Essentials Part 2: 3 (+1) Essential Bodyweight Exercises

 In Part 1 of this article series we talked about the 6 Essential Kettlebell Exercises – Snatch, Clean, Swing, Squat, Military Press and Get-Up.

We then further divided them into 2 categories: 

Ballistic Drills, which are explosive in nature and are done usually for higher reps.

And Grinds, which are more intensity focused and involve a lot of mind-body connection.  These are usually done at a slower, more controlled pace and for fewer reps.

Today, I want to focus on what I believe to be the perfect compliment to Kettlebell Training – BODYWEIGHT EXERCISES.

In my training practice, I will usually never give someone any type of external resistance until they learn how to control their own bodyweight.

Although there are a myriad of bodyweight movements and exercises – so many, in fact that you can question why anyone would ever need to use any type of equipment – I have narrowed my selection of Essential Complimentary Bodyweight Exercises to only 3 (and a bonus).

I believe, that with the 6 Essential Kettlebell Exercises that I mentioned in the previous post, these 3 exercises are the perfect compliment and will provide you with a complete program that will keep you lean, strong, athletic and healthy.

3 Essential Bodyweight Exercises

The Chin-Up / Pull-Up

I hold the pull up in such high regard that I make sure that I do them at least every week.  I don't think that there's an upper body exercise out there that builds better relative strength than the ability to pull yourself up.  It's a primal movement and something that I think everyone should strive to do.

For chin-ups, once you can do 10-15 consistently I'd suggest trying to add resistance in the form of wearing a weighted vest or a weight belt with a kettlebell attached to it.

Being able to do 20 chin-ups in a row is a remarkable feat, but to build some impressive strength and muscle, think low-volume with resistance.

The Pistol

Another very important exercise that I think everyone needs to strive to perform is the Pistol (or the one-leg squat).  As much as I like bi-lateral lower body exercises like the barbell squat and deadlift, I'm not sure if there is an exercise more impressive or more demanding on your lower body – both from a strength and mobility standpoint.

Performing a pistol is VERY difficult for most people because you have to have a certain amount of mobility in your hips and back as well as some hamstring flexibility.

Similar to the chin-up, once you are able to perform bodyweight pistols for reps exceeding 10, you should try to challenge yourself by doing sets of 3 to 5 while holding a kettlebell or 2 in the rack position (or goblet position).

The Bodyweight Row

This may come as a surprise, but I will never discount the value of having a healthy upper back and that can only come from making sure that you are pulling from every possible angle.   That's why I've included 2 "back" exercises – chin-ups and rows.

I've harped on this before, but it needs to be stated again and again.  We live in a society where we do everything in front of us – we sit slouched over a computer, we drive for hours everyday, we perform too many exercises for the "mirror muscles" – and as a result, our posture is terrible, we have horrible shoulders and we look unhealthily imbalanced.

Doing a lot of rows allows us to train our vital upper back muscles that help with posture, give us a confident and strong appearance and will keep our shoulders healthy.

For rows, my recommendation is to go for reps.  That means that ideally I'd get my clients to do anywhere around 50 total reps of bodyweight rows in one workout.  You can split that up in as many sets as you like, but I definitely prefer doing rows at a higher volume than chin-ups or the other grinding KB exercises.

One note on Rows….Make sure that you are ALWAYS striving to squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement.  This ensures that you're always using your upper back muscles.  Don't just "pull yourself up", squeeze the shoulder blades together and pause at the top for a second or 2.

BONUS: Push-ups

Push-ups are now the only horizontal pressing movement that I will do.

The problem with push-ups is that most people do them wrong.  When performing push-ups, you MUST make sure that your elbows are tucked in at least 45-degrees in relation to your shoulders.

What that means is that your elbows should not be flaring out.  Your shoulders shouldn't be creeping up to your ears and you should be SQUEEZING YOUR SHOULDER BLADES TOGETHER on the downward phase of the exercise.

Only do push-ups with perfect form.

So those are my top bodyweight exercises that are the perfect compliment to the 6 Essential Kettlebell Exercises that I mentioned in my last post.

Tomorrow, I'll show you how to put everything together into a simple and effective program.

Chris Lopez, CSCS, RKC


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  • Reply February 17, 2011


    Hi Chris,
    I love your style. But even after training for 6 years with a personal trainer, I cant do pull ups or chin ups or row up. I even have difficulties doing push ups. I cannot do pistols. Many women are like me. But I have seen some women able to do it too. I think I will never be able to do those exercices, ever. I use the graviton, the rowing cable and the lat pull down machine. I can bench press 60 pounds easy, but that’s about it.
    What should I do ?

  • […] Essentials Part 2: 3 (+1) Essential Bodyweig&#104&#116&#32Exercises […]

  • Reply February 22, 2011


    Hi Odile, have you ever talked to your trainer about focussing on those things that you think you “can never do?”? There are progression methods that you can use to work up to the full exercises.

    If this still doesn’t work, then maybe it’s time to think about getting another trainer…??

    Good luck, Kylie

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