BodyWeight Training

By Jen Sinkler, PCC, RKC–II |

By no means a beginners-only activity, or something you do only until you are promoted to the weight room, body-weight training can be made as physically challenging as you can handle.

“Anyone who can do a one-legged squat, one-armed pushup, and one-armed pull-up through a full range of motion is an incredibly strong individual,” says Al Kavadlo, CSCS, author of Pushing the Limits! and lead instructor of the Progressive Calisthenics Certification (PCC). “To even be able to do one of those three is rare, even among fitness enthusiasts.”

Kavadlo and his brother, Danny, are among the rare. Both are popular subjects of devotion — and YouTube videos — known for their impressive feats of strength using the levers of their own bodies, and any sturdy implements that happen to be on hand. Benches, railings, staircases, scaffolding, street signs, and tree branches are all fair game. The brothers are staples in New York City’s famed Tompkins Square Park, where crowds flock from all over to watch them work out on available equipment (or none at all).

The Kavadlo brothers focus primarily on advanced calisthenics and single-limb movements without special tools. And they have helped guide legions of people of all abilities, from sedentary to strong — and even shredded.

“Body-weight training is the most universal type of exercise imaginable,” says Al Kavadlo, who designed this workout with Danny. “It’s simple, efficient, and accessible — everybody has a body!”

Body-weight training is the most universal type of exercise imaginable. It’s simple, efficient, and accessible — everybody has a body!”

Senior PCC instructor Adrienne Harvey adds that the benefits go beyond the physical: “It’s a great excuse to get creative with your environment,” she says. “I’m constantly on the lookout for ‘found’ workout equipment like railings and tree limbs at just the right height. I’ve found that this kind of thinking also boosts creative problem-solving in other areas of my life.”

Change the angle of your joints, elevate your hands or feet, or alter your points of contact with the ground, and you automatically make an exercise easier or more difficult.

With this increased creative juju comes the recognition that you always have everything you need for a challenging workout, anywhere you happen to be — be it a hotel room, an office, or a crowded gym.

“We live in a culture that constantly tells us we need a new product to do just about anything. Whether it’s technology, gear, or even medicine, there is always something else we’re told to buy,” says Danny Kavadlo.

“With body-weight training, that is not the case. All you need is you. There is nothing more empowering than having a body that’s truly self-made.”

The Body-Weight Workout

This full-body circuit workout can be performed in 45 minutes or less. Beginners should do the movements in sequence, resting 60 to 90 seconds between each exercise. As your conditioning improves, try performing all the exercises in a row as a circuit, with little to no rest between exercises. Then, perform the entire circuit twice more.

1. Deep Body-Weight Squat

These squats work your entire lower body and provide an excellent active stretch for tight hips and hamstrings.

  1. Reverse the movement and return to standing. Do three sets of 20 reps.
  1. Raise your arms straight out in front of you as you descend to keep your torso tall and chin up.

Try a version of this move known as the pistol squat, with one leg extended in front of you.

Hold on to a pole, door frame, or other sturdy object for assistance with balance in the bottom position.

2. Straight Bridge

This move is harder than it looks! It will cook your lower back, hamstrings, and glutes while providing a stretch in your chest and shoulders.

  1. Lower yourself back to the start position. Do three sets of 10 reps.
  1. If you don’t have the wrist flexibility for this hand position, try it with your fingers facing your rear.

If the straight bridge is not challenging for you, try doing it on one leg.

If the straight bridge is too intense, try it with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.

3. Australian Pull-Up

Australian pull-ups work your arms and upper back as well as your core.

  1. Lower yourself back to the bottom with control. Do three sets of 10 reps.
  1. Picture this as an upside-down pushup, so don’t bend at the hips as you pull yourself up.

Elevate your feet.

Bend your knees and use your legs to push into the floor to give your arms a boost.

4. Drinking Bird

In addition to increasing strength, the drinking bird also improves balance and provides a stretch for the hamstrings.

  1. Return to the start position, being careful not to twist your body as you stand. Repeat for 10 reps on one side, then switch. Do a total of three sets of 20 reps (10 reps per leg).
  1. Perform these reps slowly for  maximal muscle engagement.

Keep your hands behind your head with your fingers interlaced throughout the entire range of motion for added challenge to balance and strength.

Maintain a more significant bend in one or both knees to improve leverage.

5. Close Pushup

When you do pushups with a narrow hand position and your elbows close to your sides, you decrease your leverage and puts further emphasis on your triceps, making this version significantly more challenging than the standard variety.

  1. Without breaking that body position, press yourself back to the start position. Do three sets of 10 reps.
  1. As with any pushup variation, brace your abdominals and glutes throughout the movement.

Bring your hands even closer together, or position them closer to your hips.

Move your hands farther apart, or elevate them on a sturdy surface.

6. Hanging Knee Raise

Hanging knee raises improve both core strength and grip strength.

  1. Reverse the movement, being mindful not to swing or pick up momentum on the way down. Do three sets of 10 reps.
  1. Squeeze the bar tightly and brace your abdominals to maintain control.

Perform the exercise with legs extended straight out.

Bring your knees to hip height instead of chest height.

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