Integrating Bodyweight and Barbell Training

Integrating Bodyweight and Barbell Training

This question has been asked to me many times because there are a lot of people who are interested in utilizing both weights and bodyweight for training. And, overall, I think that is the correct choice because excluding tools from your toolbox is not a completely sound rationale. There are times and places for almost every type of exercise, aside from those which may unreasonably increase injury risk.

Some barbell focused people snub their nose at at bodyweight exercise criticizing them for being too easy or too high repetition without knowing the depth of what is possible. And there are bodyweight fanatics who say weights are inferior to bodyweight training for various reasons.

Well, both populations are wrong because both styles of training actually complement each other extremely well in most circumstances. And many high level athletes from a variety of sports utilize both in their training.

I am going to assume that most of you that are reading this are interested in integrating mostly upper body gymnastics type exercises in with your routine for weights. However, I’m going to try to discuss all aspects just so that I leave no stone unturned.

If you are primarily a barbell user but are looking for a gymnastics-based bodyweight resource, I wrote this article on the programming aspect: Fundamentals of Bodyweight Strength Training and this book Overcoming Gravity on routine construction, injury prevention, and exercise descriptions or the digital edition in our store.


Table of Contents
Structuring the Routine
Goal setting and supplementing/complementing exercises
Programming supplemental exercises
Using weights to supplement bodyweight exercises
Gym Availability
Exercises
Conclusion


Structuring the routine / Back to Table of Contents

Different structure of the routine depends on what type of level you are at with training.

For beginners and intermediates, typically some type of full body routine 3x a week, or some type of push/pull type split works the best. For the most part, I do not encourage performing a bodybuilder type split (such as tris/chest, back/bis, core, legs, etc.) because this is not using your time wisely to either gain strength and hypertrophy. Basically, it underestimates the novice effect.

So that’s my preference, and the basis around much of what the recommendations will be.

The typical “exercise prescription” that I use is 2 upper body pushing exercise, 2 upper body pulling exercises, and 1-2 leg exercises to keep the body balanced and allow good strength and mass progression. I usually split up the 2 upper body exercises for both pushing and pulling into selecting one exercise that focuses on horizontal pulling and one that focuses on vertical pulling.

This helps to maintain structural balance. Additionally, since you are going to be using all compound exercises, it pretty much hits every muscle in the body effectively which gives good gains to strength and hypertrophy all around.

Thus, a typical barbell specific routine may look like:

Upper push – bench press + press or dips
Upper pull – pullups + horizontal pull such as seated rows, bent over rows, pendlay rows, etc.
Legs – squat, deadlift

A typical purely focused bodyweight routine would look similar:

Upper push – some type of pushup or planche progression + dips or handstand pushup variation
Upper pull – pullups + inverted rows or front lever pullup, etc.
Legs – squat or pistols, depending on ability + some form of glute ham raise/hamstring curl or SL deadlift

These routines would be performed with difficult exercises, typically in the 5-8 repetition range if your goal is to add both strength and hypertrophy. As you progress with the barbells you can add weight. As you progress with the bodyweight, you can add reps until you can go to the next progression. For the most part that’s how it would traditionally work.

But we want to combine them…

The easiest way is substitute out the specific barbell or bodyweight exercise for its counterpart. So if we wanted to add handstand pushups to our barbell focused routine, we would switch it out with the other vertical pressing movement which would be either press or dips.

Likewise, if we wanted to work on the planche we can substitute out the bench press and add that into our routine.

This is a very simple way of substituting exercises in and out depending on their type.


Goal setting and supplementing/complementing exercises / Back to Table of Contents

If your goals are more focused, there is an alternative way of structuring the routine.

For example, many people want to work on both bench press and the planche at the same time. This is fine since they can supplement or complement each other well. The bench press is great at adding brute pressing strength and hypertrophy, while the planche is great for increasing upper body control and strength.

It’s true that many people will say “just train planche” or “just train bench.” Of course, there are benefits to just training one if your ultimate goal is to achieve some certain level of proficiency in one (as specificity is king for goal progression).

However, what if you want to be good at both? I know many athletes and recreational trainers who want to do both. There’s nothing wrong with that.

So in a classic beginner routine, you would eliminate the vertical pushing exercises from your routine.

While being specific is good, you need to be wary of structural balance when becoming more focused like this.

One example of a way that this could become problematic is if you are focusing all of your work towards vertical pulling. Horizontal pulling is unique in that it focuses a lot of the muscle strength and hypertrophy towards the scapular retractors and posterior shoulder much more than vertical pulling exercises.

Thus, not having one of these types of exercises you risk imbalancing the shoulder over time, as most vertical pulling exercises hit the chest and lats strongly which are shoulder internal rotators. Most pushing exercises emphasize shoulder internal rotation as well. This encourages the body to be in a more hunched forward posture which is bad for structural integrity of the body.

So typically this can be balanced out with horizontal pulling. If you want to improve your horizontal pushing that much that you decide to forgo other types of pushing movements, know that you should try to balance them out with enough horizontal pulling to help offset those potential imbalances.

In conclusion, be cognizant of these risk:benefit ratios. If you notice that any imbalances are developing back off and move towards a more structured all around routine. This needs not be continued forever, just until the imbalances are corrected.


Programming supplemental exercises / Back to Table of Contents

Many proven routines such as Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program use supplemental exercises to help bring up weak links or provide conditioning or develop other attributes,

In particular with 5/3/1 (here’s a basic description, here’s the 2nd edition book), you typically work 1 main exercise such as squat, deadlift, bench press, or overhead press.

Then you would add “supplemental” or “assistance” work to these lifts. For say deadlift, it may be focused on whatever your weak link is. For example, if you have weak glutes you may work on some type of hip hinge exercises. If you have weak hamstrings, it may be straight leg deadlifts or glute ham raises or other similar type exercise. Likewise, for bench press it may be some other form of pressing focusing on weaknesses or all around exercises such as dips.

The supplement exercises can be programmed specifically towards the weaknesses if your aim is to increase strength and hypertrophy by utilizing reps within 3-8 for strength and 5-12ish for hypertrophy, or they can be programmed toward general conditioning or connective tissue health by utilizing a much higher repetition range.

For bodyweight strength, it would be similar. You just have a bodyweight exercise as your main lift, and then you can supplement it with some weights focusing on weaknesses or hypertrophy or other attributes that you want to develop.

Either way, depending on your goals and individual weaknesses this can be an effective method to progress if you are more advanced in your training.


Using weights to supplement bodyweight exercises / Back to Table of Contents

This is somewhat of an extension of the previous section.

You can actually use weights, in many cases, to help supplement bodyweight exercises to work on both the neural patterns required (to some extent) as well as develop the strength and hypertrophy. Likewise, if you are having some injury issues, some weighted exercises can substitute for the bodyweight exercises without aggravating the injuries and allowing them to heal better.

Let’s look at the planche as an example. With the planche, there are various ways to use weighted exercises to supplement its development.

If you are working on brute pressing strength and potential hypertrophy, the smith machine is actually a useful tool to use. Simply, use an undergrip / supinated grip and place yourself so that your hips are underneath of the bar instead of your chest. This puts the bar in a planche oriented position. Now you can load up the barbell with weights and do modified planche pushups.

This is useful for multiple reasons. Since your body is straight along the bench, you don’t have to worry about reinforcing poor technique as many people will compensate during planche pushups by arching, or not hitting the correct pushup angles with the shoulders. Similarly, now you have a way to track your strength with progressive loading – you can see how your strength is developing by tracking how much weight you can push. Additionally, weights can often be a better stimulus for hypertrophy than bodyweight exercises after a certain point, so additional hypertrophy in the shoulders and chest may be beneficial for many athletes.

Dumbbells can also be used effectively for many advanced bodyweight exercises.

If we go back to our example with the planche, you can work on dumbbell planche pushups like with the smith machine by keeping the hands above the hips while you are doing the pushup. In addition to this, more advanced exercises like maltese or inverted cross can be trained with dumbbells.

Of course, training on rings with a dream machine is preferable, but not everyone has access to that. Another benefit of using weights is that you can interchange the weights to be just enough to work on building up the connective tissue without it being painful. This is especially true for straight arm exercises that are very tough on the elbows including back lever with the aforementioned planche, maltese, and inverted cross.

Movements such as the elevator training can also be performed with dumbbells.

Thus, there are many ways of integrating weights as supplemental exercises or assistance for bodyweight exercises.


Gym availability / Back to Table of Contents

So this is probably the most common occurrence that I have seen where people have issue with dual training weights and bodyweight:

They have access to some type of globo gym, which does not allow them to perform bodyweight exercises in it. However, they also have no equipment at home so they can’t work on many of the bodyweight exercises at home. Alternatively, some people can use the gym during their workdays but have very little time to use it, and when they go home they can train on the weekend consistently.

If this is the case, modifying the routines in the beginning may be effective.

Depending on your goals, having two separate routines is typically the best way to work around this. So, like I talked about before, you can say alternate these two specific routines.

Thus, a typical barbell specific routine may look like (so this would be the globo gym routine):

Upper push – bench press + press or dips
Upper pull – pullups + horizontal pull such as seated rows, bent over rows, pendlay rows, etc.
Legs – squat, deadlift

A typical purely focused bodyweight routine would look similar (so this routine would be the “home” routine):

Upper push – some type of pushup or planche progression + dips or handstand pushup variation
Upper pull – pullups + inverted rows or front lever pullup, etc.
Legs – squat or pistols, depending on ability + some form of glute ham raise/hamstring curl or SL deadlift

Obviously, you want to modify them towards your specific goals.

It’s possible to train ground based bodyweight exercises such as the planche in globo gyms, so you can have planche on both days instead of say bench press on the gym day. Alternatively, you can utilize the equipment to work on specific goals such as the smith machine planche pushups or DB planche pushups.

We have a previous article on Skill Guidelines for Building Strong, Useful, Adaptable Athletes which may be useful if you are looking for various inter-relationships between some of the exercises, or looking to train different movements as well.


Exercises / Back to Table of Contents

So I’m mainly going to talk about compound exercises as they should be making up the core of your workout. If you need to add specific exercises to work on weak links like biceps, or triceps, wrists, shoulder, etc. then you can add them in on your own time.

Barbell pushing exercises

  • Upper: Bench press, dumbell presses, decline & incline bench, military press, behind the neck press, jerks, push press
  • Lower: Squats (goblet, front, back (high bar/low bar), overhead), lunges

Barbell pulling exercises

  • Upper: one arm DB rows, seated rows, bent over rows, pendlay rows
  • Lower: Deadlifts, Snatch, Clean/power clean, any Oly variation from the ground to shoulder or hang to shoulder

Note: I don’t like upright rows because of the shoulder impingement risk factor.

Bodyweight pushing exercises

  • Upper: Handstand pushups, handstand presses, planche, pushups, clapping pushups, dips, maltese, inverted cross
  • Lower: Bodyweight squats, Pistols / Single leg squat, Shrimp Squats

Bodyweight pulling exercises

  • Upper: pullups (two arms, uneven, one arm, etc.), clapping pullups, inverted rows, inverted pullups, back lever, front lever, iron cross
  • Lower:
  • king deadlifts, glute ham raises

Combined Upper: muscle ups, inverted muscle ups, any transitional movement above to below or below to above a bar or rings

Combined lower: Sprinting, stairs, vertical leaping, broad jumping, etc.

I probably missed some movements so if anyone notices some I have missed let me know.


Conclusion / Back to Table of Contents

So I hope I gave you some idea of how to integrate bodyweight training with weight training. Once you have a good handle on it, it’s a pretty easy and seamless process.

The most important part of the integration is to figure out what your goals are first.

Once you have your goals, you can select exercises to build around your goals whether they are bodyweight or barbell exercises.

If there are any questions or people want routine critiques, feel free to post up your goals and your proposed routine(s) in the comments, and I’ll try to get back to you with an answer.

If you are interested in learning more about programming, I would suggest picking up:

For handstand training – The 15-Second Handstand: A Beginner’s Guide
For barbells – Practical Programming
For bodyweight training – Fundamentals of Bodyweight Strength Training (article on which the book is based) and Overcoming Gravity which is the actual book or the digital edition in our store.

Good luck with your training!

Did you like this article? Check out these related articles:

  1. The Fundamentals of Bodyweight Strength Training
  2. Beginner Training Programs
  3. A Breakdown of Balance Training
  4. Setting and Achieving Goals
  5. Prilepin tables for bodyweight strength isometric and eccentric exercises

About the Author

Steven Low, author of Overcoming Gravity: A Systematic Approach to Gymnastics and Bodyweight Strength, is a former gymnast who, in recent years, has been heavily involved in the gymnastics performance troupe, Gymkana. Steven has a B.S. in Biochemistry from the University of Maryland College Park, and his Doctorate of Physical Therapy from the University of Maryland Baltimore. Steven is a Senior PCC for Dragon Door's Progressive Calisthenics Certification. He has also spent thousands of hours independently researching the scientific foundations of health, fitness and nutrition and is able to provide many insights into practical care for injuries. His training is varied and intense with a focus on gymnastics, parkour, rock climbing, and sprinting. He currently resides in his home state of Maryland.