During the coronavirus pandemic and being in quarantine, it’s more important than ever to understand how to adapt your training. Rather than using the excuse of a closed gym, do bodyweight home workouts to stay on track for your fitness goals. If you’re new to bodyweight training or need a boost to ensure you're getting the most out of your at home training, here are six tips you can follow and an example bodyweight workout.
First of all, it’s important to understand that you can make serious gains just using your bodyweight. While it’s contrary to a lot of popular fitness culture, the gym isn’t the only place where you can lose weight, build muscle and improve your performance. Expert influencers like Athlean are dong home workout plans and so are popular workout classes like Orangetheory. We're all working out at home and looking for home workout plans, but are you gettin the most out of them?
Here’s a quick run through of how bodyweight training can be used as a key component of your fitness goal.
If your goal is weight loss...
If your main fitness goal is to lose weight, your main focus should be on creating an energy deficit - meaning that you are expending more energy than you are intaking. This is typically done through a caloric restriction and increasing physical activity. Whether you’re increasing your physical activity during gym sessions or home workouts, what matters is that you’re moving and pushing yourself regularly.
Bodyweight workouts can burn a lot of calories, particularly if you are performing high rep, with limited rest time and doing high intensity exercises. A popular trend that has emerged during quarantine is stair workouts at home - literally running up and down the stairs! However, this is high impact and not suitable for all people. If you're looking for a low impact home workout for weight loss, pilates is a great option.
If your goal is building muscle…
To build muscle you need to stimulate muscle hypertrophy. Without getting too much into the exercise science here’s what you need to know: muscle hypertrophy requires three mechanisms - muscle damage, mechanical tension and metabolic stress. Optimally, you would be using heavy weights with progressive overload, with varying rep and set ranges to build muscle. However, it’s possible to build muscle doing bodyweight exercises if you follow a specifically curated workout that promotes each key mechanism for hypertrophy.
For example, muscle damage can occur if you do a workout of sufficient length with enough sets per body part. Mechanical tension can occur if you perform each exercise slowly, alternating concentric and eccentric tempos. Metabolic stress can occur if you perform an exercise for a high amount of reps.
If your goal is to build strength…
Bodyweight workouts are for you! Using your body weight as resistance is one of the most effective ways to build strength. Doing functional movements focuses on strengthening key movement patterns that transfer into your daily life and increase your body strength. Compared to using weights, bodyweight workouts are not necessarily superior, but they are equally as beneficial and arguably more practical particularly in the current climate.
Strength is built by increasing power and endurance, and bodyweight training is ideal for both of these goals. Plyometric exercises help to build power and performing bodyweight exercises high rep is a great way to build endurance.
So now we’ve covered the basis, how can you get the most out of your bodyweight training to achieve your fitness goals?
1. Alter the tempo of exercises
As mentioned, this is an effective way to stimulate mechanical tension, one of the key mechanisms for muscle building. Mechanical tension involves increasing the time under tension i.e. the time in which your muscles are contracted, and the force they need to generate to complete the movement. Remember, your muscles do not know the size of weights you use, they only know how much tension is being created.
Performing an exercise slowly, alternating between a slower concentric and fast eccentric or vice versa increases time under tension and forces your muscles to adapt.
2. Play around with set intensities
There are not just sets and reps. There are a wide variety of set and rep styles, like drop sets, supersets, giant sets, as many reps as possible (AMRAP) and working to failure. For intensity you can perform a superset (performing each exercise immediately after each other), which may be a pre-exhaustion or post-exhaustion superset, a compound, isolation or staggered. Read more about different supersets here.
3. Manipulate range of motions
When you perform an exercise with weights, you are causing axial loading which may prevent full range of motion. For example with a squat, with a barbell on your back your spine is in a manipulated position so full range of motion may be reduced. Without any external weight, your range of motion is likely to increase. So play around with the depth and breadth of movement planes.
4. Manipulate your stance
Similarly to the above, you can alter your form to activate different muscles. Following the example of a squat, narrow squats target your quads while wide squats target your glutes. With just slight alterations in your stance or position, all exercises can feel totally different.
5. Change the position of your torso
While this doesn’t work for all exercises, some bodyweight exercises can be made more intense by changing the position of your torso. For example, next time you do a push up, try and put one hand behind your back and shift your weight onto the grounded hand. This slight torso shift changes the plane of motion and rotation of your shoulder joint to hit very differently.
6. Use partials and constant tension
When you’re doing an exercise, play around with partial reps and constant tension. For example, with a squat, you can try constant tension pulses in which you only come up a quarter of the way of a normal squat and pulse there for reps. You can also use resistance bands for this, to increase the tension created.
So now you’ve got six tips, let’s put them into practice!
Example home workout plan
Follow these tips to get the most out of your bodyweight training whatever your goal! Even if you're just looking for a 10 minute home workout, it's better than nothing. Get fit and active during quarantine, rather than getting further away from your goal.