This is an excerpt from Bodyweight Strength by Bret Contreras.
People choose to exercise for many reasons. Some want to improve their general health, some want to build larger muscles, some want to shed fat, some seek to get stronger, some hope to improve their functional strength and athleticism, and some strive to eliminate joint dysfunction and prevent injury. Bodybuilders seek maximum hypertrophy (muscularity), powerlifters seek maximum strength, weightlifters seek maximum power, and sprinters seek maximum speed. It should come as no surprise that their training methods differ substantially because training for a particular purpose affects the way a person trains.
In general, there is too much hype surrounding the topic of sport-specific training. While it is true that athletes from different sports require unique types of strength and energy system development, ideally every athlete should display sound movement patterns and athleticism. This is why it’s essential to master the basics as you lay the foundation for subsequent adaptations. You want to make sure that you analyze your sport and perform exercises that use the same muscles and mimic the movement patterns and directions found in the sport, but don’t get too carried away to the point that you lose sight of the basics. All athletes should possess balanced strength and mobility. Single-leg exercises such as Bulgarian split squats and single-leg hip thrusts and core-stability exercises such as RKC planks and side planks are great exercises for all athletes.
When you train for maximal strength you want to perform multijoint movements, stay in lower repetition ranges, and rest more between sets. With bodyweight training, this is not always feasible. For example, the squat, bench press, and deadlift are three of the most popular exercises in resistance training because they use a lot of muscles and allow you to lift large loads. However, in bodyweight training, although you can tweak exercises to make them easier or more challenging according to your level of strength, the most resistance you’ll ever use is equal to your body weight. For this reason it can be difficult to develop maximal strength solely through bodyweight training.
The best approach to developing maximal strength through bodyweight training is to lay down an excellent foundation of flexibility, stability, and motor control. This provides a base for future gains and advancement to more challenging exercise variations. I read an interview with a U.S. Olympic gymnastics coach who said that although his gymnasts never performed resistance training and solely performed bodyweight exercises, many of them could bench press double their bodyweight and deadlift triple their bodyweight. Clearly a person who performs advanced variations of bodyweight exercises can develop impressive levels of strength. Master the basics and then progress to single-limb exercises, plyometrics, and other advanced methods.
When training for maximum muscularity make sure you add sets of higher repetitions and training that targets certain regions of the body, along with resting less between sets. While strength is paramount for hypertrophy, the relationship isn’t linear. Always feel the intended muscles working and use controlled form through a full range of motion. A variety of repetition ranges is ideal for muscle growth as is a large variety of exercises to stimulate all of the regions of the muscles.
Body Part Specialization
Sometimes you’ll want to focus on bringing up a particular area of the body, perhaps the delts, glutes, upper pecs, or lats. In this case you simply need to cut back slightly on work for the rest of the body while adding work for the weaker muscle group. Other times you may want to improve a particular skill. For example, you might want to be able to perform a one-arm push-up or a pistol squat. In this case you can train the skill frequently while scaling back the rest of your routine. You can’t continuously add to your programs. When you add something, you have to take something out or you run the risk of overdoing it and stagnating or worse, regressing.
Let’s say that you can’t perform a chin-up. Rather than just performing back exercises a couple of times per week in your regular program, you could choose to perform two sets of negative chin-ups several times each day. When you are relatively weak, you don’t stress the body as much when exercising, so the added frequency will expedite your progress and allow you to perform regular chin-ups in much less time. But stick to just one movement or one body part at a time. If you try to pick two movements or two body parts, it’s no longer a specialization routine. You’re just getting greedy. Don’t go overboard or you’ll pay the price by stagnating.
When focusing on weight loss, retain as much muscle as possible to ensure that the pounds shed are composed of fat rather than muscle mass. This is the key to a quality physique. Remember that what builds muscle keeps muscle, so your training doesn’t have to change much. Train for strength and simply add a couple of MRT circuits or HIIT sessions (see chapter 10) during your training week and focus on your diet. I’ll expound on this later in this chapter.
Now it’s time to tell you about acute training variables in strength training.
Learn more about Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy.