As luck would have it, this Winter I had the good fortune of meeting a fantastic and extremely knowledgeable trainer from NYC, John Romaniello, author of Final Phase Fat Loss. We were both in Tampa at Joel Marion’s Transformation Domination event. Through a series of enriching conversations, each of us picked up a whole slew of new ideas to apply with our clients. Since then we’ve been able to keep the discussion going and the exchange flowing. Roman has graciously agreed to share some of his ideas on bodyweight training with you.
Starting my training career as an athlete, I was introduced to bodyweight training almost immediately; from the time I first stepped onto a wresting mat or jog out onto a football field, push-ups, crunches and jump squats were a part of my life. Perhaps because I was exposed to them early and told I wasn’t “ready” for weights, I developed a strange sort of prejudice where, despite all of my formal education, on some level I came to consider bodyweight training a “beginners” modality. In retrospect, I am embarrassed by how wrong I was.
When I injured both an elbow and knee in an accident, after therapy I decided that a good way to “break back in” to training would be with bodyweight stuff. Once I was ready, I’d hit the weights.
After one session, I was thoroughly humiliated by my own performance. Later that week, I constructed 4 bodyweight routines and was cycling them over a week.That was about seven years ago. Since that time, I’ve made bodyweight training pretty much a mainstay for both my clients and myself. While I certainly don’t think I’ll ever lose my meathead love of the iron, I now appreciate BW training and have worked to maximize it with my clients.
And while I’ve always appreciated the results, on some level I felt it was a little boring. No longer.
In the past year, I’ve come to know a lot of the more innovative (and successful) bodyweight “specialists” like Craig Ballantyne, Doctor Kareem, and of course Coach Steer. I’m shameless in my thievery from guys like this; partially because it saves me the trouble of having to be creative, but moreso because I’d be in idiot if I didn’t learn what I could from the experts and put it into practice alongside my own stuff.
In my facility in New York, I train a lot of different types of clients, ranging from post-pregnancy moms hoping to become MILFs all the way to professional athletes, and while of course no two programs are alike, one thing that is consistent with most of my clients is that I integrate a nice mixture of bodyweight stuff and external loading.
So that’ the “what.” The “how,” of course, is going to be a bit dependent on the “who” and the “why.”
Here is a quick break down of the top 3 ways I integrate bodyweight stuff into training for specific types of clients.
WHO: Athlete Returning from Off-Season
I wish it was different, but sadly most athletes (even the higher level guys) take a good part of the off-season… well, off. They come to be about 8 weeks before they’re expected to return to camp and need to get back into shape.
HOW: In most cases, I start them with bodyweight-only training for about a week. We focus on form and primarily use a mixture of unilateral exercises, explosive exercises, and agility drills. Weeks 2 and 3 we generally two do bodyweight workout, and one full body weighted workout. Weeks 4, 5 and 6 we take a bit, transition into an upper body (weighted) a lower body (weighted) day, and then a bodyweight day. For weeks 7 and 8, the goal is complete integration: 3-4 workouts each mixing in bodyweight and load bearing exercises.
WHY: When deconditioned athletes come in from 2-4 months of sitting around, honestly, most of them can’t perform for crap. Not only do we often have to worry most about strength, we also have to be concerned with strength endurance.
Moreover, because most elite level athletes are generally going to have a very high level of strength, even starting with their off-season weights can be dangerous, as they are lacking efficiency and can compromise joint health
By starting them at bodyweight, we can train with pretty high reps without risk of injury, while at the same time getting heart rate elevated.
As they build muscular endurance and increase lactate threshold, we can slowly push them towards weighted exercises without them a) vomiting or b) screwing anything up because they forgot how to bench press and just muscle the weight up.
Bodyweight training allows me to create a training effect with these athletes while we get their bodies (especially joints) ready to handle the loads they’ll need to work with in order to get back to game-ready form.
WHO: General Fat Loss Client
For these clients, let’s assume they have no injuries and are just not seeing the results they want.
HOW: In this case, we’ll generally train with weights once per week (if they’ve been consistently training) and bodyweight twice per week for about a month. Going forward from there, we’ll move to a weight and bodyweight hybrid.
WHY: The goal with fat loss clients is always to lose weight and bodyfat in the fastest but safest way. Utilizing bodyweight training initially provides a different stimulus than either weighted stuff or interval work, allowing for a larger variety of exercises and training conditions.
Not to mention, because you can transition seamlessly from exercises to exercise and from a “muscle exercise” (push up) to a “conditioning exercise” (mountain climbers) it isn’t hard to see how this leads to pretty rapid fat loss.
One of my favorite things in this instance is the immediate increase in exercise selection. Off the top of my head, I can think of maybe 6 different variations of the lunge, most of which are more suitable to training without weights. Not only does this make my job easier as a coach, but also keeps the training fresh and the client motivated.
ALL of those factors weigh heavily into the results equation.
WHO: The Weight Lifter Who’s Stopped Making Gains
This is the situation I see the most often; fairly big guy wanting to get bigger hasn’t grown in 6 months. Of course we address diet and all other factors, but I like to get BW training in right away.
HOW: With this guy, screw integration. He’s been doing the same stuff for 2 years, and needs some time off from the repetitive nature of his training. With such a client, I do FOUR straight weeks of bodyweight only training before transitioning back into heavy lifting.
WHY: Simply put, chances are this guy isn’t as in touch with his body if he thinks he is. If he really is doing “everything right” in terms of both training and nutrition, we have to assume there is a disconnect somewhere.
In my experience, growth stagnation stems from stagnant training. That is, he needs to change things up, and as drastically as possible. Of course, bodyweight training fits the bill.
However, it’s effective for other reasons as well. One of the things I notice about clients of this nature is how “locked up” they are. That is, they’re a bit stiff in their movement patterns; while I don’t need to get into a lengthy description of pattern overload, suffice it to say training in singular planes isn’t great for your nervous system over the long haul.
Enter bodyweight training for strength. Here, we can get our guy moving in all sorts of different directions, as well as make tiny variations that we don’t have the option to do with traditional training. Even something as small as offsetting one hand during push-ups will give the client a different training stimulus than that to which he’s accustomed.
More importantly, and for my clients who want to gain muscle this is really the main thing…there are just very important neurological adaptations that occur when you switch from training with weights to training with bodyweight.
That is, by replacing open chain kinetic exercises (bench press) with closed chain kinetic exercise (push ups) this trainee is going to stimulate his nervous system in a completely new way; this in and of itself it likely to push the client towards new growth.
In addition, he’ll be deconditioned from loaded training, and when he goes back to that (after the initially re-learning) he is likely to experience a good amount of supercompensation in response to what is now “new” stimulus.
Not only do we get him growing… we do it twice.
So there you have it. Three ways I incorporate BW training into my programs for various types of clients. And although I’m getting good results, the more I learn from masters like Coach Steer, the better results I get. I’m excited to continue to learn, and I hope you are too.