Moving Heavy Stuff – The Bodyweight Edition

In a previous post about strength training I whittled down the basic human movements to 7:


Then there were the FIVE basic compound exercises:


Some of the Basic Five have weighted variations:

Front or back squat
Bench press
Conventional Deadlifts
Weighted carries

These are exercises that obviously can be performed with barbells, machines, dumbbells or kettlebells.

But before you want to load yourself down with iron and steel, master your best, most versatile and complex exercise tool: your own body.

Squats can be done quickly or slowly using just your own bodyweight. Quick squats will tax you after a lot of reps whereas taking your time and maybe even pausing at the bottom or in the middle will tire you out much faster. Add a jump to make it plyometric, or a half-measure—all the way down, half-way up, all the way down, all the way up.

Then there’s the eccentric method where you emphasize the negative or “unloading” portion of the exercise. For example, count to four on the way down and use a two-count to come up or even explode up on a single count.

If you’re looking for still more challenge for your squats, try the pistol squat. That’s a one-legged squat. Hold onto something on your way down (a wall, countertop or TRX) and keep practicing until you can lower yourself without holding onto anything. You can use a bench or a chair as assist on the way down, again working your way toward doing unassisted pistols.

TRX Assisted Pistol Squats

TRX Assisted Pistol Squats

Squat variations are endless, and can be applied to almost every other bodyweight exercise, and if you’re itching to add weight, try squatting with a kid in your arms. It’ll keep them away from the TV for a few minutes.

Pull ups are an amazing exercise for your upper body, and they are badass because they will impress friends and frenemies alike. Boo ya. Pull-ups work a host of upper body muscles – latissimus dorsi (middle back) and biceps to name a couple, as well as your core. If you can’t pull yourself up, do a flexed arm hang for as long as you can.
Do three sets.

More progressions and tools:

Place a chair under the bar to assist you. Stand on the chair and focus on using as much of your upper body strength to perform a rep, using your legs as little as possible. In addition, start at the top of the rep, using the chair to get you into position and lower yourself slowly without using the chair.

Use the chair as an assist to get over the bar

Use the chair as an assist to get over the bar


Pull3This will take some finessing to figure out but I have faith in you. Keep your eye on the prize. Those eccentric (lowering) movements will help you build the strength to pull yourself up without assistance. Make sure you take your time lowering. The slower, the stronger!

Increasing the volume of reps and sets will also help get you there, especially if you shoot for ten reps per day, every day, which does not take long at all.

Resistance bands make fantastic assistants that will increase your rep power and strength. Simply loop one through itself around your bar. Put your foot or knee into the hanging loop to hold some of your bodyweight as you perform your reps.

These bands come in various strengths to help you increase or decrease the assistance.

These bands come in various strengths to help you increase or decrease the assistance.

Think you need a bench and a barbell or dumbbells in order to work your chest muscles. Nah! Do push-ups instead. Think of them as right side up bench presses – they work the same muscles.

You may or may not be familiar with all the modifications and variations on push-ups —starting with wall push-ups, moving to an incline push-up on a counter, then lower to a bench and finally a step. Stay consistent and you’ll be doing plank push-ups on the floor in no time.

Incline push-ups

Incline push-ups

Plank push-ups

Plank push-ups

Aim for three sets of ten perfect push-ups—not on your knees. Doing push-ups on your knees makes you good at – doing push-ups on your knees. To progress efficiently to doing push-ups in full plank on the floor you need to do plank push-ups. So, practice that position even it’s with the assistance of a wall or a set of chairs.

Once you conquer your three sets of ten perfect push-ups, move your hands closer together to work your triceps for an extra challenge, or do a ladder (1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10) or eccentric push-ups (see squats above), or hold a plank between sets just like we do with birthday push-ups at boot camp.

with just your bodyweight are an excellent opportunity to practice alignment, proper lifting mechanics (important for lifting that 40 pound box of kitty litter or 37 pound squirmy toddler off the floor) and balance.

First do some stick drills to work on alignment. Grab a broomstick, a piece of PVC pipe or a dowel and line it up against your spine, touching your head, the space between your shoulder blades and your tailbone to the stick. Hinge forward at your hips and bend your knees slightly as you slowly lower your torso towards the floor. The three points mentioned above should stay in contact with the stick at all times. Do 20 reps with perfect form.


Once you mastered that it’s time to work on balance. That’s right—one-legged deadlifts.

Single Leg RDL (aka - single leg deadlift)

Single Leg RDL (aka – single leg deadlift)

Really focus on your hamstrings and glutes during this exercise to reap all the benefits. Make sure that standing leg is bent just a little so you can protect your lower back and feel your hamstrings and glutes engage.

Weighted Carries
aren’t technically a bodyweight exercise, but they’re good for this post. Weighted carries are exactly what they sound like—simply carry something heavy from point A to point B. The weight could be anything—a bag of dog food or the actual dog (see below), a box of kitty litter, a case of beer – now that’s real life functional training. Kids are challenging weights since they squirm and giggle. Just make sure the kid belongs to you. Of course dumbbells and kettlebells work as well, if you have those, but we’re talking things (or animals) that you might have lying around the house in this post.

Wilma, er, Weighted Carry

Wilma, er, Weighted Carry

Aim for a specific distance, say ten meters, with a challenging weight and also play with walking as far as you can. Weighted carries target your entire body, from your shoulders on down to your calves, and really light up the core.

In my next post I’ll talk about six more bodyweight exercises that you can add to your program to maximize your results.

In the meantime – go workout!

Better yet – sign up to be a “test subject” for our pilot program – Strength Boot Camp. We’ll be using all of the exercises (and many more) from this post to create a stronger, leaner, better you. Classes start November 5th. Hurry, we only have 5 spots left!