General health is a combination of cardiovascular, strength, mobility and relaxation techniques. Our blog plans to delve into each of these areas to help develop a better understanding of how to exercise to get maximum results. We will start with body weight resistance exercise, a great way to improve strength and endurance without the cost of going to a gym. As you start to get stronger there are some really simple strategies to help increase the difficulty of the exercise. The obvious choices are increase the volume (e.g. sets and reps), choice of exercise (e.g. push up vs dips), rest periods (e.g. short vs long, Tempo (e.g. speed of exercise), and exercise order. However, we can also manipulate the exercise through a few other variables.
- Range of motion
- Lever changes (length of the moment arm)
- Plane of motion (rotation, side positions, contact points)
- Stability demands
- Addition of external resistance
- Limb utilization (single limb, added tasks)
I will use a few examples of how we progress body weight exercise, then give you a workout structure you can follow for the next 4 weeks. To demonstrate these above factors I will use the simple push up as a guide.
To change the moment or the force of the exercise you can increase/decrease the angle of body in relation to gravity (vertical force) or change the lever length (Knee push ups vs toe push ups). An example of this would be a wall push up, as you get stronger you get closer to the ground, as you get stronger at normal push ups you elevate the feet. This will change the difficulty of the exercise and will also vary the targeted areas.
Range of motion refers to the distance traveled during the exercise. Lets apply this to our push up scenario, if you are just getting started a full push up may seem out of reach. A full push up os chest to ground, then back to arms full extension. I will cover technique cues in a later blog. If you do not have the strength to perform a full push up we can manipulate the range and slowly build you up to a full push up. Place an object (e.g. tennis ball, medicine ball, DB, shoe) under the chest to bring the floor closer to you (reduced range), as you get stronger remove this object and perform a full push up. Once these are easy you can increase the range by placing the hands on a small block and still performing chest to ground push ups (increased ranged). Great to work on shoulder/upper back and chest strength.
When describing movement we have three planes of motion (Frontal, sagittal, traverse). These represent different movement directions to help break up and define locomotion (movement). We can use these three planes to increase the difficulty of an exercise task. Important to note not only is moving a certain way good to challenge the demands of an exercise, so is resisting moving a direction during an exercise. For example, if I do a push up with 1 leg off the ground this activates multiple planes. If my body wants to rotate towards the ground and I resist this, then I am activating muscles that work in the transverse plane. So I have increased the directional demands of the exercise and the muscles involved by a simple adjustment. Some other examples might be, increasing one hands range of motion and the other as normal (off-set push up). Lateral shift push up, whereby you do a push up where the shoulder touches one hand then back to centre. Push up rotations or "T" push ups, once you are in the top position rotate one hand towards the ceiling. Reducing the point of contact, taking one leg or one hand of the ground, once you can build up to sets of these you can also start to add movements (e.g. spider man push up).
The stability demands of an exercise are similar to what I have highlighted before, you can perform an exercise on an unstable surface or you can challenge the body to resist movement in a certain direction. Both these encompass multiple planes of movement and require greater activation of muscles to perform the task. Some hard examples are performing a push up on a swissball/stability ball, having one hand on a medicine ball, and using suspension training devices (e.g. TRX or gym rings). If you have a partner you can also use perturbations to increase the stability demands, this is adding some small external force to different parts of the body i.e. if you have a partner they can push on your hips, shoulders etc.
Performing an exercise with additional resistance is the commonly used method of increasing the difficulty of an exercise. Some simple effective methods are resistance bands or tubing and partner resisted exercises. For our push up example you could use a resistance draped across the shoulder and placed under the hands to increase the resistance of the exercise. If your training with a partner you can have them push down on you as you push up or push down on you as you try and resist the speed of decent (down phase of the exercise).
Changing the contact points of an exercise increase the stability demands, planes of motion and change the moment/forces applied to the exercise task and are therefore considered advanced. They a great way to challenge the body to work harder and activate more muscle. As highlighted before this can be achieved by changing the points of contact, one arm lifted or one leg raised during the push up.
Lets put this into a program for you to follow over 4 weeks.
Week 1 Wall push up, knee floor push up, toe floor push ups or hands elevated 15-20Reps 3 Sets
Week 2 Knee floor push up, toe floor push ups with one hand elevated 12-15 Reps x 3 Sets
Week 3 Knee floor push up, toe floor push ups with resistance band or partner change force dynamics (add resistance through push up or lowering phase) Up 10-12 Reps x 3 Sets
Week 4 Push ups on toes, push ups on toes with rotation, push up on toes and raised leg 8-10 Reps x 3 Sets
If you pick the 1st, 2nd or 3rd exercise in the above list they are all progressed over the 4 weeks. For example if you choose wall push up week 1, 15-20 reps x 3 sets, in week 2 you will do knee push ups 12-15 reps x 3 sets. Try and do this program day on day off for 4 weeks (3 times per week). It is a simple and easy program to get you started and learn how to progress body weight resistance exercises.