Odd Object Training with Bodyweight?

by Logan Christopher on July 23, 2013

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There’s a method of training with weights called odd object lifting. While a barbell is made to be lifted, with its small diameter handle that is easy to grip, and the weight being perfectly balanced, most of what is encountered in the real world is not.

If you’ve ever moved furniture you know this to be true. While an item may not be all that heavy, its size and shape can prove very difficult to maneuver.

Thus if you want to become strong the use of odd objects is suggested. This means lifting things that are harder to lift like rocks, stones, barrels and the like. The idea being that this will force your stabilizing muscles to work much harder. Often your grip is taxed much more. Plus your form in lifting these odd objects will be different than how you’d handle a barbell.

But what does this have to do with bodyweight training? Can we take this idea of odd object training and apply it to bodyweight exercises?

Well, I was reading Raising the Bar by Al Kavadlo the other day. There’s a single sentence in there that got me thinking.

“Training on odd objects can sometimes offer unique challenges and benefits.”

This sparked my thinking about this more so in this article I’m going to go deeper on how to use odd objects in your bodyweight training.

Most pull-up bars are just like the barbell. Its perfectly straight and has a thin handle to make the exercise as easy as possible. So what happens when you do your pull-ups on things besides a normal pull-up bar?

Try it on a tree branch. The thicker grip will make it harder to do. Plus here you won’t be able to wrap the thumbs around. Depending on the strength of the branch there may be some sway as you do the exercise (of course you’ll want to make sure the branch can easily support your weight before you jump on it).

Tree Branch Pullup

The thicker grip will make chin-ups more challenging.

You could modify this even more with a tree. What if one hand hangs on a branch while the other is closer to the base of the tree, where the branch comes out. This will be an uneven pull-up and depending on how wide your hands are apart could also be an archer pull-up.

This same thing can be done on many monkey bars. Look around at the thick bars and the angles you can use.

Uneven Pullup

An uneven chin-up with one hand on the thick bar and one on a chain.

Not only is the grip tough here on two chains, but I was forced to straddle the legs.

Not only is the grip tough here on two chains, but I was forced to straddle the legs.

And don’t just think pull-ups. Levers, hanging leg raises and dips can be done on different bar setups too.

Wide Dip

Feel the stretch with wide dips.

Here you’ll gain some similar benefits as those odd objects can bring. The exercise will become harder as certain parts of your body will need to work more. The great thing is if you spend some time working on the odd bars when you go back to a regular bar its going to feel that much easier.

Bars aren’t the only way you can get this effect. What about pushups? Although you could use a variety of pushup handles you may be able to find objects to do pushups on too.

This pushup is done with offset hands at different heights.

This pushup is done with offset hands at different heights.

Plus this same effect can be accomplished on the flat floor just as well. Instead of always doing pushups in your perfect, ideal form, change them up.

Alter hand placement. Go closer, go wider, go offset. Turn one or both hands out to the side. Turn one hand backwards as you keep on forwards. Try this while they’re both wide.

No objects are necessary. Try this pushup with both hands pointing in the same direction.

No objects are necessary. Try this pushup with both hands pointing in the same direction.

The great hand balancer Professor E.M. Orlick taught handstands just like this. Don’t just keep trying to add time to holding a normal handstand. Instead alter your hand position (among many other things). Once again go closer, go wider, or offset.

Doing an open fist handstand. Harder than flat hands but easier than fully on the fists.

Doing an open fist handstand. Harder than flat hands but easier than fully on the fists.

When you train in this manner, since almost all of it will be harder than the normal version, when you get back to that regular pushup or handstand it will be that much easier.

While consistency with the basics is necessary and a good thing to do, one of the best ways to improve that is to “complexify” what you’re doing. This “odd object” like training will allow you to do just that. Sometimes you need to go outside the normal and play around with as many variations as you can.


About Logan Christopher: Logan Christopher has been called a physical culture renaissance man as he is accomplished in a wide range of strength skills from kettlebell juggling, performing strongman stunts, and bodyweight exercises. He is the author of numerous books including Secrets of the Handstand and The Master Keys to Strength & Fitness. In addition, he’s spent the last several years going deep into mental training to find out what it takes to really excel and tactics that can help people instantly improve their exercises. You can find out more about all this at http://www.legendarystrength.com/.

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  • Matt Pepper

    MovNat has this covered. Natural environments are far more complex than man-made. Training in nature makes you infinitely more adaptable.

    • Paul John Wade

      If you are diggin MovNat, check out my interview with the founder Erwan Le Corre, coming soon on this blog. Although MovNat applies “natural” environments to bodyweight moves, those guys also know how to use more formal drills for conditioning, rechniques like the ones Logan is demonstrating.

      Big fan of MovNat and Erwan; I was surprised by how much our attitudes to body-movement overlap…

      • Matt Pepper

        Hi Coach!

        My comment probably sounded a little dismissive of the calisthenics approach but that wasn’t my intention, just a lazy comment on my part!

        What I should have said is that I’m actually a MovNat trainer based in Sweden and I use a modified version of the Big 4 to build a base of strength and coordination in my clients fundamental movement patterns. I’ve found the progressive calisthenics approach to have the best transfer to more contextual skill training. The programming in CC also provides plenty of space for a MovNat training program alongside. Keeps me and my clients fresh but keeps us progressing!

        You are absolutely right in your observation that a lot of MovNatters make use of these kind of drills. I just hope that more of the calisthenics community become aware of the potential to apply their training to practical tasks in more varied settings, not necessarily just natural ones. The conditioning applies just as well to the parkour discipline as it does to climbing trees. My point was though that the kind of strength and body control you develop through the CC drills shouldn’t stop at just achieving the master steps. “Be strong to be free” is the motto I like to use.

        Big respect though for getting Erwan involved. Very much looking forward to reading the results. I think its a testament to the open-minded and progressive thinking of the calisthenics community (and particularly its leaders) that such a collaboration can and does take place. Long may it continue that way.

        • Matt Pepper

          PS. I hope to join the Kavadlo brothers in Gothenburg later in the year. Not an opportunity to be missed.

          • Paul Wade

            Dude, it is an honor to have a MoveNat trainer checking in to the PCC community! Welcome, man. For what it’s worth, I agree with everything you are saying here, Matt.
            I am a huge fan of what Erwan is doing. (Also, Peter Lakatos and his Primal Move approach.) PCC is about cross-fertilization from multiple calisthenics disciplines–even this old dog is thinking of adding in some of these moves. I am well behind the times but I first got interested inparkour by watching Al K doing some drills; he looks so light, so lithe, and I began to realize; “wow, this stuff all fits together…”

            So it does my old heart good to see that young guys like you are joining the PCC family. It would be amazing to have you at the Sweden PCC Matt!

  • Sean

    Great article. I use a variety of attachments (Fat Gripz, Cannon Balls, thick rope, etc) on my pull-up bar to add variety and encourage more muscle recruitment.

  • Love the idea of the hands facing the same direction — didn’t think of that! 🙂

  • Beth Andrews Rkc

    Thanks for sharing! Love the variety thing…esp for pull ups! 🙂

  • Willem-Jan

    some good new ideas!

  • Paul John Wade

    I love this idea and definitely think you should expand it into a book or e-book, Logan. Strength athletes who lift have really exploited this concept, why shouldn’t bodyweight guys and gals benefit from it?

  • Great post, Logan! I’m flattered to have helped inspire it!

  • Dan Söderberg

    makes what ive been improvizing on make semse great article

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