Body Weight Training for Maximal Strength

Question: Chad, is it possible to replace traditional barbell and dumbbell lifts with exercises using nothing but rings and parallettes? How does that fit into a full-body workout? Thanks, JB

CW Answer: Yes JB, it’s not only possible, it’s ideal. Even though exercises with rings and parallettes don’t require external loading, you can build just as much strength and muscle as you can with iron, no matter how heavy that iron is. In fact, if you know which exercises to do, you can break through hypertrophy plateaus and achieve newfound muscularity with exercises on the rings and parallettes.

You only need to look at the muscular development of the Olympic gymnasts who specialize in the rings events to know how powerful those exercises are for muscle growth. Every single guy has an upper body that most of us would commit a felony to possess.

A typical retort I hear when I mention the muscularity of the rings gymnasts is something like this: “Yeah, but they’ve been doing those exercises for 10 years!”

Well, I know many guys who’ve been lifting weights for more than 10 years and their upper body looks nothing like those gymnasts. If I could turn back the clock I would’ve started training my upper body on the rings 10 years ago and I’d have a lot more muscle than I do now.

So the question is: How do you incorporate exercises with rings and parallettes?

1. Choose High-Tension Exercises: When most people think of maximal strength development, they only think of lifting heavy loads. Even though that’s certainly a way to build maximal strength, the essential factor is tension not load.

I’ll use the rings handstand push-up as an example. Most fit guys can only perform a few partial reps of this exercise. And if they can do a full range of motion handstand push-up from the rings, they can’t do many. Therefore, that rings handstand push-up is building maximal strength even though there’s no iron.

For maximal strength development, the key is to choose exercises that can’t be performed for more than 10 continuous seconds. This could be a muscle-up, front lever, back lever, handstand push-up or any other body weight exercise. When you follow that rule, you’ll always build maximal strength while achieving maximum recruitment of the high-threshold motor units.

2. Train with Sufficient Volume: To promote hypertrophy, the volume of each exercise must be sufficient. Even though there’s little research to reference with regard to volume and hypertrophy, my empirical data demonstrates that at least five sets is necessary to elicit a strong hypertrophy response. One or two sets of any exercise, no matter how much load or tension, won’t make your muscles grow. You can’t go wrong with 5-10 sets.

3. Perform a Full-Body Circuit: When an exercise mandates high levels of muscle tension (e.g., rings handstand push-up), you need at least three minutes of recovery before you repeat that exercise. Although, this doesn’t mean you should sit around for three minutes. By placing your rings and parallette exercises in a full body circuit you can get at least three minutes of recovery while keeping your workouts relatively brief.

Here’s a circuit that works well for a relatively fit guy:

1A Handstand push-up from rings for 3 reps
Rest 30 seconds
1B Box jump for 3 reps
Rest 30 seconds
1C L-sit hold for 10 seconds
Rest 30 seconds
1D Dumbbell single-leg deadlift for 3 reps, each leg
Rest 30 seconds, repeat 1A-1D 4-9 more times

Between the rest periods and the time it takes you to finish those four exercises, you’ll have three minutes of recovery before repeating an exercise. Of course, the options are endless when it comes to exercise selection or the number of exercises you have in a circuit. The above is just an example.

The trick with rings exercises is that many of them don’t fall perfectly within a “push” or “pull” category. That’s one of the reasons why I started my Rings and Power tour. In that 2-day seminar you’ll learn how to program all of the rings, parallettes, and body weight exercises into the ultimate power and muscle-building system.

To find out how to reserve a spot in the Rings and Power seminar, go to this link.

Stay Focused,

Rings and Power Training Seminar

Over the years, my approach to training has substantially evolved. I think that’s been an essential part of my success. In the early days I would just hammer my clients with heavier barbell and dumbbell exercises, without regard for much else.

I’ve spent 17 years experimenting with every training system imaginable, collecting data, and working with some of the best experts on the planet such as Dr. Stuart McGill, Dr. Craig Liebenson, and my Russian silver-medalist gymnastics coach. Here are just a few highlights of how I train myself and my clients these days.

Gymnastic Rings
My goal for any athlete or advanced client is to develop him to the point where all upper body training consists of rings exercises. I consider rings the ideal approach to upper body training for three reasons. First, the type of unstable and challenging contraction you get from the rings can’t be matched by a barbell or dumbbells. Second, the freedom that rings give your joints drastically improves mobility and strength through a full range of motion. Third, hanging from the rings frees up the compression down through your spinal column: that’s essential for nervous system recovery and performance.

Importantly, only buy wooden rings because you can grip them better than any other version. The best wooden rings for the money are made from Christian’s Fitness Factory. You can check out the rings at this link.

Body Weight Training
I’m convinced there are body weight exercises that can challenge the strongest and fittest athletes on the planet. During my recent Perform Better presentation in Rhode Island I had a guy attempt a body weight triceps exercise. He could bench press over 400 pounds but he couldn’t perform a single rep of the exercise!

At the other end of the spectrum, certain body weight exercises provide an effective progression toward the advanced rings exercises. Moving your body through space is more challenging to the nervous system than just lying on your back and pressing weights. Indeed, there’s a body weight exercise that’s formidable to any athlete when you’re looking to build his upper body, core or legs. However, body weight training alone isn’t enough and that’s why the next category is essential.

Full-Body Strength Lifts
No power and muscle-building program is complete without a heavy deadlift, squat or Olympic lift variation. There are three primary reasons. First, those strength exercises build your posterior chain muscles better than any body weight move. Second, the compression through your skeletal structure that you get from a heavy deadlift is crucial for building stronger bones. Third, pulling something heavy from the floor forces the nervous system to fire hundreds of muscles in sync, and that’s essential for boosting rate of force development: the key component of explosive power.

Cycling the loads of heavy lifts can make or break your progress. I use a specific loading system that cycles between four types of workouts. Olympic strength coach, Charles Staley, hired me in the spring to design a strength-building program for his first Master’s powerlifting meet. He won the event.

Explosive Training
Of all the types of training you could do, explosive training can be the trickiest. That’s because the compressive forces from depth jumps, plyometrics, and the like are enormous. You must have a system of progressively building up your tissues to withstand the impact forces from explosive training.

Want to find out how to put the whole system together for you and your clients?

I’m now giving a two-day seminar, the Rings and Power Tour, across the globe. With the information you’ll learn in that seminar, your training, coaching, and business will reach the highest level possible.

The next Rings and Power seminar will be in San Diego on July 7-8. You can reserve your spot at that seminar, or any other location, by visiting this link.

And for a sample of what the Rings and Power tour is all about, check out the video below.

Stay Focused,