One of the most valued aspects of bodyweight training is the plethora of ways you can alter an exercise to make it harder or easier. There are several ways to adjust any of the basic exercises to your level and gradually move to a new one. In the end though it all boils down to how you position your body for the gravity to work for or against you.
There is practically no way one will ever run out of challenges as long as they keep this in mind.
In my opinion, recording your performance on each and every workout is a very significant part of getting stronger. Apart from the fact that it gives you a goal, something to beat, it also lets you go back in time and see where you started from and where you are now. How the first ever pushup you did might have been an incline pushup against the wall with a very favorable leverage while now you can perform full ones with strict form for multiple reps. It’s as much a psychological boost as it is a practical tool to know where you’re at and where you’re headed.
However, tracking your progress in bodyweight training is not always that easy. This might be a very small detail in the grand scheme of things but it can lead to confusion or frustration. I am referring to how exactly you perform an exercise and how you log it.
I was recently doing a shoulder workout where I like to start with a couple of sets of pike pushups – a great exercise for waking them up and preparing you for the handstands to come. According to my log, last time I did this exercise I did 10 half reps. That is, I didn’t go all the way down where my head would touch the floor, instead I paused mid-way for a second before pushing back up.
Usually I terminate a set when I feel that the next rep is not going to be a good one. This time I started my exercise going all the way down. When I reached 10 reps I noticed that I could push for a few more quality ones, and I did.
It stroke me as odd that within one week I went from an easier variation to a harder one with an increased number of repetitions. No matter how strong you get, that type of strength gains is not so realistic at such short time.
Now, there’s a lot to say about your state in any workout. Sometimes you feel stronger than others, you’ve slept better, had better food, less stress or the weather just agrees with you on that day. You might be happy because of a development in your life which boosts your energy levels. All those are factors that can greatly affect performance.
But if we consider that you are a person with a normal amount of “ups and downs” over a period of time, I believe the key lies in the subtleties. The thing mentioned above regarding how you position your body when performing a move.
Simply put, if my legs were a bit further apart and further back the second time I did the exercise, than the stress would be distributed between the chest and shoulders in a more balanced way than the first time. Which would naturally increase my ability to perform more repetitions and even increase the range of motion.
So the “precise” placement of your body plays an important role, right? Well if you want to be very strict about what you do and how you do it, than yes. And if you want to avoid confusion and even frustration wondering how you could perform sets of an exercise for many reps long ago while now you are struggling to get a few of them done, than you need to keep good track of posture.
The more you exercise and the more you focus on quality of execution, the more that specific movement becomes natural to you. I have noticed that some of the earlier steps of my workout are actually harder to perform now, because I cannot perform them the wrong way: I can’t cheat anymore!
The beauty of bodyweight training, among other things, is the control it lets you take over your body. Paying attention to little details I feel helps you understand and move it better. Keeping a workout log helps you in that you can see the different stages you went through when learning to have that control. Provided that you keep training, if something seems harder now than what it used to be, it’s more likely that you are performing it at its hardest form.
Try taking notes of those details you feel are worth remembering after finishing a workout. It’s what I do and so far it helps me understand a lot about why some things happen in my training.