Since muscle failure is one of the keys to muscle growth, most lifters like to finish their workout with a few exercises that allow for higher reps. This technique can increase blood flow to target muscles, break down additional fibers and instigate protein synthesis. But after a while, the selections tend to grow stale: flyes on chest day, straight-arm pulldowns on back day, leg extensions for quads. Yawn. Why not spice up your playlist with some challenging bodyweight moves? These exercises test your mettle and provide greater functional finish than you can find at the cable station.
SHOULDER DAY: HANDSTAND PUSH-UPS
Most shoulder development exercises in the weight room are open kinetic chain meaning the force you produce makes the weight move. Closed kinetic chain exercises move your body as you produce force, like a sporting or combat situation. Bottom line benefit: closed kinetic chain movements are more natural and more functional. That’s why handstand push-ups offer the best non-weighted method for developing sick shoulders.
Execution: For those new to the movement, place the back of your head near the base of a wall, put your hands alongside your head (fingers pointing toward the wall), and then kick your feet into the air until they reach the wall. From this inverted position, press to full extension.
Implementation: The Jailhouse Bakers Dozen is a total of 91 total repetitions, where set 1 is performed with 13 repetitions, set 2 is 12 repetitions, set 3 is 11 repetitions, and so on. Each set descends by one less repetition. After each set is performed, walk 16 feet (it’s eight feet and back in a standard jail cell) to get your blood flow back on track.
BACK DAY: PULL-UPS
About zero people were hoping that pull-ups were the finisher we had in mind here. One of the strongest man of our time, Bill Kazmaier, once said “strong man equals strong back.” And one of the best ways to build a strong back is through the mastery of the pull-up – as many variations as possible, eventually graduating to weighted pull-ups to keep adding size. And after a bad boy day of heavy deadlifts and bar-bending rows
Execution: To focus on your lats, take an overhand grip on a pull-up bar with your hands spaced just outside shoulder width and pull from there on all reps. You can vary hand spacing from set to set or workout to workout to alter the muscular recruitment. Aim to get your chest to the bar on every rep.
Implementation: Don’t just aim for a “few” pull-ups at the end of your back routine. Try the total repetition method, where you aim to achieve the desired number in the fewest number of sets possible. If you’re going for 100, for example, you may get 15 on your first go, 12 on your next and so on. The goal should be to complete all reps in 12 minutes or less. If standard pull-ups are too challenging, try inverted rows.
CHEST DAY: PUSH-UP
No one can deny the effectiveness of heavy bench presses and inclines in building a massive chest. Yet, this push-up routine at the end of a chest workout will have even the most advanced bodybuilders looking to tap out.
Execution: A push-up is a push-up is a push-up…so long as you are maintaining a perfectly rigid spine and taking your chest down to the floor before pressing to full extension. You can modify hand-spacing to alter the muscular emphasis – a narrower hand placement will place a higher demand on your triceps, while a wider grip will force your pecs to do more of the work, although not through as wide a range of motion.
Implementation: A “few sets to failure” simply won’t suffice for this foundational move. To truly finish off your chest, take a 52-card deck and shuffle the cards so that you have no idea what card will come up next. Flip the first card and do however many push-ups the card says. So, for numbered cards, do whatever number of push-ups coordinate with the number on the card. For picture cards (jack, queen, and king) do ten push-ups. And, for the aces do eleven push-ups. Start with half the deck and work your way to a full deck over a month or two. Once you get to a full-deck session, you will have done 380 push-ups. Aim for 15 minutes, resting as little as possible between cards. If you reach failure too soon, drop to your knees and continue repping – this is preferable to long breaks.
LEG DAY: SQUATS
Heavy barbell squats require greater flexion at the hip, which places a greater amount of the load to be placed on the posterior chain, particularly the glutes, hamstrings and lower back. Because a bodyweight squat allows you to keep the torso in a more upright position, as in the barbell front squat, the quads become the main mover.
Execution: When performing bodyweight squats, the aim should be to keep your torso as upright as possible. Unlock your hips and shift the glutes back, then unlock the knees and drop into a deep squat. Do not let your knees travel too far forward – you should work on keeping your weight on your heels in order to achieve proper muscle activation on the quads and to avoid stress on the knees.
Implementation: Grab that deck of playing cards again. Line up 10 cards on the floor 2-4 inches apart. Squat down directly over the first card and pick it up, being careful to maintain proper body positioning – back straight, head neutral, heels planted. Pick up the first card, then move laterally to the next card and place the first card on top of the second card. After which, you squat twice more to pick up each card individually, before moving to the third card. Walk to the third card and squat twice to stack each card, then squat three times to pick up each card before carrying the cards to the fourth card, and proceeding with the pattern. You will continue this pattern of individually stacking and picking up the cards until you move through all ten cards in the line. At that point, you will have completed 100 squats. You can add cards as your strength and endurance increase. Your goal is to make through twice in 10 minutes. If this too hard, try once in six minutes. If the workout is too easy, try the squats with a one-second pause the bottom or opt for lunges.
Bodyweight finishers are fun, challenging, spark new growth cycles and are highly functional. Instead of pumping out light-weight reps on machines, try these techniques to add some finish to your physique.
Josh Bryant, MFS, CSCS, PES and Adam benShea are co-authors of the Amazon No. 1 seller Jailhouse Strong.