When it comes to training, bodyweight movements are often overlooked, with people jumping straight onto the bench press or the dumbbells to smash out some bicep curls.
Everyone should be able to move their own bodyweight efficiently through a wide range of motion before moving onto the weights room. This will help to reduce your risk of injury and ensure that you can perform all of the movement patters with excellent technique before you begin to load them up with weight.
Too often do I see trainees attempting ‘squats’ or ‘deadlifts’ with very poor form. All this results in is a higher risk of injury and an ego boost when they can power curtsy (we wont call it a squat unless you hit parallel) 100kg for a couple of reps.
So here are my TOP 5 bodyweight moves that everyone hitting the gym should be able to perform before we move into the weights room and start throwing the plates around.
- The Squat – a fundamental pattern that everyone should be able to perform unloaded ‘ass to grass’ without a problem. Most people don’t have the mobility for this due to office jobs and sitting around each day…work on this until you can sit into a deep squat easily and perform 30-50+ reps with good form and control.
- Set the feet roughly shoulder width apart, feet turned slightly outwards (this will vary slightly person to person)
- Grip the floor with the feet (big toe, little toe and heel),
- Weight through the heels
- Sit back and down in to the squat, use a box behind you to encourage this if you feel unsure
- Pause at the bottom feeling the tension in the quads, keeping the chest up and weight through the heels.
- Drive up powerfully back to standing tall, squeezing the glutes at the top before completing the next rep
- The hip hinge – this is a precursor to the deadlift - another basic pattern that we need to develop in order to pick things up from the floor safely (remember all those boring health and safety videos you’ve watched)…once you have mastered this, add weight to perform a stiff leg deadlift, and then progress to the deadlift where we can start picking up some heavy weight!
- Set the feet about shoulder width apart, gripping the floor with the feet, weight on the heels
- Maintain a very slight knee bend
- Pivot from the hips only to push the bum ‘back to the wall’
- Keep the core tight and maintain a neutral spine
- Feel tension in the hamstrings
- Pause here, then return to standing using the hamstrings and glutes to pull you to standing
- The press-up - everyone (Especially the Bro’s amongst you) loves the bench press, as we know. BUT mastering the press-up should come first if you want to have a great bench and can give a satisfying answer to ‘what’s your bench bro’.
Women should aim to be able to perform 20+ full range reps (10 is the absolute minimum). For the men, this should be closer to 50 (30 being the minimum). Then we can be sure that the joints are strong and healthy so that we can start putting a significant amount more stress through under good control.
- Start in a straight arm plank position, hands in line with chest, glutes, core, quads contracted creating full boy tension
- Bend at the elbows, keeping them close to the body
- Descend until your chin, chest and C*** (you can guess that) touch the floor – but don’t lose tension
- Pause before driving powerfully back up to the start
- Elevate the chest on a bar/step to make this easier, elevate the feet to increase the difficulty (Avoid dropping to the knees)
- The Bodyweight Row – This exercise is great to build a strong back and also help to improve your posture in combination with a good mobility regime if you shoulders are pronated (rolled forwards) as a result of deskwork. It will also help to develop the strength in the grip and lats needed for pull-ups. You should be able to perform at least 15-20 reps of this through the full range and under control. This is also great for developing a base level of strength to help with the pull-up
- Using a TRX or bar take a shoulder width grip and lie underneath
- Start with straight arms, hips elevated and glutes contracted.
- First movement is to squeeze the shoulder blades together before pulling with the arms to bring the thumbs to the chest
- Pause before returning the bottom under control.
- As for press-ups, elevate the chest to decrease difficulty, elevate the feet to increase it.
- The Pull up – everyone should be able to lift their own body, the sad fact is that most people would probably struggle to perform 1 FULL pull-up! (Women – your goal is 10, men its 20). This is another exercise that I see being performed with shocking form more often than not and the half-rep seems to be the standard. Very few people actually lower themselves all the way back down to a dead hang each rep (The hang at the bottom is where we will develop the shoulder joint strength in the tendons and ligaments which is essential for reducing shoulder issues in future…so USE THIS RANGE!).
- Be able to perform an passive and active hang for 30s+
- Understand how to control the scapula (shoulder blades) – see EDPR video
- Take a shoulder width grip on a bar
- The first movement is to depress the shoulder blades to engage the lats and muscles surrounding the joint
- Next pull from the elbows (aim to get the elbows to the hips) to pull the chest up to the bar
- You should be able to get the thumbs to touch the chest at the top.
- Pause and descend slowly to complete the rep
- If you cant perform 1 rep, ensure that you can perform bullet point 1, then work on isometric holds, eccentrics, lat pulldown and even band assisted reps to build up strength which will lead to the full pull-up in time.
Once you’ve mastered these moves, it’s time to progress on to more challenging bodyweight work - see our Intermediate bodyweight exercises blog or more advanced Free weight exercises…more on these in coming articles! IF you think bodyweight training is easy, prepare to be surprised!
Here’s a link to a quick 20-minute workout using some of these movements https://vimeo.com/171795268 - enjoy!
If you have any questions about anything in this article…please get in touch I’d love to hear your thoughts and help you with any queries that you may have!
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