No Magic Pill

Knowledge + effort + time = success

Never gymless (epilogue)

Posted by Ben on Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Part one: quitting the gym.
Part two: sympathy and confusion.
Part three: why I left.
Part four: newbies.
Part five: searchers.
Part six: pre-made programs.
Part seven: mental foundations.
Part eight: non-workout suggestions.
Part nine: workout suggestions.

* * * * *

(How does one have an epilogue without a prologue? Hmmm…)

So it seems a few people wanted some hand-holding in setting up their own bodyweight workouts and progressions and such. No problem. I won’t pretend I’m doing anything revolutionary or even original here (see: Milo of Kroton), but much like our dependence on shoes, grocery stores, and government bailouts—oops, a political slip—many/most of us have become too reliant on machines and weights and “stations” when almost all of it uses the exact same thing that bodyweight-only training uses for resistance: gravity. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to leverage your, um, leverage, but enough rambling from me… for now… shush :P

As I mentioned last time, I’ve put together my own training program based on a progression found here, which is great if you want to do a hundred push-ups (do NOT do the sit-up workout for reasons I also mentioned last time), but what about, ya know, everything else? Push-ups are great, and if done correctly, are arguably the single most impactful and beneficial upper-body movement you can do, but there’s so much more your body can do: pull-ups, rows, squats, lunges (which I’ll hopefully be adding soon), planks, bridges, and that’s just the in-place stuff. I’ve kept my workouts to in-place movements since I’m currently dealing with a stress fracture in my left foot, so any kind of running, jumping, or “traveling” movements are out for awhile, which of course hasn’t stopped me :)

This is going to get pretty mathy (yes, I just made that up), but hopefully it’ll make sense when I’m finished. I may—MAY—try to put together a spreadsheet that will let you just plug in your target reps (I’ll get to that in a minute), and it’ll spit out six/twelve/eighteen weeks of progressions from your starting point to your target. Anyway…

Step 1: figure out your (initial) target rep goal for each movement you want to do. Here are mine:

—push-ups = 100
—pull-ups = 50
—inverted rows = 50
—squats = 500
—front plank = 300 seconds*

(* It’s easiest to use seconds for any static holds due to the math you’ll be doing.)

Step 2: test your current max. My starting numbers were:

—push-ups = 15
—pull-ups = 5
—inverted rows = N/A (added these a few weeks after I started and just mirrored my pull-up numbers to start)
—squats = 60 seconds
—front plank = 60 seconds

If you can do these on separate days, great; if not, no big deal. I suggest doing them in the order of: pull-ups, push-ups, squats, and planks. If rows and lunges are in there, add them onto the end (in that order). That’ll be a long-ish test, and your later movements may not be your true maxes since you’ll be fatigued from the earlier ones, but don’t worry. The first few weeks are a feeling-out period anyway.

Step 3a: convert/scale the push-up program numbers to fit each of the other movements. This is where all the math comes in. The push-ups are easy since it’s all laid out on the website, so let’s go through what I did for squats (more than 100 target reps):

—target reps = 500; 500 = 100 (website target max) x 5
—initial test reps = 60; 60 / 5 = 12 (scales down the larger reps to something you can use with the website)
—suggested first-week progression = column 3 (initial test between 11 and 20 reps)

Now that you know which column to use, just multiply all the website reps by five to get your squat reps:

—Workout 1 (Column 3): 6, 6, 4, 4, max (7+)
—Workout 1 (scaled for squats): 30, 30, 20, 20, max (35+)

Step 3b: convert/scale for fewer than 100 target reps (I’ll use my pull-up numbers here):

—target reps = 50; 50 = 100 (website target max) / 2
—initial test reps = 5; 5 / 2 = 2.5 = 2 (rounded down; explained later)
—suggested first-week progression = column 1 (initial test less than 5 reps)

This means my first pull-up workout would be:

—Workout 1 (Column 1 scaled for pull-ups): 2, 3, 2, 2, max (3+)

Capice? Clear as mud? Smooth as sandpaper?

Once you’ve figured out what movements you want to do, the only other real consideration is how you’re going to split it up. I started out doing all four movements in a single workout, but when they started getting to be two hours long, I had to go to a two-workout split (now that I’m considering putting lunges in there, I’ll likely have to move to a three-workout split). I really would suggest keeping the entire workout to an hour or less; this includes warm-up, work, and cool-down. My two-workout split is simply:

—Workout A: pull-ups, push-ups, BW rows
—Workout B: squats, planks*

(* I do what I like to call rotisserie planks, meaning a rotation of holds (front, right, left for me; you can do whichever order you like), each at the specified time with the final max-hold set as a front plank only. Without going through all the math—you can do that yourself—if my first set time is thirty seconds, that means I do thirty seconds in a front plank, then thirty seconds in a side plank, then another thirty seconds on the other side plank, and then I take a rest.)

My three-workout split might be something like:

—Workout A: lunges, planks
—Workout B: pull-ups, push-ups
—Workout C: BW rows, squats

This is an unlikely split for me because I have to set up a set of rings for each upper-body pull, but you get the idea. Whatever you decide to include, and however you decide to split it up, keep two things in mind:

1. Make sure you leave enough recovery time between workouts, especially when similar movements are involved. For me, I know my legs take awhile to recover, so I’d want to keep lunges and squats as far away from each other as possible, which includes…

2. Make sure you do supplemental work as well. This includes SMR, mobility work, stretching, other p/rehab work, and general lifestyle activities (walks, bicycle rides, disc golf, pick-up sports, etc). Focus on glute activation, supine bridging, hip flexor stretching, thoracic spine mobility, shoulder external rotation, dynamic core work (perhaps on a physioball a la Core Performance), and so on. In other words, stay active and “uncurl.”

Some other general tips for this layout:
—Always round down when you do any scaling that ends in a partial rep count (see my pull-ups above). The point of this setup is to use the first four sets to “grease the groove” and get your body ready for the max-rep final set, so you don’t want to be totally sapped by the time you get there; however, you also don’t want to absolutely demolish that minimum number without making sure you move up in the progression next time.
—Don’t be afraid to NOT move up at the end of the week. I tried moving up each week, even after starting on the lowest rep count, and I still got waxed by trying to move on to the third week. Eventually, I decided to stay on whatever my current week was until my final-set max-rep efforts consistently blew past the minimum rep number listed. As long as you can maintain that number or even increase it by one at the end of the week, keep at it. There’s no need to try to jump up to the next level and get frustrated with it if you’re not fully ready.
—You don’t necessarily have to test your max-rep numbers every two weeks, even though the website suggests it. You’re essentially doing a max-rep effort at the end of each workout anyway, and while the idea is to test your max reps on a single set, you probably already have a good idea of what you can and can’t do just from the regular workouts, so you can progress however you like without the tests.
—Speaking of weeks, that doesn’t have to mean a Sunday-through-Saturday or Monday-through-Friday deal. I simply mean “week” as a “round” of three workouts for each movement. As of this writing, it takes me roughly two calendar weeks to get through a workout “week” because of supplemental work, general lifestyle activity days, and plain ol’ days off. The original setup can quickly become too much volume if you don’t work up to it, but hey, give it a shot. I’ve had to back off a couple times because I overreached a bit.

Questions? Comments? Snide remarks? Bring ’em.

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