Bodyweight: some lightweight wisdom from heavy work

A couple of weeks ago, I finally got back to squatting my bodyweight for 4 reps. This was a big deal for me – I mean, have you seen my legs? For your hardened gym rat, aiming for that defining twice bodyweight squat, my modest effort may not seem quite that heroic. I share it publicly as in achieving it I was reminded of two small life lessons that are often shared as inspiring images on social media, but are less easily followed.

A few years ago, I tore my right hamstring in a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu lesson, the result of  my poorly executed north-south hold and my newbie’s inability to go anywhere with it. Combined with the classic beginner’s overuse of strength, my body went one way and my hamstring remained where it was, caught in the wrong place between weight and momentum. Some good physio repaired most of the damage, but the hamstring eventually healed at about two-thirds of its old length. This put pay to my running schedule, as most of the stress went straight to my hip joint and muscles, with a considerable impact on my glutes to boot – not the kind of kick up the arse I really wanted.

More insidiously though, I didn’t realise that I was beginning to accept this new Iimitation. I began to tell myself that I was now unable to do the same things that I once could, or, if I wasn’t repeating that poisonous mantra to myself, it was the unspoken refrain in my training and indeed my daily life. You’re allowed to give up earlier. You don’t have to train as hard as you used to. you can miss today’s routine – you need more rest than you used to. Notice I wasn’t telling myself that I couldn’t do it; I was just giving myself permission not to or, worse still, permission to fail.


Fast forward a year or so and my Ving Tsun coach, the highly knowedgeable and inspiring Ged Kennerk of Applied Body Mechanics Ving Tsun Manchester, suggested that I begin a strength and conditioning programme (amongst other endeavours) to complement my VT training. All started well and I made some modest strength and endurance gains. However, as the weeks turned to months and the gains in the squat came harder, if at all during some cycles, that old litany of excuses made itself known once more.

When faced with having to publicly move iron, though, something else, something unexpected made itself known: ego. Rather than solve this problem with good training methods, I used the wrong kind of brute force, attempting to push up the load come what may, with precious little regard for good form and body mechanics. I was squatting above my bodyweight, or at least fooling myself that was. My thighs were never parallel to the floor. My upper back, already disgruntled from a period with a seized facet joint, became positively rebellious and my lower back was threatening to join the revolution.

In short, my lifting was less than sustainable and I was heading for an injury.

A few timely conversations with the good Mr.Kennerk and a few (well, quite a few) T-Nation articles brought me back to my senses. I stripped back the squat weights to ego-shrivelling amounts and began to work on my lifting form and cues. I paid more attention to my mobility, dusting off old Fighting Fit magazine articles and Joe DeFranco videos, working them into my daily routine. I took my first tentative steps into the world of yoga.


lt took about three months, but I’ve made it back to a bodyweight squat, but this time with thighs parallel to the floor, back safe and now little bonuses like my hip extensors firing and getting a better workout.

Not only that, but my other major lifts have benefitted from the same detailed attention to form and cues, with a few equally modest but sustainable gains gracing the training diary. This approach paid a few minor dividends in my Ving Tsun practice, with improved proprioception playing a part in my efforts to improve line, structure and shape.

So, the Clinton cards moment, those social media memes and exortations. Don’t accept your limitations or, more clearly, don’t accept your own limitations – those you put upon yourself. Life will always throw limitations and constraints your way but very few can’t be overcome or worked around. The problem, perhaps, is that we spend to long looking at the obstacle instead of what is beyond it or the path – quite often a well-worn one – around it. You’re unlikely to be the very first person in history to encounter that particular obstacle.

It will take work, hard work, to get around, over or through it but don’t just hurl yourself wildly into the task. Focus and work intelligently to solve the problem. There is much to be said about the power of gut instinct but if you haven’t spent even a brief time considering options then you’re likely to end up in the same place – or somewhere that you’d rather not be or is even harder to work from. Accept also that you may need to take a few steps back in order to get that run-up right, to correct your past mistakes.

In Ving Tsun, we teach ourselves that position comes first, acquire the target then hit it with no further hesitation; don’t just hit out blindly. The strongest punch is no better than the weakest if it hits nothing. If the way forward is blocked we don’t just try to push through by force alone; reset, reposition and restart.

Enough of my back-of-a-fag-packet wisdom. That thing you’ve been telling yourself you can’t do? Go do it.


One thought on “Bodyweight: some lightweight wisdom from heavy work

  1. Silvia Hart says:

    That was a brilliant piece of writing. It touches on philosophy, psychology as well as physicality. I learned a lot from it about myself.

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