Bodyweight Exercise: Reducing the Barrier to Entry

One of the most appealing benefits of using bodyweight exercises is the resulting increase in freedom, right? No more spending hours in the gym – just stay home and crank out a bodyweight circuit or two. Done deal.

Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy. Especially when you’re new to the fitness thing. I haven’t met many beginners that can perform more than a few pushups in one go. I’ve met even fewer that perform them well. Seriously, though – how can you expect to when you’re just starting out?

That’s a damn good question that I’m often asked. Here’s the answer: Regressions.

People assume that because they can’t do a pushup or a pullup – or whatever – that they can’t use bodyweight exercise to their advantage. That’s not true at all. Enter regressions. For most exercises, there are a handful of easier and more difficult movement variations.

You’re probably familiar with the latter, as progressions (increasing difficulty) tend to steal the spotlight from their overlooked sibling. If you’re just getting started, however, you probably need to use regressions (decreasing difficulty). Don’t worry – regressions are easy to implement and work wonders.

I’m going to start you off with two easy ways to regress a few well-known bodyweight exercises.

1. Reduce Load

The biggest problem with bodyweight exercises is the fact that many require you to handle your entire bodyweight. Pushup variations and mountain climbers come to mind. During these exercises, you’re stuck in a position with all of your weight fighting against you.

The quick fix: Raise the height of your hands. This reduces the load during floor-based movements that operate out of a plank position. Again, pushups and mountain climbers are two great examples. Instead of plunging straight into the full exercise, start with a small incline against a wall. If that’s too easy, use an object higher than the ground – a table or bench.

Drop the height by just an inch or two each session. It won’t take long before you’re able to progress all the way to the ground.

2. Increase Stability

Increasing stability means doing anything and everything possible to reduce the amount of “extra” (stabilizing) work you have to deal with during a movement. One of the easiest ways to increase stability is by manipulating your base of support (BOS). During a squat, your BOS consists of both of your legs because they’re both in contact with the ground (quite a supportive surface). If you raise one leg – creating a single-leg squat – you remove one point of contact with the stable surface. This makes the exercise harder.

Right now, you don’t want that. Instead, focus on increasing your BOS. Add a third point of contact by leaning against a wall. This works especially well in lower body movements like squatting and lunging variations.

Use the wall to help you build a foundation of strength without contending with the stability part of the equation.

 

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