There are many out there who continually ask how they can get more out of their bodyweight exercises, sans equipment. It’s true that the only way you can increase the intensity of bodyweight exercises is by increasing reps, not load (weight). However, with some minor tweaks backed by science you can increase the tension in your muscles for sizeable gains over time.
All you need to do is reimagine how you perform bodyweight exercises… and adapt.
Rule 1: Science dictates that whenever mechanical advantage is lesser, the body has to work harder to adjust. So when you increase the distance between your target muscle group and the end of the object you’re trying to lift (in this case, your body), you instrumentally decrease your body’s mechanical advantage.
What does this mean? When your body is longer, you become weaker and your muscles have to work harder. Case in point is the difference between regular and modified push-ups. When you perform push-ups on your toes, your core muscles have to work a lot harder to support more of your body weight.
“An example would be a bicep preacher curl or a wide-stance push-up. Such exercises therefore should be attempted only when one has stopped obtaining results due to the basics. Exercises such as the above place a greater amount of load on the joints, tendons and ligaments especially when they are performed with excessive load or greater speeds,” says Deckline Leitao, Delhi-based exercise science specialist and fitness expert.
How to apply it: During squats, sit-ups, lunges and crunches, simply raise your hands over your head, straighten your arms so that they’re in line with your body. If this is too hard, just shorten the distance by putting your hands behind your head.
Rule 2: Our muscles store elastic energy much like a stretched slingshot. So when we lower our bodies, our muscles accumulate elastic energy. This elasticity, therefore, allows us to bounce back to the original position, thereby reducing the amount of work our muscles have to perform.
How to apply it: Pause for a few seconds at the bottom position of any exercise. What this will do is discharge all the pent-up elastic energy stored in muscles. Minus the recoil, your body will be forced to recruit more muscle fibres to get you moving again. For instance, during lunges, hold the position when you’re going down for a few seconds before coming back to starting position. Same with push-ups. These are also known as isometric moves.
Rule 3: As per the laws of Physics, work is defined as “force” (in this case, your weight) times “distance”. And because without the help of an external load (such as a dumbbell) you can’t increase force beyond your own weight, the only way to work your muscles more is to move farther during each repetition. Exercise that go through a greater range of motion for the muscles will provide greater elastic strength benefits and improved mobility.
How to apply it: Consider this — when you perform bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, lunges and sit-ups, our range of motion ends at the floor. Do this: Simply move the floor farther away. Place your front foot on a stepper when you perform lunges or place your hands or feet on a stepper when doing push-ups.
“Performing abdominal crunches on a Bosu Ball will take the abdominal muscles to work more. This extra range can be especially usable for athletes that have to take their bodies through extreme ranges under loads,” says Kaizzad Kapadia, one of India’s leading fitness experts and owner of K-11 Fitness Management.
Rule 4: The biomechanics of human movement is such that it’s never one-dimensional. The human movement always takes place, essentially, on three geometric planes, namely the sagittal plane (forward and backward), the coronal plane (side to side) and, finally, the transverse plane (rotation). But sadly enough, we most often end up performing the first two movements, for instance, squats and side lunges. We don’t train our bodies enough on the transverse plane. The downside of under-utilising all the three movements is that you decrease your range of motion. Also, because our major muscle groups exist in more than just one plane.
How to apply it: Rotate your torso to the left or right during exercises such as sit-ups, lunges and push-ups. This way you will fully activate your core, besides the muscles these moves are supposed to target.