Bodyweight training book review — Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy

In review #2 I follow up on my earlier pre-release story of Bret Contreras’ Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy.

Bodyweight Strength Training.

Bret Contreras has forged a reputation for being a knowledgeable and trustworthy source of information in the strength and conditioning industry. While he’s largely made his name as “the Glute Guy“, his contributions to communicating evidence-based exercise information has made Contreras a go-to source for reliable strength and conditioning science.

That gravitas and Contreras’ scientific approach to exercise makes Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy an insightful read for both beginner and experienced trainers.

In the book Contreras goes well beyond what you’ll find in most bodyweight training books. This fact makes it one of the most valuable physical training books on my shelf.

The 150+ exercises he outlines and the associated movement descriptions and anatomical information empowers the reader to take control of their own programming. Knowing how muscles work to produce athletic movement is tremendously useful — informing your exercise selection and other aspects of programming such as the training of synergistic and antagonist muscles groups.

Variations, intensity and progression

To my mind, any reliable program must address how to progress basic movements in order to produce greater levels of strength and hypertrophy. Contreras delves in to his wealth of experience and knowledge of the research to pull together some innovative ways of performing standard exercises.

How does one progress from push up to One Arm Push Up? Squat to Pistol Squat? What happens when Pull Ups get to easy? Contreras outlines a number of variations and approaches to progressing these basic exercises by increasing the leverage required to complete movement.

Biomechanical explanations for each exercise and muscle group will enhance your understanding of how to train your body to move through all the main movement patterns. You could develop a traditional bodybuilding program centred on body parts, however, as Contreras points out, a more modern and complete approach to training can be achieved through emphasizing different movement patterns.

The book outlines exercises that strengthen the following movements: Hip Dominant, Knee Dominant, Linear Core, Rotary Core, Horizontal Pressing, Vertical Pressing, Horizontal Pulling and Vertical Pulling.

There is tremendous value to the novice in knowing which exercises train the aforementioned 8 movement patterns. As an intermediate level exerciser, I was astonished by how much I learned about the human body and how to create total body strength and muscle.

Favourite exercises in the book?

From the 150+ exercises some definitely stood out to me. For instance, the Push Back is a variation of the Push Up that addresses the deltoids, upper pectorals and trapezius. Think of it as a horizontal handstand push up whereby you hoist your hips in the air and push backwards rather than upwards. It’s an exhausting and therefore great intermediary exercise for the shoulders.

For the glutes, the Side Lying Hip Raise really stood out for me for a couple of reasons. It’s tough, it burns my upper glutes fairly well and it works hip abduction, which makes this exercise enormously beneficial to me as an ice hockey player (athletic movements — sprinting, skating, jumping all require powerful glute abduction). The Hip Raise movement is a more advanced take on the popular “Clam” exercise.

Exercises are great but what about programming?

Contreras covers programming in some depth. Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy is one of the best books you’ll find on program design because it doesn’t force one particular training ethos on you.

Instead, you’ll find commonsense program design ideas with numerous ways to tweak the way you perform exercises to keep progressing in your workouts.

You’ll find ways to combine exercises from various movement patterns in order to create an effective workout as well as how various repetition strategies are vital to extracting every bit of juice out of exercises that don’t use any external resistance.

Contreras provides some sample routines to use as blueprints for your own workouts and he emphasizes the fact that your individual needs and current conditioning level dictate how your routine should be devised.

In summary, Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy provides well-rounded advice on which exercises to use and how to use them. It is the best book on bodyweight training in terms of giving you the exerciser the knowledge you need to construct your own program and how to manage it going forward.


2 responses to “Bodyweight training book review — Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy

  1. Hello Fred,
    How will your workouts look like?
    I constructed this 5 days a week routine:
    3x Full Squat/Sumo Squat
    Pull Up/Row
    Glute Bridge/Hip Thrust
    Push Up/Push Back/Wide Push Up/Feet Elevated Pike Push Up
    1x Crunch/Superman/Double Leg Lowering/Plank
    Side Plank/Side Crunch
    Triceps E./Neck F./Curl/Neck F.
    Calf R./Neck E.

    The problem I see with this book is that there is no specific progression model that would keep you in reasonable rep range and if you truly want no-equipment workout there are no substitutions for Pull Ups or Rows. I also believe that intensiveness and rep quality is more important than variety. So I would basically make up for suboptimal workouts by using high volume plus variety and telling myself how clever it is to “autoregulate”. Do you still write everything down and monitor progress or do you go with the flow? Do the workouts take progressively more time then? This part of the book is not very clear.

  2. viewfromreality

    Hi Ondrej, you’re right in the sense there i s no explicit progression model like say in Kratos but if you read the book closely he gives several ways of progressing individual movements as well general program progression techniques.

    The training you outline there is possible from this book (high reps and basically ineffective strength workouts) but Bret mentions a few times in the book that you want to steer away from this. He also isn’t a fan of complex periodization, although he mentions that variety in training is necessary if you have different goals and want progress to continue. He also mentions attacking an exercise from different directions (isometric holds, negatives, plyos).

    You are right that this programming area of the book isn’t as clear and you really do need to read chapters on each muscle group to get all the tips on progression but let’s have a look at what can be done just using Bret’s book:

    Back progression (Horizontal pulling): Inverted rows / Side to side inverted rows / Towel inverted rows / One arm inverted row
    (Vertical pulling): Pull ups / Towel pull ups / Side to side pull ups / One arm self-assisted one arm pull ups

    Pull ups are notoriously hard so I would mess with rep schemes as Bret recommends in the section on programming. I actually am increasing my pull up using negatives with isometric holds at sticking points (which is pretty much a Drew Baye approach, but this idea is outlined in Bret’s book).

    Same thing for squats. Bret says a few times that you’ll eventually need to graduate to harder, single limb exercises like the Pistol squat but the Skater squat is also a fine single limb movement. I wouldn’t therefore be doing the workout you outlined unless I was a beginner of sorts. I use a variety of rep schemes to master Pistol squats, including wall assists, Box squats (trains the upper region of the movement), Low box squat and concentric only Pistols (rising from the bottom). I also do Wall squats as isoholds for added intensity.

    At the end of the day I don’t just rely on Bret’s book but I bet I could and make awesome gains. At the moment I’m using Pavel’s Grease The Groove method to increase my pullup strength in conjunction with ideas from Bret and Convict Conditioning as I get useful perspectives from each author. From Drew I get rep quality and his HIT techniques fro progression.

    Finally, I do monitor everything, and since it is hockey late offseason here, I’m doing other workouts as well as my strength stuff (sprints and conditioning protocols) but that’s another story.

    P.S. One last thing – Autoregulation isn’t “go with the flow” nor is periodization. I do plan my workouts but if I’m not fully up to it on a day (my week is fairly active) then I’m okay with not going balls to the wall with intensity/volume. I think it costs you progress if you workout hard on a regular basis with no let up, especially on days when your body is shouting REST.

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