Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Fitsmart: April 2014

By Brad Lawrence   

Features Fitness Health and Wellness

We live in the information age, and we are constantly updated with the world’s latest and greatest products and ideas.

We live in the information age, and we are constantly updated with the world’s latest and greatest products and ideas. The fitness industry is no exception. Fitness research and knowledge has exploded, and many great trainers are publishing their ideas and training systems to share with all of us. However, with such an overwhelming volume of information available, sometimes the most basic programs are the ones we tend to overlook. At the top of that under-utilized pile is bodyweight training. Often forgotten in fitness centers today, bodyweight training provides a well-rounded option that can be integrated into anyone’s program – from beginners to professionals.

By definition, bodyweight exercises are movements that require no additional loaded weight. The weight of your body provides the resistance for the exercise. Since there are no additional weights, training tempo plays a major role in your results. Generally, higher-repetition training works to increase muscle endurance, while high-intensity explosive movements increase muscular strength.

One of the greatest aspects of bodyweight training is its balance. While bodyweight training isn’t the single greatest way to achieve any one goal, it is a very effective way to touch on all of your goals. For example, bodyweight training isn’t the best way to increase strength, but it’s still a good way to improve muscle strength. Bodyweight training isn’t the best way to burn fat, but it’s a still good way to manage weight loss.

By no means am I trying to sway anyone away from weight training. I’m simply challenging you to experiment with a combination of both bodyweight and regular weight training. Here are some of the reasons that bodyweight training will be beneficial.


Most bodyweight exercises don’t offer much in the way of muscle isolation, which is to our advantage. Most of the exercises in bodyweight training are multi-movement, multi-joint exercises that incorporate several muscle groups, and almost always engage our core stability muscles. These compound movements will improve everyday functionality as well. Functional movements prepare you for functional tasks, which is why many so athletes and strength coaches have installed bodyweight training in their workouts.

Bodyweight exercises also demand more from you mentally. Moving your body through space requires co-ordination between your body and your brain, placing a higher load on your nervous system. Some such exercises include squats, pistol squats, walking lunges, pull-ups and dips, among others.

The high intensity nature of bodyweight training will cause a metabolic increase that can last for hours. Moving yourself through space demands more than sitting on a machine. An active bodyweight routine can mimic the effects of high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, which is a great way to improve body composition. An advanced bodyweight routine will combine several properties of cardio and strength training at the same time. Rather than taking a break between sets, for example, replace your rest period with additional exercises, such as burpees or a walking lunge.

The beauty of bodyweight training is that everyone is capable of it, regardless of fitness levels. There is a challenging bodyweight workout for everyone from beginners to professionals. Every exercise has a progression and regression that can easily be adjusted to suit you. As you improve your fitness level, it’s quite easy to manipulate the exercise to increase its difficulty. Here are a few progressions for the more popular bodyweight exercises, many of which you’ve likely done before.

Squat: Start with a wall sit and move to an assisted squat (on a chair or wall). Once you’re comfortable with that, try a deep, slow-tempo squat, before moving to an assisted one-leg squat (or pistol squat) then to a straight pistol squat. The most difficult method for this exercise is a plyometric or jumping squat.

The push-up: Start out with a wall push-up and move to a three-quarter push-up. From there, try a standard push-up, then a diamond push-up, and finally a plyometric or clap push-up.

The pull-up: Start with an inverted row, then try eccentric pull-ups, which involve jumping to the bar and performing a negative rep on the way down. The final progressions include a standard pull-up and a wide-grip pull-up.

Every bodyweight exercise has several progressions that you can strive to achieve. Challenge yourself to move down the line on these exercises when you’re comfortable. Keep in mind during advanced bodyweight movements, especially plyometrics, your muscle will endure a higher than normal eccentric, or decelerating, load. While eccentric loading is great for strength, it’s also accompanied by far more delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) than the standard concentric-eccentric working tempo. Increased DOMS isn’t meant to be a deterrent, just a friendly reminder on why you’ll be extra stiff the day or two following a workout.

Adding bodyweight training to your fitness regime doesn’t need to be a complete overhaul of your program; it can be as simple as adding one or two bodyweight exercises per day. Whether you’re just getting back in the swing of things, or you’re in peak condition trying to push yourself over the top, bodyweight training has something to offer. Happy training!

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

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