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FitSmart: January 2012

The emphasis on core strength and health seems to increase with each visit to the doctor.

January 6, 2012
By Brad Lawrence

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The emphasis on core strength and health seems to increase with each visit to the doctor. While many fitness programs include some element of core training, bodyweight exercises may still be some of the safest and most effective ways to increase core strength and stability. Bodyweight training has long been considered a great way to improve core strength, but it’s also a great change of pace from your regular weight-training program. Core training may be the most obvious reward, but more people are using bodyweight training to achieve other aspects of fitness.

Bodyweight training will benefit even the fittest among us. It will push you into better shape and better you in ways you might not even have known. We will explore a sample bodyweight training program and discuss the benefits of it.

Our sample program
Bodyweight training is the most versatile way to train. Its movements are based around squats, pulling and pressing. Many of the exercises can be performed with little to no equipment and may not even require you to visit the gym every day – perfect for those strapped for time, or stuck out on the road through travel. The key is planning your program and working hard, just as if you were throwing weight around a gym. Try to implement some of these exercises into your next bodyweight workout, and when you’re ready, you can slowly add weight if you choose. The easiest way to add weight to any exercise is to wear a weighted vest, but you can improvise if a vest isn’t available. Reps for all should be high – 25 to 40, or as many as you can safely perform.

Pulling exercises
Pull-up – The upper-body squat is the single best exercise you can do for yourself. Start with this exercise – it’s the toughest in the set – and complete as many reps as you can. Palms are pronated away from your body. This exercise is challenging to begin with, and adding a weight vest will test you. If you find yourself at a plateau, try variations of the standard pull-up, including changes to grip or tempo, and especially by adding random repetitions and pauses. Try to find either a pull-up bar, a garage rafter or a sturdy tree branch.

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Chin-up – This is identical to the pull-up, but your palms will be supinated, or toward you. This allows you to use more arm strength to start your body into motion. Almost everyone should be able to start with chin-ups and work into pull-ups. Again, try variations and focus on stability and strong form.

Suspended row – Perform these only after you’ve pushed yourself through pull-ups and chin-ups. You’ll find more isolation in your core and back if they have already experienced a reasonable load. This is a bodyweight row, using a rope with a couple of loops or TRX trainer. Try elevating your feet and starting with your body parallel to the ground.

Elbows tucked in with a steady tempo will give the best results. Add the same variations as above when you’re ready.

Squats
Lunges – The lunge is a well-rounded exercise with several variations. Lunges will strengthen your quads, glutes and hamstrings. Core stability and overall general mobility are major benefits of performing regular lunges. Look to add explosiveness or weight as your body adapts to high-rep bodyweight lunges.

Squat/pistol squat – Basic bodyweight squatting is effective; however, it’s probably fairly easy for many of you. The progression is a pistol squat: a one-leg, high-load, high-stability squat. Start with one leg and both hands stretching in front of you, and perform a squat with the other leg as low as possible. Start slow and work into a deep pistol squat. Your legs will thank you.

Lateral jump squats – Start with your feet together in an athletic position. Push off with your left foot and jump (try for about three or four feet) laterally. Catch your body with only your right foot as you absorb your momentum into a squat. As you press down into a squat, drive off your right foot and jump back in the opposite direction and catch your body with your left foot. As you become more confident you can increase the drive and explosiveness of the movement, as well as carry a weight or medicine ball.

Presses
Suspended pushup – This exercise won’t allow you to cheat on your stability and offers similar core benefits to the suspended row. Use a rope with loops or a TRX trainer, and prop your feet to start parallel with the ground. Squeeze your core and focus on strong form.

Plyometric pushups – There are a few variations of plyometric pushups you can try, but jump pushups or clap pushups are most common. Focus on good, strong form to protect your shoulders, and you will see quick results.

Advanced pushups – For those of you who will grow tired with the exercises above, challenge yourself with either a one-arm pushup or a handstand pushup. Both require excellent strength, stability and dedicated focus on technique to perform properly. These types of pushups are quite difficult for almost anyone. Be persistent and you’ll have a challenging goal to strive toward for some time. If you’re unsure of the correct technique of either movement, there is an abundance of material available online.

Adding these simple exercises to your established fitness routine will improve your strength, mobility and recovery. You may also be surprised at the hypertrophy that is possible through simple bodyweight training. Try these at home, at the gym, or on the road and give your body the shock it needs by moving nothing more than itself.


Brad Lawrence is a firefighter with the Calgary Fire Department and a certified personal trainer who specializes in training and nutrition for emergency responders. E-mail Brad at bradmlawrence@gmail.com


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