Don’t dismiss bodyweight exercises. And if you’re tipping the scales at over 220 pounds, sometimes bodyweight is big weight. Honing in on your relative strength and bodyweight capabilities doesn’t just make you stronger, it makes you more athletic and capable.
Try these five challenging bodyweight exercises:
1. The Ring Dip
Ten reps on the rings isn’t the same as ten reps on a dip station, especially if you’re a big guy. The instability of the rings engages much more of the core and basically eliminates the need to add load with a weight belt.
The main reason I like this exercise has to do with the law of irradiation – the contraction of the muscles surrounding a target muscle bolster the strength and stability of that exercise.
The instability of the rings forces you to work much harder to stabilize the shoulder joint. That means the pecs, upper back, and traps get much more involved to “help” the triceps compared to traditional dips, which is a saving grace for bad shoulders.
Also, with rings you can customize just how internally or externally rotated you want your hands and arms to be. If you’re a real rock star, try rotating the palms forward on each rep.
2. The Modified L-Sit
The L-sit is a true testimony of core strength. Sadly, the majority of people who can successfully do a gymnastic L-sit are, well, gymnasts.
Remember that for every sport, elite performance usually comes hand in hand with a body type that’s best suited to that endeavor. There are high-achieving outliers.
For gymnasts, the ideal body type is typically compact, with a longer torso and shorter legs. However, if we want to recreate these patterns to cater to a taller, long-limbed dude who’s got a whole lot of meat on his bones, we have to get innovative.
For the L-sit, we have to acknowledge that our legs are just too long and heavy for us to coerce physics to join our side. Two modifications/progressions will help.
The first one, shown above, is simple. Attach a band across two low safeties in the squat rack. Place your heels on the band and lift your body. Keep rigid legs and pointed toes. Don’t “rely” on the band, though. Do everything you can to lift your heels up, away from the band. Pretend you don’t want its help.
Attempting holds of 20-30 seconds is a good place to start. Once it gets easy, don’t hold for any longer – just use a skinnier band.
A second progression is wrapping a band around yourself rather than having a band help lift your heels.
First, the movement becomes harder. Since your heels aren’t “resting” on the band, your hips, quads, and core have more responsibility to lift the legs.
Note that I’m not wearing shoes in this variation. This keeps the band from slipping, but even more importantly, it forces me to point my toes, which is crucial to doing proper L-sits and a good habit to adopt so that you totally brace the anterior chain.
Though the force angle is a bit different when the bands are around me rather than below my heels, it still offers a bit of assistance to make the lift possible for a 6’4″ lifter with long legs.
The goal is to use progressively skinnier bands until one isn’t needed. Since this version’s harder, start with sets of 15-20 seconds.
3. The Suicide Push-Up
I like this more than the handstand push-up. It requires a bit more upper chest musculature, plus the head can travel below the level of the hands, which makes for a deep press.
Compared to shoulder presses, it’s much easier to decelerate the eccentric component of the lift. That ensures healthy shoulders.
The goal is to attain a pike position and “dive” downward so you’re looking right below your own feet in the bottom position. In a perfect world, you’d press towards your butt. That means you won’t press completely vertically, but on a slight angle to incorporate the shoulders and upper chest together.
Controlled sets of 10-15 reps can be a game-changer for your shoulder health and development. Bonus: You’ll get a great pump.
Now let’s fix your poor mobility. When you have more mass to carry and longer limbs to mind, your joint integrity might not be as sound as that of someone with a smaller body. As such, never forsake your ability to achieve full ranges of motion, especially at the hips and shoulders.
Rockers are a rude awakening to your perception of hip and shoulder extension. I like doing these as filler exercises to other conditioning movements because they keep me mobile while also serving as a great core and posterior-chain burner. Try sets of 8-12 reps.
Assume a starting position that has the fingers facing forward and raise the hips until you’re in a supine, tabletop position. Look for 90-degree angles at the knees and, ideally, at the shoulder joint too. This will be tough if you’re tight.
Squeeze the glutes and aim to raise the ribcage as high as possible as you pull your shoulders back. Hold this position for a one-second count and slowly “swing” your body through your arms until you’re in the straight-knee position seen in the video.
Note: I have pretty long arms relative to my torso length so it’s easy for my butt to clear the ground on the swing-through. For lifters with shorter arms, elevate the hands on low platforms or plates.
A couple of the most common areas of chronic pain or poor function are the knees and ankles. Poor dorsiflexion makes for a shallow, compromised squat pattern, which eventually ends up affecting knee health.
I like kneel-to-squats because they impose a severe dorsiflexion, which trains the knee to move forward over the toe under zero external load (trust me, you won’t need any additional weight) and builds ankle mobility and knee strength. The foot also gets a great plantar flexion to help strengthen its intrinsic muscles.
If you’re worried about how bad this would hurt since you’ve hardly ever squatted below parallel in your life, I’ve got you covered. Simply shorten the range of motion. See how I’m kneeling to one mat in the video? Stack up 3 or 4 mats so your point of contact is shallower. As you get stronger, work your way down. Do sets of 15 reps.
One more thing I like about this is the constant tension. You’re staying tight while kneeling to prepare for the “up” phase, but you’re also remaining in a half-squat on each rep – you never get to stand until the set’s over. This hits the quads hard, translating to stronger and healthier knees.