Everyone who uses their bodyweight to workout always runs into the same problem:
How to make calisthenics exercises harder.
And this is where a lot of people start to lose faith in calisthenics training but the truth is that you can use these three foolproof methods to use your own bodyweight to take your strength to extreme levels.
It just requires you to think outside the box a little bit.
If you’re feeling stuck in your bodyweight exercise routine then read on to take your strength to new levels and never have to worry about a gym membership ever again.
Change the Angle or Pivot Point
This is really the most obvious way to make bodyweight exercises harder but it’s still the best and many people don’t know all the ways to take full advantage of it.
Basically, you can start with a simple pushing exercise like the pushup and slowly move the angle of your body to make it more difficult.
Let’s say you’re just starting out and you haven’t done any exercise since gym class in high school.
In this case you can start with your upper body being elevated more than your lower.
You can use a couch or bench to rest your hands on and keep your feet on the ground. You can even use the wall if you really need some practice.
Then, as you get stronger, you can keep both your feet and hands level on the ground as you do with a traditional pushup.
Once you can do three sets of twelve pretty easily you can move to a more difficult position. Instead of raising your upper body you want to elevate your feet and keep your hands on the ground.
Now, let’s say that you’ve mastered this. What do you do next?
Elevated pike pushups.
Keep your feet elevated as you were before but now you want to hinge at your hips instead of keeping the traditional plank posture of a pushup.
Essentially your upper body will be perpendicular to the floor with your head upside down while your legs will be mostly parallel with the ground.
Next you want to lower your head down to the floor and then push back up again until your arms are straight.
Once you can do this easily it’s time to move on to doing full handstand pushups.
You can start with your feet resting against a wall for balance but eventually you can work towards the skill to do them freestanding.
“But what about range of motion?” you might be saying…
No problem. Just do the handstand or pike pushups with your hands on an elevated surface such as a pair of handles or some stacks of sturdy books.
This will allow your arms to go through a fuller range of motion.
Now, the last objection I hear is that these progressions are changing the muscles involved in the exercise.
For example, when someone does a pushup from the floor they are focusing primarily on the front of their chest but as their upper body becomes more elevated the focus slowly moves to the upper chest and finally the top of the shoulders.
This means that it becomes harder to focus on a particular muscle set as you increase the difficulty.
However, there’s one trick we haven’t talked about yet: changing the pivot point.
So far we’ve been using both hands throughout this exercise.
What if we switch to just one hand?
This unlocks a whole new world of strength.
We can apply this concept to just about all of the major calisthenics exercises.
Pull ups, to archer pull ups, to one handed pull ups, etc…
Obviously these progressions have been simplified a little but you can see the potential here.
Basically, if you can’t do a one-handed handstand pushup yet you haven’t exhausted all that calisthenics has to offer you and there’s no reason to go to an expensive gym and start lifting weights.
Go Slowly on the Eccentrics
The eccentric portion of an exercise is the part that none of us ever think about that much.
If you’re doing a pushup it’s the portion of the exercise where you’re lowering yourself down to the floor after pushing up.
If you’re doing a pull up it’s the part of the exercise where you’re lowering yourself back to the floor after lifting yourself up.
It’s a type of movement where the muscle is lengthening while being under strain at the same time.
Most of us are always trying to set new personal records, like more reps or getting our first one handed pushup done, so we tend to forget about the other half of the exercise.
But the truth is that this eccentric phase can actually build muscle faster in some cases than the concentric phase.
Where eccentric training really shines is when you’re using it with heavy loads that the body would have more trouble doing in a concentric manner.
That makes it perfect for trying to do calisthenics moves you’re still building up the strength for.
For example, let’s say you can’t do a full pull up yet. You can use eccentric training by taking a chair or stool to start at the top of the pull up position and then lower yourself to the floor eccentrically.
This will seriously build the exact same muscles you need to do a pull up and will help you get to your goal much faster.
“But,” you’re saying, “I can already do five pull ups. How does this apply to me?”
Can you do a one handed pull up yet?
Go ahead and apply this eccentric training to achieve that goal along with your regular pull up work.
You can apply this same idea to many different body weight exercises too.
The one handed push up or even the handstand pushup are great candidates for this kind of training.
Plyometrics are basically the opposite of eccentrics and are used to build a different kind of strength.
Plyometrics are used to build explosive strength.
One example would be a clapping pushup.
You lower yourself down normally but instead of just pushing back up at a steady pace you want to push up so powerfully that your hands literally leave the ground and you have time to clap them together again before you come back down.
Doing this builds a lot of power because it’s forcing your muscles to exert the same amount of force but in a much shorter amount of time.
That means you’re generating a huge amount of power.
This is extremely important for almost all sports but especially so for sprinters and martial artists who rely on exerting the most force possible in the shortest amount of time.
Another great example of this is an exercise everyone loves and hates at the same time: the burpee.
At the peak of the exercise you jump up into the air after starting from a squatting position.
You can apply this to many of your favorite exercises, even pulling exercises like chin ups if you can find a sturdy enough bar.
You can also just go and find some open space and do some serious sprinting. This will help your conditioning too.
Building inhuman strength with calisthenics is well within your grasp.
Just follow these three basic principles:
- Change the angle of your body and/or the number of contact points your body has with the floor
- Go slow with eccentrics to build some serious muscle
- Use plyometrics to build explosive power
If you can’t yet do a jumping one-handed handstand pushup then you have yet to exhaust all that calisthenics has to offer you.
Just be patient, as with all exercise, and you can build superhuman strength.