Whether you discovered a newfound love for calisthenics training during lockdown, or you’re just looking for some new movements to add to your arsenal; hybridising bodyweight training into your usual resistance regime presents you with a whole new avenue of progression to explore.
Need more convincing? Let’s look at some of the benefits.
Moving your body weight through space might just be the ultimate meta skill where training is concerned. It’s pretty much impossible to think that the proprioception (awareness of your body’s position and movement in space) required to execute a set of ring dips won’t have at least some carryover to your bench press.
Spending some time honing controlled bodyweight movements can also aid in ‘switching on’ your mind muscle connection, helping you to get a more tactile connection to coaching cues that can sometimes seem impossible to translate from board to bar.
But how about bang for your buck in your training?
Why waste time doing endless push-ups when the option to load up a bar or grab a set of dumbbells exists? Simple- bodyweight movements present you with an accessible way of increasing your training volume, sans the wear and tear associated with heavy barbell movements; often being far more joint friendly than their iron born cousins. In some contexts they may even prove to be beneficial for recovery in between your weights sessions, helping you to get back under the bar sooner.
Is it easy to translate this information directly into your sessions?
Pretty much -
Pairing bodyweight movements with weights works phenomenally well. One of my favourite protocols to programme in is-
‘Antagonistic: weight/ bodyweight pairings’
Take a big, heavy compound movement and pair it with an opposing movement pattern, using just your bodyweight, eliciting three things- additional volume without overly impacting the main lift you’re trying to nail, essentially creating an ‘active rest’ period, continued blood flow and articulation to the area you’re focussing on, and time spent creating bodily awareness- crucial in fostering mindfulness in big compound lifts with explosive elements, such as push presses or jerks.
But that’s just the beginning, here’s my list of three awesome, high yield tools that can help you get more bang for your buck out of your own bodyweight (and the workouts to use with them).
If you were to rank all pieces of gym kit on a ratio of portability to versatility, gymnastics rings would sit comfortably at the top of the list. Add a further filter of value for money? Everything else falls away entirely.
For less than the cost of a meal out you truly can carry your entire gym in two hands.
The first huge level up rings provide versus going it alone with just your bodyweight is a literal ‘level up’, the ability to add in a wide range of pulling movements, both vertical (pull-ups) and horizontal (rows) will instantly add dozens if not hundreds of moves to your arsenal, balancing out the pushing that’s prevalent in bodyweight training and helping you to build a strong, balanced body.
Secondly, not only do rings open you up to a whole new batch of exercises, they upgrade the ones you’re already doing. Push-ups on rings, for instance give you both the opportunity to *regress* the movement by altering your levers, but also to *progress* by creating an unstable, open chain environment where more skill, strength and subsequently- muscle is required to perform the exercise. This is all before we perform a single ring dip, which when done correctly can be more effective than a bench press. There, I said it.
As if the cost, portability and versatility alone aren’t enough to cement rings as your number one home gym investment, upgrading the training you’re already doing, even in the gym, with rings is incredibly smart. The free moving, almost fluidic nature of rings, when utilised as handles creates an environment where for each movement you perform, you can manoeuvre and discover a safe, comfortable range of motion versus being stuck in a single, potentially deleterious groove. This can be a huge factor in saving wear and tear on your joints, especially if you’re performing the same or similar movements regularly. Taking pull-ups as an obvious example, you can literally alter the movement pattern mid rep to create a more comfortable groove that’s conducive to more pain free reps, and in the long run- more training.
The basics of ring training offer you the ability to adapt a wealth of movement patterns to suit your goals. But beyond this, there are a lifetime's worth of incredibly humbling skills to be learned, making them the training tool with potentially the most mileage.
Here’s one of my favourite, simple ‘Push’ based ring protocols, which won’t just build strength and foster poise, but will reward you with the holiest of training grails- a sweet pump.
We’ve looked at the instability benefits of gymnastics rings, but what if you wanted to take advantage of the movements the rings open up for you, without stability being your limiting factor?
Enter the parallettes.
Probably a lesser seen piece of kit, even in functional circles, parallettes provide a space saving solution for incorporating calisthenics into your regime, without having to splurge on an all encompassing rig.
You may not be able to perform full pull-ups as you would on the rings, but the limitations stop around there. Movements that parallettes put back on the menu for anyone bereft of a gym range from simple inverted row regressions and progressions, dips, leg raise variations and all of the way up to deficit handstand push-ups and other advanced movements.
Like the rings, parallettes provide a literal lifetime’s worth of techniques to master, whilst also giving you the ability to unbox a set and get started with basic movements with very little learning curve, making them a versatile addition to any home (or indeed gym) setup, serving everyone from bodyweight beginners through to calisthenics gurus.
The relatively low price tag also makes them a pretty low risk investment versus a lot of other strength training options.
Speaking personally, I recently installed a set of parallel bars in my garden, and after 16 years of training (without them) I cannot tell you how surprised I was at the constant use they’ve been subjected to by myself and others who train here. I have always enjoyed a dip, even a ring dip, but having a convenient place to perform daily reps has most certainly transformed my own training for the better, taking what would have been daily push-ups and upgrading them.
Here’s a full body protocol that can be performed using ONLY a set of parallettes.
Rings and parallettes may be the best tools for getting the most out of your own mass, but what about when that’s not quite enough, or maybe a touch too much?
Resistance bands (or ‘assistance’ bands, when applied in the right context) may be seen as the preserve of powerlifters looking to break plateaus, or the warm-up tool of choice for the home glute workout aficionado, but their usefulness is up there with gym rings when it comes to versatility of application.
Whether you’re looking to master calisthenics movements that are beyond your current capabilities, or add a degree of difficulty to the basics, bands come through at both ends of the spectrum.
RESISTANCE VS ASSISTANCE
By utilising bands either with, or against gravity you can quickly add entirely new dimensions to your movement repertoire- whether attempting to get those first strict chin-ups, or looking to make a set of ten reps more difficult, the same band can get both jobs done-
Attach the band *to the bar* and step into it, or anchor it to the floor and positioning around your waist. Both options provide an entirely unique strength curve versus simply adding plates or vest, which can help you to burst through sticking points and build new strength, even if you’ve got a dozen reps in the bag already.
Being able to physically see the direction of force (ie the way the band stretches), makes figuring out where and how to position your bands for your intended outcome a doddle. Plus- simple adjustments in height or the quick switching of resistances allow you to change the stimulus of a movements on the fly- making bands incredibly efficient and reactive tools.
Even if your goals don’t involve performing lofty, awe inspiring calisthenics movements, bands can be applied to the simplest of movements, to eek every last drop of progress out of nothing more than the floor and your bodyweight.