This past Monday I began what I am calling 'The Body Weight Project'. For the next six weeks, I am going to perform five consecutive total body workouts (Monday-Friday) using JUST my body weight. That's right: no barbells, no dumbbells, no strength training machines, no medicine balls, not even kettle bells. Joining me on this six week journey will be friend and fellow trainer Brandon Reina. The routines are going to consist of a strength training circuit to be completed as quickly as possible, followed by agility or sprint based cardiovascular conditioning drills. The purpose of my little experiment is to see how the body responds to the stress of performing total body exercise routines on five consecutive days.
Now those of you who are up to speed with your program design and best training practices, you may be thinking: I thought you weren't supposed to work the same muscle groups on consecutive days? You're right, this is what we are told as fitness professionals. However, the human body is a resilient machine and my wheels really started turning a few months ago when I started taking a closer look at the way we typically train today. As I evaluated today's current training practices and took a look at the evolution of the human body, I started formulating some different ideas.
First off: bench presses, machines, treadmills and all that other gym stuff is in fact new to the human environment. For thousands of years prior to the Industrial Revolution, people didn't just sit around all day and stare at the television and computer screens. The human body for it's entire history up until the last one-hundred and fifty years (max!) was required to be physically fit and capable. I have a sneaky suspicion that two hundred years ago the human body just did what it had to do to adapt and survive in the environment without thought to concepts like "pyramid training", "drop sets" or "over-training". The reality is, the body just adapted to whatever demands were placed on it and that was that. If your job was to load heavy bails of hay for ten hours a day or you were dragging heavy carts back and forth on the farm then you developed the necessary strength and musculature to do so. Knowing the human body is extremely adaptable and resilient, I used human history to hypothesize we could actually do total body workouts five days a week. To be safe and intelligent about the process, I figured a good starting point would be testing the use of just your body weight for resistance.
Utilizing body weight for resistance also came from another realization I had: how do gymnasts stay in such great shape without ever really lifting weights? It's simple: they practice for hours and perform TONS of volume when it comes to the movements they are trying to perfect for competition. Whether it be tumbling, which will develop unbelievable explosive power and leg strength or hoisting around on some rings, gymnasts get in great shape by doing a lot of repetition using just their body weight. I don't know about you, but I have never seen a fat gymnast. In fact, I think a lot of people would be pretty happy to be as lean as those who compete in gymnastics.
Using these observations, I have concluded one could reach some pretty unbelievable fitness levels by using just their own body weight. With the use of total body exercises, explosive drills and compound movements, Brandon and I decided to track how our body will adapt to these demands if performed in high volume, five days a week over a six week period. To go back to our evolutionary roots, we are also incorporating agility drills and sprint based conditioning to the workouts to mimic the physical prowess needed to survive as a hunter-gatherer.
Based on my understanding of the human body and the evaluation of human history, I am expecting our lean body mass to at least maintain its current state if not increase a bit, fat mass to decrease, while seeing improvement in our overall total body conditioning and core strength. The workouts will last less than an hour, reducing the effects of cortisol, thus reducing the time our body will be in a catabolic state. Due to the fact we will not be using excessive loads and working for more than one hour, as typical in the gym, I believe we will not run into the issue of over-training. To ensure we have enough overload to incite muscular adaptations, we will be increasing the volume of the body weight workouts every two weeks. Week one we will start at four circuit rounds of 20 repetitions of each exercise, resulting in a total work load of 80 repetitions. By the end of week six, we will perform eight rounds of 20 repetitions on each exercises, resulting in a total work load of 160 repetitions. Let the games begin!