FIT FOR ANYTHING - The Literature Book (Big Ideas Simply Explained) (2016)

The Literature Book (Big Ideas Simply Explained) (2016)


According to the American College of Sports Medicine’s worldwide survey of fitness trends, bodyweight training was the top fitness trend of 2015—but it’s nothing new to the fitness world. Bodyweight training is just another word for training that consists of calisthenics exercises; that is, exercises that use your own body’s weight to create resistance and build muscle.




No bench press. No dumbbells. No sweaty guy grunting through his WOD next to you. Just a set of rigorous, do-anywhere exercises that will chisel every part of your body. By focusing on movements—such as pushes and pulls—that target several muscle groups simultaneously, as opposed to working one muscle group at a time, bodyweight exercises make it possible to do a balanced 30-minute workout that challenges the arms, chest, core, and legs.


Bodyweight training or calisthenics—the two terms are used here more or less interchangeably—is experiencing a resurgence because it’s easy to incorporate into any schedule and it gets results. It can be done in conjunction with other weight and cardio programs, or it can be a stand-alone approach. You can easily modify it as your fitness level improves, and you don’t need any added weights or machines. More specifically, here are some key reasons why I use it with my clients.


Because bodyweight training works several muscle groups, rather than one in isolation, it delivers results in less time than other fitness techniques. By doing quick bodyweight cardio moves like burpees or jumping jacks in between strength moves like push-ups and pull-ups, you get strength training, cardio exercise, and core work all in the same exercise routine. The shorter rest times that often accompany bodyweight training help you maintain a higher heart rate, which increases cardiovascular capacity and helps to create lean muscle mass.


Bodyweight training can be done anywhere, so it’s perfect for the busy executive, the frequent traveler, or anyone who hates the scene at the health club. One of my favorite places to do a calisthenics routine is outdoors—on the beach, at a park, or even at a playground where I can incorporate the jungle gym into my routine. Getting out in nature also has the added bonus of relaxing your mind. When I travel, it doesn’t matter to me if the hotel has a treadmill or set of weight machines as long as there is enough space in my room or somewhere outside for me to knock out a calisthenics workout.


Machines have a limited ability to adapt to your level of fitness, but you can customize bodyweight training to you, regardless of whether you’re a total beginner or an incredibly fit person looking for your next challenge. A push-up, for example, has many levels of difficulty. You can progress from doing it on your knees to your feet, add a stability challenge, or make it dynamic by adding movement. Other ways to tailor the routine to your fitness level include adding repetitions, performing the move superfast or very slowly, and varying your rest time. Playing with these variations will help keep you from getting bored of doing the same routine day in and day out.



I wasn’t real quick, and I wasn’t real strong. Some guys will just take off and it’s like, whoa. So I beat them with my mind and my fundamentals.




Bodyweight exercises teach you how to maneuver your body in the real world, not just on a leg press machine. When you work out with weights, you can get stuck training muscles with limited movement patterns. You lie on a bench or sit on a machine at the gym, engaging your arms or legs but letting your core sit idle. While you may have an impressive deadlift, go out on the tennis court for an hour, and you’ll be incredibly sore the next day. Why? Because even though your muscles are strong, they’re not used to any movements except the ones you make at the gym. To perform real-world movements, your body must provide real-world stability—and calisthenics never allows for an idle core.


Working out is supposed to build a body that’s harder to injure, not easier. Yet gym-related injuries, particularly during weight training, are common. In many weight-lifting programs, people overwork some muscles and underwork others. This leads to muscle imbalances, which leave joints susceptible to injury. Because bodyweight training works the whole body all the time, your muscles get strong as a complete system, moving and stabilizing in concert. This is particularly important when you think about the core stabilizers that protect your most precious commodity: the spine.

It’s important to add that injury isn’t something that only happens at the gym; it can happen with calisthenics as well. Many people begin a fitness program with preexisting injuries, muscle imbalances, and reduced mobility. It’s crucial to address and be aware of these issues before starting a bodyweight training program. If you’re unsure of your readiness for the exercises and workouts in this book, first seek the advice of a trusted personal trainer or physical therapist.





ImagesBodyweight training will make you feel and look better. As an added bonus, it’ll also improve your golf game.

“You can unlock a lot of power in the golf swing if you’re more mobile,” says Andrew Losik. He would know: He spent five years as a PGA professional before becoming a certified personal trainer at AXIS Personal Trainers in Menlo Park, California. “The golf swing is a 100 percent maximal effort movement, like jumping up on something really high.”

The way to nail that swing while protecting your lower back from injury is to strengthen your glutes and your core—the king and queen of the golf swing, as they’re called—which will let you nail the finer technical points of the swing. “If you’re right-handed, you want to transfer your weight to your left side through the swing,” Losik says. “A lot of guys don’t do that.”

For golfers just getting started with bodyweight exercises, Losik recommends a circuit of three sets of exercises that target the chain of muscles needed to swing a club with accuracy and power.

Set 1: 20 squats and 20 oblique crunches, followed by lunges—walking, backward, and side, 5 per leg in each direction.

Set 2: Push-ups with a reach for the ceiling at the top of the move, alternating sides, 10 reps on each.

Set 3: Two 30-second planks on the elbows, keeping the abs squeezed and the back straight.

Repeat the whole sequence three or four times. Once you’ve built a solid foundation, see for more specific techniques to help your swing.


We are all mobile to a certain degree, due in part to our genetics and in part to the movements (or lack of movement) our bodies go through daily. If you spend 8 to 10 hours a day sitting at your desk, and then a couple of hours in front of the television at night, there’s no getting around the fact that your mobility will suffer. And if your body can’t comfortably get into a certain position because of a mobility restriction, no amount of strength training will fix that. Start paying close attention to your movements and begin to identify your physical limitations. By focusing on mobility, you’ll improve your body’s functionality and flexibility, as well as what you’re probably most interested in: strength.

If your focus is on building strength and you’re skimming this section, remember this: If a muscle can’t achieve its ideal length, it will never achieve its ideal strength. Consider the squat. If you perform a squat with your hips in the correct position, your quads, glutes, and hamstrings do most of the work, supported by your calves, hip stabilizers, and core. This makes your upper legs muscular and strong. But let’s say your mobility is low. Maybe your calves are tight. When you go to do a squat, the foreshortened muscles won't allow your center of gravity to shift forward enough. To avoid falling backward, you'll have to lean far forward, putting stress on your lower back. Not only will you risk injury, you'll prevent your thighs and glutes from building necessary strength to execute the move.

For maximum effect, it’s best to do your mobility work after your body is warm and your muscles are malleable, which is why you should always incorporate it into the cooldown section of every workout. I challenge you to hold your stretches for one to two minutes at a time, allowing your muscles time to cool in an elongated position. You’ll be surprised at how much you can improve your range of motion over time. This book includes a set of mobility exercises for you to choose from (see here) after your workouts.


If you’re used to going to the gym for chest days or leg days, it’s time to change the way you think about exercise. Because my bodyweight routines are total-body workouts, the way I’ve grouped exercises is different. Bodyweight exercises don’t focus on which individual muscles you’re targeting, because each movement uses numerous big and small muscles throughout the body. Instead, they focus on the primary movement your body makes. I’ve divided these movements into five categories: push, pull, hip-driven, ankle-driven, and core exercises.


One of the main multijoint actions of the upper body is pushing, whether it’s from a horizontal position, as in a classic push-up, or from a vertical one, as in a pike push-up or dip. Pushing movements primarily target the chest (pectorals), shoulders (deltoids), and triceps.


The other major multijoint movement of the upper body is pulling. Like pushing, pulling can be done horizontally, as in a row, or vertically, as in a pull-up or chin-up. These exercises focus primarily on the trapezius, rhomboid, latissimus dorsi (lats), and biceps muscles.


These movements originate in the hips, glutes, and thighs, with minimal motion from the ankle and none from the lower back. The primary muscles worked most in hip-driven exercises are the glutes and hamstrings. Examples of hip-driven exercises are hip hinges and bridges.


Ankle-driven movements require bending at the ankle, in a process called dorsiflexion, which happens when the shin is allowed to move forward over the center of the foot. These exercises call for the ankle, knee, and hip to move as one unit, and they target the quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, and hip flexors. Examples include squats, lunges, and jumps. Most people have tight calves, which should be addressed before these moves can be done correctly. Be sure to stretch your calves if you feel your feet turning out during these exercises.



ImagesIf simply lifting your kid, or standing up from your desk sends a ripple of pain through your lower back, you’re not alone: The University of Maryland Medical Center says that 60 to 80 percent of adults in the U.S. live with occasional lower-back pain. White-collar warriors are especially vulnerable, because spending upward of eight hours a day sitting shortens your hamstrings and hip flexors and reduces overall hip mobility.

Prolonged sitting can be damaging even if you’re conscientious about exercise, so when you’re at the office, stand up and stroll over to the water cooler or the window on the far side of the floor at least once per hour—even if you went jogging before you hit the office or you’re playing pickup basketball after work. If you manage a few simple stretches in your cubicle or hotel room, all the better. Leaving a few minutes at the end of your workout to perform a few stretches for the hips is the best way to ensure that infrequent, mild lower-back pain doesn’t spiral into chronic agony.


In order to do any exercises in the four other categories, you’re going to need a solid core so that your limbs will have a stable platform from which to push, pull, or otherwise gain leverage. The core provides this stability by controlling pelvic tilt and preventing excessive flexion, extension, or rotation from the spine. The muscles that make up the core are numerous, but for simplicity we’ll focus on the abdominals (rectus abdominis) and internal and external obliques. The hip muscles as well as the spinal erectors and several other back muscles are also core muscles but will be worked on in other categories. To target the core, you’ll use movements like planks, crunches, and crawls.



ImagesA good jump rope is one of the most economical and portable pieces of fitness equipment you can buy. A high-quality plastic speed rope costs $10 or $12 and takes up less space in your suitcase or gym bag than your running shoes. Performed at maximal effort, jumping rope is a taxing cardio workout all on its own; at a more relaxed pace, it’s a great warm-up for almost any sort of high-intensity athletic activity—and it’s a lifesaver for treadmill-averse travelers. For a successful jump-rope session, a few tips:

✵Make sure you’re using a rope appropriate to your height. If you step on the rope’s midpoint, each handle should come up to your armpits.

✵Avoid grass and use a solid surface for jumping, like the parking lot at your office or hotel.

✵To maintain good form, keep your elbows in by your ribs, flick the rope with your wrists, and don’t waste energy jumping higher than necessary to clear the rope—a couple inches will do.

Once you can reliably sustain one skip per second for three minutes, you can try some of the fancier stuff you’ve seen in boxing movies.


While you can get a total bodyweight workout without using any extra equipment, if you have a few items on hand, you can significantly expand the number of exercises available to you and keep your body and mind from getting bored. Here are a few things I recommend:

FOAM ROLLER A foam roller is a great pre- and postworkout tool for warming up muscles and breaking apart adhesions. It’s not quite as good as a real massage, but it’s not a bad alternative.

PULL-UP BAR Having a simple bar at home makes it easy to do basic pull-ups and chin-ups in addition to knee raises, negative pull-ups, and more.

STEP This can be as simple as a step stool or the bottom step of a staircase. The step will add a cardio element to exercises, allow you to do moves on an incline or decline, and add variation on lunges.

TRX This compact, lightweight tool can turn your home, hotel room, or nearby outdoor space into a calisthenics playground. It instantly gives you something to row from and has the potential for countless exercise variations.


Pick one day per month to test yourself. How many flawless squats can you knock out in 60 seconds? How many arms-locked push-ups? Only the ones you execute with perfect form count. Try to raise your total by five from whatever it was last month.




ImagesFor a lot of guys, particularly those of us who love the outdoors, the worst part of the gym is the gym. An outdoor playground can be a great substitute when you’re on the road, or just a fun place to change up your regimen—especially if you run there and run home.

See those monkey bars? I don’t—I see a pull-up bar. For adult-size grip spacing, you’ll probably have to use the thicker support bars on either side of the apparatus instead of the ones the kiddies cling to, which will challenge your grip strength. Or you can use the monkey bars as intended—that is, to hang—for a great active rest. You’ll probably also have to curl your heels back so your feet don’t touch the ground while doing pull-ups. For an extra challenge, tuck your knees into your chest or stick both legs horizontally in front of you, holding your body in an L-shape while doing them.

Playgrounds also offer lots of surfaces you can use to prop up your feet while performing step-ups, plank walk-ups, and other activities that need elevation. And because their designs vary so substantially, you’ll be forced to get creative.


Don’t be fooled into thinking that calisthenics exercises are a regression from lifting weights. Technically, a push-up is a progression from the bench press. Sure, you can add more weight to the bench press to increase the challenge, but that movement is actually easier for the body because it doesn’t have the stability component the push-up has. Within calisthenics exercises, you can—and will—progress, too. Once you’ve perfected the standard push-up, you can increase the difficulty by moving your hands closer together or tapping your shoulders between reps. But at the start, your focus should be on perfect form, not progression. If you can’t yet do a proper push-up, recognize the value of a regression, starting from your knees or, preferably, from an elevated surface. Don’t skip the building blocks. Once you perfect your form, you can move on to a full push-up.

In each of the exercise chapters, you’ll find groups of three exercises. The first exercise of each group is always a basic version for you to master before moving on to the progressions that follow it. The progressions take the basic exercise to a new challenge. Sometimes they build on each other, and sometimes they go in different directions of difficulty. Either way, form should be mastered before moving on. If you’re having trouble with the basic version, simplify it. Some exercises will have tips to help you do just that.





Interviewed in 2004 by CAL FUSSMAN


I’m going to be ninety in September. Everybody else can have a piece of the birthday cake, but not me. I have rules, and I follow ’em. No cake, no pie, no candy, no ice cream! Haven’t had any in seventy-five years. It makes me feel great not eating birthday cake. That’s the gift I give myself.


Forget about what you used to do. This is the moment you’ve been waiting for.


As long as the emphasis is on winning, you’re gonna have steroids.


If man makes it, don’t eat it.


You’ve got to satisfy you. If you can’t satisfy you, you’re a failure.


I work out for two hours every morning, seven days a week—even when I’m traveling. I hate it. But I love the result! That’s the key, baby!


Fitness guru Jack LaLanne pumps iron in his home in Hollywood, California, 1980


If you want to change somebody, don’t preach to him. Set an example and shut up.


Scales lie! You lose thirty pounds of muscle and you gain thirty pounds of fat and you weigh the same, right? Take that tape measure out. That won’t lie. Your waistline is your lifeline. It should be the same as it was when you were a young person.


Sex is giving, giving, giving. The more energy you have, the more you’re going to please.


The guy who’s most impressed me is Paul C. Bragg. He completely saved my life. When I was a kid, I was addicted to sugar. I was a skinny kid with pimples. Used to eat ice cream by the quart. I had blinding headaches. I tried to commit suicide. And then one day, my life changed. Bragg was a nutritionist. My mother and I were a little late getting to his lecture. The place was packed, and so we started to leave. But Bragg said, “We don’t turn anybody away here. Ushers, bring two seats. Put those two up on the stage.” It was the most humiliating moment. There I was, up on stage. I was so ashamed of the way I looked; I didn’t want people to see me. Little did I know they had problems, too. And Bragg said, “It doesn’t matter what your age is, what your physical condition is. If you obey nature’s laws, you can be born again.” From that moment on, I completely changed my diet, began to exercise, and went on to become captain of the football team. And do you know something? Every time I get ready to lecture, I think, If I can just help one person like I was helped …


Would you get your dog up every day, give him a cup of coffee, a doughnut, and a cigarette? Hell, no. You’d kill the damn dog.


Go on, have a glass of wine with dinner. What is wine, anyway? Pure grapes. A glass of wine is much better for you than a Coke.


What I do isn’t about money. Can you put a price on a human life?


I can’t afford to die. It’ll wreck my image.