Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Why You Shouldn't Keep Doing More Push-Ups or Pull-Ups

In an earlier article, I discussed the problem with doing a lot of repetitions of low-weight exercises. As the number of repetitions increase, the gains become incrementally smaller. Instead of growing bigger and stronger, muscles improve in metabolic efficiency. While this is good if you want to be able to do that particular movement for a long time, it doesn’t necessarily carry over well to other movements or skills. Muscular endurance also doesn’t help improve the way you look.

When it comes to bodyweight exercises, the same holds true as well. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize they’re making the same mistake and end up doing increasing numbers of push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, etc. Since your bodyweight doesn’t change that much, doing more of the same kind of push-ups doesn’t increase your strength significantly. You just spend more time working out.

Unless you’re going to be in a competition based on the number of repetitions you can do, your time is better spent increasing the difficulty of your bodyweight exercises. How can you achieve this without using external weights? This is where an understanding of body mechanics and simple physics helps.

By adjusting your body position and placement of your hands and feet, you can make nearly any bodyweight exercise trivially easy or incredibly difficult. Just look at what gymnasts do, especially on the still rings. The iconic Iron Cross position is an incredible way to train your shoulders, forearms, biceps, chest, and lats at the same time. The significantly harder Maltese Cross is so difficult that it’s similar to bench pressing double your bodyweight!

If you can already do 10 to 20 push-ups, try increasing the difficulty by moving your hands apart, forward, or even backward. Play around with different hand placements and see what makes it harder for you. Work on that variation until it becomes easy. Then, increase the difficulty again. If you do sit-ups, try slowly extending your legs and arms until you can do V-ups easily. If those become too easy, then it’s time to up the difficulty even more by doing hanging abdominal exercises such as hanging leg lifts on a pull-up bar.

For those of you competing based on how fast you can complete a certain number of repetitions, such as in CrossFit, then you’ll definitely want to increase your strength and power. As you get stronger, the perceived difficulty of each repetition goes down, making it easier to do more. Plus, you’ll be able to do each repetition faster. So, instead of training more repetitions of the technique you’ll be competing with, train with harder variations. When it comes to game day, you’ll be surprised how much better you perform.