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How To Make Bodyweight Exercises Harder Without Increasing Reps

Updated on May 23, 2013
Me doing exploding push-ups while wearing a heavy backpack.
Me doing exploding push-ups while wearing a heavy backpack. | Source

Weight

When exercising I like to increase the difficulty of the exercise as my strength and endurance improves until I have the results I want. That way I continue to make progress. For jumping rope, biking, running and other cardio exercises that means increasing the duration of the exercise and increasing the speed. For weightlifting exercises that means increasing the repetitions per set, increasing the number of sets and then increasing the weight. After I increase the weight I start over.

You can not quickly add or take away weight from your body. So the results people get with bodyweight exercises are often very limited. However there are ways around that. People wear clothes and clothes can add a few pounds. Put on some more clothes and you will be lifting more weight. You could also wear a heavy backpack or a weight belt. In some cases you can hold weights.

Add more weight to your body if your bodyweight is not enough by itself.

Doubling The Weight

It does not work with all bodyweight exercises but for some you can switch to using one leg or one arm to double the weight your one arm or one leg is lifting. In addition to the extra weight that is put on the arm or leg you are using it may require more balance. Stand on one leg, push your body weight up with one arm or pull your body up with one arm. I can easily do a set of 12 push-ups but I can barely do 3 one armed push-ups. I can do a set of 10 pull ups but I can't pull myself up even once with only 1 arm yet.

Another way to increase the weight a lot is to lift your bodyweight and somebody else's. Do the exercise while a person is on top of you, you are holding them or they are holding on to you. For instance you could do push ups while a person is sitting on your back, do squats while someone is on your shoulders or do pull ups while someone is on your back with their arms around you.

Decline push ups.
Decline push ups. | Source
Tucked push ups
Tucked push ups | Source

Variations

With bodyweight exercises there are often a lot of different variations. I was doing 9 different push up variations. Variations can make an exercise easier or more difficult. Changing your grip or the position of your body changes the exercise. It can change how much of your bodyweight you are lifting and what muscles are doing most of the work. A slight change to your grip or the position of your body can make a big difference.

When the exercise becomes easier you can change to a harder variation until you run out of variations to try. I went from push ups to handstand push ups. There are some very difficult variations for exercises like push-ups, planks and pull ups.

Bodyweight exercises are mostly pulling or pushing while maintaining proper form. There are lots of different ways to pull or push your body. Besides increasing the amount of strength you need the variations distribute the weight differently. If you do a push up and then switch to a wider or narrower grip you can feel the difference.

Timing

Exercise tires you out and causes muscle fatigue. An easy exercise can become a very difficult one if you do it at the right time. While doing an exercise routine you can save the easier exercises for the end of the workout to make the exercise more difficult for you.

Speed

Speeding up or slowing down the exercise can make an exercise easier or more difficult. It depends on when you slow down or speed up and how you do it. People often rush through an exercise to make it easier so they can do more reps. They try to cheat. That increase the quantity but reduces the quality. If you cheat then you are cheating yourself out of a good workout.

Me doing alternating slide planks.
Me doing alternating slide planks. | Source

Slowing down the exercise during the difficult parts of the exercise makes the exercise more difficult and gives you better results. For a push-up I slowly go up, briefly hold the top position and then slowly go down. The pace is slow and steady. I do the same with pull ups and other similar exercises.

The exercises like planks where you just hold the position work well because you are not resting as often. Slow and steady is often better if you want good results.

Speeding up works well for increasing the difficulty if you do it with the intention of using more force or decreasing the rest time. Reduce the time between reps and the time you are resting during the exercise. If you quickly move through the exercise then use explosive power. To do exploding push-ups you quickly push yourself up with enough force to propel your upper body into the air. I started doing exploding push ups while wearing a heavy backpack.

Strength And Endurance

If you work at increasing the number of repetitions or the duration of an exercise you are working at increasing your endurance. It can be easier to improve your endurance with bodyweight exercises than weights because you don't need a spotter to hang around watching you and you can do the exercise almost anywhere at anytime. For endurance I would do a large number of repetitions per set.

You are working on increasing your strength if you increase the resistance. It is usually easier to increase your strength using weights. That way you just need to add more weight to increase the resistance. However you can add more weight to yourself and increase the resistance more by changing the position of your body. Bodyweight exercises can be just as good or better for building strength than lifting weights. Pull ups and chin ups are better than dumbbell curls. Push ups can be as good as bench presses. For strength I limit the number of reps per set to 12.

Man doing pull ups.
Man doing pull ups. | Source

Limits

Bodyweight exercises are not as limited as many people think they are. There are lots of extremely difficult bodyweight exercises that people can do if they want to improve their body. A person could increase their strength and endurance a lot by doing push ups and pull ups. As with push ups there are different ways to do pull ups and you can increase the weight.

I have used bodyweight exercises to increase my strength and endurance, increase the size of my muscles, burn calories and get rid of fat. While increasing the size of my muscles I changed the shape of my body.

Become taller, develop wider shoulders, increase the size of your biceps, triceps, chest, etc. with bodyweight exercises. You can also use bodyweight exercises to tone up. I have some weights at home but I prefer to do bodyweight exercises.

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