Question: I’m considering quitting the gym because my joints are just getting destroyed, even when using perfect form. Always when I try to replace and exercise with something else, it brings a new problem with it. I.e. I’ve had to completely stop barbell squats because it tears up me knees and lower back, I’ve tried replacing it with leg press, which brings me sciatic pain which I never even had on squats. This is just an example, it always goes like this. X exercise causes me this issue, I try to replace it with Y which brings me another issue. I’ve been in the gym for 2-3 years now, my joints have already had tons of problems. I can’t see myself continuing training the way I do now for a very long time. I’m not reckless at all in the gym, my joints are just genetically very weak and can’t handle a lot of beating.
So I’m considering just giving up on the gym completely and turn to very high rep bodyweight exercises at home, which is way safer for the joints. For the lower body I was thinking doing something like bodyweight squats (Inb4 pistols, I can’t do that my knees are already shot. I want to avoid any high stress movement on the joints like that), glute ham raises, one legged glute bridges.
I want to know what your experiences are with high rep leg work with bodyweight exercises are, how your gains were. Particularly high rep bodyweight squats. Do you believe it is possible to achieve your genetic potential just with this?
Answer: The gym isn’t fun for everyone. You’ve come to the right place if you finally want to escape the gym!
Bodyweight calisthenics is a great replacement for traditional weightlifting routines, but you have to get it right. The good news is that’s not too complicated. Let’s address your questions:
#1 – Regarding High-Rep Bodyweight Training
High rep bodyweight training is beneficial for your body, but I would advise mixing in lower-rep, high tension work as well. Get familiar with isometric and gymnastics-based bodyweight exercises.
We will discuss lower-body training later in this article, but make sure you also have your upper body covered. The following post provides some great variations to strive for: Dips and Pullups for Mass
Now, does high rep bodyweight training actually work? Lets ask Herschel Walker:
#2 – The Herschel Walker Workout
Former football player, bobsledder, sprinter, and mixed martial artist began working out with daily pushups, situps, and sprints after finishing the 6th grade. Walker regarding his early workouts, states, “There weren’t any weights then at school, of course, and we sure didn’t have any out in the country, but I used what I had, and that was the living room floor and the dirt road that ran from the highway out front up the hill to our house. I did my push-ups and my sit-ups on the floor most of the time, and I did all my sprints up that hill out front.”
This was the backbone of his training for his entire athletic career. He continued to religiously crank out daily, high-rep bodyweight exercises. Based on his training goals, he may have added weights to his regimen, but they always came after daily calisthenics training.
This should answer your question. High-rep calisthenics do work. But you must incorporate variety into your plan.
#3 – Top Three Lower Body Exercises
For someone with knee problems, my top three calisthenics leg exercises are squats, bulgarian split squats, and sprinting.
High-rep bodyweight squats will make your lower body grow. I used to do hundreds of them daily, and my legs are huge. But the problem is that I also did a lot of jogging and other movements that messed up my knees.
What I should have done instead was sprinting. To learn more about how to incorporate sprinting into your workout plan, read Anabolic Running.
The third exercise which I believe is beneficial is bulgarian split squats. This exercise isolates each leg while also providing an effective stretch to your hamstrings. This is a total lower body exercise.
Combine these three lower body exercises with upper body calisthenics for a full workout. Don’t just stick to high rep work, mix it in with some high-tension movements.