4 Ways to Make Bodyweight Training Harder (Time to Get Creative!)

It's time to get creative with our limitations!

Unlike loading up the barbell or grabbing heavier dumbbells, bodyweight training isn’t an easy to modify to increase intensity in the form of load. Granted, you can technically add weight to any bodyweight movement you’re doing, but when you’re limited at home without extra equipment like weight vests and so forth, then you need to be be a little more creative. 

The harsh reality is that for many of us who end up stuck in home on quarantine for multiple weeks on end there will be a slight loss of strength. This is due to the lack of neural stimulation that heavy weight can produce and that bodyweight training simply cannot match.

While this can sound disheartening to many who live for heavy strength training, I’d challenge that this is one of the few unique times in life that we get to truly test our ability to mentally and physically grow when we’re limited. How do you create something out of nothing? That’s a unique scenario to be in. 

Bodyweight Training Harder

Related: 6 Things That Happen to the Body When You Stop Lifting Weights

Harder Isn’t Limited to Load

As a coach, one of main talking points I’ve covered with clients over the last two weeks is to avoid panicking about “losing gains”.

The expression of maximal and relative strength is highly related to neural capabilities, so the moment we can accept that, yes, we will lose some over the next few weeks when we’re not training consistently, is the moment we can move on and be productive with what we have available. Basically, it’s easy to think about productive training as only being represented by weight on the bar, but that’s simply not the case. 

Productive training can be many things.

And the above list goes on. At the end of the day, a lot of us will be stuck inside for a couple weeks (maybe months), and it’s our job to find the silver linings and still remain productive with training by taking what we have available and trying harder — it’s just matter of shifting mindsets. 

1. Work On Positional Stability

Positional stability could be described as any point in a movement where the body must maintain a balanced and static position. This could look like remaining stable in the hole of the squat, or even being able to successfully complete Cossack squats without losing balance. 

One of my personal favorite ways to make bodyweight training harder is to put myself or clients in positions that are not “naturally” comfortable. This is not forcing mobility that isn’t there, but working towards improving what should be possessed for healthy, routine movement. 

Some examples of working on positional stability with bodyweight exercises include,

  • Holding a bodyweight squat in the hole for long pauses or long durations.
  • Pausing in bear crawls and holding their position to improve hip strength and core stability
  • Working on slow Cossack squats to improve hip mobility and stability.

Again, these will likely not be hard because they’re increasing load on the body, however, if you’re lacking in any of these areas, then these will probably be plenty tough. 

2. Focus On Isometrics and Eccentrics

Another great way to make bodyweight training harder is by having a friend assist with applying resistance to exercises. In normal training, dedicated focus on isometrics and eccentrics can take the backseat when we’re constantly pushing our concentric strength, so this is a great time to focus on building weak areas.

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Low quality video “high” quality contractions. 5 At Home Hamstrings Exercises 1. Partner Hamstring Curl 2. Partner Single-Leg Hamstring Curl 3. Partner Isometric Hold to Eccentric Hamstring Curl EDIT: I accidentally uploaded the single-leg variation twice, smh. For the isometric, have your partner pull against your active contraction & hold for 3-5 seconds, then lower slowly while they continue to pull against your hamstrings. A key point of performance for the above three exercises is to GROUND THE HIPS. Force those suckers down and make the hamstrings work. Also, have your partner be mindful of the direction in which they’re pulling. Try to keep their opposing force around the Achilles area to provide the hamstrings with a harder stimulus to work against. 4. Hamstring Slides & Holds 5. Single-Leg Hamstring Slides A key point of performance for slides is to extend with the glutes and not the lumbar. Think as though the hips are being pulled directly upwards with a string!

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When it comes to leveraging isometrics and eccentric training for bodyweight training, it can be approached in a couple different ways. Grab a towel or pillow case and a friend, then try some of the following.

  • Isometric isolation exercises. Examples, hold a hamstring curl while a friend pulls away, or maintain a 90 degree hold in a bicep curl while a friend pulls downwards. Get creative with these!
  • Eccentric exercises. Examples, have a friend stand on a bed, couch, etc., and press down on you while you squat, or have them apply a downward force while you work to hit a time focused lowering goal in a push-up.

With the above ideas, get as creative as you’d like and try to think about how you could turn any movement into an isometric or eccentric focused exercise. 

3. Up Your Work Capacity

When was the last time you truly pushed yourself to increase your work capacity when working with lower intensities? Performing time based circuits or bodyweight AMRAPs are a fantastic way to make workouts harder by increasing work capacity. 

For all the strength athletes that neglect this style of training, now is a great time to sharpen this skill. A few great ways to improve work capacity with bodyweight workouts include:

  • Perform AMRAPs and circuits.
  • Create time focused workout goals.
  • Decrease rest times.

Muscular endurance training can be a great tool for making bodyweight workouts harder if your cardiovascular fitness is lacking whatsoever.

4. Increase Time Under Tension

The final way we’ll discuss making bodyweight training harder is by adding time under tension to movements. This somewhat ties all of the above points together into one and can be a great tool for focusing on hypertrophy. 

Some of the best ways to increase time under tension for bodyweight training include,

  • Adding tempo.
  • Using 1.5 reps. 

These are simple, but extremely effective to increase the “burn” of some movements especially if you choose to add an external resistance to them. 

Wrapping Up

Bodyweight training can be slightly limiting when it comes to how heavy you can load movements, but that doesn’t mean this style of training is completely ineffective. In times like this, the name of the game is creativity and finding ways to still make training productive. 

Feature image from Gorodenkoff / Shutterstock

Jake Boly

Jake Boly

Jake holds a Master’s in Sports Science and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. Currently, Jake serves as the Fitness and Training Editor at BarBend. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and has spoken at state conferences on the topics of writing in the fitness industry and building a brand.

As of right now, Jake has published over 1,300 articles related to strength athletes and sports. Articles about powerlifting concepts, advanced strength & conditioning methods, and topics that sit atop a strong science foundation are Jake’s bread-and-butter.

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