Why Bodyweight Workouts Are Much Harder Than You Think (Plus, 5 Moves You Might Be Doing Incorrectly)
Drop down and give me ten push-ups. Take a 30-second breather. Now give me ten more.
—Did you hit all twenty?
Yo, bodyweight workouts are hard. I am the first person to raise my hand and confess my love for lifting heavy shit, but you’ll find that same hand above my head, ready to tap out on my tenth pull-up.
While hitting a PR in a squat rack is cool and Bulgarian split squats are fun, bodyweight movements are some of the single most underrated movements you can do. And when someone tells me they’re easy, I’m like “Brah, that’s a personal problem,” because I know how grueling 20 push-ups, 60-second squats with a pulse, 25 hollow body rocks, or just five pistol squats can be.
The Top 3 Reasons You Should Do Bodyweight Movements
I love bodyweight moves for a number of reasons. I can do them anywhere, well outside a studio or gym; I can do them while traveling, and they don’t require space or equipment.
As a personal trainer, I stand behind bodyweight workouts for reasons far outside practicality. Bodyweight movements are essential to your form, progress, and safety, or more specifically:
Body awareness: Most people have no idea what their body is physically doing when it moves, unless they look in a mirror. If your coach is constantly screaming, “Activate your core! Light on your feet! Tilt your pelvis!” and you have NO CLUE what that means, you need to take a step back. Bodyweight moves help you become more aware of each isolated muscle in your body, and what it’s doing within any given moment.
Control: No matter how much you understand correct form, sometimes it’s hard to find it within a weighted position. Sometimes the first step to correct form is to feel it first. Understand what a parallel squat truly feels like before you add the barbell.
Modifications: I would rather see an athlete perform a *perfect push-up than see that same athlete deadlift 200lbs with sloppy form. Seriously. If you need to modify your workout (which many of us do), there is no safer, cleaner way to incorporate modifications into your routine than with bodyweight movements.
5 Bodyweight Exercises You Might Not Be Doing Correctly (No Matter How Many Times You Hit the Gym)
You are a beautiful human being and I love the way you show up to the gym, but next time you’re there I want you to double-check your form in the mirror. Here are five bodyweight movements that you may think you’re doing correctly, but might require a few tweaks (remember what I said about body awareness?).
And one final thing: When you give yourself that wink in the mirror and check your form, try not to crane your neck. We do enough of that rubbish while staring at PowerPoints.
#1. Forearm Plank
While many of us do planks to work on your core, it’s really a full body exercise. The moment you start thinking of a plank this way, you’ll feel your arms, back, quads, and core engage. To lock these muscles into one gorgeous, straight line, think of the following ques:
Don’t look at your belly—look straight into your hands, focusing on the space just beyond your thumbs. In other words, don’t drop your neck!
Do make your forearms parallel. Your arms should form the number 11, directly across from one another.
Don’t drop your hips, which can be detrimental to your low back.
Perform a posterior pelvic tilt, bringing your ribs to your hips (bonus: This will help you from dropping your hips).
So many of focus on sinking into a squat that we crouch our entire bodies, allowing our chest to fall forward, our knees to cave in, and our back to sag downward. To retrain our bodies, let’s stop thinking about coming down, and think about squats from the ground up. Starting from the floor, think:
Place your feet shoulder-width apart. Grip the floor with your heels.
Make sure your knees are over your toes. If your knees cave in, point your toes slightly outward.
The back of your hamstrings should be parallel to the ground—not below!
Your core should be braced, chest lifted, with your back drawn back and down.
Finally, allow your gaze to be straight forward, with your hands toward heart-center.
P.S. Breathe in on your way down, and out on your way back up.
#3. Forward Lunge
Here’s something you might not expect: Many people have zero issues doing a backward lunge, but struggle when I tell them to march forward. For whatever reason, they have more body awareness when stepping behind than in front. So, when you’re moving forward, keep the following things in mind:
Don’t step too far forward (and don’t overcompensate by not stepping far enough!). Keep your heel grounded in the front foot.
Do hover your back knee close to the ground, thinking about your back knee being directly under back hip. Try not to lean, keeping your eyes forward, chest up, and shoulders back.
Don’t walk a tight rope, with one foot directly behind the other, but instead…
Do walk on train tracks, with your feet slightly apart.
Most people fixate on the status of their six-pack, completely ignoring their back. You guys, some of the most important muscle groups are not those that you flex in the mirror. Your back is what supports your core, prevents you shoulders from drooping forward, and gives you good posture. Try the following cues for your next superman, one of my favorite back exercises:
Don’t look up and strain your neck, instead bringing your gaze straight down. If you need to check your form, look to a side mirror.
Do put your arms straight ahead, with a soft bend in your elbows. Your biceps should be near your ears.
Don’t just focus on your back muscles, instead thinking about your glutes, lower back, and shoulders getting some love.
Do engage your quads, which will force your feet off the ground.
#5. Lateral Lunge
Most of our lives, we are taught to move forward. We run, bike, or hop on the elliptical, never realizing that all of these movements require us to move in one direction only. Really, we should move in every direction (also called moving across every plane), including side-to-side, forward-and-backward, and rotationally. Lateral lunges are one of my favorite moves to work the sides of my body. To do them correctly, try the following:
Do keep both feet pointed forward, even when you step outward.
Don’t bend both legs. The leg that steps outward should be bent, while the other should be straight. I know this is hard to think about, so try focusing on…
Do visualize sitting one butt cheek into a chair. If you step your right leg out, then think about sitting that right booty into a chair, but the left one can’t quiteeee reach it.
Don’t look to the side, instead keeping your eyes forward, toes forward, and your knee directly over your ankle.
Don’t let your straight leg do the work. Make your bent leg do the work, pushing through that heal.
Bodyweight Movements and Bodyweight Workouts are as Hard as You Make Them
Two people can do the exact same workout, and one may leave drenched in sweat while the other won’t have to reapply deodorant. Bodyweight workouts are as hard as you make them, and there are unlimited ways to make them the most grueling part of your routine. You can pulse, hold, or add a hop to virtually any movement to feel the most satisfying burn of your week.
And if someone gives you an AMWRAP? Hell, do that acronym justice and give as many rounds as you possibly have.
To add more bodyweight workouts to your routine, ones that will give you sweaty satisfaction with the freedom to do them outside your gym, I’m releasing a complete bodyweight workout eBook next week. Inside the cover, you’ll find 25 workouts that you can crush anywhere, anytime, with no equipment and minimal space. I personally do these workouts when I’m traveling or when I can’t make it to a gym class, and I promise they are just as hard as they look.
Stay tuned—TL Body: 25 Bodyweight Workouts You Can Crush Anywhere officially launches on July 9th!