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Bodyweight exercises have gotten a bad rap recently, maybe it’s because they are what you did before ‘graduating’ and never looked back on. The truth is that bodyweight movements have been used successfully for thousands of years and in our times many disciplines use them to improve strength and conditioning, from martial arts to gymnastics to the army. But if you stop reading here and think they are a substitute for weight training, think again.
So if weight training is supreme why do I need bodyweight movements? First off, everyone needs a form of cardio, unless you’re naturally 7.8% body fat. You want to do some cardio to get your body fat in check and unless you find 3 hour walking sessions FUN, you want to consider something a bit more intense. Another benefit is that unlike steady state cardio, metabolic work is short, intense and anabolic. It combines the best elements of cardio and weights. Instead of focusing on one of the two you are combining anaerobic and aerobic training by doing complexes, having short rest periods, and limiting workout sessions to 20-30 minutes.
Secondly, one thing weight training does not promote effectively is conditioning. Most weight training programs are biased towards anaerobic work, and rightly so, but this neglects aerobic fitness, which in turn can benefit the anaerobic workout. Conditioning is still very important even if you aren’t playing a sport or doing physical activity outside the gym. Just being better conditioned will allow you to train harder and longer. If you ever watched a long, drawn out MMA fight you already know why it’s important to be well-conditioned. While both fighters enter fresh and strong only the best conditioned will be able to maintain that strength and come out on top.
Furthermore, cardio will help with recovery both by accelerating delivery of nutrients to depleted muscles and by improving the ability of joints and tendons to tolerate and recuperate from stress. Unlike weighted movements which train the limbs on a set course, bodyweight movements are varied and at the same time offer enough low resistance to develop parts untouched by weights. Another benefit is that bodyweight movements allow for achievement of maximum ROM since there is no concern for “upping the weight.” All of this will help your mobility and flexibility as well as increase blood flow to the muscles, cutting down recovery time.
Now if you know something already about metabolic work, you may be thinking, ok, where’s the link to the site selling sleds and sandbags? You won’t find any here, you don’t even need to go buy any equipment at all, save perhaps a jump rope. And that’s only if you fancy jumping rope. The great thing about these workouts is the true lack of equipment requirement, and for this reason you can do them just about anywhere, from hotel room, to dorm room, to public park. Before performing any of these complexes make sure to warm up sufficiently. You want to approach this as any other training session. The idea is to maximize work in minimal time, so set a goal of, say, 20 minutes and attempt to get the most sets in that time. You want to have a log book to record each session, and of course try to set new PRs every session. Form is also an issue. A bodyweight squat is still a squat and a doing push ups with flared out elbows is as detrimental as a likewise bench.
On another note, make sure to stay hydrated. Metabolic work is going to sweat you faster than wearing a sauna suit in a sauna, and dehydration is going to ruin your performance at best and lay you up with heat stroke at worst. In that spirit you want to start slow and build up to respectable times. You aren’t GI Jane having to go all out from Day One to earn the respect of the men. So what are the workouts?
Named for the Japanese researcher who invented them, these cycles are short and deadly. They are designed to be the shortest route to fat loss and superior conditioning, and that is exactly what they are.
4 min: 20 sec on 10 sec off
choose one, or combo:
Semantic note: This workout lasts only 4 minutes, and for a true TABATA, after 4 minutes you should be lying on the floor unable to get up dying type of exhausted. It’s ok to do a bit lighter version and stack the cycles, but that is not a true TABATA, just an interval on the 20:10 tempo.
Go for 30 sec on, 30 sec off, with the following circuit:
Sprint 10-20 sec, walk slowly 1 min. Repeat 5-10 times.
A note about sprints: sprints are… sprints, you want to achieve maximum acceleration. They aren’t running quickly or jogging, but max effort sprints. You should not be able to sustain your sprint pace for more than 20 sec, nor this workout for more than 20 min.
This is great especially if you have to be sedentary for long periods. You can jump rope throughout the day, eg. 600 jumps 2-3 times/day.
How often to train metabolic depends on your goals. Metabolic work, like lifting, requires recovery, so be sure to take rest days and include carbs in your post-work-out meal. Aim to incorporate these workouts 1-3 days/week, depending on your weight training schedule. And unless you like vomit, don’t even think about doing it on an empty stomach.