Exercising using body weight is back as a popular, practical, and functional workout. Body weight training can be done individually or with partners. When done with partners, the energy in the class goes through the roof. Research has been done to show the best techniques to perform some body weight training exercises so as to increase or decrease the lever to make the exercise harder or easier. Based on practical applications, training can be done for strength, power, and endurance (reps and resistance).
- Understand how to increase or decrease the resistance of body weight training by changing the lever length and/or using a partner.
- Demonstrate the training techniques used for training all muscles including “pushing and pulling” muscle groups and compound exercises.
- Recognize how some of these exercises are important for specific disease prevention, such as “pulling” exercises for osteoporosis.
The number of sets is dependent on how long the class is and how many body parts are targeted. Generally speaking, 3 – 5 sets with the same muscle group are optimal for increasing or maintaining muscle strength. However, in a body weight training class, the “traditional” style of weight training, where we have participants perform a set, then rest, and do another set with the same muscle group, might be boring. Therefore, a circuit training style of class is better suited for a class setting.
A rotation of exercises using 1) upper body pushing, 2) upper body pulling, 3) core, and 4) compound leg exercises could be accomplished with 3 – 5 sets of each body part. This circuit could take 30 – 45 minutes.
We can use general guidelines for the number of repetitions used to develop muscle strength, power, endurance, and hypertrophy. There is also a definite load that must accompany the repetitions performed.
Strength – 5 – 8 reps.
Power – 2 – 4 reps.
Endurance – 15 – 20 reps.
Hypertrophy – 8 – 12 reps.
What components of muscle fitness do our fitness clients need? Or, what components of muscle fitness do our athlete clients need? For fitness, and to improve or maintain the ability to perform the activities of daily living, it would be a good choice to develop muscle strength, power, and endurance.
For sports performance, it is a good bet to focus on all four components of muscle fitness. Most athletes need a percentage of each component of muscle fitness. For that matter, each training session could focus on a different component of fitness. Or the training can be periodized the same as traditional weight training programs throughout the year. When traveling with a team, and no weight training equipment is available, body weight training sessions can be done focusing on all four components of muscle fitness.
For beginner exercisers and elderly clients, it is a good to work with strength reps/sets to avoid excessive strain and to prevent delayed on-set muscle soreness. For fitness clients with whom we have worked for a long time and/or younger clients, we could focus on training for strength, power, and endurance.
To change the load when body weight training, the lever length can be changed, hand placement can be changed, and partner exercises can be used. For example, the load of push-ups can be changed by using different hand placements. Cogley et al. (2005) found that a narrow base “V” push-up (finger tips touching) had higher electromyography (EMG) of the pectoralis major and triceps compared to wide base and shoulder width push-ups. A wide base push-up can be used with beginning exercisers or when we want to perform an endurance set of 15 – 20 repetitions. The lever can be changed to make it easier by performing the push-ups on the knees. A shoulder width hand placement can be used when we want to perform a strength set. And a narrow “V” push-up can be used for advanced clients or when we want to do training with fewer repetitions. This push-up can be made even more difficult by having a partner hold the feet in the air or putting the feet on a bench .
García-Massó, et al., (2011) found that performing a push-up as fast as possible produced higher maximum force and rate of force than a clap push-up (on toes or knees, push-up fast and clap hands while in the air) and drop push-up (on knees in an upright position, let body fall to the ground, hands “catch” the falling body, then explode up by pushing up with arms). The maximum speed push-up can be used for developing power. A clap push-up is a good exercise to challenge athletes and the drop push-up is a good form of upper body plyometrics, which can be challenging and fun for more advanced clients.
Ebben, et al., (2011) found that push-ups with the feet elevated produced higher ground reaction force. Push-ups with hands elevated and push-ups from the flexed knee position produced lower ground reaction forces. We can do strength sets by elevating the feet, and endurance sets by doing push-ups on the knees.
Push-Up and “Pushing” Variation Exercises
Partner Resistance Push-up – One partner doing the push-up, the other standing over his/her body (facing the prone partner’s head) putting resistance with hands between the scapulae. This exercise is perfect for doing a power set of 3 – 4 repetitions.
Spiderman Push-Up – Done as an individual exercise, flex and externally rotate the hip so that the knee is beside the shoulder (left knee to left shoulder, right to right). The leg increases the resistance because the client is pushing the upper body and the leg. Push-up with one leg up for 5 -10 repetitions, then bring the other leg up for another 5 – 10 repetitions.
Standing Partner Push-Up – Partners are facing each other and pushing on each other’s hands with their feet as far apart as is possible. There are two ways to do this push-up: 1) one partner performs the push-up while the other partner stabilizes, or 2) both partners do a push-up at the same time, which is much harder. This could also be recognized as a compound exercise because the core and legs are stabilizing. This could be done as a strength or endurance set.
Partner Dips – One partner is flat on his/her back on the floor with knees bent, the other partner has his/her back to the supine partner with hands on their knees. The bottom partner has to stabilize his/her hips so that the top partner can perform dips on the knees. The supine partner can do either crunches or a bridge, while the upright partner does the dips. This exercise is harder than it looks, as such it could be a strength or hypertrophy set.
Standing Chest Press – Partners are holding opposite hands in a “thumb grip.” Each partner must be in a stable “athletic position.” If the partners are holding with right hands, then both left legs are in front. As one partner pushes on the other’s hand/arm the other partner gives resistance to make the “push” as hard as is required for a power or strength set. When the partners are pushing, they are doing the concentric phase, and when they resist the push, they are doing the eccentric phase. Switch hands after the specific number or repetitions are completed.
Standing Partner Row – Partners are in the same position as the Standing Chest Press. This exercise is the “pull.” While one partner pulls, the other partner provides resistance to make the pull harder. When the partners are pulling, they are performing the concentric phase, and when they resist, that is the eccentric phase. This exercise can also be for power or strength. Switch hands to do both arms. This exercise is very important for female clients because it is an exercise that can help prevent or minimize the effects of osteoporosis in the thoracic spine. When our female clients perform “pulling” exercises, the muscles pull on the tendons, and the tendons pull on bone. In the case of a standing partner pull, the scapula adductor tendons pull on the thoracic vertebrae, which can help stimulate bone growth.
Shoulder Press/Front Dip – One partner is seated with his/her back resting on the front of the other partner’s legs. The seated partner will be performing a seated shoulder press, the standing partner will be performing a “Modified Front Dip.” It is best for safety and comfort to have a “thumb grip.” The seated partner pushes up to perform the concentric phase of the shoulder press, and the other partner provides resistance against the shoulder press to perform the eccentric phase of the front dip. Then the standing partner pushes down on the seated partner. The seated partner is now performing the eccentric phase of the shoulder press and the standing partner is performing the concentric phase of the front dip. This exercise can be done as a strength, hypertrophy, or endurance set.
Lat Pulldown/Upright Row – The partners are in the same seated-standing position. This time the seated partner, starting with elbows extended, pulls down as the standing partner resists the pull. The pulldown is the concentric phase for the seated partner and the eccentric phase of the upright row for the standing partner. The next movement is when the standing partner pulls up on the arms/hands of the seated partner while he/she resists the pull up. When the standing partner pulls up this is the concentric phase of the upright row and for the seated partner this is the eccentric phase of the eccentric phase of the lat pulldown. This exercise can be done as a strength, hypertrophy, or endurance set.
Neutral Spine Exercises
Front plank on toes – hold for 30 counts for endurance.
Side plank left and right on toes – hold for 30 counts for endurance.
Bird Dog – raise opposite arm and leg – 15 – 20 repetitions for endurance.
Challenging and Fun Exercises
Front Plank – “Arm Wrestle” with partner. Wide foot stance, balance on one elbow while trying to “pull” your partner off balance, alternate arms and “wrestle” for 10 – 20 counts.
Side Plank “Arm Wrestle” – same as above except one partner is on his/her left and the other partner is on his/her right and the partners are pushing on each other’s hands. Push for 10 – 20 counts.
Vertical Core Exercises
Arm Chops – Up & Down, Lateral Shoulder-to-Hip, and Side-to-Side. Move straight arms as fast as possible for 20 repetitions for endurance. This causes the core muscles to have to acceleration, decelerate, and stabilize.
This hamstring partner exercise is used for increasing eccentric strength and injury prevention. (Schaech, 2012). One partner is on his/her knees holding the heels of the other partner who is also on his/her knees. The partner who is in front will use an eccentric contraction to slowly let him/herself down the ground where he/she stops using the hands. Then using a concentric contraction of the hamstrings, pull his/herself up to the starting position. Perform 5 – 10 repetitions.
Partner Leg Press – One Leg or Two. One partner is on his/her back with knees and hips flexed getting ready for the partner to balance all his/her weight on the feet. The “balance” partner, who’s acting as the resistance, will hold onto the partner’s feet for balance. Once both partners are balanced, the prone partner does a leg press. With two legs this is not much resistance, so it could be used as a warm-up exercise or for an endurance set of 15 – 20 repetitions. With one leg, there is more resistance and a strength set could be performed of 5 - 8 repetitions.
Cogley et al., 2005, Comparison of muscle activation using various hand positions during the push-up exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 19(3):628-33.
García-Massó, et al., 2011, Myoelectric activation and kinetics of different plyometric push-up exercises, J Strength Cond Res. 25(7):2040-7.
Ebben, et al., 2001, Kinetic analysis of several variations of push-ups, J Strength Cond Res. 25(10):2891-4.
Schache A. 2012, Eccentric hamstring muscle training can prevent hamstring injuries in soccer players. J Physiother. 58(1):58.