Bodyweight HIT Workouts

Bodyweight squats on the UXSLast April I mentioned SuperSlow bodyweight squats in a comment on the post Time. A reader asked about the difference in weight one would use when switching from performing squats at a 2/2 cadence to to a 10/10 cadence and I suggested he try them with just his bodyweight to get a feel for how much harder it is when moving that slowly. A lot of people gave them a try and I’ve also had a few in-the-gym and phone clients do these and the response has been interesting. One person who tried them and has incorporated them in his sons’ workouts told me his family refers to them as “damned fucking hell squats”.

If you haven’t experienced them you might be wondering if they’re really that intense. You probably won’t believe me if you don’t try it, so stand up right now, move your chair out of the way or set your phone or iPad down and try this. Ladies, if you’re wearing heels take ‘em off.

  • Stand with your feet approximately shoulder width, toes angled out slightly.
  • Look straight ahead, chin slightly down. Breathe through your mouth.
  • Hold your arms straight out in front of you with your hands at shoulder height.
  • Bend your knees slightly and tuck your hips under (this is fine when squatting with body weight or a hip belt).
  • Settle back so your weight is slightly more over your heels than the balls of your feet.
  • Very slowly squat down until the tops of your thighs are slightly below your knees. This should take at least ten seconds.
  • As you approach the bottom gradually slow to a stop, do not stop suddenly.
  • Hold the bottom position motionless for at least three secondsDo not sit on your calves or rest in any way.
  • Do not lean forwards onto the balls of your feet or sit back too far onto your heels. Keep your weight just slightly more over your heels.
  • Very slowly begin to stand back up. Barely move at first, taking a few seconds just to rise the first inch.
  • As you begin to rise, focus on contracting your glutes and keeping your hips tucked under.
  • Continue to rise very slowly, only going back up about half way. Your knees should still be bent around 45 degrees at the top. This should take at least ten seconds.
  • Do not pause at the top. Immediately but slowly turnaround and begin the negative.
  • Repeat for as many repetitions as possible in strict form. When you are no longer capable of positive (upwards) movement continue to hold for another five to ten seconds.

If you’re not sure about the cadence go to Metronome Online and set the metronome to 60 bpm. Make sure your volume is on.

If you really want a challenge next time you workout start with these, then do the same for chin ups, push ups, inverted rows, half dive-bomber push ups (similar movement to overhead presses), and heel raises. On the chin ups and inverted rows hold for three seconds at the top of the first two reps, then starting with the third repetition hold and squeeze for five; use the squeeze to “empty out” your biceps, back, and rear delts. Turnaround just shy of lockout at the bottom of the pulling movements and the top of the push ups; no resting! On heel raises hold the stretch at the start and hold (first two reps) then squeeze at the top (starting with the third).

When you reach momentary muscular failure keep contracting for five to ten seconds then immediately move to the next exercise. You should move slowly during the exercises but very quickly between them.

A few months ago I resumed alternating bodyweight workouts on the UXS with my regular workouts and I started training on it exclusively in July when I started working on a new design and HIT-based bodyweight program to go with it. I’ve come up with dozens of workouts and variations, but the following is a favorite and might interest those wanting to focus more on arm development:

  • Timed Static Contraction Arm Curls followed immediately by…
  • Chin Ups
  • Timed Static Contraction Triceps Extensions followed immediately by…
  • Push Ups
  • Squats
I do these on the UXS using one of the dip bars for the arm curls and triceps extensions but you could do them with the safety bar in a power rack set to elbow height, or with no equipment at all. To perform TSC for biceps with no equipment bend your elbows placing the inside of your wrists on your chest close to the middle with the heels of your palms just under your collarbones. Press your wrists against your chest contracting your biceps for 90 seconds; moderately hard for 30 seconds, then almost as hard as you can for 30 seconds, then as hard as you feel you can safely contract for 30 seconds. To do this for your triceps, sit down on a chair or bench or kneel and lean forward slightly, placing the backs of your wrists on your thighs just above your knees. Press them against your thighs for 90 seconds, using the same progression. The advantage of this is it allows you to start chin ups or push ups almost immediately afterwards in the absence of a power rack or other suitable equipment. If necessary, the entire routine can be done with nothing but a chin up bar and some empty floor space.

If you give it a try let me know what you think in the comments.

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77 Responses to Bodyweight HIT Workouts

  1. Blain August 23, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

    Drew,
    The bodyweight squat you recommend is the only one I do now with my big 3 workout once a week. I decided to give it a try about a month a ago and like you stated, it’s brutal. I’m continuing to progress slowly working my way up to about a 2:30 TUL but I have to say it’s the most difficult two minutes of my workout. Thanks again for all you do. By the way, did you get around to reading my question in your last post pertaining to alternating a big 3/little 3 once a week? Just curious as to what you thought.

    Blain

    • Drew Baye August 23, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

      Blain,

      I think most people underestimate how hard they are. One thing I didn’t mention that I will be getting around to in another post is what this means for barbell squats. Some people have been bashing them due to the loads imposed on the spine, but when done in this manner so little weight can be handled that you wouldn’t be able to use a heavy enough load for it to be problematic. More on that later.

      As for the workouts, that would work but I’d recommend something a little different. The reason I wrote High Intensity Workouts was to address exactly those kind of questions.

      • Will August 23, 2012 at 4:51 pm #

        I’m one of the ‘converts’ to this approach to squats (and other movements); I can attest both to their difficulty and their efficacy. One point on external loading: I have started to use some weight, but rather than using a barbell, I use a dumbbell and do ‘Goblet Squats’ (but with the same strict attention to speed and controlled turnarounds).

        • Drew Baye August 23, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

          Will,

          Dumbbells either held to the side or as a ‘goblet’ are a practical and effective way to increase resistance for squats done this way, and are a cost and space efficient option for people training at home.

  2. Thomas August 23, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    Drew,

    I’ve recently re-visited a slower cadence barbell squat (not 10/10, more like 5/5) and can say that it is MUCH safer (at least it feels that way to me) than the typical “control down and explode up” style squat. In fact, while I am still recovering from a lower back injury from being stupid about deadlifts, I can do a 5/5 cadence barbell squat with no pain at all in the lower back. As soon as I speed it up, though, I can feel the rawness of my lower lumbars. Also, interestingly, going slower allows me to get a bit deeper, again with no pain (possibly due to the reduced weight). Anyway, I think I am a fan of this style and am looking forward to trying the 10/10 DFH body weight squats as well. Thanks for the nice article.

    • Drew Baye August 23, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

      Thomas,

      You’re welcome. Let me know how the squats go!

  3. Brad August 23, 2012 at 4:37 pm #

    Drew, So I guess this means that you really don’t have to go heavy to get big then? Are you saying that this light but slow method is just as effective for muscle growth/hypertrophy as lifting heavy weights? I read an article by supposedly one of the most famous personal trainers (trains Olympic and pro football athletes) who when he was explaining how getting a “pump” has nothing to do with growth, used the example that you can get a good pump doing push-ups but you will never grow much doing them. And then if light weight and slow or even static contractions can promote good growth, then does that mean that doing things like Yoga can be good for building muscle too? Generally the people you see who do Yoga are fit looking but more on the slim side than the muscular side.

    • Brad August 23, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

      Also, isn’t this sort the equivalent of jogging vs sprinting?… ie, where you are tasking the muscles to adapt to an ever increasing TUT with body weight exercises for time, but not to an ever increasing resistance (progressive overload) as you get stronger and add weight to the bar over time with normal HIT lifting? In other words, even though I can imagine it is difficult, it’s training the muscle fibers for endurance rather than intensity of momentary force. Then again, maybe the difference between training for force or endurance doesn’t matter for muscle growth? is it just a matter of sufficient muscle fiber inroad?

      • Drew Baye August 23, 2012 at 8:16 pm #

        Brad,

        No, because eventually you should either increase resistance using a weight belt or vest or have to use weights, or possibly learn to use antagonistic cocontraction for this (I remain skeptical about this but am giving it a shot). Ultimately, relative effort or intensity is far more important than absolute load, but the resistance needs to be at least high enough to keep the sets within a reasonable time under load.

    • Drew Baye August 23, 2012 at 8:21 pm #

      Brad,

      Not super heavy, just heavy enough to achieve momentary muscular failure within a reasonable time frame, which has a lot to do with how the weight is used.

      Some of the more challenging yoga postures might be somewhat effective if done hard and progressively, but you’d be better off with more basic movements designed to effectively load the muscles groups being targeted.

  4. Craig August 23, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

    Definitely don’t do those squats too soon after eating unless you want to heave it all back up!

    • Drew Baye August 23, 2012 at 6:46 pm #

      Craig,

      Thanks for mentioning it, I probably should have added that to the instructions!

  5. Dave August 23, 2012 at 5:25 pm #

    Drew,

    I love super slow bodyweight exercises. The most brutal being dips and squats. I do 1 leg squats on a very stable chair. The last rep I hold very lightly to the chair back for extra balance. That last rep usually brings me close to vomiting.

    • Drew Baye August 23, 2012 at 6:45 pm #

      Dave,

      One leg squats are absolutely brutal, but I would caution people against them because of the greater potential for hip and back injury even when done very slowly and strictly. As an alternative I recommend regular bodyweight squats and if these get too easy, add weight using a hip squat belt.

  6. Will August 23, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

    Drew,

    I do have one question: is there something about heavy weight itself, while conceding the greater possibility for injury or contribution to ‘wear and tear’ on the body, that nonetheless its use contributes to greater strength gains? Or, is tension and effort all that’s necessary, regardless of external load? To put it another way: while it may feel ‘hard’ to do the Baye-style bodyweight squats, harder say than doing a conventional set of back squats with 220lbs, will the former produce the same strength gains as the latter?

    • Drew Baye August 23, 2012 at 6:43 pm #

      Will,

      Research shows relative effort to be the key factor rather than absolute load, or more importantly the resistance the muscles work against (which is the product of the load along with leverage and other factors).

      This doesn’t mean you don’t need to have a challenging level of resistance, though. If the resistance is too low and your time under load is too high you will waste a lot of energy before recruiting the higher threshhold motor units and probably fail or terminate the exercise due to systemic fatigue or discomfort rather than local muscular failure resulting from efficient inroad.

      I think skilled use of antagonistic cocontraction might prove useful for increasing resistance during pure bodyweight training, but if I were you I wouldn’t get rid of the weights just yet.

  7. Juris August 23, 2012 at 5:44 pm #

    After about two weeks of rest from the full body workouts with 3/5 protocol and hot summer weather that got me real tired and unconfortable i just tried the “big five workout” with 10/10 cadence and 3-6 reps. I was full of strenght and motivation to make everything perfect starting with the squats. I had already read comments about how hard they were and also tried them but this time i tried to do them as correctly as i could and i must say they are brutal. It feels like nightmare when you have to stand up in 10 seconds from the bottom position while keeping your legs still slightly bent at the end with just 40 kg barbell.
    10/10 protocol is so much harder. You breath like freight train after squats and by the fifth exercise that feels like the last one you could do with great intensity anyway. It took about a half hour to get back to life after the routine.
    Must be the hardest routine i have ever tried. No pain in the back (like after 20x squats) but so much harder and muscles burn. Have to rest now.

    • Drew Baye August 23, 2012 at 6:38 pm #

      Juris,

      Thanks for the feedback, it sounds like you had a great workout! One of the big benefits of the protocol is it allows you to train as intensely as humanly possible while minimizing the risk of injury.

  8. Chris Highcock August 23, 2012 at 5:50 pm #

    Drew

    What is a great post. I love simple routines like this and have been using TSC before pushups and chins for a few months.

    • Drew Baye August 23, 2012 at 6:36 pm #

      Thanks Chris,

      We’re finding TSC to be incredibly effective both on it’s own and as pre-exhaust. The arm routine with TSC pre-exhaust is brutal.

  9. johnny August 23, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

    Hi Drew, how many times per week do you recommend this workout be done?

    How many reps should be our goal?

    • Drew Baye August 23, 2012 at 6:34 pm #

      Johnny,

      Optimum frequency will depend on individual recovery ability and other factors, but a good starting point for most people is twice weekly.

      While most people think of high reps when training with bodyweight at a 10/10 cadence and with proper focus on intensely contracting the target muscles most people will find just five or six repetitions challenging if they are doing them correctly.

      I suspect with practice it might be possible to increase the difficulty of bodyweight exercises significantly without adding weight through deliberate antagonistic cocontraction – intentionally contracting the antagonistic muscles to increase the resistance the targeted muscles work against during an exercise. Part of the reason I’m doing bodyweight exercises exclusively now is to spend some time experimenting with this and finding practical workarounds for other limitations of bodyweight training.

      For now, however, if a person is able to do more than eight repetitions in this fashion in perfect form a more practical solution would be to add weight, using a weighted belt for the exercises performed with a more upright posture and a weight vest for the others. I think many people will be surprised just how difficult these can be when done this way, however, and most will not need to add weight to many of these for quite a while.

  10. Brian Grack August 24, 2012 at 2:27 am #

    This is so ironic. Fundamentally, I moved to Hawaii and I STILL don’t have access to a gym given my schedule. I took your method of 10/10 with emphasis on proper activation in a number of body weight excersizes for about 1.5 months now. It’s worked like a charm. I’s obviously not the same with weights but it is so convinent under certain circumstances.

    • Drew Baye August 25, 2012 at 7:38 am #

      Brian,

      I’m glad it’s working well for you. While not the same as training with weights it is a practical and effective way to train when you don’t have access to a gym.

  11. Mark August 24, 2012 at 8:37 am #

    Hey Drew, great post once again.
    I am wondering about cardiovascular fitness gains (Vo2max) when performing a high-intensity protocol when it is performed once or twice a week. Is that going to develop vo2max (just using that as a measure of cardiovascular fitness for example) progressively with strength to a significant degree? For example would I have to place an extra session during the week for high intensity sprints or anything to facilitate that? I’m interested in getting the muscle gains as I’ve had a few years of hopeless failure but I also get worried I’m somehow just going to deteriorate in fitness just doing one or two high intensity sessions.

    • Drew Baye August 24, 2012 at 9:26 am #

      Mark,

      If the exercises are performed with a high enough level of effort and no rest in between even as little as two workouts per week will stimulate significant improvements in cardiovascular and metabolic conditioning. Unless you are specifically training for a sport or vocation which requires you to be skilled in sprinting it isn’t necessary to do the additional sprints.

      Also, don’t worry about VO2max. It is not a reliable measure of cardiovascular fitness. The following is from an article by Ken Hutchins in an issue of The Exercise Standard covering various fitness testing procedures:

      “Most fitness testing involves tools and methods taken from other, more-proper disciplines. For instance, the Beckman cart was originally intended to measure VO2Min (minimum volume of oxygen) to assess basal metabolism in comatose patients. It was not intended as a performance test as VO2Max (maximum volume of oxygen). (Note that performance is nil with a comatose patient.) Regarding this, please refer to The Nautilus Book by Ellington Darden, PhD. Therein are sections where Keith Johnson, MD, criticizes VO2Max testing as inappropriate. I met with Dr. Johnson in the summer of 1992 and asked him if he had changed his views regarding such testing. He emphasized that The Nautilus Book references were accurate and current.

      For VO2Max testing to be seriously attempted, a seal must be maintained between the air exchange of the subject and the Beckman Cart. There exists an unavoidable error of calibration for the gases in the hoses between subject and Beckman Cart. To keep this error at a minimum and constant, only steady state activity is reasonably tested. This permits use of short hoses to minimize the volume (dead space) of the gases between the subject and the Beckman Cart.

      For instance, if a full Nautilus circuit is to be used, the hoses and cart would be required to follow the subject along the circuit. In addition to this inconvenience, the hoses might preclude several key Nautilus exercises due to hose interference. And if such interference could be avoided, special consideration to redirect the hoses or change their orientation with each exercise would greatly compromise the exercise intensity. This explains why exercise physiologists are typically adamant regarding the need for steady state activity to serve as exercise. It is the only activity that lends itself to be tested by their test.

      Equine Maximal Oxygen Uptake Testing

      Note the picture above. As oxygen consumption is measured, a horse is running on a treadmill as is assumably required if measuring equipment is applied to a horse. Either the equipment must go with the horse or the horse must be tethered to the equipment. Either way, steady state activity remains imperative for testing. Consider the fact that it is not possible to teach a horse or another animal subject to perform movements according to muscle/joint function. It must be tested in its typical mode of locomotion. It becomes only natural that exercise physiologists become trapped in a mindset of locomotive behavior for testing purposes.

      The use of treadmills originated with the use of draft animals ? including humans ? for the purpose of supplying power to drive industrial machinery. I do not know if oxygen consumption measurement originated with the application to other animals or if it was first used on humans, then applied to horses and other animals. The general practice of such measurement seems to have been around since the 1920s. Its use was the result of earlier work by in 1907. These origins are detailed somewhat by D. J Sharkey in New Dimensions in Aerobic Fitness. [Note that the title of Sharkey's book uses the proper biochemical adjective aerobic without an s to imply the legitimacy and emphasis of the aerobic metabolic pathway as the only exercise importance, although the exercise physiology stance actually resides in the pop culture perversion of aerobics - Ken Cooper's slang that includes the s. I attempt to apply these variations consistently in my writings.]

      With human subjects, another approach might be to avoid hoses altogether by placing the subject and several exercise machines in an airtight bubble. Although this would facilitate the freedom of movement for more ideal exercise, the dead space error would be enormous and unmanageable.

      We further assume that the testing equipment is properly cleaned and calibrated. Dr. Johnson originally doubted the precision of the uptake testing equipment until he found that proper calibration rendered a reliable tool. However, he hedges that most physiologists do not adequately maintain their equipment or appreciate the need to do so.

      Ellington Darden states that accurately testing oxygen consumption in any activity other than treadmills or something akin to stationary bicycles is like “trying to type while riding a stage coach.”

      Assuming an accurate test is possible, attempts to make something of VO2Max testing are unsuccessful. According to Darden, no one has found a disease or condition that VO2Max detects, qualifies, or quantifies. According to Darden, VO2Max is a test looking for a problem to measure.

      On January 13, 1995, Michael Pollock, PhD, admitted to Ellington Darden that VO2Max testing is no test of anything and almost totally a genetically dependent variable. This is outrageous since Pollock, more than Kenneth Cooper or any other one person, has done more work in this country to set up exercise physiology degree programs, certification programs with the American College of Sports Medicine, and cardiac rehabilitation programs with VO2Max testing as its basis. This has resulted in the present $3 billion fitness industry.

      VO2Max is now documented to be almost completely genetic and can vary only slightly due to training effect (exactly what Keith Johnson asserted). A Klissouras, V. was the first name on ?Heredibility of Adaptive Variation? in the Journal of Applied Physiology (Vol.31, No. 3 pp. 338-344, 1971) as well as ?Genetic Limits of Functional Adaptability? in Int. Z Angew Physiology (Vol. 30, pp. 85-94, 1972). In these papers, and over 20 years ago, Klissouras documented that VO2Max is 93.4% genetically determined in males and 95.9% genetically determined in males and females together. The fact that we can expect only a 4-6% improvement due to environmental control strongly suggests that VO2Max, if a reliable test, is not an appropriate test to study human health.

      Other authorities condemn the futility of VO2Max testing. Ted Lambrinedes, PhD and George Sheehan, MD (cardiologist) have made bountiful arguments against it.

      Brian J. Sharkey, PhD, (New Dimensions in Aerobic Fitness, ? 1991) elaborates many of the inconsistencies of VO2Max testing, but then hedges his conclusions as if to stretch a rationalization for its practice. He admits that his attitude toward VO2Max has gone from extreme belief in the test to confused disappointment since the beginning of his 30-year career. His arguments seem to be organized along a line of cardiovascular fitness: staying well clear of using it to denote health. Sharkey also makes a plea for tests that are more specific to the activity performed. Here is a case of an exercise physiologist who seems to approach the subject reasonably, but fails to apply the principles of motor learning, the six factors of functional ability, the Exercise vs Recreation argument, or The First Definition of Exercise.

      A more extreme stretch is made when – in the absence of a Beckman Cart – VO2Max is measured indirectly with a bicycle ergometer based on a protocol that correlates performance (metabolic work units termed metabolic equivalents => Mets) on the bicycle to oxygen consumed (Mets) with a known VO2Max calibration. Since metabolic work can not be measured – a la Arthur – this is horribly sloppy, although widely accepted and taught in exercise physiology and certification courses. (Note that the word ergometry implies that metabolic work can be measured.)

      In The Exercise Myth (? 1984) cardiologist Henry Solomon states that Columbia University cardiologist Jonathan Moldover “denies there is such a thing as cardiovascular fitness, because fitness is related to peripheral changes.” Corollary to this testing issue, Solomon states that there is no correlation between cardiovascular fitness and cardiovascular health. He also notes that the presumed development of protective collateral coronary arterial supply due to exercise is just as likely due to the stimulus of a survived heart attack.

      In the 1970s Arthur Jones admitted that he knew little or nothing about the validity of VO2 testing equipment. He then qualified his admission further with statements to the effect, “but I am aware of the gross inaccuracies of the tools used to measure strength. And since the same kind of fools who developed the strength testing equipment also were the same kind of fools that developed VO2 testing, what can I safely assume?”

  12. Blain August 24, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

    Drew,

    Do you recommend any specific ab training in addition to a big 3 workout, or does that type of workout stimulate the midsection enough?

    • Drew Baye August 24, 2012 at 7:17 pm #

      Blain,

      The abs are involved to a significant degree in both chin ups and push ups so in most cases additional ab work isn’t needed.

  13. fred hahn August 24, 2012 at 8:07 pm #

    Excellent post Drew.

  14. Richard August 25, 2012 at 2:08 am #

    I’ve always intentionally stuck my butt out during a bodyweight squat. Wouldn’t “tucking your hips under” result in some rounding of the lower back whcih is not desirable? Is this what you are suggesting?

    • Drew Baye August 25, 2012 at 7:37 am #

      Richard,

      Flexing the back slightly isn’t a problem if you aren’t loaded through the spine (holding a weight in your hands or on your back) and you should avoid extending the back too much when you are.

  15. palo August 25, 2012 at 9:25 am #

    Drew, if you were training a pair of identical twins, one with a weights HIT workout and the other with a bodyweight HIT workout, how much more strength and lean mass would the weights twin gain over the bodyweight twin?

    • Drew Baye August 25, 2012 at 9:34 am #

      Palo,

      I don’t think it’s safe to assume the twin training with weights would gain more than the twin training with bodyweight in the short or long term. I think people are underestimating how hard these exercises are when done correctly.

      • palo August 25, 2012 at 2:38 pm #

        would it be correct to say that you can become physically fit (in the upper 1% of the population, but not a Mr. Olympia contender) with a bodyweight HIT workout?

        • Drew Baye August 25, 2012 at 5:04 pm #

          Palo,

          Again, I think you’re underestimating how hard these exercises are when done correctly, and overestimating the importance of load.

          I’m skeptical but curious, which is why I’m dedicating a few months to this to see what the results are.

  16. Brenden August 25, 2012 at 2:15 pm #

    Just got this article in my inbox, and I recently had to cut my gym membership from the budget while I search for a more affordable one, and It’s very surprising how effective just doing an exercise slower can up the intensity so much! I’m used to doing a pretty decent amount of weights on my squat and this was STILL an incredibly taxing workout. My legs are burrrning.

    Thanks Drew for all the hard work and dedication!

    • Drew Baye August 25, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

      Brenden,

      Thanks and you’re welcome. People have no idea how hard these are until they try them, especially when you focus on contracting the target muscles continuously throughout the exercise.

  17. Will August 25, 2012 at 6:09 pm #

    I think one of the major obstacles to bodyweight only training is not the lack of an external load (across your shoulders, or held in your hands), but that core bodyweight movements (e.g., chins, dips, inverted rows) are simply too hard to do for the majority of trainees. I suspect that, for many folks, the first step will need to be to get strong enough to do a properly executed set of chins, etc.

    Also, one of the true virtues of serious bodyweight training is what I would call the aesthetic pleasures of the movements – that is, they are intrinsically enjoyable to do, and one feels a sense of accomplishment in having done them well. I’m well aware of the claim that the focus of exercise shouldn’t be ‘enjoyment’, but, life is short, we need to find our pleasures where we can.

    • Drew Baye August 27, 2012 at 12:33 am #

      Will,

      There are ways to scale the difficulty of all of these down. I have to finish Elements of Form before I get caught up in other projects, but these are going to be covered in the instructional manuals for the UXS as well as something else I started writing.

  18. Gaurav August 26, 2012 at 8:57 am #

    Tried these super slow body weight HIT workouts at home and I must say they are brutal. I did pullups, pushups, half dive bomber push ups, squats, TSC curls and TSC tricep extensions.

    I am beginning to like these a lot. I would definitely be curious to see what kind of results do people get with this and if, they are worse, as good or better than those you might get by training with weights.

    I like my weights as well, but if there are no difference in results, then this gives one a great option to exercise just about anywhere. Only thing needed is a place to hang so that you can do pull ups.

  19. Oliver August 26, 2012 at 12:08 pm #

    Hey Drew, I understand that leaving the knees bent at the top is for continuous muscle loading, but does locking out the knees at the top of squats cause adverse effects on the joints/spine? Thanks.

    • Drew Baye August 26, 2012 at 9:14 pm #

      Oliver,

      As long as you are moving at a controlled speed and don’t slam into the lockout position you’re unlikely to injure your knees. With proper form – specifically strict attention to posture, slow speed of movement, and low acceleration during the turnarounds – squatting and deadlifting are not as harmful to the back as some people have been claiming.

      • Craig August 27, 2012 at 11:49 am #

        Doesn’t the ability to barbell squat without pain & nerve impingement depend a lot on the condition & health of the disks and joints in the lumbar spine?

        • Drew Baye August 27, 2012 at 10:30 pm #

          Craig,

          The safety of any exercise depends on the condition or physical limitations of the subject. For someone with a healthy spine exercises like barbell squats and deadlifts performed correctly with very slow speeds are not going to involve the kind of loads that lead to problems over time. The problem is most people don’t squat or deadlift correctly; they bounce up and down or yank and drop the weight rather than lifting and lowering in a controlled manner and that is why people tend to get hurt doing them.

  20. Steven Turner August 26, 2012 at 7:19 pm #

    Hi Drew,

    I teach fitness courses to boys in a Juvenile Justice home. A few months ago the centre removed the last of some old cable machines. I started using combined TSC and body weight including squats exercises as you describe above. The boys have found this method to be “brutal” exercises but besides being brutal they are extremely safe. The application of TSC and body weight exercises are a learnt process it may take people a few workouts to find the required levels of “intensity of effort”. The other thing I point out to the boys and as some of the other posts have indicated is that you don’t need much equipment to have a solid hard workout. I think that the equipment has to add something to the workout such as the UXS to inroad the muscle more effectively if not than bodyweight workouts as you describe can be most effective.

    • Drew Baye August 26, 2012 at 8:42 pm #

      Steven,

      It’s nice to have high tech equipment, but ultimately how you train is far more important than what tools you use. You’ll get better results, faster and more safely training correctly with primitive equipment or none at all than you will training incorrectly on the best equipment in the world.

      Many of the exercises provided by the UXS can be done without it, the UXS just makes those exercises better (superior biomechanics) and more efficient (set up to allow almost instant movement between multiple exercises).

  21. Steven Turner August 27, 2012 at 2:07 am #

    Hi Drew,

    1. The boys in Juvenile Justice always thank me for what I teach them on “proper exercise”, that thanks should also go to you as I follow many of your exercise suggestions.

    2. Tim Noakes wrote “The Lore of Running” stated “The major weakness of the cardiovascular/Anaerobic Model is that it predicts something that does not occur..” I think that he also questions many of the VO2 max assumptions.

    • Drew Baye August 27, 2012 at 10:50 pm #

      Steven,

      You’re welcome, and in addition to the physical benefits I believe proper exercise builds positive character traits that will benefit those boys as well and applaud you for helping them.

      I’ve never read Noakes book, but Hutchins has written quite a bit about VO2 max and it isn’t really a test of anything worthwhile.

  22. yuma August 27, 2012 at 9:07 am #

    I think that your squats, chins and pushups routine above would cover all bases.

    Can you alternate chins with pullups, pushups with dips?

    What could you alternate squats with?

    Thanks!

    • Drew Baye August 27, 2012 at 10:40 pm #

      Yuma,

      Yes, you can alternate. I occasionally substitute parallel grip pull ups for chin ups and dips for push ups. On the UXS I can perform a bodyweight version of leg extensions and curls which I occasionally substitute for squats. Wall squats and bodyweight trunk extensions (AKA hyperextensions) are another option.

  23. Johnny August 27, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    Hey, Drew. Nice post. I don’t think I told you that I have started (or should have started) training for the ToughMudder in South Carolina at the end of October. I am doing it with a bunch of fellas from work, all 30-50ish in age. My goal is not to hurt myself, and just to do it once. I generally either do your HIT metabolic superset workouts from your e-book or one or two sets of compound moves like chins, dips, very light trapbar deads, and the like. I work out at lunch at work and generally do not even change clothes as it would take more time than the 10-15 mins I generally devote to working out. I go hard and do it quickly with no rest between movements. Just like you taught me.

    Anyway, I am lately tempted to just continue with this sort of thing instead of doing the more specific activities that might more closely mimic the obstacles in the TM. In fact, what I’d like to get your opinion on is this: I often wondered what effect on strength and muscle mass the follwing regimen might have:

    Instead of one or two workouts per week to failure, do five or ten minutes a day, maybe split into a morning and an evening session of let’s say a superslow set of 4 or 5 bodyweight movements like your bw squats or pushups. Each set would be taken just shy of failure without the static struggle at the end. I am thinking this would really “grease the groove” as they say and allow me to become quite strong. What do you think?

    • Drew Baye August 27, 2012 at 10:38 pm #

      Johnny,

      Most of our workouts now consist of only five or six exercises lasting about ten to fifteen minutes and if you do them hard enough twice a week is as much as you need. You might be able to do shorter sessions twice daily for very short periods of time but if you are training hard enough you’ll overtrain before long.

      If you’re doing it right very, very little is required.

  24. Don Matesz August 27, 2012 at 9:35 pm #

    I have “enjoyed” doing BB squats in three stages, starting by slowly descending to the level described by Drew, then doing 6-8 controlled slowe repetitions in the bottom third, then 6-8 repetitions in the middle third, and finishing with 6-8 in the top third. All told it consumes about 2 minutes of time. Done correctly, I usually have reached ‘failure’ in all three thirds. By the time I reach the top third, it is a challenge to get out 6-8 repetitions with a weight about half of what I could use for 20 regular reps.

    • Drew Baye August 27, 2012 at 10:23 pm #

      Don,

      Good example of how it is possible to make the exercise more challenging without having to use spine-crushing loads.

      • Don Matesz August 28, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

        I have applied the same technique to pushups: Starting with chest close to floor, do 4-6 controlled reps in the bottom third, then 4-6 in the middle third, then, if you can, 4-6 in the top third. Should take ~1 minute. If too easy, elevate the feet. I usually do these as my last movement after having done hip/thigh training, weighted 30s chin ups, standing overhead press, and slow one-arm rows. The principle is to exhaust the muscles in the most difficult ROM first, then proceed to the second most difficult range, then the range with the greatest mechanical advantage.

  25. Fabio September 3, 2012 at 7:11 am #

    Hi Drew,

    I’m training with abbreviated routines and was thinking to put one set of TSC Bodyweighted Squat before weighted Squat.
    Please let me know what you think about it.

    Thank you.

    • Drew Baye September 3, 2012 at 11:30 am #

      Fabio,

      If you perform a static hold in a bodyweight squat an additional dynamic set would probably be overkill.

      A timed static contraction would be different, requiring an immobile object to contract against. Thanks for mentioning this, as you reminded me of an idea I wanted to try. Pictures coming soon…

  26. Tommy September 4, 2012 at 1:33 am #

    Hey Drew

    Fascinating food for thought.

    I have been following the 10/10 cadence assiduously of late – now reached a point where counting has become redundant as my lifting is becoming instinctive – I call it ” The Italian Job” effect – Imagine if you will, each lift a pivotal transition – moving in a controlled motion – using the equanimity of gravity to guide my muscles towards the trajectory point of momentary failure ( when the truck finally falls off the edge of the cliff!! )

    I have question R.E. Pull ups – every guide I have checked out thus far on “how to begin pull ups” seems to cite the “walking the plank method” e.g. 5 x sets of negatives to begin with -

    How would one train to be able to lift full body weight by way of a pull up ( to an optimum number; say 10 + smooth controlled reps ) using HIT training techniques?

    Kind Regards

    T

    • Drew Baye September 5, 2012 at 8:51 am #

      Tommy,

      While negative-only can be an effective way to increase strength I don’t generally recommend it because of the greater risk involved. If you are training at home and don’t have a good pulldown machine a better option would be to lower the chinning bar to shoulder height or stand on a tall enough bench so you can provide just enough assistance with your legs to complete between three and six slow reps. As you become stronger gradually provide less assistance with your legs until your arms are performing all of the work.

  27. Mike September 5, 2012 at 8:06 pm #

    Hey Drew are you planing on coming out with a hit bodyweight book ? That would be great, right now there is nothing but volume training on this subject.

    • Drew Baye September 6, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

      Mike,

      When the book I’m working on now is finished I have a second book started with does include bodyweight training. We will also be producing a manual for the new UXS which will be available separately.

  28. Richard Vass November 14, 2012 at 6:55 pm #

    In your ‘HIT Workouts” book you recommend sissy squats as a quad iso exercise. Aren’t these bad for the knee joint? I just performed a set and it did feel like there was a lot of pressure on the joint. Your thoughts please?

    • Drew Baye November 16, 2012 at 10:19 am #

      Richard,

      As long as the knees are not allowed to flex too far at the start and they are performed at a slow speed and with controlled turnarounds sissy squats should be fine for people with healthy knees. I err on the conservative side with these and only go down til my knees are bent around 90 degrees.

      • Richard November 18, 2012 at 2:58 am #

        Does raising the heels target the quads more for a squatting movement? Do you usually recommend that?

        • Drew Baye November 18, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

          Richard,

          No. I recommend keeping the heels flat and your weight on them. Raising the heels puts the knees further forward placing more stress on them. This is one of the problems with unsupported one legged bodyweight squats (which are not quite as bad if you have something to hang onto for balance so you can keep your foot further forward, but still problematic for some people).

  29. Dale December 5, 2012 at 4:55 pm #

    Drew -

    Thought this particular article might be the most appropriate to my question. As I see you’ve dabbled in parkour, I’ve similarly been bitten by the gymnastics bug.

    Question: how would planche and front lever progressions interface with HIT trining ?

    I understand that planche, etc. should primarily be regraded as skills, and therefore practiced with some regularity. On the other hand, they do leave me sore.

    To that end, if I were practicing the planche and lever progressions Mon-Wed-Fri, might it be advisable to limit strength training to, say, deadlifts and dips on Monday and Squats and chins on Friday ?

    Thanks!

    • Drew Baye December 6, 2012 at 10:45 am #

      Dale,

      I can’t recommend a specific training volume or frequency since individual recovery ability varies, but even though the planche and front lever are highly demanding you can probably do a little more volume. I would add another pushing and pulling movement as well as direct forearm, calf, and neck work. The forearm work will help with wrist stability during planches and grip on levers. As an example, the following A/B routine is what I usually use when training at home:

      Workout A:
      1. Squat
      2. Parallel Bar Dip
      3. Barbell Row
      4. Dumbbell Lateral Raise
      5. Thick Bar Wrist Curl
      6. Thick Bar Wrist Extension

      Workout B:
      1. Trap Bar Deadlift
      2. Chin Up
      3. Standing Barbell Press
      4. Calf Raise
      5. Neck Extension (manually resisted TSC)
      6. Neck Flexion (manually resisted TSC)

  30. Dale December 6, 2012 at 11:04 pm #

    Thanks, Drew. I can see where your slightly more comprehensive template would yield a bit of hypertrophy too, which would be nice to have. I’m not counting on the gymnastics skills to do that.

  31. AC December 20, 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    Hi Drew,

    I’m reading the guidelines for doing bodyweight squats at the start of the post you made above. Please can you explain what you mean in the 4th bullet point by:

    “tuck your hips under (this is fine when squatting with body weight or a hip belt).”

    I thought I knew what you meant when I first read the points but now I’m not so sure, I’m having trouble visualizing it. Please can you also explain what you mean by the bodyweight/hip belt comment in the brackets.

    You also mention keeping the hips tucked under again in the 11th bullet point. This is the only bit that I can’t seem to grasp.

    Your help is appreciated as always. These bodyweight squats may become a staple lower body exercise if I can do them correctly.

    Many thanks.

    AC.

    • Drew Baye December 20, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

      AC,

      Tucking the hips under means tilting the pelvis posteriorly. This is not absolutely necessary but seems to engage the glutes and hamstrings more. I do not recommend doing this during barbell, shrug bar, or dumbbell squats though, during which the pelvis should be tilted anteriorly and back kept flat, but when using a hip belt the additional load is on the pelvis and not transferred through the spine so flexing it sightly is not a problem.

  32. Rob January 9, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    I have done these super slow squats also. With very light dumbbells held at my sides. The burn is from another planet, the pain is unreal. That is not debatable. My question is, can these if done with little to no weight actually put quality size on a person’s legs ? Thanks.

    • Drew Baye January 9, 2013 at 5:23 pm #

      Rob,

      If you have the genetics for it, yes, but eventually you will have to increase the weight you use.

  33. Don March 26, 2014 at 8:38 pm #

    Hi Drew,

    Thank you very much for writing ‘Project Kratos’. It’sa wonderfully concise and clear presentation on using a bodyweight approach in the HIT realm. I had been quite convinced by Doug McGuff and John Little’s presentation in ‘Body by Science, but was hoping to find a way to do the exercises at home / on the road — and you’ve finally provided it!

    I am starting out by using the TSC exercises in the book, as I was excited by the simplicity and portability of the protocol. I’m now wondering: what’s your latest opinion of TSC’s effectiveness, when compared with dynamic movements? Is there still a worry about strength increases being restricted to a particular angle, or do you think that this concern has been overstated?

    Another question: I am trying to lose weight, and I have been wondering whether a once-a-week HIT strength routine will be sufficient to boost insulin sensitivity, in the way that daily exercise seems to. (I suspect that most of the prior studies that focused exercise and insulin sensitivity have investigated the effects of daily exercise routines because they were caught up in an older, ‘more is better / daily cardio’ paradigm of exercise — but was wondering what your opinion was on this issue.)

    As a way of addressing both questions, I’ve been considering supplementing a 1x week Kratos / TSC routine with a daily, low-key yoga routine (sun salutations, no crazy stretching moves), as way of both stimulating the muscles through a wider range of motion as well as providing a daily boost re: insulin sensitivity. But maybe this is just wasted effort, and will interfere with recovery after performing a properly-intense 1x / week TSC routine?

    Anyway, thanks again for all the great work you’re doing!

    Cheers,
    Don

    • Drew Baye April 23, 2014 at 11:32 am #

      Hey Don,

      I do not think timed static contraction (TSC) is as effective as dynamic repetitions. I only include them as an alternative for when dynamic repetitions are not possible due to physical limitations or lack of equipment. Strength increases from isometrics appear to be specific to the angles or positions trained to within about fifteen to twenty degrees, but this probably depends a lot on the exercise and the position trained, and they may improve full range strength more effectively in some exercises than others because in different exercises the relative contribution of the different muscles involve varies to different degrees.

      While once weekly high intensity training workouts would be effective for this, I find most people get better results training twice weekly. While most forms of yoga have little effect on muscular strength and size it would not negatively effect recovery either.

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