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Pritchard: Benefits of adding some bodyweight training to your routine

By Jimmy Pritchard
Better Version of You
Jimmy Pritchard

The old adage “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” reigns truer than ever during these unprecedented times. In a strange way, you probably miss sluggishly rolling out of bed for your 6 a.m. spin class or chugging your pre-workout in the parking lot to prepare for another torturous leg day. It was never easy to do, but once you did, you felt better than ever and had an improved sense of well-being. The gym serves as a centerpiece of sanity for most people, providing a place to clear their head after a stressful day at work. However, in the absence of its availability, continuing to work out is something that can and still must be done.  

If you’re anything like me, you don’t enjoy aimlessly jacking your heart rate up or burning your lungs without an end goal in mind. That being said, I have zero issues suffering through my workouts and doing whatever is necessary as long as there is some degree of logic behind it.

One added endeavor in particular that has been quite refreshing during the past month for me has been to improve my body weight exercise strength numbers, specifically in the push-up and pull-up exercises. They are staples of training that I think most people have neglected over the past few decades because they don’t carry the same allure that a giant barbell with multiple plates stacked on each side do.

That being said, body weight training is an excellent way to improve your relative strength and improve the overall foundation of your fitness. There is a reason why gymnasts look the way they do, as they can control their own body weight better than nearly any other humans walking the earth.

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Where to start?   

Obviously, executing a single repetition of a push-up or pull-up alone is extremely easy and far different than heavy maximal strength work in the gym. Don’t get me wrong, I love throwing double my bodyweight on the bar and squatting it as much as the next meathead, but performing multiple push-ups or pull-ups in a row is an entirely different skill set. It taxes your muscular endurance through the anaerobic glycolytic pathway whereas a heavy single on a deadlift calls upon the ATP-PC pathway. 

With that in mind, standards are available for both adult males and females in these two exercises. Depending on which source you gather your information from, the data may vary, but the following numbers are rough guidelines with which anybody can aim for that I’ve developed through research and anecdotal experience. 

Male:

  • Push-up
    • Below average: 10
    • Average: 25
    • Above Average: 35
    • Good: 50
    • Advanced: 60
  • Pull-up
    • Below Average: 3
    • Average: 8
    • Above Average: 12
    • Good: 15
    • Advanced: 20

Female:

  • Push-up
    • Below average: 5
    • Average: 10
    • Above Average: 18
    • Good: 30
    • Advanced: 40
  • Pull-up
    • Below Average: 1
    • Average: 3
    • Above Average: 5
    • Good: 8
    • Advanced: 12

How to improve?

If you find yourself on the weaker side of the spectrum in these movements but want to improve, it can be done. The errors most people make, however, are to train every set to failure and not train often enough. As I’ve mentioned before in previous articles, the movements we execute during working out are skills, and as such must be trained accordingly. If you want to be a better golfer, you should try to increase the frequency with which you play, maybe 18 holes three to four times per a week, not 72 holes one day a week. You can’t stay sharp for that long. 

The goal should not be to do 10 pull-ups every single day, once a day, in hopes that you’ll eventually wake up and magically be able to do 11. A better approach would be to simply do five reps, walk away, and repeat that process two more times throughout the day. Instead of 10 reps completed for the day, with nos. 8-10 likely being a sloppy struggle, you’ve instead completed 15 technically sound reps. This idea is nothing new and has been popularized by Russian kettlebell specialist Pavel Tsatsouline, who terms it “greasing the groove.” With perfect technique, progressively increased volume and consistency, you can increase all of your numbers in no time. 

Whether you already have a routine or are looking for a new one, add some bodyweight training to it and try to chase down these numbers. Stay motivated, stay healthy and stay happy. Thanks for reading! 

Jimmy Pritchard has a BSc in exercise science from Colorado Mesa University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the director of strength and conditioning at Ski and Snowboard Club Vail. Contact him at 970-331-3513 or jpritchard@skiclubvail.org. Check out his website at http://www.pritchardperformance.com.


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