BOOK REVIEW: Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy by Bret Contreras

Bodyweight Strength Training AnatomyBodyweight Strength Training Anatomy by Bret Contreras
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This book combines a calisthenics manual with the anatomical drawings and descriptions necessary to explain the muscle activations involved in each exercise. It takes a very straightforward approach, being organized by body part. Each chapter discusses the component muscles of said part and their unique features, and then gives a series of exercises to work said part. For each exercise, at least one anatomical drawing is provided, showing the primary and secondary muscles being worked in the exercise. In some cases, more than one drawing is needed to convey the full range of motion of the exercise, but in many cases one drawing is sufficient. Each exercise also receives a brief bullet-point description of the action, a textual list of muscles utilized, and notes on issues and cautions to keep in mind to get the most out of the exercise.

Chapter 1 sets the stage for the rest of the book. It discusses general principles to be kept in mind like the need to balance opposing muscle groups, and it also lays out the advantages and limitations of calisthenics, or bodyweight, workouts over other approaches to fitness. Like a number of other calisthenics’ books, this one emphasizes the advantage of not necessarily needing any equipment. In other words, with a little creativity and some quality doors, robust furniture, or park access, one can do all of these exercises without either a gym membership or costly trips to the sporting goods store. Of course, one does need sturdy stationary objects to pull against, particularly to maintain a balanced upper body. What I like about this book more than some others I’ve read is that it emphasizes the need for safety in taking the equipmentless approach. I’ve cringed before in seeing some of the improvised set ups that have been jury-rigged as examples in other calisthenics manuals, but this book uses stout furniture and rafters to get the point across.

Chapters 2 through 9 each focuses on a particular body part, including (respectively): arms, neck and shoulders, chest, core, back, thighs, glutes, and calves. Each chapter starts with some general information on muscle action before launching into the exercises. If you have a particular interest in developing your glutes (i.e. your butt, your backside), then this is definitely the book for you. The author specializes in glutes, and while there are about a typical number of exercises for that musculature, the background information up front is more extensive than for most of the other chapters. For many of the exercises, the author proposes regressions and progressions — that is, easier and harder variants of a fundamental for those who either aren’t up to the basic yet or who need a harder version to challenge them.

The penultimate chapter, Ch. 10, presents whole-body exercises (e.g. burpees, mountain climbers, etc.) and discusses the benefits of including such exercises in one’s workout regimen. Included in this chapter is an introduction to both high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and to Metabolic Resistance Training (MRT.)

The final chapter offers an overview of all the factors to keep in mind when arranging exercises into a program (e.g. number of sets, repetitions per set, and how such considerations are varied depending upon one’s goals.) There’s a lot to consider when putting together a workout regimen, including: the necessary rest periods, balancing one’s workouts to avoid structural imbalances, and how to vary one’s approach depending upon one’s individual goals. A section on exercise for fat loss is included, which is important not only because there are so many people interested in that subject but also because there is so much misinformation out there.

As mentioned, most of the graphics are anatomical drawings showing the muscles in cut-away as the action of the exercise is being performed. There are a few other graphics to help clarify information, as well as tables in the last couple chapters to present information in an organized and easy to use fashion.

I found this book to be informative and well-organized. It’s a straightforward presentation of the skeleto-muscular action involved in various calisthenics exercises. If that’s what one is looking for, or even if one is just looking for a guide to bodyweight exercises, this book will meet your needs.

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5 Exercises to Wed Your Yoga and Calisthenic Practices

5.) Anything plank (a.k.a. adho mukha dandasana / santolanasana): Who knows how long planks have been a feature of yoga? Plank postures are a fixture in Hatha Yoga, playing a role in most versions of Surya Namaskara (sun salutations), and being used to both to build core strength and to prepare for arm balances.

Planks have also gained immense popularity with calisthenic practitioners. In my gym class days, sit-ups and crunches were the go to ab exercises. No more. Now many bodyweight fitness practitioners are ditching sit-ups and crunches altogether for a number of exercises deemed more effective–include many variations on the plank.

High plank (adho mukha dandasana)

 

Low plank (chaturanga dandasana)

 

Forearm plank variation with leg up

 

High plank variation with alternating limbs extended

 

Side plank (vasisthasana)

 

4.) Back bridge (a.k.a. Chakrasana): This is another yoga classic that’s being brought into calisthenics training in a big way. You may note a recurring theme in my selections for this post, exercises and postures (asana) that help to build shoulder joints that are strong, stable, and yet sufficiently flexible. This is a big challenge for bodyweight workout practitioners. One can get stability by bulking the muscles up, but if you don’t have the range of motion to achieve proper alignment, it’s not going to do one a lot of good.

The back bridge (chakrasana, or “wheel pose”)

 

3.) L-sit (a.k.a. Bramcharyasana): Of course, the other recurring theme (besides building shoulder stability) is core strength. This exercise is both a yoga classic and is probably as old as gymnastics itself. Its Sanskrit name, Brahcharyasana, means celibate’s pose–but as far as I’m concerned that’s purely optional.

L-sit (Bramcharyasana)

 

2.) “Supermans” (a.k.a. shalabasana [locust pose]): Another core exercise, but one that strengthens the back muscles.

“Supermans” (shalabasana)

 

1.) Handstands and Handstand Preppers (a.k.a. adho mukha vrksasana): This practice isn’t just about looking impressive. As mentioned above, it’s hard to build shoulder joints that allow enough stability and range of motion to have the command of one’s body that one would like. Our shoulders are optimized to maximum mobility. That helped our ancestors to be awesome throwers of spears and rocks, but it makes it tough to support our weight in an inverted position. The handstand is a good way to build stability in the shoulders.

Handstand (adho mukha vrksasana)

 

If it’s too hard, use your legs to stabilize you (but still try to get that straight up-and-down arm position)

 

If it’s too easy, start doing push-ups