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How will you master your bodyweight?

Posted 13th March 2016 by Josh Schouten

The hardest part about body weight training is learning to master your body weight.  Unlike weightlifting movements where we can start with an empty bar and gradually add load, bodyweight movements start with your bodyweight!

ChalkHandsSmallCongratulations to all of those CrossFit members who have now successfully achieved a strict muscle-up.  Its always nice to see people working on solid strength movements and building a solid base.  We spent a solid 3 month focusing on muscle-ups and loads of members made some fantastic progressions.

In the current gymnastics phase (Thursdays CrossFit classes) we are now focusing on handstand and back levers.  There is a very wide range of ability amongst the members and gymnastics is a very individual program, depending on relative strength (body weight strength).  No matter your level of gymnastic experience there is always something to work on and everybody can benefit from consistent practice.

Aerobic fitness can be achieved in a matter of weeks, but strength takes years to build and required continue loads and volumes to be added. Cardio and metabolic conditioning training session will not make you strong.  If your new to the gym and you’ve not been training for very long you will see some strength improvements in the first couple of months doing conditioning classes. After this initial timeframe your body will adapt to the weights and the volume of a typical conditioning class, and then the progress will slow down or even stop. If you want to continue to see improvements you will need to start increasing the training stress.  This can be done by applying an increase of training volumes and/or intensity, and this is where bodyweight movements can deliver great results.

Learn to control your body weight and progress bodyweight movements?

Adding Intensity – There are certain gymnastics positions that can make our body feel lighter or heavier. Bodyweight movements are all about POSITION, POSITION, POSITION.  For example, a tuck position – knees to your chest and heels to ass – is going to be significantly lighter than a straddle position – straight body line with legs spread apart. “TIGH IT LIGHT.” Learning these positions and understanding how to control you body is essential to mastering these skills and building series strength  

Adding Volume – understanding movement required dedication, time and mindful training.  Every single repetition is a chance to explore, learn and build awareness.  Bodyweight movements  can activate muscle you never thought you had or you’ve never been able to activate before.  In the beginning most will struggle to hold certain position for longer that 10seconds and this can quickly demotivate and discourage people from continuing.  Always remember that barbell movements are easier and often a lot lighter than our bodyweight, so don’t give up to soon and go back to the things you are good at. Here is a weakness.

Another way to look at this is to expose beginners to high volumes of isometric holds.  For example: If a beginner can only hold a tuck back lever for :10sec they could perform 10 rounds of :10sec holds and accumulate a total of 100sec of back lever tuck.  Over time this will teach them to connect with the required muscles, and build both strength and awareness of the back lever position.  In a few weeks they might be able to increase the isometric holds to :15sec x 10sets (150sec of back lever tuck holds).  Gradually the exposure to the movement will stimulate the physical and neurological adaptations required to get stronger, seriously stronger.  There are no shortcuts, it take determination, it takes time, it takes practice and a positive “can do” attitude to see improvements. 

Bodyweight exercises have countless benefits and a huge ability to improving individual sports performance.  Dedicating training time to learn and master bodyweight movements will dramatically improve overall strength and increase ones ability to move with control.  Training is not always about leaving the gym hot and sweaty.  Strength training is more about leaving the gym feeling drained due to the high levels of focus on movement quality, contractions, positions and central nervous system (CNS) recruitment. If you successfully continue to perform strength session you will start to appreciate them a little more and hopefully understand how they differ from conditioning.