. Much like squats, just by doing lunges you will increase your flexibility.
Reverse Lunges: Doing lunges backwards feels much more natural for most people, than the standard Forward Lunge. Take a long step back, you’ll most likely feel a great stretch on the front side of your rear leg (increases flexibilty and movement). Make sure your front heel is always on the ground and your shin is vertical at all times. Slowly touch your knees to the floor, or close to, and explode up by pushing your front heel against the ground. Master with bodyweight for sets of 10 reps then move on to the dumbbells.
These were The 4 Essentials for Bodyweight Mastery. No matter what level you’re at, you can make them fit your need and challenge yourself to become better.
Here are six other exercises you should include or work on for developing a stronger body.
5.Bulgarian Split Squats
Put your rear leg on a bench, drop straight down, and make sure your front heel always stays in contact with the ground to avoid excess stress on the knees. Retain a tall posture throughout the whole exercise. To advance you can pick up a pair of dumbbells.
They will work quads, glutes and abs, and let’s not forget your ability to stabilize.
3 sets of 6-10 reps will do the job.
For conditioning and decreasing body fat this exercise might be one of the most effective ones out there, and most intense. And you need zero equipment. This is done for either time or reps.
Stand erect, squat down and place your hands on the floor. Kick your feet back to a pushup position, and depending on strength levels you can do a “push-up” by laying your body flat on the floor. This might go for a correct Burpee, but for speed and intensity purposes it’s more efficient to go for a push-up position, then jump back to the squat position and do a jump in the air.
3 sets of 10-12 repetitions with 20 second rest between sets or go for time: 4-6 sets of 20 seconds with 10 seconds rest.
One of the most underrated forms of bodyweight training is sprinting. You’re basically throwing your body forward, which is a test of relative strength. Can be done for short duration, high intensity, short rest for conditioning and fat loss purposes or longer rest periods, high speed and short durations for explosiveness and increase your potential to increase strength. By working on sprint technique you’ll be more aware of how to move your body in space. Mastering the art of sprinting is one of the most athletic skills.
The last 3 exercises are more advanced variations
Want to take pushups to a new level for building muscle and increasing strength? Try handstand pushups. Start in a pushup position by a wall. Walk back up the wall until you stand erect. The worst thing, and biggest fear for most people in the beginning, is the uncomfortable feeling of standing so close to the wall. You feel like you’re about to fall over. Get used to just standing there first. Then progress towards slowly lowering yourself to the ground. Once you start feeling comfortable start cranking out reps.
Do 3 sets of as many reps as possible
A foundamental move from gymnastics, L-sits can be done from the ground or on handles. The handles will make it easier as there’s more room for movement. Sit on the floor, or handles, and lift yourself up from the ground. Legs straight out. Hold for sets of 30 seconds. Your triceps, shoulders, abs and hip flexors will be on fire the whole time.
The best measure of upper body athleticism may be the Muscle-Up; also a basic exercise from the gymnastic world. This is basically a pull-up into a dip. The transition is the hardest part. Get strong in pull-ups, then work your way up towards 20 reps and get strong in pull-ups with additional weights. While you’re on that mission start with grip training for the muscle-up. You need something called a false grip (see picture to the right), which enables you to make the transition easier. With the false grip practice just hanging there, and progress towards doing pull ups. One great way to get better at mastering the transition is to lower the rings, or stand on a bench if you use a bar, and jump up and get the feeling of going from a pull into a dip.
As you get stronger, be careful, they can be stressful for the shoulders if done with high frequency.
There you have it: 10 bodyweight exercises to form a foundation for mastery to not only gain strength, build muscle, and lose body fat, but also reveal the great secrets and benefits you get from bodyweight training. Increased coordination, athleticism, self-awareness, and self-esteem team up with the truly great feeling of mastery you experience once you are able to do exercises and variations with your own body that you were not able to do before.
In Part 2 of the series we’ll spread these 10 exercise into 4 training templates to use in:
- Gym routine/strength training
- On vacation – The Vacation Body with zero equipment
- Conditioning and Fat Loss Routine
- Advanced Bodyweight Training
What’s your favorite bodyweight exercise?
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