Bodyweight exercises are extremely handy when training at home. They don’t require any fancy equipment and can usually be performed in smaller spaces such as your bedroom or living room.
However, you might find that as you progress, your favourite bodyweight movements start to feel easy. Below are three ways you can make bodyweight exercises harder, without the need for any equipment.
1. Increase time under tension
The easiest way to make a bodyweight exercise harder is to increase time under tension. Time under tension, or TUT, is the length of time that your muscles are under strain during a set or work period. To increase time under tension and make your muscles work harder, slow down the exercise tempo.
For example, to make a bodyweight squat or glute bridge harder, try slowing down the eccentric (muscle lengthening) portion of the movement. Go for a 4 second count on the way down before pressing back up. The effort required to control your bodyweight against gravity on the way down will increase the difficulty of the exercise. For a home workout using this technique, check out this 30-minute glute workout for beginners.
Paused reps are another way to increase time under tension. Adding a pause, or isometric hold, while your muscles are under strain will also increase the difficulty of the exercise. For example, this advanced home workout for glutes and abs incorporates a paused sumo squat, where you pause at the bottom of the squat for 3 seconds before pressing back up.
2. Try unilateral exercises
If you have mastered bilateral bodyweight movements, it might be time to give unilateral exercises a try. Unilateral exercises are single-leg or single-arm movements. Examples include lunges, step ups, split squats, and single arm push ups. They are more challenging than bilateral movements and can also help to iron out strength imbalances.
Single side exercises are harder because in addition to performing the movement, your body has to work to stabilise the movement. They also transfer your bodyweight to a single side, which increases resistance placed on the muscles.
For example, if you have mastered the bodyweight squat, try a split squat as shown in this full body workout for beginners. To make a bodyweight hip hinge exercise harder, try a single leg Romanian deadlift as shown in this advanced home workout for glutes and abs.
3. Breathe to boost core engagement
Breathing techniques can be used to boost engagement of your abdominal muscles during exercise. Not only does this recruit more muscle activity, performance also improves when you coordinate breathing and movement.
There are a number of breathing techniques that can be used during exercise. The appropriate technique will depend on the intensity and type of activity. For example, when performing heavy lifts with lower repetitions, many people take a breath in and hold it throughout the repetition, only exhaling after the rep is complete. This maximises intra-abdominal pressure to help brace the core and support the spine.
However, when performing higher repetition bodyweight exercises, a more common breathing technique is to inhale through your nose during the eccentric (muscle lengthening) phase of the movement, then exhale through your mouth during the concentric (muscle shortening) phase. In practice, this usually means breathing in during the easiest part of the movement and out during the hardest part. For example, when performing a squat or push up, breathe in as you lower yourself down, then breathe out as your press back up. As you exhale through your mouth, think about contracting your abdominal muscles to brace your core.
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