When it comes down to it you must overload the body with loads that can drive a stimulus of force production to new levels. The nervous system is then set on overdrive to lift the amount of weight that will increase strength.
But that doesn’t mean you can not get strong by just doing bodyweight movements. In my opinion some of the strongest individuals in the world are gymnasts who primarily lift there own bodyweight in every position and have the ability to control their movement under high tension. I see most athletes that can bench a house but you get them on a chin up bar and they can barely break at the elbow. Or how about a 2.5 times bodyweight squatter but when you put them on one leg and they can’t stand up for more then .5 seconds before falling over.
This is what we call “relative functional strength” and having this will increase your ability to increase your maximal strength along with mitigating the risk of injury. The goal of a bodyweight training program should be to increase structural integrity, balance, strength/muscle endurance and of course athleticism. We do this with a few simple methods and protocols to establish these attributes.
So what are these methods well it’s pretty simple but highly effective. We first want to set up the proper tempo. Depending on your goals increasing balance and local muscle endurance we need a longer time under tension. How we do this is with the “tempo method” basically performing each rep of each set with a steady pace. This could be a 3 seconds eccentric (lengthening the muscle) slight pause or isometric for 1-2 seconds and a controlled concentric (shortening the muscle). A tempo could look like this 3.2.2 meaning the first number representing the eccentric, the second representing the isometric, and the final number is the concentric portion of the movement. This not only increases muscle endurance but enhances technique and body control. By monitoring the tempo you drive the nervous system to recruit more motor units at a faster rate due to fatigue. This is extremely beneficial for combat sport athletes and field sports where the energy demands are mixed.
Another way to increase strength with just your own bodyweight is progressive and regressive angular isometrics or PAILs/RAILs. This is a functional range conditioning principle to allow for not only strength to be increased in end ranges but also to improve on your joint mobility. The way you perform these if first set yourself in a position that challenges your balance and flexibility (passive range of motion) then you want to drive into an overcoming isometric (PAILs) this will activate mechanoreceptors to elicit a greater range of motion and to provide the muscles that support the joint more strength to move freely in space. This should be done in a 20 seconds ramp up from 50%-100% of maximal intensity. After a rep of PAILs you want to perform RAILs which basically is the opposing muscle activation by driving away from the point of where you did the PAILs contraction. This needs to be done for 10-15 seconds in a maximal isometric contraction.
Isometrics has been proven to increase force production with either yielding (eccentric) isometrics or overcoming (concentric) isometrics. This can be worked in high intensities if your body is in an unstable or a functionally limiting position. I like to incorporate isometrics for my athletes to establish strength in end ranges and stability through all planes of motion.
So to wrap this up my beliefs on bodyweight training and calisthenics is that they definitely have a place in strength training and can be a viral part of your athletic performance and injury reduction. This is why I decided to put together this 8 week Bodyweight only s&c program. In the program you will get a detailed system of training conjugated to increase strength, body awareness, coordination, and most importantly overall athleticism. Check it out here in the link below!