At Global Bodyweight Training we hear from people every day who want to start bodyweight training, but don’t want to give up their weight lifting. “Do I need to start training this way 100% of the time in order to get good at it?” is one of our most frequent questions, right up there with “How do I get started?” I think Max Shank does a good job of addressing both these questions in his new book Ultimate Athleticism.
I really like his approach to what it means to be “athletic” at a time when many in the fitness industry are going to one extreme or another in defining the word for their own purposes. Is athleticism about how fast and agile you are? Or is it determined by how many tons of weight you can crush?
Max proposes that being athletic encompasses multiple facets: “Athleticism is the ability to move uninhibited in any range of motion with strength, speed, and coordination along with the ability to seamlessly adapt to any situation.”
In other words, you should “own” your own body movement, and need to be able to manage external loads while still being mobile, flexible, and stable when it really counts. Taking the extreme approach on either end of the spectrum leaves many biomotor abilities underutilized.
The book itself is well-written and easy to understand for persons from any experience level. Plus it’s full of techniques you’ll be able to apply right away. But instead of just recommending you go buy it, I asked Max to write this guest post about how he blends bodyweight training exercises with traditional weight lifting to achieve ultimate athleticism.
If you appreciate the mixed methods approach he describes here, I recommend you pick up a copy of the whole book Ultimate Athleticism HERE.
– Mike Fitch
Heavy Weights or Bodyweight?
There seems to be a little bit of a division among fitness folks today. On one side we have powerlifters/olympic lifters, and guys who can generally just smash heavy weights. On the other side we have the very skinny guys who dance on the pull-up bar and always wear pants to cover their scrawny legs.
In my opinion, both of these options suck because they limit your overall athleticism. As I talk about in my book, I believe achieving Ultimate Athleticism requires both sides of this equation, blending the heavy weights with the bodyweight stuff. Getting there isn’t as hard as you might think.
First let me just say this: Smashing some heavy weights will put hair on your chest and make you more manly. There, I said it. But you cannot deny the awesomeness of someone who has truly mastered their own bodyweight movement. Muscle ups, front levers, planches, backflips…I mean, who wouldn’t want to be able to do those?
There is a big gap between the two that doesn’t need to be there. It is possible to have both, training both methods while building some very impressive muscle. So, what exactly does this look like?
Mixing Your Methods
Let’s break it down with a couple of easy-to-follow examples where we utilize bodyweight exercises alongside traditional heavy weights, or just substitute in some bodyweight moves. This can create a well-rounded workout that’s going to produce greater results than sticking with just one side or the other.
Pairing Loaded with Unloaded
First, let’s take an upper body movement like the bench press or overhead press. These are both upper body pushing movements. You can easily replace either of these movements with a variation of push-ups, planches, or handstands.
The beauty of the bodyweight exercise is that it increases the demand not just through more weight, but through an achievement of a higher level skill. The planche, for example, is exponentially more difficult than a push-up, though the weight is the same. Look no further than the body of a gymnast as proof that you can build muscle with these movements.
Take this new bodyweight pushing movement (whether you chose to go with the push-up or make it more challenging with a planche) and pair it up with some heavy deadlifts, which allows you to work both sides of the body, and upper/lower. I personally believe that the deadlift is the king of full body exercises and there is nothing more primal than taking a ludicrously heavy weight off the floor. It can help your overall strength and power like nothing else. A deadlift done in sets with a push-up, planche or handstand is an awesome opposing pattern since one is a push and one is pull.
We can also simply replace a loaded movement with an unloaded bodyweight movement. Let’s use the example of a heavy row or lat pull-down, which are both upper body pulling movements. Heavy rows are a great exercises and I’m not staying you should stop doing them, but let’s look at a higher skill maneuver like the front lever. If you combined a 1x bodyweight straight arm pull-down with the hardest plank in mid-air, you get a front lever. There are lots of progressions to work up to the full movement but rest assured that no matter what level you currently are, you will give your lats and core a taste of something like you’ve never had before.
Incorporating front lever practice into your workout in place of the usual heavy rows will not only produce a better full-body workout, but can also be a lot more fun as you progress your skills learning this difficult movement. No matter how strong you are, performing a front level is really impressive!
Combining with other methods
Training for ultimate athleticism means you’ll also want to include some additional conditioning and drills in your workouts to ensure you are focusing on your overall fitness and not just one component like strength. For example:
- Make sure you are doing some jumping in your training to stay fast.
- Mix in some lower body flexibility and strength hybrid movements.
- Incorporate sprinting, which will fire off your testosterone and growth hormone production and keep you moving like a tiger.
Putting it Together!
How exactly do you integrate bodyweight exercises into your workout routine if you are accustomed to always training with weights? Here are a few examples of some supersets you can try in your next workout, to give you an idea of how easy it is to get started:
By adding or combining an upper body gymnastic/calisthenic movement with a lower body loaded movement, you really get the best of both worlds. The two exercises fit nicely together without exhausting one for the other.
- Superset a wall-assisted handstand with deadlifts
- Superset a dead hang with deep squat
- Superset a tuck front lever with a sled push
I don’t want to stop lifting heavy. I don’t suggest you stop lifting heavy.
What I do suggest, in no uncertain terms, is that if you start working in some upper body gymnastics movements into your program in place of their traditional weighted counterparts, you are going to see some outstanding improvements in your overall athleticism.
Better every day,
If Max’s guest post here piques your interest, I’m sure you’ll appreciate his book Ultimate Athleticism. Rather than focusing on one specific sport or training method, he emphasizes developing strength, flexibility, and health over the long term, with a philosophy that can be applied to any training methods. You can watch his promo video below for an overview of the book, and click here to jump to his site Ultimate Athleticism for more details about what’s inside. He’s also got all kinds of deals and extras that come with your purchase!- Mike