Bring Back Bodyweight Training

Bring Back Bodyweight Training

by Dave Bellomo

Body weight exercises such as push ups, sit ups, and lunges have been around for many decades. In fact, most of us can still recall our high school phys ed. teacher yelling at us to do 10 more jumping jacks in class. With the emergence of technology, however, bodyweight movements took a backseat to machines. Push-ups turned into dumbbells and barbells, then Nautilus. Instead of running outside, we now have treadmills, instead of climbing stairs, we have stair-climbing machines. Is it possible that the future will include machines that will exercise in our stead? As one who thoroughly enjoys exercising, I hope not.

Fortunately for serious strength and conditioning enthusiasts, things have come full circle. In recent years, with the revival of kettlebell training, MMA, and other related conditioning programs and disciplines, bodyweight training has come back in a big way. Fitness enthusiasts of all levels are reacquainting themselves with old school methods to become stronger and better conditioned. In addition, the goals of functional movement capacity and muscular endurance have become top priorities along with size and strength. Simply put, the people that are now training, want it all.

Crossfitters and mixed martial artists have been inspiring people to expand their training to include things such as high repetition burpees and box jumps. Obstacle races such as the Tough Mudder are motivating thousands to get out and “play” like the way we did as kids. Running, jumping, climbing and getting dirty are now socially acceptable adult activities.

For those individuals that are interested in building muscle, losing fat, and improving your overall conditioning, bodyweight exercises may be the answer. In addition, variety or lack of equipment should never be an issue. There are literally hundreds of variations of push ups, chin ups, lunges, and ab exercises.

To begin a bodyweight strength and conditioning program or to incorporate bodyweight movements into your current training program, start with the basics. Simple push ups, chin ups, and lunges have worked very well since the beginning of organized strength training. Focus on the perfection of technique and don’t let your ego dictate form. Just because you could perform 100 push ups without breaking a sweat when you were eighteen doesn’t mean that is the right place to start. Build volume by performing many low-repetition sets with perfect form. Over time, increase volume by adding more repetitions per set, more sets, or more training sessions. In addition, try adding at least one new exercise to your program each weak. It might be a push up variation, the addition of trail running, or even climbing on a jungle gym at your local park.

As you add new exercises, don’t be afraid to temporarily drop old ones if you feel that your training volume is surpassing your ability to recover from your workouts. Listen to your body. A few simple ways to check if you may be overtraining are to pay attention to your joints. Do your elbows, knees, and/or shoulders hurt deep in the joint. Also, be aware of near continual muscle soreness. While some inflammation comes with a good workout, constant soreness may indicate a need for longer recovery periods or a reduction in volume and/or intensity. Last, check your heart rate. Before beginning a new program take your resting heart rate first thing in the morning for three consecutive days to establish a base reading. Periodically check it again. If you find that your heart rate is more than a beat or two above normal, it may be an indication that your body is fighting inflammation in the form of overtraining or possibly a virus.

Regardless of your training goals, bodyweight exercises can be a great addition to any workout. Whether you prefer training in a gym, outdoors, or in your garage, exercises that require little or no equipment are easy to incorporate into a session. If your training program is getting old or if you are feeling less than motivated try incorporating some fun, effective movements into your program. No matter where you are or what you are doing, bodyweight exercises just might be the  way to spice up your workouts.

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KISS with Progressive Overload

KISS with Progressive Overload

by Dave Bellomo

The concept of resistance training has been around for thousands of years. Legend has it that in the 6th Century B.C., Milo of Crotona, a city in what is now Southern Italy, came up with a simple, yet ingenious system for achieving strength and power. Milo would pick up a calf and carry it on his shoulders the length of a field. As the calf grew in size, the demands of the already heavy load increased. Milo was able to adapt and grew stronger.

Thousands of years later little has changed in the health and fitness industry. Sure, every other second a spandex wearing, crazy loud fitness specialist is touting their latest method for achieving a lean, rock-hard body. Just send them three payments $39.95 and they will happily share their secrets with you. The problem is that by the time the consumer finds out that the dvd’s they purchased contain the same old crunch and curl routine that they have been doing since grade school, the next guru comes out with yet another routine and the public is forced to start the search for the right program all over again.

The general fitness seeking public needs to stop and take a collective breath. Fitness is simple. Every fact, in every text pertaining to strength, power, muscular endurance, and cardiovascular fitness can be reduced to two simple words: Progressive Overload.

Progressive overload is simply a fancy way of saying that you must do more in the future than you did in the past. One more repetition, one more set, five more pounds…more.  Just a little more, not a lot, then rest and recover. That little bit more that you did yesterday, combined with the rest of today, will start a biochemical chain reaction. The end-result of this marvelous biological process is adaptation, a.k.a. progress.

Viola, you grow stronger, faster, leaner, or whatever it is that you set out to do. Everyone has heard of the acronym, “KISS”. Keep it simple stupid. They key to progress is simplicity in program design, simplicity in exercise selection, and simplicity in building in rest.

Creating a sample program for a collegiate football player that wishes to increase the number of repetitions he is able to perform with 225 pounds in the bench press is a straight-forward endeavor. If player desires to improve their repetition maximum with 225 pounds, the most direct course for this player is to work with 225 pounds in the bench press. Following the KISS principle, exercise selection and load have just been decided.

The next piece of the puzzle is program design. If more repetitions are to be achieved in the bench press with the pre-determined load, then more repetitions will need to be performed. Volume will need to be added incrementally. This increase in volume may be achieved by adding more sets and/or more training sessions.

This leads us to the next training variable that needs to be addressed; rest. Without recovery there cannot be adaptation, for the system will be overwhelmed and will actually regress in performance. Again, sticking to the KISS principle, the simplest way to determine the amount of rest that is required for our hypothetical athlete is to have him train hard and see how long it takes him to feel completely recovered. Gradually shorten or lengthen time between sessions until the optimal rest for that exercise is discovered.

In sum, train hard. Push yourself so that your body perceives this new effort as a mild, positive stress. Then rest and recover. When you are rested and feeling vigorous again go back at it. Whether you are a great athlete or a great-grandmother, exercise and performance is simple; just KISS.

For more information about strength training, fitness, or questions for Dave please feel free to contact us.

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Developing Strength and Conditioning Programs for Tactical Athletes (pt. 3)

Developing Strength and Conditioning Programs for Tactical Athletes (pt. 3)

In the previous installment of this article we discussed specific aspects of program design such as energy system requirements and program organization and discussed the need to include ATP-PC, Glycolytic, and Oxidative energy systems in the strength and conditioning program of Tactical Athletes due to the varied and unpredictable nature of their job duties. In addition, we concluded that a possible solution to this variety of required attributed and lack of a defined peak, a nonlinear periodized program could offer a viable solution.

In the last, and final installment, of this article we will discuss exercise selection and set and repetition schemes. In addition, we will organize a sample strength and conditioning plan for a Tactical Athlete and discuss possible program variations.

Regarding exercise selection, the main objective for the strength and conditioning professional should be to include an optimal number of compound exercises. In addition, these exercises should provide that maximum amount of skill transfer and practical application to the job duties of the Tactical Athlete. Since the Tactical Athlete moves in multiple planes and requires not only maximum strength, but muscular endurance, power, and the ability to push the lactate threshold. Do not, however, be lulled into focusing simply on individual muscle groups and developing a closet bodybuilding program. Tactical Athletes are not bodybuilders and functional movement optimization should always be a main priority. This means that the training program should include exercises that are mechanically representative of actions Tactical Athletes might use in the field such as deadlift and power clean variations.

Though the needs of every Tactical Athlete differ, I would like to present a sample program that I hope will stimulate thought and discussion regarding program design. Thus far, we have decided that we will use a flexible, nonlinear periodized program and will include all energy systems, we next need to decide upon exercise selection, set and repetition schemes, and recovery. I have found over the years that the surest way to botch a training program is to overcomplicate it. Keeping that in mind, we will therefore attempt to maintain simplicity by using a 3 day per week training program. In addition, to address the varying demands placed upon our fictitious Tactical Athlete, we will use 3 different programs; workouts A, B, and C. Each program will have a different main objective. The following examples will provide a rough outline for each workout and will be performed with at least one day of rest in between. On the off days, running 1-3 miles at a moderate pace will be performed in the beginning; eventually working up to 3-5. Keep in mind that these are only examples and that an almost infinite number of program variations exist.

Workout A: Basic Strength

The main goal of Workout A is to develop basic strength. This should not be an exhaustive program, as this type of strength is best developed with long rest breaks of at least 3-5 minutes. Each exercise will be performed for at least 3-5 sets or until a 5 repetition maximum (RM) is reached. The exercises will be performed with a horizontal progression, where each exercise will be repeated before moving on to the next.

Barbell clean/stone shouldering if available

Weighted chin up

Barbell Bench press

Barbell deadlift


Workout B: Hypertrophy

The main goal of Workout B is to build muscle mass, while still maintaining functional strength. After all, Tactical Athletes are not bodybuilders and training as such would not contribute to optimal job performance. Rest breaks should be reduced to 1-2 minutes between sets, with the number of sets/ exercise being increased to 3-5. Repetitions will be increased to 8-12 and the exercises should still be progressed horizontally.

Kettlebell snatch

Bodyweight chin up

Dumbbell bench press

Bent-over dumbbell row/2” thick bar if available

Dumbbell shoulder press

Barbell Squat

Hanging leg raises (to fatigue)


Workout C: High Intensity Interval Training

The main goal in Workout C is to improve the ability of working at a high heart rate for a prolonged period of time. This is an exhaustive workout and rest breaks are minimal. The repetition range for Workout C is 12-20. There will be no rest between exercises and only a 1-3 minute break between intervals, with an interval being defined as performing one set of all exercises listed. To progress Workout C, begin with 3 intervals of light to moderate weight and eventually work up to 5 intervals of moderate weight. Again, the focus should be little to no rest except after each interval so that the Tactical Athlete maintains a working level heart for 30-45 minutes.

Kettlebell snatch

Bodyweight chin ups


Box jumps

Double kettlebell clean and press

Kettlebell high pulls

Hindu push ups

Weight/dummy drag (30 meters)

Though there is no standard definition of a Tactical Athlete, the term is commonly used to describe police, firefighter, and military personnel. As the number and type of demands placed upon these individuals has evolved over the years, their training has had to become more sophisticated. With complex job duties requiring a broad spectrum of tactical, technical, and physical attributes, Tactical Athletes must show extreme versatility. In addition, Tactical Athletes are sometimes being asked perform their duties for extended periods of time; sometimes for many consecutive months without a significant rest break. To properly address the needs of Tactical Athletes it has, therefore, become necessary to treat them as the professional athletes they are. As such, Tactical Athletes must be given the training to increase overall performance and aid in reducing the incidence of injury.

For more information on strength and conditioning for tactical athletes or anything else strength related, please contact us.

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Developing Strength and Conditioning Programs for the Tactical Athlete (pt.2)

Developing Strength and Conditioning Programs for the Tactical Athlete (pt.2)

by Dave Bellomo, MS, PES, CSCS

In part 1 of this article we defined the term “Tactical Athlete” as military, police, and firefighter personnel whose extreme tactical, technical, and physical job requirements more than qualify them to be considered athletes. In addition, we addressed some of the basic concerns strength and conditioning professionals have in designing programs for Tactical Athletes such as needs assessments and organization of workload. In part 2, we will discuss specific aspects of program design such as energy system requirements and program organization.

Though on the surface it would seem that Tactical Athletes spend the majority of their time working in the ATP-PC system, it would be a gross oversimplification. An infantryman, for example, may spend days fighting in an urban environment, sprinting from one building to the next, on and off, only to be ordered to trek 20 miles of rocky, high altitude terrain. A firefighter may combat small house fires, requiring a fire extinguisher and brief walk through, only to be called to a four-alarm fire that requires continual exertion for 20 straight hours. Because of these and other examples, it is usually necessary that  the ATP-PC, glycolytic, and aerobic energy systems all be included in the training program. Assigning the ratios of time spent using these energy systems, however, depends upon the individual needs of the tactical athlete.

This leads us to program organization. Without overcomplicating the training program, there exists the need to organize training in some long-term fashion if program outcomes are to be optimized and sustained. For decades there has been a debate regarding the efficacy of periodized programs. Though much research has shown periodized programs to be highly effective, coaches and lay persons do not always employ them due to changing goals and sometimes lack of practical application. Common sense tells us, however, that without some organization results will vary at best and, at worst, may lead to overtraining and injury. That said, a program that is overly rigid, may not allow for changes in the technical, tactical, and physical demands placed upon the tactical athlete. In addition, tactical athletes do not have a playoff or seasonal peak for which they are ultimately training. Often, they must perform there job duties under substantial stress for many months without break. Therefore, it makes sense to choose a nonlinear, or undulating, model of periodization rather than a traditional, linear approach.

Nonlinear periodization is a somewhat newer model of periodization that has emerged, in part, to address the needs of persons where the development of multiple training attributes are required simultaneously or when there is no defined seasonal peak. Unlike the linear model, the nonlinear model of periodization is characterized by more frequent alterations of training variables.  Such training alterations may occur monthly, weekly, or even daily.  The purpose of such frequent adjustments is to more efficiently stimulate the neuromuscular system and improve recovery, thus maximizing training outcomes . This model also allows significantly more flexibility than traditional, linear models. If a Tactical Athlete is forced to miss a training session, they simply pick up where they left off. For example, if a Tactical Athlete, using a program with three training days per week, was forced to miss day 3, which is essentially the third of three different workouts, they would simply begin with day 3 and continue rotating workouts.

In the last, and final installment of this article we will discuss exercise selection and set and repetition schemes. In addition, we will organize a sample strength and conditioning plan for a Tactical Athlete and discuss possible program variations.

Do you have a question? Contact me here. 


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Strength and Conditioning Programs for the Tactical Athlete (pt.1) by Dave Bellomo, MS, PES, CSCS

Strength and Conditioning Programs for the Tactical Athlete (pt.1)
by Dave Bellomo, MS, PES, CSCS

Though there is no standard definition of a Tactical Athlete, the term is commonly used to describe police, firefighter, and military personnel due to the extreme tactical, technical, and physical requirements of their jobs. As the number and type of demands placed upon these individuals has evolved over the years, there training had to become more sophisticated. To properly address the needs of tactical athletes it has, therefore, become necessary to treat them as the professional athletes they are.

Over the years I have had the great honor of working with some of America’s finest tactical athletes. I have also been in the strength and conditioning business long enough to see how far their training has advanced. Not long ago, I had a conversation with an active duty soldier and the discussion drifted toward what they were doing to stay in shape. The answer he gave me was simply, “Running, sit ups, and pushups. That’s what the Army has alway done.” I thought to myself, “there has to be a better way”. At that time, the term tactical athlete was not widely used and the sweeping changes to physical training in the military had not yet been instituted.

Some years later, strength and conditioning professionals began developing new ways to improve the readiness of the great men and women dedicated to protecting our safety and freedom. The idea was to treat fire, police, and, military personnel as athletes. As athletes, attributes such as strength, power, muscular endurance, cardio-respiratory endurance, speed, and agility come into play on a daily basis. In fact, the ability for a tactical athlete to display these attributes in the appropriate ratios can often mean the difference of life and death.

There are two main questions that the strength and conditioning professional needs to ask. First, what are the correct ratios of these training elements? Second, how can training exercises and drills be optimized to enhance the real-life readiness of the tactical athlete?

In designing training programs it is always essential to understand the appropriate energy systems, exercises, and load schemes an athlete uses, however a one-size-fits-all answer is not possible. Tactical athletes are frequently called upon to not only work in short, explosive bursts, but may need to work for hours and even days with no significant break. It is therefore imperative that the strength and conditioning professional examine the specific needs of there individual clients.

Once the energy needs of the Tactical Athlete are well defined, the next step would be to construct the training program that truly addresses those needs. These programs should be based not only on research, but also on common sense. This will sometimes make it necessary ignore common bodybuilding and/or traditional fitness program models. It will also force the program designer to be creative, as some their clients may be in the field for prolonged periods of time and may be limited in their access to equipment.

I once worked with an U.S. Air Marshal who came to me for improvement in his ability to display power and quickness in very close quarters combats scenarios. In addition to his strength and conditioning, he routinely drilled to improve the response time of drawing his weapon. The drill was simple, he began by sitting, buckled into a seat. He would then unclip his seatbelt as fast as he could, then simultaneously draw his firearm, stand and turn, as if facing down the aisle of an airplane. He would perform this drill until it became second nature. My job, was to teach him the appropriate strength and conditioning techniques that would assist him in performing his duties.

Part 2 of this article will address the specific aspects of program design for the tactical athlete including energy system requirements, exercise selection, set and repetition schemes, and periodization.

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