You are probably familiar with the term “progressive loading”. Progressive loading is essential to building strength. As we should all know by now, after a certain number of reps (around 8 for men, and 12 for women), more reps does not result in more strength. It results in a plateau. Adding more weight in small increments- i.e. Progressive loading- combined with a proper diet is the only way your muscles will continue to grow stronger.
Progressive loading is relatively simple when you are working with free weights. They are all conveniently labeled, and anyone tracking their reps, sets, and weights can easily figure out how to add 2.5-5 lbs to their work load every few weeks.
Bodyweight exercises, however, pose a unique problem to progressive loading. Unless you are getting heavier and heavier each week (unlikely), your push up, dip, pull up, and other bodyweight abilities will remain stagnant. No bueno.
This is where bodyweight exercise progressions come in. Believe it or not, there are an infinite number of variations on all sorts of bodyweight exercises that will continue the strengthening progress you have already started. Can we progressively load bodyweight exercises? Yes we can!
Let’s take a look at push ups first. As you can see, we can progressively load push ups by slowly placing more and more of your own bodyweight on the upper body thanks to gravity.
- Beginners should start with the incline push up and slowly decrease the angle of the incline until one reaches the “traditional” push up.
- If you’ve got the “normal” push up down (you have been doing 50 push ups per workout, for the past year), it’s really time for you to move on.
- The decline push up is the next step that most casual gym-goers don’t take. Place your feet up on a bench or ledge to increase the angle and load more weight onto your upper body.
- The handstand push up is the toughest variation. You have progressively loaded your push ups from supporting only half your bodyweight, to your arms supporting your entire body. You essentially doubled your strength, going from a traditional push up to a handstand push up.
What about other bodyweight exercises?
Fitness666 has a great list of progressions for pull ups, dips, squats, and ab/core work.
The main point here is that if you are simply performing bodyweight exercises as you always have been, without making them progressively more difficult, at some point you are going to stop making progress. Continue to increase the difficulty of your bodyweight exercises to gain complete mastery over not just moving heavy objects through space, but moving your own body throughout the world with ease.