Bodyweight training is effective, fun and dynamic. It’s also extremely versatile, in that you don’t need a lot of space or equipment to perform the exercises. Most of the workouts/exercises are ones that you could perform in your living room, or even a hotel room when you’re on the road.
The most important aspect of bodyweight training, as with traditional strength and resistance training, is to emphasize technique. Only progress to a harder variation or increase your repetitions when you can complete your workout with perfect form. You can still develop plenty of strength with poor form, but in the long run you are setting yourself up for, in the worst case, a devastating injury or, in the best case, an impassable plateau.
Below are my favorite bodyweight exercises to help prepare for the POPAT/PARE.
1. Push Up: It’s the classic. It may have been your nemesis in high-school gym class, but when training for your Physical Abilities Test (PAT) it is your best friend (or at least a decent roommate with some irritating traits, but some redeeming qualities). To pass the POPAT, I recommend being able to pump out 35 strict, full body push ups without any lag in form.
- Regression: Incline Push Up. Perform pushups using an elevated bar (ex: barbell on a squat rack). Progress to being able to perform 35 reps with strict form (i.e. not letting the back sag, or letting the shoulders dump forward). Once you can consistently perform 35 reps for multiple sets (i.e. 2-3 sets), start lowering the bar, and becoming more parallel with the floor.
- Progression: Feet Elevated. Elevate your feet by putting them on a box or a chair. A common mistake is leaving your hands too far in front of your shoulders. This compromises your pushing ability, but it allows you to push your weight back towards your feet making the ‘push’ part of the push-up easier. Don’t cheat. If you can’t perform reps with your feet elevated, try using a lower elevation of the feet or spreading your feet between 2 chairs/boxes.
2. Straddle Hollow Body Hold: this is by favorite core exercise, and coincidentally, one of the exercises that gives gymnasts their classically ripped cores. You should consistently be able to hold a Straddle Hollow Body Hold for 30s for 3-5 sets for general fitness. For performance, I recommend having a solid 60s hold for 3-5 sets.
- Regression: Armadillo Hollow Body. Instead of performing the hollow body hold in the straddle position, bring your knees to 90 degrees while keeping your thighs vertical. Use your arms to reach down past your hips and ‘compress’ your torso, being sure to keep you lower back flat on the floor.
- Progressions: Straddle Hollow Body Rocks. While maintaining your straddle hollow body position, begin to ‘rock’ by elevating your feet and then descending them 12-16 inches. Your feet should not hit the ground. Strive for 35 reps for a total of 3-5 sets.
3. Walking Lunges: the ultimate leg conditioner. Start walking forward for a distance (ex: 200m). Only rest for the amount of time it takes to walk back the distance that you have lunged. Repeat for 3-4 sets; progress and regress by playing with the distance and the speed of the sets.
4. Body Weight Squats: aka the Push Up for the lower body. Perform 20-30 reps in a set for 3-5 sets. Ensure that your form is correct, keeping your back flat and your knees outside your big toes.
5. Hanging: most people try to pull themselves up to a bar, long before they’ve learned how to hand from it. Instead of struggling to get your chin up to that bar for only 1 or 2 reps, start with hanging. Aim to hang from a chin up bar for a full minute, for 3 sets. Slowly build up strength by lengthening your hanging time. For most people, hanging for even 15 seconds can be challenging. Whenever possible, try to maintain a hollow body position (posteriorly tilted pelvis) throughout your hang. This will ensure proper and ever progression of your hanging ability.
- Regression: use a chair or a box to support some of your weight.
- Progression: add weight or time to your hang. You can also perform an L-Sit for a grip and core strength developer.
6. Crawling: this is usually the one that catches people off guard. Crawling? You mean like a baby? Yes. Or, alternatively, like an animal. Try to keep your limbs moving in synchronous alternating left-hang-right-foot with right-hand-left-foot. Even crawling just a few meters can be brutal, and an effective way to strengthen your core and upper body.
Don’t be afraid to try new things. These are some of my favorite body weight exercises, but there are literally thousands to choose from. Keep track of your progress and always strive to get stronger.
B.Kin, Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology CPT.