Updated: Dec 16, 2020
Coach Caleb’s Corner
Inside Out Strength Plan
Does the idea of training without equipment sound dull and boring? Maybe you’re wondering if it’s even possible build any real strength without enough resistance (weights)? Or perhaps you’re thinking, “I don’t exactly move like a gymnast, so I’m not sure how I could train without some kind of training wheels” (equipment). Well, we’re here to help!
Progressing your physical skills is far from dull, and moving and feeling better are certainly not boring. Strength comes in many forms, and chances are that if you are used to only moving heavy loads, there are some aspects of muscularity that have been getting short shrift. And if certain movements feel difficult, there’s a good chance you can make them feel easier with one tried and true method; consistent practice!
Training without specialized equipment has become something of a necessity for many of us this year at some point or another. The inaccessibility of resistance training gear can be seen as quite an obstacle to progress and might even stall out the efforts of dedicated fitness enthusiasts. In spite of our circumstances forcing attention upon this exercise conundrum, the topic of training with just one’s own bodyweight has actually been a special interest of ours for many years!
Anyone with an interest in disciplines such as martial arts, yoga, dance or gymnastics has already recognized the benefits of mastering control over movement of the body. It is perhaps somewhat ironic that a focus on acquiring the requisite strength and skills to to improve our freedom of movement is often viewed as a daunting, more advanced type of practice; better suited to those who are already highly mobile and physically capable. Our modern day distraction with fitness tools or the allure of a well appointed gym has led to an “outside-in” approach to physical preparedness, emphasizing equipment or training modalities over quality of movement. As such, a phase of equipment minimalism can actually become a phase of maximal personal growth as our attention veers toward an “inside-out” approach; improving the body and mind that wields the tool.
The subject of bodyweight-only training is actually quite broad and can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. The focus of our effort on this occasion is to address the often neglected aspects of training without equipment; movement skill and strength improvement. “Getting smoked” with cardiovascular training sans equipment is a rather more obvious pursuit and resources on that subject are abundantly available. So without further exposition, here’s a bodyweight-only training template help you progress your strength and your movement skills.
Our “Training Targets” for this program include:
Core (Anti-Extension, Anti-Lateral Flexion, Rotary Stability) – abdominal strength and resilience means more than just getting a “six pack.” The ability to prevent the back from over-extending or side-bending when we don’t want it to, and the role of the abdominal muscles in stabilizing our daily movements such as walking or running are what we’re focusing on here.
Hinge / Balance – The ability to effectively drive the body’s flexion and extension from the hip joint prevents excessive movement stress being transferred to the back or the knees where it is more likely to cause an injury. For the purposes of this training template, we combine the practice of this skill with work on single leg stance to make the most of gravity’s resistance (putting all or most of our weight on just one leg as a means of increasing the training stimulus) and also leverage our time in two ways at once by simultaneously challenging stability.
Squat – the list of benefits for working on this movement pattern exceeds the scope of this brief summary, but everything from improved digestive health to the ability to safely coordinate movement of the whole body at once number among them.
Lunge / Split Stance – this movement pattern mimics our natural walking gait, challenges balance and proprioception and helps us experience ranges of motion we might not be able to access with the squat. Split Squats and Lunges also help to strengthen the the muscles of the back and core without overly stressing the spine.
Posterior Chain – the muscles on the back of the body, in this case most specifically the hamstrings, glutes, calves and low back, are some of the largest and strongest muscles we possess. Our anterior dominant lifestyles which include lots of sitting can upset the balance in strength between the anterior and posterior muscles chains. Strengthening the posterior chain muscles promotes better posture, balance, and safer athletic movement skills in general.
Lateral Movement – as most of our lives are spent moving straight forward, if we neglect the muscles that stabilize the hips and pelvis in lateral movements, we increase the risk of injury to these areas and limit our athletic ability to perform more complex maneuvers.
Upper Body Push & Pull – effective motor control and force in pressing and pulling movements with the arms, shoulders, back and chest in multiple planes are what keep us safe in daily activities such as lifting heavy objects, pets or children and make us more competent in all our athletic endeavors.
Strength Endurance – the ability to produce force for time. Since we are primarily working on the ability to produce force, we should be able to observe a noticeable increase in our ability to sustain the production of that force over time. These sections of the program serve as a proving ground of sorts; to measure our progress and to celebrate the use of our increasing strength in also achieving more long-lasting challenging efforts.
How the program works:
Frequency – Ideally plan to train three days per week. If there’s a week that you are only able to train for two days, don’t sweat it, just keep going with the next session on your agenda.
Schedule – The training schedule rotates through so-called “light,” “medium” and “heavy” days, although this terminology doesn’t refer specifically to loads being lifted as much as it refers to other factors like volume of reps or the level of difficulty selected for the skill being practiced. Although it will not be possible to find a totally precise level of resistance for every movement on each day, you can follow these general guidelines:
Heavy Day – choose to practice skills with a level of difficulty that would allow you to confidently complete sets of about 7-8 reps for symmetrical movements or 5-6 reps on each side for unilateral movements. Ergo, if you pushed yourself to the limit, you would be able to complete a number of reps in that range before having to stop because you are just too fatigued to continue with perfect technique. Do not allow any degradation in the quality of the movement for each exercise.
Medium Day – choose to practice skills with a level of difficulty that would allow you to confidently complete sets of 10-12 reps for all movements.
Light Day – choose to practice skills with a level of difficulty that would allow you to confidently complete sets of 12-15 reps for symmetrical movements or 7-8 reps on each side for unilateral movements.
Rest – The rest for each exercise is “as needed.” In other words; rest as much as you need to so that you can perform your next set flawlessly, but no more than that.
A note about Strength Endurance – “To a comfortable stop” is an expression used to describe the Strength Endurance sections. This means you perform the drill until you feel you are close to experiencing a level of difficulty that might cause your performance to degrade in some way (slow down, lose postural stability, etc.). In short; this is a point before failure. This is why we say “a comfortable stop” and not “failure” or “refusal.”
How to progress the program:
When you are able to complete all of the reps and sets on the Heavy Day for a given exercise without feeling noticeably challenged, it’s probably time to progress the skill. Choose a more challenging version for that training target.
You will also notice your ability to maintain “time under tension” in the Strength Endurance sections will increase. If you are able to sustain a Strength Endurance effort for over 60 seconds for the maximum series of sets, then you can consider increasing the difficulty of the implied skills. For example, consider increasing the difficulty of Squats, Lunges, and Posterior Chain drills if you are able to perform a 60 second sustained effort of perfect high repetition squats or lunges, for 5 complete sets on the Heavy Day. The same would apply to something like a handstand practice for upper body pushing exercises.
Once you notice a plateau in your skills (no noticeable improvement over 2 weeks) or even a decrease in performance, then consider waving back the difficulty on all exercises for a week or two, before trying to continue to progress again.
And now the moment you’ve been waiting for… Here is the Inside Out Strength Plan itself, as well as a cheat sheet on the training targets! And as a bonus for you – we’ve been sharing videos of all these moves on our Instagram and Facebook pages, so be sure to follow us and check out the demos! And as an extra bonus – I’ll be doing a Facebook Live Event on Wednesday 12/16 at 5pm to give you even more ideas and answer any questions you have about progressing your bodyweight strength skills!