Trainer, YouTuber and former CrossFit Games competitor Marcus Filly has released a new video on his channel outlining how to improve your performance in two staple bodyweight exercises, the pushup and the pullup. He reasons that you should be able to master moving your own body through space before progressing onto lifting weights, and he breaks down four functional bodybuilding concepts to help you do so.
"Gravity doesn't have to be your enemy," he says. "Especially at first, when you're learning."
"This is how we can turn bodyweight training into something that feels variable in resistance like a strength machine or a free weight. You lower very slowly and you need to be stronger, or push and work against more resistance... As you get stronger, the negatives get slower and more controlled."
In the pullup, Filly recommends placing a box under the bar that you can start from so you're not straining yourself to get up to the bar from the lower end of the movement. "Instead, you can be entirely focused on holding a strong isometric contraction with your chin at the top, and then start to slowly lower yourself down to a full range of motion." He recommends aiming for just 3 full range of motion reps that you can control from top to bottom, for 10 seconds each.
The same protocol can be applied to your pushups, to help you get the maximum benefit out of the descending portion of the movement. "You want to let your sternum be the first part of your body to actually touch the floor," he says. "Don't let your hips or your belly tap the floor first." Once you begin to develop some strength and eccentric capacity in these areas, Filly recommends adding eccentric overload, i.e. performing weighted versions of the exercises.
Extended range of motion
By extending and varying the pattern of movement on these exercises, Filly says you can build additional resilience. One move he suggests is the assisted ring lean away pullup: holding onto a pair of rings at shoulder height, lower yourself backwards and down, controlling your descent as you do so, until you are in a hanging squat position. "Along with building longer range of motion, this will bring your rotator cuff into the pullup that will support healthy shoulders," he says.
When it comes to extending the range of motion in the pushup, Filly recommends the deficit pushup, which can be achieved using a pair of parallettes or dumbbells, or even just by performing the move between two benches. If you are just starting out, then you can perform this move at an incline. "Remember, the goal is depth, and extended range of motion, that's the priority," says Filly.Positional priority accessory movements
"One of the reasons people fail early on is they don't assist these movements sufficiently," he says. "The result ends up being that they're working too hard to push or pull themselves to the top of the movement, and they start to break form. With poor form developed early on, these are hard habits to break."
If you're working on building strength via the eccentric contractions, then these assisted versions of the exercises are all about perfecting your technique. Filly has three tips for performing the banded pullup and banded pushup: Flex your quads, tighten your tummy, and squeeze your legs together.
Elbow flexion and extension
While the back, chest and shoulders are primary drivers in pushups and pullups, Filly advises incorporating some elbow work for your biceps and triceps as well. Firstly, the ring bicep curl allows full extension of the elbow at the bottom of the rep, and full flexion at the top. "Err on the side of making this too easy, and accumulate more reps instead," he says. Secondly, the bench dip will target your triceps—as well as continue to build your shoulders.
"If we want to progress our pushup and pullup with great mechanics, avoiding plateaus, keeping our elbows and shoulders really healthy, then I would strongly consider applying functional bodybuilding principles," says Filly.
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