Return of Mechanical Drop Sets: Calisthenics/Bodyweight Edition

24
Apr
2015
Posted by: Eric  /   Category: Exercise / Main   /   2 Comments

By Eric Buratty | Published April 24, 2015

This is the unedited/original piece that was published on T-Nation today for those who are interested.  Hope you enjoy both versions!

Here’s what you need to know . . .

  • Beginner-level workout “pain” is associated more with acute discomfort from lower-intensity exercise, while advanced-level workout “pain” is associated more with injury risk from higher-intensity exercise.
  • When you have time restrictions and/or minimal equipment available, apply advanced calisthenics regressions to unlock further growth potential without the associated joint “pain” from loaded movements.
  • With weighted exercises, the common tradition involves switching to lighter weights or easier variations of the same movement to extend the amount of time under tension.
  • With calisthenics and bodyweight exercises, the leverage adjustment involves decreasing body length or increasing the number of surface contact points to extend the amount of time under tension.

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If I were to identify one key variable that separates the beginner mindset from the advanced, it would be their definition of “pain.”

For the beginner lifter and aspiring athlete, “pain” is often associated with feelings of acute discomfort and a discovery of “new muscles” from lower intensity movement.

For the advanced lifter and pro athlete, pain is associated more with chronic inflammation and injury risk from higher intensity movement.

A sensible way to break in newbie gainz while preventing further inflammation for the people who’ve been around the block a few times is with mechanical drop sets using bodyweight only as resistance.

Old School Resistance Meets New School Growth

Calisthenics and bodyweight training have an extensive history—dating back to our primal, evolutionary movements.  You see it everywhere—from physical conditioning in military and law enforcement, to the streets of New York, to the beach while on vacation, and even to prison cells.  That’s because it works.

For some reason, people think that just because they’re adding weight to an exercise, they’re automatically receiving greater anaerobic, muscle-building benefits.  They also may believe they’re working harder than they would without the added weight. 

Let’s be honest, though.

If your form is total shit or you’re just going through the motions on machines and pulleys with artificial leverage, you’re setting yourself up for unnecessary soreness and a case of ego-itis.

Related: The Truth About Soreness by Christian Thibaudeau

As a result of such nonsense, you may end up weaker, mentally burnt out and less mobile down the road.

If you’re already in this situation, it might be a wake-up call for you to go back to some old school movements, and perform them at higher levels with a new school touch.

Dynamic Growth Is All About Leverage, Yo.

Well-timed regression and progression is the key to dynamic growth.

Then there’s actually knowing how to kick back or kick ass—which is also kind of a big deal. 

With weighted exercises, the common tradition is to switch to lighter loads or easier variations of the same movement to extend the amount of time your muscles are under tension.

With calisthenics and bodyweight exercises, the level of difficulty for a given movement is dictated mostly by the length of your body and the number of contact points to your training surface.

More specifically, you’ll work from a longer to shorter body length and less to more contact points with the ground, a bar or gymnastics rings to extend the amount of time your muscles are under tension.

This changes the leverage in a favorable and highly efficient manner—which leaves some room for you to do more work without exceeding your capacity to recover.

Also known as advanced regressions in progressive calisthenics, let’s take a look at some practical examples of these drop sets in action.

Changing Body Length: Regress From Longer To Shorter Body Length

A1. Upper Body (Vertical) Push: Demonstrated by Al Kavadlo

Freestanding Handstand Push-Up (feet together or straddle) –> Wall-Assisted Handstand Push-Up (feet together or straddle) –> Feet Elevated Pike Push-Up


A2. Upper Body (Vertical) Pull: Demonstrated by Beth Andrews

Ice Cream Makers (Tucked) or Palms Facing Each Other (Neutral Grip) Pull-Up –> Palms Facing Each Other (Neutral Grip) “L-Sit” Pull Pup –> “Sit Back Chin-Ups”

A3. Lower Body: Demonstrated by Eric Buratty

Walking Pistol Squat –> Walking Long Step Squat/Lunge –> Walking Short Step Squat/Lunge

A4. *BONUS* Dynamic Core Movement: Demonstrated by Adrienne Harvey

Skin-the-Cat –> Hanging Straight Leg Raise –> Hanging Knees-to-Chest Raise

 

Modifying The Number Of Surface Contact Points: Regress From Less To More Contact Points

 

B1. Upper Body (Horizontal) Push: Demonstrated by Danny Kavadlo

Tuck Planche Push-Up (parallel bars) –> Feet Elevated Push-Up –> One-Leg Push-Up

B2. Upper Body (Horizontal) Pull: Demonstrated by Max Shank

Half Tuck or Full Tuck Front Lever Pull-Up –> Australian Pull-Up (straight leg) –> Australian Pull-Up (knees bent)

B3. Lower Body: Demonstrated by Grace Menendez

Hip Thrust/Glute Bridge with Elevated Feet & Shoulders –> Supine Hip Thrust/Glute Bridge with Elevated Feet (arms resting on floor) –> Supine Hip Thrust/Glute Bridge (arms resting on floor)*

*If you want to emphasize the posterior chain more, push up through your heels only.  For an added challenge, try performing on one side at a time.

B4. *BONUS* Dynamic Core Movement: Demonstrated by Eric Buratty

Dynamic Front Lever Pull –> Dynamic Dragon Flag –> Decline Bench Leg Raise –> Decline Windshield Wiper

When To Apply And Target Volume/Total Rep Range

While the subtle changes in body positioning may not seem like much, they make for a surprisingly humble challenge–especially for haters of bodyweight training.

Ideally, beginners are encouraged to follow this structure exclusively on planned workout days to start learning what it feels like to get outside of their comfort zone.

Short rest periods are to be emphasized—think 60-90 seconds at most—in between sets.

Yes, these are short rest periods.

No, you’re probably not going to be able to text friends, or check your Facebook/Instagram updates in between.

Time to man up.

MTFU

In contrast, advanced lifters are encouraged to put in some extra volume at the end of their very strongest planned workout days with these bodyweight drop sets.

You know who you are and what shorter rest periods feel like.

Just be mindful about stopping just before you lose your workout pump, as this is an indicator that you did too much volume, which will defeat the purpose.

Next time you find yourself in situations with minimal time and equipment available, here are some target volume/total rep ranges to shoot for with the examples above.

 

Target Volume for Upper Body Push/Pull: 50-100 total reps split over 3-4 sets

Each set will look like this:

5-10 reps of the first movement –> 5-10 reps of the second movement –> 5-10 reps of the third movement

 

Target Volume for Lower Body: 100-200 total reps split over 1-2 sets   

Each set will look like this:

20-30 reps of the first movement –> 20-30 reps of the second movement –> 20-30 reps of the third movement

 

*BONUS* Target Volume for Dynamic Core Movements: 25-50 total reps split over 1-2 sets

Each set will look like this:

5-10 reps of the first movement –> 5-10 reps of the second movement –> 5-10 reps of the third movement

While there are an infinite number of ways to extend work sets with weights, the cool thing about bodyweight training is that it promotes creativity based on your training environment.

Related: Extended Sets for Size and Strength by Lee Boyce

By the way, you might end up with enough core strength to make a truck full of apples jealous if you try those dynamic core movement drop sets.  Consider yourself a true Spartan if you conquer these.

ExerciseMachine

 

Wrap-Up

In the fitness industry, linear progression is often thought of as the Holy Grail.  Lifting more weight, performing more reps and shaving off time from your previous performance are all excellent gauges for getting stronger.

However, don’t forget the overlooked magic that occurs during phases of advanced regression wherein you emphasize relative strength and total body performance.  These phases are your opportunity to squeeze in more quality volume with the most advanced, the most engineered and the most evolved machine in the universe—your very own body. 

All things considered, advanced calisthenics regressions certainly aren’t easy, but if you’re looking for a sensible way to challenge yourself and force your body to grow, you may have just found it.

P.S. – If you have any favorite drop set combos, please share them in your Facebook comments!

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2 Comments

  1. GiryaGirl April 25, 2015 at 10:05 pm  /  Comment Reply

    Thanks for sharing this version 🙂

    • Eric Buratty April 26, 2015 at 2:16 am  /  Comment Reply

      You bet, Adrienne! This was as much my article as it was everyone who helped contribute to it with their exercise demos.
      Keep up the great work representing for all the strong ladies out there! 🙂