Guy Doing Pullups in Park

Progressive Bodyweight Workout – “The PBW” Calisthenics System

If you’re no longer getting results from your current workouts, I have a free bodyweight system that lets you break stalled progress and get stronger. I call it “The Progressive Bodyweight Workout” – the PBW.

WHAT: The PBW is a fitness routine that uses only a pull-up bar. Train 3 days a week, for 45 minutes a workout. There are 7 primary exercises: squats, pull-ups, chin-ups, wall handstand push-ups, leg raises, push-ups, and planks.

WHY: The goal is to get stronger without getting fatter. To do this, the PBW builds the best strength-to-size ratio for both men and women – to sculpt a functional lean physique without a gym. The focus is on building strength, but you will always lose body fat and gain flexibility and stability as side-effects. The same cannot be said about lifting weights or goal-less calisthenics.

HOW: Each exercise has a “Progression” that allows you to modify the exercise to your current level. When you can do an exercise at 4 sets of 8 reps (“4×8”), you move onto the next progression. This creates progressive overload and gradually improves your entire body’s strength, stamina, coordination… basically, it makes you superhuman by setting goals. No more arbitrary scale-watching, or relying on “the burn” to direct you.

Instead of increasing weight, you increase resistance by learning a harder progression for each exercise. Every exercise has progressions until you hit a “hallmark skill” like one-armed pull-ups. Acquiring these skills becomes a tangible sign of your hard work and gives you a fitness foundation that will let you stay strong and fit for the rest of your life.

THIS IS FOR YOU IF:

  • You want to get stronger with bodyweight exercises because you have no gym access or feel too judged whenever you go
  • You want to live longer, by creating a durable, mobile body and building fitness habits that last for life.
  • You want to sculpt a lean, toned body, without being able to overbulk (fat or muscle), or becoming skinnyfat (no muscle at all, look like a stick)
  • You are frustrated with how ineffective your workouts are
  • You don’t want to dedicate your entire life to fitness, but want a body that looks like you do
  • You are totally done with all the fitness fluff and bullshit that exists and want

Stop wasting time with worthless “workouts” that are all sweat and no results. Start working out effectively. Welcome to the PBW.

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Table of Contents

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Introduction

“The PBW” Workout Summary

The workout uses only 7 major bodyweight exercises to build strength. Resistance is increased by changing the variant used, forcing your body to adapt.

The main goal is improving on the 7 main exercises by doing harder and harder versions. The consequence is losing fat, “toning up” (by nature of bodyweight progressions), becoming functionally strong, increasing balance & stability, and creating a more durable body that can withstand falling, climbing, jumping, and lifting.

The Progressive Bodyweight Workout consists of 2 primary workouts:

Workout A: Squat, Pull-Up/Chin-up, Push-up (4×4 to 4×8), Plank (60 sec)
Workout B: Handstand Push-up, Leg Raise (4×4 to 4×8), Plank (60 sec)

Work out 3 times a week, with at least a day of rest between primary workouts. Rest is extremely important. You train to tell your body, “Time to get stronger.” When you rest, your body responds by rebuilding your muscle. Your muscle is built whilst resting, not while working out.

A typical training week is Monday, Wednesday, Friday. You can train Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday… or you can train Monday, Thursday, Saturday. Just get in all your workouts.

There are options to add more activity/workouts for those who want to. See “Dessert Sets” for more on adding to the routine. 4×4-8 means 4 sets of 8 reps.

Here’s a table of what a sample workout schedule looks like (Week 1):

MondayWednesdayFriday
Squat 4x4-8Handstand Push-up 4x4-8Squat 4x4-8
Pull-up 4x4-8Leg Raise 4x4-8Chin-up 4x4-8
Push-up 4x4-8Plank 60secPush-up 4x4-8
Plank 60secPlank 60sec

And the next week (Week 2):

MondayWednesdayFriday
Handstand Push-up 4x4-8Squat 4x4-8Handstand Push-up 4x4-8
Hanging Leg Raise 4x4-8Pull-up 4x4-8Hanging Leg Raise 4x4-8
Plank 60secPush-up 4x4-8Plank 60sec
Plank 60sec
Warm-ups and cool-downs are not necessary, but recommended.


Workout Goals

Gain Strength, Lose Fat, Gain Muscle

The primary purpose of the RoamStrong Workout is to build strength and muscle while keeping fat down.

You can tailor the PBW to your body composition goals via diet. To lose more fat and build strength gradually, you will eat a little less than normal. To gain more muscle and lose fat gradually (or maintain fat levels), eat a little more than normal. Here’s a quick bullet list of good practices:

  • Eat/drink 1 gram of protein per lb (.45kg) of bodyweight at minimum. Protein is commonly lacking in most people, especially women. You need protein to maintain body function and repair muscle. It will not explode you into muscle instantly.
  • Eat unprocessed food, don’t eat processed food. This makes you feel psychologically better, and there are a host of longevity and health benefits.
    • Meat such as eggs, chicken, turkey, fish, and grass-fed beef are good.
    • Carbs such as brown rice, quinoa, lentils, and beans, OR fruit (whole, not juice)
    • Vegetables in unlimited quantities.
    • Milk is ok if you’re not lactose intolerant. Cheese in moderation.
    • You can technically lose fat and gain muscle on snack foods, but it’s harder for psychological and physiological reasons. Watch for a post talking about this later.

A diet guide is in the works to describe my philosophy and science behind eating, but a summary is here at The Nomad Diet. Other good options: If It Fits Your Macros (2nd place) or the Paleo Diet (3rd place).

I recommend you calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) here. This ballparks how much every you burn on an average day. It also gives you calculations on how much you should eat for a Fat Loss goal or a Muscle Building goal.

Build a Fitness Foundation

This workout program is a fantastic habit builder. I have long been inspired by training functional strength through bodyweight exercises, ever since witnessing Bruce Lee’s fabled one-armed push-up and watching too many cartoons. And through my long exposure with exercise culture, I’ve determined a few things:

  • People feel judged at the gym, which prevents them from going. Not going creates a habit of not going
  • Success is proportional to how working out is perceived (“I hate it” = you’re not going to hit your goals. “I love it” = you’re going to hit your goals)
  • The more chances to make an excuse, the more excuses made, and the less effort made
  • Bodyweight strength skills are all you need to build 99.9% of ideal body types, for both men and women

For these reasons, bodyweight training is my recommended plan to teach people how to workout and to change the mindset from dislike to love. Don’t worry, you won’t be posting motivational half-naked people all over Facebook. You will still be you. No weights or “muscle confusion” needed.

Goku and Vegeta Together
Goku and Vegeta didn’t need weights to get stronger. They made a gravity chamber and did push-ups in 100 times Earth’s gravity and then saved the ENTIRE UNIVERSE.
… Oh wait, they’re cartoon characters.


Exercises

The main exercises of the RoamStrong Workout are chosen for their effectiveness. I selected an exercise for the workout because it is a:

  • Compound exercises – they work multiple, sometimes ALL muscles in the body.
  • Time effective – these are a handful of the best exercises known to man. They challenge your body and force it to adapt without 2-hour long workouts or Insanity-style panting. The result: better body in less time.
  • Primary movement patterns – these exercises train distinct movements that you can use in daily life. There will be little circumstance where you are lying on your stomach and curling a single leg up. There will be many circumstances where you need to squat down or climb. These exercises train your muscles, burn fat, and train your nervous system.
  • Mostly equipmentless – you can do these exercises anywhere, including in your home, backyard, while traveling, anywhere! It creates a routine that removes potential workout slips. Minimal equipment also means you need no gym membership or $1000+ equipment. The only thing you need is a pull-up bar – your own, from a park, or a sturdy branch.
  • Safe – these exercises are all safer than their weighted counterparts. Unlike being under weight, these exercises only have you manipulating your own body (closed kinetic chain exercise). No spotter needed!

Squat

Squat to Pistol Squat Progressions
Left to right: Assisted Half Squat, Full Squat, Pistol Squat

The squat is a compound lower body exercise. You perform a squat by bending at your knees until your calves and hamstrings touch. Then you press your body back up. The squat mainly works your quads, hamstrings, calves, and hip abductors. It also strengthens your abs, obliques (side abs), and lower back.

It is an essential lower body exercise that stabilizes the entire body, improves balance, and makes your core super strong. Squatting motions are used in every athletic pursuit involving the legs. This also teaches your body how to generate power from your legs. You’ll see higher jumping strength, flexibility, and agility with squats. Squat 2 times every week.

See the Squat progression tutorials here

  • Step 1: Assisted Half Squat
  • Step 2: Assisted Full Squat
  • Step 3: Half Squat
  • Step 4: Full Squat (Benchmark Skill)
  • Step 5: Bulgarian Split Squat
  • Step 6: Half Pistol Squat
  • Step 7: Assisted Pistol Squat
  • Step 8: Assisted Balance Pistol Squat
  • Step 9: Counterweight Pistol Squat
  • Step 10: Pistol Squat (Hallmark Skill)
    • Step X: Weighted Pistol Squat
  • Step 11: Renegade Pistol Squat
  • Step 12: Full Shrimp Squat
  • Step 13: Elevated Shrimp Squat

Pull-up

 

Pull-up Progressions
Left to Right: Pull-up, Archer Pull-up, Towel Assisted One-Armed Pull-up, One-Armed Pull-up

The pull-up is a compound vertical pulling exercise. You start by grabbing a bar with palms facing outward and pulling yourself upward, engaging the lats, the shoulders, the biceps, and your abs (yes, really!) Of course, every muscle in your body sans your legs is helping to pull you up, so the pull-up is a wonderful compound exercise that really engages your all.

This movement allows you to pull your own body over obstacles, pull objects down (from a shelf, or otherwise), and strengthens your climbing muscles. We perform pull-ups every other workout (alternate every workout between “pull-up” and “chin-up”, explained in the next section)

Pull-up vs Chin-up: For a pull-up, your palm will face outward. You can perform the same exercise with palm facing inward (chin-ups, covered below). That variant focuses more on the biceps, but still does lots of work on the back, lats, and shoulders. You see impressive results in physique and strength with both exercises.

See the Pull-up progression tutorials here

  • Step 1A: Leg Assisted Pull-ups, or
  • Step 1B: 3-Second Negatives Pull-ups
  • Step 2: Half Pull-ups
  • Step 3: Pull-ups (Benchmark Skill)
  • Step 4: Close Grip Pull-ups
  • Step 5: Wide Grip Pull-ups
  • Step 6: Archer Pull-ups
  • Step 7: Three Finger Pull-ups
  • Step 8: Two Finger Pull-ups
  • Step 9: Towel Assisted One-Armed Pull-ups
  • Step 10: Towel Assisted One-Armed Pull-up + Eccentrics
  • Step 11: Half One-Armed Pull-ups
  • Step 12: One-Armed Pull-ups (Hallmark Skill)
    • Step X: Weighted One-Armed Pull-ups

Chin-up

The chin-up is a vertical pulling exercise.The pull-up tutorial above covers the same progression that a chin-up provides. The only difference: you grip the bar with your palms facing towards you. This movement trains everything the pull-up does, except at slightly different angles. This also focuses more on the biceps and “elbow flexion” that aids lifting objects from the ground with palms facing up. Think lifting boxes and other heavy objects off the floor. Combined with squatting, this exercise will let you lift anything you need to lift!

See the Chin-up progression tutorials here

  • Step 1A: Leg Assisted Chin-ups, or
  • Step 1B: 3-Second Negative Chin-ups
  • Step 2: Half Chin-ups
  • Step 3: Pull-ups (Benchmark Skill)
  • Step 4: Close Grip Chin-ups
  • Step 5: Wide Grip Chin-ups
  • Step 6: Archer Chin-ups
  • Step 7: Three Finger Chin-ups
  • Step 8: Two Finger Chin-ups
  • Step 9: Towel Assisted One-Armed Chin-ups
  • Step 10: Towel Assisted One-Armed Chin-ups + Eccentrics
  • Step 11: Half One-Armed Chin-ups
  • Step 12: One-Armed Chin-ups (Hallmark Skill)
    • Step X: Weighted One-Armed Chin-ups

Wall Handstand Push-up

Wall Handstand Push-up Progressions
Left to Right: Pike Push-up, Decline Pike Push-up, Handstand Push-up

The wall handstand push-up is a compound vertical pushing exercise. Perform a handstand push-up by getting into handstand position, letting yourself down slowly, then pushing yourself up through your shoulders. This big movement works your shoulders, triceps, and your upper chest. You also stabilize with your legs, traps, back, and abs, making this a full body movement.

This movement allows you to push/lift objects up while remaining stable. You will be able to boost anyone to a higher grocery aisle shelf! Expect improved shoulder strength and stability.

You don’t need to be able to do a handstand for this exercise. You will lean against the wall, eliminating most balance from the equation. Note for our purpose of creating stronger, healthier, balanced shoulders, learning a freeform handstand push-up is not necessary. This is a separate skill that can be practiced as a Dessert Set.

See the WHSPU progression tutorials here

  • Step 1: Incline Pike Press
  • Step 2: Pike Press(Benchmark Skill)
  • Step 3: Diamond Pike Press
  • Step 4: Decline Pike Press
  • Step 5: Decline Diamond Pike Press
  • Step 6: Bending Wall Handstand Push-up
  • Step 7: Wall Handstand Push-up Negatives
  • Step 8: Half Wall Handstand Push-up
  • Step 9: Wall Handstand Push-up (Hallmark Skill)
  • Step 10: Elevated Wall Handstand Push-up
    • Step X: Overhead Press (Barbell) or Weight Vest Elevated Wall Handstand Push-up

Push-up

Performing a One-Armed Push-up
Me Performing a One-Armed Push-up

The push-up is a compound horizontal pushing exercise. Perform it by placing your feet on the ground, and hands shoulder width apart. Lower yourself down until your chest touches the ground, then push up through your arms and chest. This movement works your triceps, chest, and front shoulders. It also helps develop your upper back, lower back, and abs as you stabilize the movement.

Horizontal pushing increases your ability to produce force directly in front of you. The most obvious benefit is punching. Some less obvious benefits include faster running (due to training the “serape effect,” or the relationship between shoulder and hip), throwing motions, and pushing heavy objects like boxes or a car.

See the Push-up progression tutorials here

  • Step 1: Wall Push-up
  • Step 2: High Incline Push-up
  • Step 3: Low Incline Push-up
  • Step 4: Push-up (Benchmark Skill)
  • Step 5: Close Push-up/Diamond Push-up
  • Step 6: Wide Push-up
  • Step 7: Low Decline Push-up
  • Step 8: Low Decline Close Push-up
  • Step 9: Low Decline Wide Push-up
  • Step 10: High Decline Push-up
  • Step 11: High Decline Close Push-up
  • Step 12: High Decline Wide Push-up
  • Step 13: Wall One-Armed Push-up
  • Step 14: High Incline One-Armed Push-up
  • Step 15: Low Incline One-Armed Push-up
  • Step 16: One-Armed Push-up (Hallmark Skill)

Hanging Leg Raise

How to Do a Hanging Leg Raise Progressions
Left to Right: Pulse-Ups, Parallel Straight Leg Raise, Hanging Leg Raise

The leg raise is a compound core exercise that strengthens the front and back side of your core. Perform a leg raise by hanging from a bar and moving your legs until they are parallel with the floor. It primarily targets the abs, obliques (the sides of your abs), and lower back. It also strengthens hip flexion and extension, and stabilizes the legs.

The movement will make your entire core very stable and strong. A stable core increases your ability to perform every possible movement, and armors your midsection with ab muscle. And, lets face it… everyone wants visible abs. This will get you there paired with a fat loss diet.

See the Hanging Leg Raise progression tutorials here

  • Step 1: Lying Knee Raise/Reverse Crunch
  • Step 2: Lying Bent Leg Raise
  • Step 3: Lying Straight Leg Raise
  • Step 4: Pulse-Up
  • Step 5: Lying Windshield Wiper
  • Step 6: Parallel Knee Raise
  • Step 7: Parallel Bent Leg Raise
  • Step 8: Parallel Straight Leg Raise
  • Step 9: Hanging Knee Raise
  • Step 10: Hanging Bent Leg Raise
  • Step 11: Hanging Straight Leg Raise (Benchmark Skill)
  • Step 12: Hanging V-Raise
  • Step 13: Hanging Fan Raise (Alternating V-Raises)
  • Step 14: Hanging Windshield Wiper (Hallmark Skill)

Plank

8 One Arm One Leg Plank
A One-Armed, One-Legged Plank

The plank is an isometric core exercise that strengthens your stabilizers and core, and trains the synergistic flexing of multiple muscles. Perform the exercise by getting down on the floor in push-up position, feet together. Rest your forearms on the ground comfortably. Stay in position for as long as possible, feeling the exercise in your abs.

Like leg raises, the core supports every activity you will ever do in life and in fitness. That’s why there’s a core-specific exercise every workout – and to clarify, every exercise preceding the plank also utilizes your core.

See the Plank progression tutorials here

  • Step 1: Wall-Assisted Plank
  • Step 2: Kneeling Plank
  • Step 3: Kneeling Side Plank
  • Step 4: Straight-Arm Plank
  • Step 5: Plank (Benchmark Skill)
  • Step 6: Side Plank
  • Step 7: One-Legged Plank
  • Step 8: One-Legged, One-Armed Plank
  • Step 9: One Legged, One-Armed Side Plank
  • Step 10: Wall Plank
  • Step 11: Wall Plank March (Hallmark Skill)

Accessory Exercises (Dessert Sets)

Dessert sets are exercises that we do after the primary workout. There are a few reasons why you would add Dessert Sets:

  • They let you focus on a lagging body part – think your abs need more pop? You have free reign to do more ab exercises. Want stronger calves? Do a few sets of calf raises. I will have a
  • They let you add more intensity – if you just reached a progression (4×8), yet you feel like doing more? Then absolutely do more! You can do more of the same exercises, or complete some accessory exercise. More explained below.
  • They are super fun – you need the primary workouts to build an excellent body. The dessert sets are for your enjoyment. I think chin-ups are super fun, and I like working out my biceps, so I do them post-workout!

Here are some dessert set ideas:

  • High rep burnout sets – Some people love the feeling of muscular exhaustion. There are merits to it; it can prompt muscular adaptation even in the high rep range – that is, you can gain strength and muscle size from lower weight, if you exhaust your muscles. It improves muscular endurance – your ability to do more, in less time. I like to exhaust with chin-ups after Workout C – the extra volume just feels good!
  • Accessory Exercises – These are exercises that mostly work a single muscle. Examples include crunches, sit-ups, V-ups, bicep curls, lateral raises, ab wheel rollouts, and calf raises. Generally, men like to add more bicep, upper body, and ab work work (chin-ups/bicep curls, handstand push-ups/shoulder press, all ab exercises). Women like to add more glute, leg, and ab work (glute bridges, calf raises, sit-ups and v-ups). Use dessert sets to focus on your guilty pleasure exercises.
  • Skill Work – skill work refers to isometric holds that are popular in gymnastics. Examples are the L-sit, front lever, back lever, and planche. Isometric holds post-workout are great for circulation and creating better mind-body connection. That is to say, they create great non-muscular strength gains by teaching your body to use the muscle you already have, better. They also add a little bit of muscle and force your body to keep fat off, as any extra fat makes skill work harder.
  • Cardio – Post-workout cardio for 5-10 minutes is nice for circulation and cooling down.

Why are they called “dessert sets”? I think of training like a meal. The entree (primary workout) builds you up and makes you strong, healthy, and wise. The dessert is fun, an addition to an already great meal. By doing your entree workout first, I am forcing your body to grow stronger and keeping you on track. However, once you complete it, I give you free reign to practice some little skills you’d like to hone for fun and make this training uniquely yours. When I was weightlifting, my dessert after most workouts was bicep curls! But if I jumped in to do bicep curls first, I would not feel obligated to do my squats, an exercise that is unarguably more important for a fitness foundation.

 

 


 

Equipment

Pull-up Bar

The only necessary piece of equipment is a pull-up bar. There are substitutes, but I recommend investing in one. While traveling, most hotel gyms will have some light dumbbells and a place to do pull-ups. If not, grab a tree branch, door frame… you get the picture. Grab something that can support you, and pull up!

Supplements

You don’t need most of them. You can get by with any multi-vitamin (as long as you don’t get upset stomach), some supply of calcium (you can grind up baked eggshells, take Tums, or get calcium tablets), and whey protein if you have trouble hitting 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight. That’s 1g of protein per .45kg if you’re on the metric system.

If you’re having trouble recovering, or want to gain strength a little quicker, you can supplement with creatine monohydrate. Examine.com has a great article on creatine and safety.

Clothing, Gear

Other equipment is not needed, but some people feel more comfortable with it. Here are my thoughts on some lifting gear:

  • Gloves – The only time I recommend gloves is when a pull-up bar is in direct sunlight (and thus, is too hot to the touch) or a pull-up bar is freezing cold. Don’t use gloves for extra grip strength (exception: deadlifting). Most of the time, I get a better grip without gloves. The gloves I use are Mechanix Vents when the bar is too hot or my hands are callous-covered. I prefer bare-handed.
  • Wrist wraps – If your wrists hurt due to orthopedic issue, wrap your wrists in ACE bandages or find a dedicated fitness product. I used a brandless compression wrap when I had a ganglion cyst pushing on a nerve in my right wrist. That helped cut down on the pain and create better wrist stability.
  • Knee sleeves – I support knee sleeves. My mom loves them, my grandma likes them, and I adore them. If your knees hurt, try them out.
  • Elbow compression sleeves – I fully support elbow sleeves! Back when I miffed up my right elbow and right shoulder while bench pressing, elbow sleeves were the only way I could cut through the pain. While I now recommend taking a break from injury such as nerve impingement or inflammation, I support elbow sleeves if you feel you must workout, or if you are simply being preventative with any elbow issues. Note, sleeves are no excuse for sloppy technique (best word to describe my benching in sophomore year of college).

 


 

Frequently Asked Questions

What does 4×4-8 mean?

4×4-8 means 4 sets of 4 to 8 reps of one exercise. The program calls for 4 to 8 reps to allow progression. Here is an example: you are doing Workout A beginning with pull-ups. You are able to do 4×8 of Half Pull-ups. Next workout, you will do 4×4 Pull-ups. Then, you will do 4×5. If you cannot do 4×5, you can do 5/4/4/4, then 5/5/4/4, then 5/5/5/4, then 5/5/5/5. Then you shoot for 4×6. You repeat this for each exercise progression until you can do 4×8. Then you move up a progression and begin anew.

Try to never dip below 4×4. That normally means you did not master your 4×8. However, some have had success starting from 4×3, and working up to 4×8. As long as you are gaining strength each workout, you are progressing correctly.

What does 60sec mean?

You hold an exercise for 60 seconds. This only applies to planks in this workout program.

I encourage trainees to hold a plank for as long as possible with a stopwatch/timer nearby. If you can’t hit 60 seconds straight, you would hold for as long as possible, take a 10-30 second break, then hold the plank a little longer. Keep taking small breaks until you hit 60 seconds. When you can hit 60 seconds without a break, you can progress to the next plank progression.

A quick example: I try to hit 60 seconds in a basic plank. I hit 30 seconds before I am too tired to hold. I take a break of 25 seconds. I then hold my plank for 20 seconds. I take another 25 second break. I hold my plank for 10 seconds to finish the extended set. I am now done. That adds up to 60 seconds total.

Note: This timing scheme is used for other isometric progressions, such as the front lever, the back lever, the planche, and the L-sit. However, these isometric exercises are more skill-based than intensity based. I prefer the plank for its ease of completion. These other skills can be worked on as accessories or as “dessert exercises” on rest days/post-workout.

I don’t feel “the burn”. Should I add more training?

Let’s debunk one myth. You don’t need to “feel the burn” to force muscular adaptation. Feeling the burn doesn’t mean you are burning extra calories or doing something right. That said, some people simply love to work out, or want to work out more. This is good motivation! In that case, you can do these post-workout:

  • Do AMRAP (as many reps as possible) of a muscle group you worked that day. Work your muscle group until failure. Exhaust yourself safely.
  • Perform a set of “dessert exercise” – an accessory movement that targets a specific area of your choosing. A common “dessert exercise” is bicep curls at the gym. For bodyweight workouts, it generally means ab exercises!
  • High intensity interval training – Tabata Sprints, for example
  • Running, cycling
  • Yoga, static stretches

As long as your extracurriculars don’t strain your muscle, find what works best for you. Or do what I do – stretch post-workout for 2 minutes, and walk it off.

What is Progressive Overload, and why is it important?

Progressive overload is a fundamental concept in strength training. A little Lifting 101: your body needs to experience new, challenging loads (weight, resistance, whatever you want to call it) to prompt your body to become stronger. As long as you are challenging your body with increasingly difficult exercise, you will see strength gains.

The progressive in progressive overload refers to progressively increasing resistance so your gains in muscle/strength/fat loss do not stall. If you are not challenging your body with progressively challenging loads, your body adapts and the workouts will simply keep you at your current skill level. You won’t gain any more strength/muscle, and you won’t lose any more fat. That’s the problem with most calisthenics/bodyweight workouts. They just don’t add extra resistance!

If your plan is to get stronger, you need to train with heavier stuff… period! Since the goal of the RoamStrong System is not to be tethered by the necessity of weights, we use leverage to make exercises progressively more difficult. That change in leverage and increased resistance is the same as increasing weight. Your body doesn’t know the difference between lifting up actual weight or lifting your body. It just knows that the load is bigger and more strenuous, so it needs to adapt and get stronger.

Now, whether you want to get stronger at a certain point is up to you. Some people are content never hitting a one-armed chin-up, and that’s their choice. My biggest goal is to arm you with understanding of how your body works instead of fruitlessly following exciting workout-of-the-days. Most people want strength and a lean body without a bunch of the work. That’s what my system focuses on.

Can I do other activities alongside the RoamStrong System?

It’s encouraged! You can run, climb, hike, help friends move things, garden, anything you want. It’s your life, and the The RoamStrong System should make it better by giving you back your confidence, your strength, your health, your durability, and your agency. That’s the reason why I created it.

Can I add weightlifting, cardio, and other fitness-focused activities to The PBW?

There are options to add “dessert” exercises, or non-primary exercises, to customize your program. There are also options to add weight training. You’re absolutely free to add stuff in or take elements of my system and place it into others. It’s a free country (God Bless the USA!) And if you’re in another country, well, I just hope there aren’t any “Fitness Police” lurking around…

How long should I rest between sets?

The rest period is 3 to 4 minutes. If your strength is plateauing (meaning you don’t see improvements over 2 weeks), you can take a slightly longer break at 5 minutes per set. That will give your body time to recover ATP, an energy source utilized during anaerobic (oxygen-less) exercise. That’s a fancy word for the exercise that you’re doing. So you’ll have a little more oomph in your lifts with those longer breaks.

Most people I teach do not need that long of a break normally, so save your longer breaks for plateaus.

What should I do between sets?

Walk around, stand, move your arms in circles, watch TV, anything really. I walk about and swing my arms, breathing. That lets the blood circulate a bit. Sometimes I just stand still and absorb the peace of the moment. Some people like to jog during their rest period- getting in cardio between sets accelerates fat loss, but may tire you out and detract from the strength training. Experiment and do what you like.

How long should I rest between exercises?

I rest about 30 seconds between exercises (for example, from Squats to Pull-ups). If you’re particularly winded, take a longer break. You want to be refreshed and ready to train when the next exercise starts.

What should my tempo look like?

Tempo is the timing within the performance of a single rep (more here). Perform the concentric phase (the push or pull) as fast as possible while under control. Pause very briefly (0 to 1 second) between the concentric and eccentric phase. Perform the eccentric phase for 1 to 2 seconds. Take 0 to 1 second between reps.

If you find better performance in a different tempo, feel free to change it up. I optimized this tempo for new trainees to feel the muscles they’re working and establish mind-body connection. Some people can’t even flex their forearms!

Why not use weights?

I am fond of saying – it all depends on your goals. My primary reason for creating this program is to break the stereotype that strength training is only for meatheads and that cardio and starving yourself is how you get abs and stay healthy. Most people’s ideal body type is the athletic, toned look. Bodyweight strength training is suited for this.

Below, I outline some advantages bodyweight strength training has over conventional weightlifting and cardio. Note, I absolutely support weightlifting (when done progressively) for both strength and bodybuilding, and I support cardio for… well, getting better at cardio. That said, the advantages are below.

Advantages Over Weightlifting:

  1. The goals force functional muscular performance – the heavier you are, the harder the exercises. The program removes the ability to fail. You can’t be sloppy and still progress like weightlifting, where you can simply eat a lot more to recover your muscles and gain strength, but could easily gain fat. For new trainees, this is super important in building good habits. I’ve seen a lot of bad bulks while weightlifting but never bad bulks when on bodyweight exercises. Basically, you won’t get fatter while getting stronger when you do bodyweight strengh training because it self-regulates.
  2. Can exercise anywhere – most trainees look for excuses for not working out. Bodyweight strength training eliminates the excuse because you can do them anywhere, even in front of your TV. I used to do workouts in my cubicle! The idea is, you literally never have an excuse not to work out, which creates a habit. Soon, you find yourself craving the sensation of calisthenic movement, so you never stop wanting to work out, period. I’m building you a lifetime love of fitness.
  3. Less fear of “being bulky” – though you will NOT swell to Arnold proportions with weight lifting, the preconceived notions that simply holding weights will make you look like you’re a steroids keeps people from strength training. Bodyweight strength training is a milder alternative that people are not as scared to train, and is way better than exclusive cardio for sculpting a body. Of course, both together is the winning combo.

Advantages Over Cardio:

  1. Cuts fat without sacrificing muscle – only doing cardio melts your muscle away. If you want a toned look, you cannot only run. Bodyweight strength training will preserve your muscle while burning fat so you can get the toned look. Take a look at endurance/marathon runners. That’ the body you’re likely to expect with cardio alone.
  2. Shorter workout time – cardio generally takes an hour or more. Bodyweight strength training takes about 40 minutes for a full workout. Further, you can break up your workout throughout the day – Do Handstand Pushups in the morning, then Hanging Leg Raises at night.
  3. More effective fat burning – having muscle means your body burns more calories while idling and resting. You know why athletic people can eat a lot? It isn’t because they move around a lot (though that contributes). It’s because they have lots of muscle that burns energy during rest.
  4. Improves joint strength – Cardio destroys joints. Strength training strengthens them. This is important for lifelong fitness.
  5. Easier to show off – most people can’t do the imtermediate skills. Imagine how impressed people are by one-armed chin-ups and one-armed push-ups. Running very long distances simply can’t compare (oh, and it might be hurting you)
  6. More fun – I like running, but not past 10 minutes. It is way more fun to lift yourself with one arm above things. You feel like you are flying.
  7. No sweat – Strength training doesn’t need to make you sweat a bunch to be effective. You can get stronger and barely break a sweat, unlike cardio.
  8. Better body type – totally personal opinion. Not many people (guys or girls) look at endurance athletes and say they want that physique. On average, a bodyweight strength athlete (such as a gymnast) will have a more desirable body type.

Everyone should be able to run and sprint, and if your primary goal for cardio is being better at cardio, I support that.

However, if you want to be more durable, have better joints, look better, feel stronger, build the fitness habit more easily, and have a flexible fitness base for any activity (rock climbing, hiking, backpacking, sailing, helping your friends move, evading capture), then bodyweight strength training is the way to go.

How do I warm-up?

Warming up is a good idea. It helps prevent injury, . You only need a minute or 2.

There are a few options – you can do 1, or all of them:

  • Do a set of the progression preceding your current progression. For example, if my working set (what I am 4×8’ing) is Pull-ups, the preceding progression to warm up on is Half Pull-ups. A set of 8 reps focusing on technique and warming up are recommended.
  • Jog in place for a minute (or more)
  • Do dynamic stretches (tutorials to come later; these can improve agility AND warm you up at the same time. Talk about efficient!)
  • Don’t do a warm-up

Do NOT do these for a warm-up:

  • Lots of static stretching, such as splits, hamstring stretches, calf stretches. A little to loosen up is fine, but too much neurologically puts you into sleeping mode. That’s why stretching is great before bed. Not so great before workout.

What should I do to cool down?

I recommend static stretching that target muscle groups you just used. Here’s a small list (tutorials to come):

  • Broomstick dislocates / band dislocates
  • Butterfly stretch
  • Splits (or split progression)
  • Calf stretch
  • Hamstring stretch
  • Quadracep stretch

I admit, I get lazy when it comes to stretches. Ideally, you do these all after every workout for 10-20 seconds each. I tend to just do hamstring stretches (everything else I have stays flexible… go figure!)

You can also walk around, jog a bit, lie down on your back. I don’t recommend sitting if you just finished squatting; this can limit your flexibility. Imagine your legs like warm taffy. Stretch it out and let it cool down, it will stay flexible and primed. Let it cool all bunched up, and it will be stuff and inflexible.

Should I stretch before or after workout?

Dynamic stretching before, static stretching after is the best way to do it.

A few of my favorite dynamic stretching exercises (tutorials to come later; Youtube these for now):

  • Shoulder circles
  • Full-body circles
  • Front leg swing
  • Side leg swing
  • Front leg raise
  • Side leg raise
  • Wrist extension and wrist release

A few of my favorite static stretching exercises:

  • Broomstick dislocates
  • Butterfly stretch
  • Splits (or split progression)
  • Calf stretch
  • Hamstring stretch
  • Quadracep stretch

Should I lift the weights quickly?

The concentric phase (the “pushing” or “pulling” part of the exercise) should be done as quick as possible while under control. The eccentric phase (

If you’re not familiar with concentric vs. eccentric phases, read my page on notation, which has a section on them.

How do I breathe during exercise?

There are 2 ways I like to breathe:

For the 1-8 rep range, here’s how to do it for the primary exercises:

  1. Squat: Deep inhale. Hold your breath while descending. Continue to hold it while at the bottom. Continue to hold it while pushing upwards. Exhale at the top.
  2. Pull-up/Chin-up: Inhale. Jump up to the bar. Exhale as you pull up. Exhale completely at the top. Inhale as you let yourself down.
  3. Handstand Push-up: Inhale as you get into position. Exhale in position. Inhale slowly as you let your body down. Exhale as you push up.
  4. Leg Raise: Exhale as you swing your legs up. Inhale as your legs come back to neutral.
  5. Push-up: Inhale as you go down. Exhale as you go up.
  6. Plank: Continually inhale and exhale slowly, but steadily.

For the 9+ rep range, I simply inhale on the eccentric portion of the exercise and exhale on the concentric portion of the exercise. I pay less attention to the form of my breath, other than trying to continually exchange fresh air into my lungs.

On those final, hard reps, I may start to use the Valsalva maneuver. This technique helps you stay tight and stable during the movement when under weight.While bodyweight strength training doesn’t have you under a bar, some aspects of the technique help create internal tension to lift yourself more effectively. Breathe in, hold your breath, perform the lift, then exhale. That’s it!

What if I fail a set?

Here’s a hypothetical scenario. You’re aiming to get 4×8, or 8/8/8/8. Your first two sets are completed without a hitch. The third set, you get 6 reps. So you’re now at 8/8/6. At this point, take a breather for 3-5 minutes. Then try hitting your goal reps for the next set.

If you manage to get 8/8/6/8, congrats! Next time, you will almost certainly get 8/8/8/8. Consider this a victory.

But, let’s say you manage 8/8/6/6. No problem. Next time, you can simply add a rep or two to your failed sets as a goal. So 8/8/7/7 or 8/8/8/6 would be your next goal.

As long as you increase by at least 1 rep each time, you are progressing.

Can I workout every day?

I would not recommend doing the workouts everyday. If you feel unchallenged, simply change progressions until you are challenged. Amount of exercise does not mean better gains. It’s the intensity within each rep and progressive overload that creates body adaptation. If you are seeing strength gains yet are recovering greatly, call it a blessing!

If you’re asking about doing other activities (like rock climbing, hiking, etc) I advise that you absolutely do that. Life is way too short to worry about strict program adherence. You can gauge how you feel after activity. If not too sore, continue the plan. If a little sore, just move your workout day back a day!

When do I do another program? How long should I stay on the RoamStrong System?

As long as you want. The ultimate goal is doing all the progressions at 4×8. At that point, you will need to clarify your goal: do you want to get even stronger? Do you want larger muscle? Do you want to burn more fat?

If you want to get stronger or build larger muscle, you can bump the sets up to 5×8, or you can start adding weights. For example, I can bang out one-armed push-ups easily, so I have people sit on my back to add resistance. This is basically the bodyweight equivalent of weightlifting. You can also move onto a weightlifting program. Of course at this point, you’re probably in the best shape of your life and have a wonderful fitness habit. You’re basically an expert in your own right! 🙂

How will this affect a woman?

Women tend to recover slower than men. This is due to less testosterone production, which helps signal the body to synthesize new muscle.

Your progression will likely be slower than a man’s. Nothing else will be different. You won’t become bulky, and it is easily reversible even if a wizard magically made you that way. Simply stop working out to lose muscle.

I don’t want to (insert exercise). What ways can I modify the program?

I don’t recommend you modify it if you do not have experience with workout programming.
If you are intermediate in the fitness world, use your best judgment in programming or adapting components of this program.
If you don’t want a certain exercise because you don’t like it, I recommend you give it a shot. I chose the exercises for a reason.
If you are physically unable to do the exercise, we must figure out a way for you to work up to it. Are you currently too weak? There are low-level progressions made for you to build up your strength. Not flexible enough? Practice the movement and stretch it out. When in doubt about a particular exercise, ask Reddit’s r/bodyweightfitness, my r/gaintrain forum, or leave a note in the comments.

Why do you need to progress? Can’t you just add reps to (insert exercise here)?

Unlike other bodyweight programs, we do not exclusively emphasize high-rep challenges. Though they offer good benefits – increased muscular endurance, improved focus, quantifiable progress – they are not optimized for long-term progress, nor do they effectively build stronger muscles on their own.

A program focusing exclusively on high-rep pump-and-burn have diminishing gains. There is only so much repeatable intensity that can be made by doing hundreds of push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups every day. While you could certainly build impressive physiques with such a regimen (in science speak, by exhausting Type I muscle fibers to the point where Type II fibers need to act), they are not optimized for strength gains or progressive longevity.

The purpose of the RoamStrong System is to create a fitness habit and strong muscular foundation, especially in a way that doesn’t interfere with other activity.

How do I work in high repetition work? I find I feel my healthiest when I have it.

You can work in high repetition strength training for 1 or 2 days a week, if you choose. More than that may require a stronger athletic base.

Add to the program as you please, as long as you don’t lose sight of the progression goals. If you’re continuously improving, then you are succeeding.

A little high rep work can also be handy to break a progression plateau. When I stall on progression, I sometimes take a day to slam out as many push-ups, pull-ups, and pistol squats as I can. It reinvigorates the excitement of the workout.

How does this program compare to home-based workouts like P90x, T25, and Insanity?

These home-based programs tend to focus on high intensity interval training exclusively. They provide a hefty cardiovascular challenge, but they will not maintain (let alone build) muscle the way a program utilizing progressive overload will.

These workouts are appreciated for their convenience. My brother had an Insanity workout spree for his first months in consulting – this was because after a long day of work and lack of good equipment in hotel rooms, he needed something, anything, to maintain his good physique.

For various reasons, high repetition cardio challenges (P90x, Insanity, Pushup/Squat Challenges) do not create the habits or foundation desired of the RoamStrong System. They lack a focus on creating strength and seeing progression through performance, rather than arbitrary scale numbers or looking in the mirror. When progression is clear, people stick to a program. Making progress an objective measurement (outside of scale number) creates better habits and better strength.

You will see better results on the RoamStrong System than those programs, guaranteed. And it’ll be easier to accomplish.

I don’t have a pull-up bar. Any replacement exercises?

Pull-ups and chin-ups are irreplaceable. It is one of the best, most effective, time efficient, compound exercises known. There is no alternative to doing them.

I recommend investing in one. Most sell for $30 dollars, and will be the best investment you will ever make in a fitness product. I use an Iron Gym pull-up bar, but feel free to visit a sporting goods store and shop around for one that suits your needs.

If you absolutely cannot get a pull-up bar or find one nearby, here are some alternatives. Be safe, and make sure it can support your weight:

  • Your door – most doors and hinges are strong enough to support bodyweight. However, long term use may harm hinges and will cost multiples over simply buying a pull-up bar. So yeah, buy a pull-up bar!
  • Your door frame – if your door frame is sturdy, you can place your fingertips on it and pull up. This is quite difficult if you cannot already do a pull-up… so get a pull-up bar.
  • Trees – tree branches can be a bit uneven (makes things a little difficult), but you can certainly do pull-ups on them. They tend to be very sturdy.
  • Support beams – support beams are often sturdy enough to support bodyweight
  • Other places – you can do these in attic rafters, on railing, on a clothes drying rack, on the backs of stairs, anything that can support your weight! Or, save time and buy a pull-up bar!

What does Step X mean in the Progressions?

Step X refers to a weighted progression. When either A) you are tired of doing progressions or B) you want more of a pure strength challenge, you can utilize weighted variants. In this way, the workout system can always challenge you, even when you can nail out 4×8 one-armed chin-ups! I recommend using weight when both limbs are touching the ground (so weighted Push-ups > weighted One-Armed Push-ups) as this forces you to use more raw strength from your targeted muscle groups and allows you to focus more on power generation and less on technique.

If you can manage weighted one-armed/one-legged techniques, more power to you. At that point, you know your body well enough to decide on your own!

What Style Of Training Is This?

This is progressive bodyweight strength training – also known as progressive calisthenics. Let’s break that down:

  • Progressive.  This implies a goal – that we are PROGRESSING, not stalling.
  • Bodyweight. This imples you’re moving your body to achieve this progression, rather than moving external weights. This doesn’t mean I’m against weights (quite the opposite, in fact). It just means that this system uses bodyweight mastery to achieve progression rather than stacking weight.
  • Strength. This implies the major focus is on improving strength. And by focusing on strength, we achieve a myriad of subsidiary outcomes, like losing fat, gaining muscle, moving better, and living longer. The combo of “bodyweight” and “strength” implies that you aren’t just lifting max numbers – you’re lifting with max efficiency for your weight.
  • Training. This implies that you’re aiming for an outcome. Training is always training for something. What separates exercise from training is this intention. Exercise is content to be movement for movement’s sake – and that’s not a bad thing. Training is movement for a specific goal – FOCUSED exercise. And by now, I think you know what that goal is.

Systems such as these are sometimes called “Progressive Calisthenics”, too. It’s the same thing – but I couldn’t make an acronym out of it (“PC”is a little monopolized).

What if my question is not here?

Feel free to send questions via my contact form. Better, comment on the post so others can benefit from the knowledge shared!

I will respond to you, and potentially update the FAQ. If you’d like credit for asking a question, let me know. Otherwise, I keep it anonymous.


 

Credits, and Thanks

Thank you to my friends for always pushing me to write this all down. I wish you all the best in your fitness goals!

Thank you to my parents, for always pushing me to follow my dreams and for housing me when I decided I wanted to write full time.

Thank you to Stronglifts 5×5, whose format and programming inspired the format of this guide.

And most importantly, thank you to all the wonderful people who have continued to bravely live despite feeling bad in their own skins. I created this program just for you. Social Physique Anxiety – feeling like everyone, everywhere is judging your body – is something I have lived firsthand. You are never alone. I created this program to allow anyone to reach their fitness goal without feeling embarrassed at the gym, and to build enough confidence to break free of that anxiety.

To your future and continued success,

~Aaron

Move Stronger, and Live Longer

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