Monday, June 2, 2008

"Your Body is a Barbell: No Dumbbells, No Barbells, No Problem!" By Alwyn Cosgrove

As I've mentioned in a previous post, after researching and reading just about anything I could get my hands on related to weight loss and transforming your body's physique, I now listen to certain Strength and Conditioning coaches for advice. One such Coach is Alwyn Cosgrove. I have read and personally used his Afterburn Extreme Fat Loss program. Along with John Alvino and Craig Ballantyne, Alwyn is known for his ass kicking complexes! He wrote an article for Testosterone Nation about using complexes for weight loss that I suggest you check out.

Well, today our weekly re-post from a S&C coach's blog comes from Alwyn, and it reinforces the need for guys to first be able to master their own bodyweight before thinking about lifting even a 5lb dumbbell! I'll let Alwyn explain; however, if you're current level of conditioning is low, then I wouldn't try some of the exercises that he recommends in the exercise section of his post. As always, if you have any questions of comments, don't hesitate to leave one or shoot me an email.

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By Alwyn Cosgrove

Muscles are just plain dumb. Despite their ability at some level to perform amazing Cirque De Soleil type feats, muscles only ‘know’ two things – stretch and tension. They can’t differentiate between stretches (whether the stretch is coming from yoga or from Taekwon-do kicking) or types of tension.

Let’s talk tension. As far as a fitness enthusiast is concerned, muscle tension comes when you place resistance on the muscles. And it doesn’t matter what form that resistance takes. You see, as far as the muscles are concerned, resistance is resistance is resistance. The muscles have no idea what form the resistance takes, whether it is a dumbbell, a resistance band, a barbell or your bodyweight. True, free weights are superior to machines when it comes to building strength, but it’s because free weights require you to stabilize the load in three planes, not because the weight on the muscles is any different.

In fact when you think about it, the only reason to ever use external load (i.e. weights) is because your bodyweight is not enough resistance. Yet most guys are making exercises harder by adding external load, when they aren’t capable of handling their bodyweight in the same exercise. I’m constantly amazed by how many people I meet who can bench press whatever pounds of weight, but are unable to perform 10 correct push ups (typically due to a lack of core strength and synergistic muscle stability. As far as I’m concerned – unless you can do an easy twenty push ups, you have no business getting under a bar for bench pressing. In my training facility everyone begins with bodyweight exercises. You have to earn the right to lift weights in my facility.

Now I’m sure some of you are jumping up and down right about now, convinced that your bodyweight is not enough for you to get a ‘good workout’. You think you’re much too strong. And you’re probably right. If you’re an Olympic Gymnast that is. Remember - most gymnasts use primarily their bodyweight in their conditioning programs and have no problem developing great physiques and great strength levels. I’d go as far as to say that most gymnasts have better physiques than most weight trainers. And these guys train exclusively for performance – not for mass or aesthetics. Nick Grantham CSCS, former conditioning coach to the Great Britain Olympic Gymnastics team noted that the majority of male gymnasts, after years of bodyweight training could typically bench press double their bodyweight the first time they ever tried it. If that’s not evidence of the efficacy of bodyweight training then I don’t know what is.

The key to effective bodyweight exercises are the same as with any exercise – time and tension. We need to select exercises that load the muscles effectively through the entire range of motion, and select a speed of movement that eliminates all momentum.


Lower Body

A1: Bulgarian Split Squat: 2 sets x AMRAP each leg @ 333 30s rest

A2: Hip thigh extension: 2 sets x AMRAP each leg @ 333 30s rest

B1: Partial co-contraction lunge: 2 sets x AMRAP each leg @ 333 30s rest

B2: Step Up: 2 sets x 15-20 each leg @ 201 30s rest

C1: SL Partial squat: 2 sets x 15-20 each leg @ 333 30s rest

C2: Single Leg RDL: 2 sets x 15-20 each leg @ 333 30s rest

D1: Single Leg Squat: 2 sets x AMRAP each leg @ 303 30s rest

D2: Single Leg Deadlift: 2 sets x AMRAP each leg @ 303 30s rest

Upper Body

A1: T-Push Ups Left arm: 2 sets of 15 reps @ 211 30s rest

A2: Inverted Row: 2 sets of AMRAP @ 211 30s rest

A3: T- Push Ups Right arm: 2 sets of 15 reps @ 211 90s rest

B1: Mixed Grip Chins: 2 sets of 5-6 reps EACH SIDE @ 222 30s rest

B2: Dips: 2 sets of AMRAP @ 211 30s rest

B3: Prone Jackknife: 2 sets of 10-20 reps @ 232 30s rest

C1: Pike Push ups: 2 Sets of AMRAP @ 222 30s rest

C2: Reverse Crunch: 2 sets of 15-20 @ 111 30s rest

Advanced options

So is bodyweight training too easy for you? Yeah right. If that’s truly the case then here are a few variations that you can use for any of the exercises to dial up the masochism factor.

Oscillatory isometrics: This is an exotic name for what is essentially performing 4-5 short range mini-reps at the end range of the exercise. For example, perform the concentric portion (the lifting portion) of a chin up at a normal speed, then lower yourself down an inch or so and ‘bounce’ (controlled) up and down in that end range for 4-5 reps, before lowering yourself back to the start.

Dynamic Isometrics: Not a misnomer – just a combination of two complete opposite methods. This involves maintaining an isometric contraction in the toughest position of the lift for 4-5 seconds, and then performing the concentric and eccentric portions as fast as possible and returning to the isometric position. For example you’d be doing a tempo of X5X. Hold the bottom of a push up position for 5 seconds, then straighten and bend your arms as fast as possible.

Iso-explosives: Just taking the above a step further. A combination of isometric holds in the toughest position, with an explosive exercises. For example: hold the bottom of a Bulgarian split squat or a push up for 4-5 seconds – then as you press back up – explode with maximal force so your body actually leaves the floor.

One and a quarter reps: Perform the entire rep, and an additional quarter rep in the toughest part of the range (typically the bottom). This overloads your weakest angles by performing twice as many reps in that range.

Ladder reps: Break the exercise up into thirds – the bottom third, the bottom two-thirds and the full rep. For example perform five dips in the bottom third of the range (the toughest portion), then five reps in the bottom two-thirds of the range and finally perform five full range repetitions. This means you’ll have performed fifteen reps in the toughest range of the exercise, but only five in the easiest range.

Once you are capable of performing 15-20 reps of each of these exercises at the given tempo with ease – you are now ‘allowed’ to grab a 5lb dumbbell and start over!


Danny Vukobratovich said...


I am really wanting to lose weight but my largest barrier to this is my own self motivation. I don't have any. I am not happy with my weight, but I truly lack the motivation to work on this myself. Do you have any suggestions?

Danny Vukobratovich said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Shane said...

Hey, I found your blog via the cnn article. I'm a huge Cosgrove fan as well, and I currently use his and Lou Schuler's book for my workout routines. I do have a question for you if you don't mind. It sounds like we have both done about the same kinds of research over the years but I haven't found an answer to this question. When do you stop eating to lose fat (calorie deficit) and start eating to gain muscle (calorie surplus)? I'm 6'2" and about 190. I've been down to as low as 177 and about 11% body fat via calorie counting and weight lifting but I felt that I was just too skinny at that weight. I still wasn't single digits and people were telling me that they were worried about how skinny I was looking. My belly is still a little flabbier than I'd like but I don't want to be a waif. I'd like to put on some more muscle but I have always dreamed of the six pack. This tends to be my biggest hang up. Do I eat a small surplus or focus on a deficit?

Thanks, love the blog


gr8god said...

is there a single source that describes the body weight exercises you list here?

Mr. LowBodyFat said...

OK Danny, you asked . . . A couple of years ago, I read Your Erroneous Zones by Dr. Wayne Dyer. Yes, the old, bald guy you see on PBS! Well, a friend recommended this book to me, and I'm so glad that he did because it helped me to work on me from the inside out. I've yet to read or buy any of his other products, so I can't vouch for them. However, I always recommend Your Erroneous Zones because of how it helped to change the way I see myself.

Danny Vukobratovich said...

Thank you very much. I will look into that book. Good luck with your blog. It seems to be very informative.

Mr. LowBodyFat said...


I would start with first and do searches for them by name. If you want to go straight to the source, Alwyn Cosgrove's Afterburn Training System includes pictures and descriptions of each exercise. Please let me know how it works for you. Take care . . .

Mr. LowBodyFat said...

Shane, thanks for your comment, and I fully understand where you're coming from. When I was at 177, I looked, IMO, emaciated and didn't like the fact that I could actually see and feel my collar bone! So, that's why I changed my diet to add close to 10lbs of muscle. Anyway, if I ever want to develop more mass and less bodyfat, then I just finished reading a book that I'm recommending to anyone who wants to gain mass: Jason Ferrugia's Muscle Gaining Secrets. It's written for the Average Joe in clear to understand terms. Thanks for your comment Shane, and I hope this helps ...

Shane said...

I read Jason's blog as well. It seems we are fans of the same guys.



Mr. LowBodyFat said...

I believe we are Shane! I love Jason's approach to gaining mass; the brother shoots straight from the hip!

Mich said...

What does: @333, @211, etc mean?

Mr. LowBodyFat said...

Hey Mich! This is the rep speed you should use while performing a particular exercise. For instance, 211 means that, let's take the push up, it should take you two seconds to lower yourself, one second pause on the bottom, and one second to return back to the starting position. I hope this helps ...

Chris said...

Hey Muata, just got wind of your blog through the CNN article - great stuff! I've not got a huge amount of weight to lose myself - maybe 15lbs - but I want to do it properly and keep the lean mass there so this all makes tons of sense - thanks.

My question: I used to do a lot of sport (soccer) and my lower body (legs especially) is still well developed and defined even though my upper half is on the wrong side of flabby. Do you think I should work the whole body anyway or just stick to upper body exercises?

Chris over in the UK