When we think of bodyweight exercises, many people will immediately be drawn to thinking press ups, sit ups, pull ups and bodyweight squats. These exercises are often seen as somewhat beginner movements and in order for there to be a significant level of difficulty for someone who is used to weightlifting or strength training, the resistance would need to be increased to make the exercise harder and worthwhile for training towards their goals.
However, there are a number of bodyweight exercises which are actually very challenging and require an awful lot of strength, particularly in the core; as well as a combination of balance and flexibility. This article will address 4 of the most challenging bodyweight exercises you could work towards being able to perform.
As if squatting to parallel or below isn’t already hard enough… the pistol squat is a movement where you only use one leg to perform a bodyweight squat, and at the maximum point of the eccentric motion, your hamstring reaches your calf while your opposing leg is straight out in front of you. It requires a substantial amount of flexibility, coordination and balance as well as strength.
It’s unlikely that you’ll immediately be able to perform this exercise, as you’ll need to seriously improve your mobility and flexibility. Ways in which you should look to improve these skills are as follow;
I) Improve ankle flexibility through dorsiflexion. This is where your toes raise while your heel stays planted. It will allow you a greater range of motion at the ankle as the gastrocnemius is extended.
II) Improve balance and coordination at the furthest part of the descent into the pistol squat.
In order to perform the pistol squat you’ll want to go through these steps;
1) Starting standing upright, raise one leg and gather your balance
2) Descend slowly while simultaneously raising your leg
3) Focus on transporting your weight onto your heel throughout the movement
4) Once you’ve reached the bottom of the movement where your calf is touching your hamstring, hold the position and return to an upright position
Perform this exercise on both legs and aim to simply increase the number of reps you can do per leg for progress.
This exercise is one of the most impressive physical feats of strength to look at. Explaining how to do the movement is simple; you’ll just need to hold onto a vertical pole with both hands and outstretch your body sideways… holding that position to imitate a flag.
In order to improve your lateral chain strength and shoulder strength, you should look to do the following;
1) Perform the side plank for the lateral chain on your elbow and then progress to raising your body up with your hand on the floor; followed by reaching with your opposite arm in the air.
2) You can also continue to add resistance to this movement by placing a weight on your side while holding the side plank movement.
This movement is a combination of the pull-up and the triceps dip, however, it not only requires the strength to pull and push your own bodyweight but challenges you to use momentum through strong physical literacy and coordination in order to transfer from one movement to the other safely.
It goes without saying that you’ll need to be strong enough to perform 10+ pull ups with your bodyweight and 10+ dips with your body weight as well before attempting this exercise.
You should also look to increase your core strength to perform the muscle up effectively. Some good ways to do this is by holding the plank for 30+ seconds and performing static hanging leg raises; where you hang from the pull-up bar using both arms and raise your legs straight in front of you, holding the position for as long as possible.
In order to perform it effectively, you’ll need to go through the following steps;
1) Take hold of the pull-up bar and engage your core
2) Pull upwards until your chin reaches the height of the bar
3) Bring your legs upwards in front of you and then backwards as you simultaneously switch your muscle recruitment from pulling to pushing upwards with your triceps as your forearms reach parallel with your hands on the bar
4) Press until you are fully extended at the top of the movement
5) Slowly descend back through the same range of motion and continue to perform subsequent repetitions
Similarly to the human flag, the front lever makes you look superhuman by allowing you to float on air. This movement involves hanging from a bar such as a pull-up bar with your anterior chain facing the sky, outstretched horizontally; using just your arms to hold your position, relying on a substantial amount of core strength and stability.
This movement is a lot harder than it seems, especially for taller people due to their leverage being longer which requires more strength to hold the position.
Some good ways to improve your strength to perform this exercise are as follow:
1) Increase the strength of your lats, as these will be providing support for your torso. This can be done by performing pull-ups, the lat-pulldown as well as isolated resistance machine exercises.
2) Alongside this, you’ll need a strong core. Similarly to a number of other challenging bodyweight exercises, some great exercises for improving core strength are the plank, hanging leg raises and Russian twists.