How To Get The Most Out Of Bodyweight Training

I’m such a fan of bodyweight training, so I was super stoked to see what strength coach, Bert Massey, was cooking up for his new article here on the site. In his new guest post, he’s sharing tips and tricks to help make your bodyweight training more effective, and help you get over any humps in strength-building you might be experiencing. Over to Bert…

Everyone in the world can get stronger by doing pushups and pullups.

The military lives by this belief, and even the most novice trainer will understand that if they have a client do a lot of pushups and pullups the waistline will shrink and the shoulders will expand.

If you want to go for a full body workout that only uses your weight as resistance: pushups, pullups, inverted-rows, lunges and squats are a great place to start.

However, there are a few problems with this line of thinking when taken at face value.

The first problem that arises for many people is that when they first begin to do movement and exercise they cannot complete full repetitions of most or all of the body weight exercises. .

Because these exercises look so “simple”, in many cases this leads to using bad form and compensations by other areas of the body because you’re not yet strong enough to do them correctly – which puts you on the fast track to injury.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are many people who can do pushups and pullups for sets and reps, but they repeat these movements too often and develop overuse injuries from a repetitive and sometimes faulty motion.

There is a very simple practice that can help to avoid these scenarios.

No matter where you fall on the spectrum above, this practice will speed up your gains and put you on your way to developing the “Unbreakable Body” that you desire.

To get better at body weight training,  take advantage of the eccentric and isometric portion of a motion.

Each and every exercise or movement has a concentric, eccentric and isometric phase. In simple terms: this means there is a lowering, raising and static or holding phase of a movement. The eccentric (lowering) and Isometric (hold) phases of movement are incredibly important pieces of movement. When practiced regularly both will result in larger recruitment of the muscles involved in an activity.

Most people, unless they are highly trained, do not know how to recruit all of the possible muscles that could possibly assist in a movement.

The tips I share in today’s post will help you to recruit even more muscles in your next workout.

Today, I will cover three specific ways you can utilize eccentric and isometric training in your bodyweight workouts.

Tapping In To Strength

First, let’s get clear on what an eccentric, concentric, and isometric part of a movement is. Take the pushup: the lowering to the floor portion is the eccentric phase and the pushing up away from the floor is the concentric phase. If you were to pause at any point in the movement and hold there, that would be an isometric phase of the contraction.

The biggest focus is working on the lowering of the pushup or pullup and keeping proper body alignment throughout the motion. If you can’t push yourself out of the bottom of the pushup (the concentric phase), that is okay, just return to the top with your knees on the ground or just reset the pushup at the top of the movement.

Also, in a pushup be strong and hold yourself at the “sticking point” while lowering to the ground as slowly as possible. If you frequently practice the isometric and eccentric portions of a movement with proper body alignment those “sticking points” will disappear quickly.

Watch this video to see exactly what this looks like:

If you do have a “sticking point” in your pushup or pullup that you can’t fight through, instead of writhing around and using faulty form or, use an isometric hold in that sticking point.

Time the hold in this difficult position, by the time you are holding it for 30 seconds it will no longer be a “sticking point.”

In a pullup, there are two options.
In option #1 for the slightly stronger, get your chin up over the bar by using a stool or a chair, ready yourself to hang onto the bar and stay up there as long as possible. When gravity eventually starts to win, make it a fight and lower as slow as possible.

Option two is for those who cannot complete the isometric hold at the top of the bar for 5 seconds. In this case find a bar that reaches you about mid chest while standing or use a set of adjustable rings to get the perfect height. A great way is to use a bar in a squat rack lowered down if you have access.

When you are set up, you will do a pullup on the bar or rings with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Control the tempo of the movement throughout the entire range of motion. I like to use 3 seconds on the way up, pause at the top, and 3 seconds on the way down. If this is continued on a regular basis pullups and isometric holds will be in your set of skills in a very short time.

Below is an example of this exercise completed properly:

Who would think that a perfect pushup involves a good deal of glute contraction? It actually does, but that is another article for another time.

Good For More Than Just Your Muscles

An additional benefit of bodyweight training, as discussed, is that it will increase your bone density and ligament strength and keep you feeling more capable for longer in life. The timed controlled contractions discussed here are the same as in HIT protocol or High Intensity Training. This requires reaching deep muscular fatigue and has proven time and again to slow the signs of aging and rapid losses of strength. The best example of this is Steve Maxwell who is a 63 year old Strength coach and doesn’t look a day over 45. His blog titled “High Intensity or High Volume” explains this in a very detailed and great way.

Eccentric and Isometric work can truly be your strongest weapon against Father Time.

The company I work for Efficient Exercise has successfully run a business for 15 years in Austin, Texas based on getting people stronger through eccentric and isometric contractions. We even develop and manufacture a patented machine called Adaptive Resistance Exercise or ARX that is a whale of an eccentric contraction that cannot be matched. The good news is though, while you’re absolutely invited to Austin, Texas to workout at our gym on the ARX machine, better body weight training can happen right in your own living room.

Hello Strength

It comes down to these two simple reminders:

  1. Any lowering or “putting down” of resistance should always be controlled and even slowed to a crawl if possible.
  2. Pause at “sticking points” in movements, during these pauses “feel” through your sticking point and make it your strong point.


Bert headshot

Bert grew up in Brownwood, Texas where he played and loved all sports from an early childhood. Bert played football, baseball, and powerlifted while in high school and attended the University of Texas and received his bachelors degree in History in 2006.
For several years Bert pursued a career in law and politics, but in 2011 realized his passions were fitness and sports so he changed directions in life.

Over the past 3 years Bert’s passion and hard work has helped him to become a CSCS (Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist) allowing him to pursue a career in what he truly loves.

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