We all know how much I love bodyweight training. When I first began this blog, I was going to focus my training specifically on portable equipment such as dumbbell, kettlebells, and resistance bands. Over time, questions such as, “What kind of workouts can I design for people who are unable to perform a single push up?” plagued my mind.
In my search for these answers, I stumbled up on an eBook titled “Workout Without Weights.” After purchasing the eBook, I was impressed by the variety of exercises for both beginners and advanced trainees. Unlike most eBooks, Author Coach Eddie Lomax actually teaches you how to design your own training programs and workouts.
I contacted Coach Lomax to ask him a few questions concerning bodyweight training:
Parth: Coach, one of the biggest misconceptions out there is that one is unable to put on significant muscle mass through bodyweight training. What are your thoughts on this?
I think that anyone with the sole goal of putting on muscle mass should take a serious look at their goals. Yes, I know, building muscle is something that motivates a lot of people to work out. But when you limit your exercise to activities ONLY designed to build muscle, you are missing out on some of the most beneficial forms of exercise… such as bodyweight training. I think a lot of exercisers fall victim to the desire to MAXIMIZE. “I want to maximize muscle”. “I want my muscles to be the biggest they can be!” My big question is… WHY?
For me, exercise and physical training is not about maximization… but optimization. I want to optimize my physical abilities to meet the unpredictable challenges of sport, work and life with excellence. As a bi-product of optimization, my body builds lean, strong, athletic muscle. My muscles get as big as they need to be to meet the challenges they are faced with… no bigger. What’s ironic is, seeking to maximize muscle growth often has the result of decreasing performance.
So, first I would say, rethink why you want to put on so much muscle. Second, think about all the challenges of work, sport and life that are overcome by the ability to move your own bodyweight around. If you want to be prepared for these challenges, you need bodyweight training.
Parth: Many advanced athletes feel that they can get absolutely no benefit from bodyweight training. They feel it’s too easy for them. What are some things that advanced athletes can do to make their workouts even more intense using bodyweight training?
Here is what happens: We have been brainwashed to believe physical training is Resistance Training (weight lifting) and Cardio. We do sets and reps of a certain exercise to target a certain muscle group with certain rest periods. Then after we are done treating the body like a bunch of parts, we do some aerobic cardio to improve the heart and lungs. So, athletes think that doing a workout with only the resistance of their own body is too easy. And the thing is, if you are going to use this predominately bodybuilding style of training, they are probably right.
However, I believe the body should be trained as one complete unit. All the muscles, heart and lungs should be challenged at the same time. The lines between resistance training and cardio training need to be blurred. I would ask the athletes, “Is your sport done in a compartmentalized way with robotic actions where strength and cardio respiratory endurance are separate? Or, is your entire body needed to work in unison in order to excel at your sport?” Bodyweight training is great for switching between strength exercises and “cardio” exercises seamlessly, which is an excellent way to train.
So, my recommendation is to design bodyweight workouts that blur the line between strength training and cardio respiratory endurance. For example, do a circuit of push-ups, air squats and V ups without rest, then do 50 jumping jacks… and repeat for 20 minutes without rest. When the athlete is lying on the ground in a pool of their own sweat, ask them… “Are bodyweight exercises too easy?”
Parth: I like the idea of training your body as one unit. Lets move on to cardio in general. I personally hate steady state cardio, but I do know it has a place. What’s your opinion? Steady state, or interval cardio?
First of all, I don’t like the term “cardio” at all. Anything you do that raises your heart rate and breathing rate is cardio. I prefer Energy System Training. By that I mean you should train to improve your energy systems, whether that be when your energy is delivered aerobically (with oxygen), or anaerobically (without oxygen). One of the problems with steady state cardio is you are only training your aerobic system. On the other hand, interval training trains your anaerobic systems due to the high intensity for short duration. You really should train both, as you need a strong aerobic base as a foundation for more strenuous training. However, your goal should be to do more work in less time… not just do more work.
Let me explain. If you jog 20 minutes in your “target heart rate” zone (something else I can do without), you need to jog longer the next time to progress… let’s say 25 minutes. Then the next time 30, then 35. You get the point. Pretty soon, you need to go on a 3-hour jog to improve. Sounds ridiculous, but if you just keep jogging at the same pace for the same time… there is no improvement.
So, instead of increasing the time at the same pace… increase the pace. So now you are running faster and longer in the same time. This is improvement. Eventually, you will reach a point where you are running your max output for that time period. This is where Intervals come in. Intervals are high intensity for short periods of time with either complete rest or reduced activity in between. When you add up all the short bursts, they equal a higher intensity than you could have achieved otherwise without the rest periods. Again, Progress!
So, start with steady state. Work up to 20 minutes. Then increase the intensity doing more in the same period of time. Then use Intervals to progress even further.
Parth: You seem to big a huge fan of Tabata Training. You even have an entire separate installment devoted to Tabata Training. What’s so special about Tabata?
We just talked about intervals. Tabata is just a way to do intervals. 20 seconds on, 10 seconds rest… repeated 8 times. The whole thing takes less than 4 minutes. The reason I like it is because it marks the extremes. If walking for 30 minutes is on one extreme of intensity, Tabata is on the other. This is the best way to push yourself both physically and mentally and get great improvements.
I also like Tabata because it is not limited to regular “cardio” activities like running or biking. You can do it with bodyweight exercises, calisthenics, using a punching bag, wrestling drills… just use your imagination. If you do Tabata right… 4 minutes is plenty and you’ll need plenty of rest to recuperate. So, basically I like it because once people experience Tabata, they understand why the slow, long, boring cardio routines for longer and longer duration are really a waste of time.
Parth: I think the best example of effective bodyweight training is gymnastics. Is there something particularly different, in your opinion that gymnasts do that gives them such a great balance of strength, athleticism, and physique? What principles can a regular trainee take from gymnasts?
Consistency. They train hard and A LOT! We talked before about building muscle. Well, gymnasts have muscles most people would be happy with. They just don’t want to put in the time and consistency to get them like gymnasts do. That’s why they opt for weight lifting… because it is faster and “easier”. But the thing is… faster and easier does not mean better.
I would content that the muscle gymnasts have are BETTER than those developed by just weight training alone. Don’t get me wrong, I like weight training. But it just goes to show; some type of bodyweight training should be a part of everyone’s fitness program from beginner to advanced.
So, you may never be able to get the physical abilities of a gymnast with coaching and a lot of practice. But you can apply yourself to bodyweight training and get great results, a great body and improve performance and health. You just need to do it consistently enough and for long enough.
Parth: Last question. What is your opinion on the general state of health in America? What do you think we as fitness professionals can do to help out and motivate those that are really sick?
There is an immediate need for Americans to pursue health through what I call the Fitness Trilogy (Nutrition, Exercise and Lifestyle… in that order). Unfortunately, all the tactics have been tried. Doctors try to scare people into seeking fitness. Health clubs try to appeal to people’s vanity. The government is starting to take action by putting restrictions on what can go into food. Nothing is working, and things continue to get worse.
I think what will happen is something that is not very politically correct. The overweight (I prefer to say over fat) will be singled out much like smokers have. People started calling cigarettes “coffin nails” and “death sticks”. When you see someone smoking, you start thinking they have a death wish. When you see how their sickness affects the entire health industry (and your costs), you start to take it personally thinking you are paying for their indifference. I think the same thing will happen with the unfit and overweight. People will start viewing the overweight at the buffet line as someone slowly committing suicide. And unlike smokers, there is nowhere to hide the fact you are overweight.
Now. I’m not saying I’m in favor of this. I’m just saying there doesn’t seem to be an easy solution to this, and who knows where it can lead. I wish there was something we could do… but the fact is the only people that can provide the kind of motivation need to make a change is the individual themselves. We just have to be ready to help them when they decide enough is enough.
Parth: Thanks for your time Coach.
Coach Eddie Lomax is the author of Workout Without Weights Bodyweight Manual:
- Workout Without Weights is a manual which teaches you how to use your bodyweight to improve your health and fitness. The eBook features not only exercise descriptions, but also teaches you how to develop your own effective training programs
Click here for more information.