By Adam Carter, Manager, UAMS Fitness Center
With all the restrictions surrounding social contact and going out in public, life like this will hopefully be the closest that most people will ever experience to being in prison. In times of restricted movement, the body will adapt to the demands placed upon it. Doing nothing physically demanding will result in a body capable of doing nothing. With the challenge of no access to the standard equipment and machines for training the body, it is time to start using the body as the machine. Enter bodyweight-based training.
When done correctly, bodyweight-based training can be an excellent training modality. To build an effective bodyweight training program, three things need to be understood: the six fundamental movements of the human body, isolateral movement versus bilateral movement, and workout design. These terms may seem complicated, but with some explanation anyone can understand and use this information to build solid workouts.
An effective bodyweight workout begins by picking an exercise to train each of the six foundational movement patterns. These movement patterns are upper body press, upper body row, squat, hip-hinge, rotation, and anti-rotation. With bodyweight training, an upper body press is any exercise that causes the body to push itself away from a stationary resistance such as a push up, or, handstand for the ambitious folks.
Upper-body rows are the most difficult movement to train using only the body for resistance. Pull ups and chin ups are the easiest way to accomplish this. However, if a person lacks the upper body strength to do this, an alternative is available. Floor pulls can be performed by lying on the back on a semi-slick floor surface such as wood laminate or linoleum. Grasp the bottom of a heavy piece of furniture that will not move. A couch will work well. Lying far enough away from the couch that the arms are fully extended, create tension in the back and pull the body towards the couch, sliding along the floor. This is an excellent starting point for building the upper body strength to perform hanging pull ups.
Lower-body training consists of two foundational movements: squats and the hip-hinge. The squatting movement is the simplest movement to understand in the context of isolateral versus bilateral. Isolateral simply means that the movement will be isolated to one side or one limb of the body. Bilateral movement utilizes both sides of the body or both limbs. In the context of lower body training, squats are a bilateral movement, using both legs. Lunges are an isolateral movement, moving one leg at a time. Both should be incorporated into body weight training to maximize effectiveness of squat movements in lower-body training. With squats and lunging, the primary lower body joint of movement is the knees.
The hip-hinge utilizes lower body training in movements primarily driven by the hips. To feel the difference from squats, begin by standing upright. Pretend there is an open door behind the body. Place the hands on the sides of the hips. Close the door by pushing the hips backward without bending the knees, slide the hands down the outside of the leg until the hands reach the unbent knees. Now, bring the hips forward until standing upright. Glute bridges performed lying on the floor are an excellent way to train this movement.
Rotation of the body is an underutilized movement, but it is vital to maintaining healthy movement and coordination. A simple way to train rotation is to lay on the floor as described in the floor pull above. Bend the knees and lift the feet off the floor, keeping the back and hips flat on the floor, rotate the knees to one side. Reverse the movement and rotate to the opposite side. The hips should remain flat on the floor. Do not rotate so far that the hips come of the floor. The range of motion will improve as the core muscles become stronger. This movement can be made more challenging by keeping the legs straight during rotation rather than bending the knees.
Anti-rotation trains the opposite of rotation, rather than improving rotational movement, the purpose of this is to improve stability of the core muscles to protect from unhealthy rotation of the body. Plank variations are the most effective way to train anti-rotation, side planks are incredibly valuable for this.
Once the basics of understanding movement patterns is grasped, the final step in designing a bodyweight program is creating the workout. There are two factors in this: time and repetitions. Time can be considered in two ways, total length of the workout and using a specific length of time to perform an exercise. Repetitions simply refers to how many times an exercise will be repeated before resting or moving to another exercise. Each bodyweight workout should consist of at least six exercises; one for each movement. Below are examples of how to structure bodyweight workouts using the movements and exercises described.
- Complete three rounds of the following exercises. Perform each exercise for 30 seconds, rest 30 seconds before performing the next exercise: upper body press: push up; upper body row: floor pulls; squats; hip hinge: glute bridge; rotation: floor rotation; anti-rotation: side plank.
- Set a timer for 20 minutes and perform 10 repetitions of each exercise for all exercises except the plank. Hold the plank for 1 minute. Upper body press: push up; upper body row: floor pulls; squat: lunges; hip hinge: glute bridge; rotation: floor rotation; anti-rotation: side plank.
Body weight training can be an excellent way to enhance a training program or be its own standalone program. Once the six basic movements are understood, any movement of the body that follows the guidelines will work. The intensity and effectiveness is manipulated simply by training for a longer period of time, a higher number of repetitions, or by moving faster.