Nightwing Workout Part 2 – Push/Pull Days – Gymnastic Strength Training

By on May 14, 2019

In Part One of this Nightwing Training series, we devised a ‘leg day’ – designed to help build explosive leg strength for running, jumping, and kicking. Using a combination of heavy compound lifts, explosive jumping movements, and one-legged exercise, the routine is one that could help us to develop some of Nightwing’s parkour prowess.

Nightwing Training

But when you think of Nightwing and gymnastic strength training, that may not be what comes to mind. Rather, you might think of immense upper body strength and control. Dick Grayson trained first as a gymnast, and like a gymnast, he is portrayed as having almost super human control over his bodyweight. He can easily perform the iron cross, planche, handstand push ups, and countless other impressive gymnastics moves. This translates to incredibly powerful punching ability, and agility that allows him to quickly scale walls and manoeuvre around opponents.

How do we obtain that? The answer is by training like a gymnast with calisthenics and gymnastic strength training. In this video, we’ll see how to use this approach to create a push day and a pull day that would make Dick proud.

Nightwing Workout

Next time, we’ll be looking at core strength and mobility to bring it all together and complete the package.

Straight Arm Strength

Bodyweight training can be used just like weight training as a means to encourage muscle growth. Use high reps, slow eccentrics, and progressions that isolate specific muscle areas, and it can be incorporated into a regular gym routine. Or by repping out simpler movements and devising mechanical drop sets, it can be enough to elicit serious hypertrophy on its own.

Iron Cross Nightwing

But that is not where the real power of bodyweight training comes in. Rather, the real power of bodyweight training comes from the emphasis it places on overlooked muscle groups. It is these that when trained correctly, can yield amazing results.

For instance: calisthenics athletes spend a lot of time developing straight arm strength by building the scapula muscles and the rotator cuffs. This allows them to stabilize their shoulder joint, in turn transferring more energy to the ground or bar with a straight arm. That in turn enables moves like planche, iron cross, mana, front lever, and the maltese.

By training straight arm strength, you can become more efficient in all pulling and pushing movements. This is true to the extent that many people anecdotally report seeing huge cross over into their bench press and other lifts. So how do we incorporate this?

First, we need to build up tendon strength. As I discussed in a previous video, the tendons respond more slowly to training than does muscle and requires longer to recover, due to limited blood supply. Whereas muscle will begin responding to training in as little as eight days, tendon can take up to two months to show initial structural changes. The danger is that our muscles run too far ahead of our tendons, leading to a serious injury.

Supinated support hold

When you perform a straight arm move, you place a huge amount of strain on the biceps tendons and elbow joint, which is why gymnasts have such huge biceps. So before you go attempting these more advanced moves, it is crucial to build up a foundation of tendon strength by using supinated support holds on the rings, and/or rings-turned-out push ups, or at least push up variations like the pseudo planch that will place the arms in a similar position under lighter load. In short, practice having your arms locked out and supinated with lighter loads for a while before you start progressing to more difficult moves.

Many of these movements are isometric holds, unless you add a pressing movement. Generally, the way to progress is to start with an easier variation – say tuck planche or tuck lever until you can hold that position for a whole minute with good form – elbows locked out and scapular protracted (meaning your shoulder blades are forward so that the top of your back looks rounded). Then you can move on to attempting the more difficult progressions. There are plenty of lists of progressions online, just find the movement you want to perform and type ‘progressions’ into Google – you’ll find positions of increasing difficulty that start simple and become extremely advanced. By the time you’re performing these more elite movements, you’ll have developed devastating control over your body and incredible stability and power. I’m currently working on planche – I can do a bent arm planche, and tuck planche. But it’s incredibly hard going further!

Straight arm strength

There are other ways to progress in calisthenics too. Supramaximal training is training that helps you to perform movements that you couldn’t normally, either with assistance or with momentum. An example of this might be a negative one armed pull up – jump into the position and then slowly lower yourself, an assisted pull up, or perhaps swinging your legs up into planche and holding it just for a second on the parallel bars.

These movements are incredibly taxing for your central nervous system, so they should be placed at the beginning of your workouts – treat them like you would compound movements when weightlifting.

That said, the isometric nature of many calisthenics progressions means they’re likely to cause less muscle damage or inflammation, which means that you can occasionally practice some of the progressions throughout the day to help ‘grease the groove’. There’s nothing to stop you from trying a crow pose for 30 seconds while you wait for your computer to boot.

Gymnastic strength training

Weightlifting

Speaking of weights, our boy Dickie is often shown throwing large barbells around and this can certainly help to build more explosive power in the upper body. We’re going to combine those moves with heavy lifts as well then, particularly focussing on the bench press, military press, row, upward row, and bicep curl with a hammer grip.

Nightwing workout

Ideally, you want to work with over 90% of your 1RM to recruit the maximum fast twitch muscle and build real explosive power. However, you should be careful not to combine very heavy compound lifts with already very taxing progressions. Either drop down to around 70% or 75% of your 1RM and perform a few more reps, or swap between heavy compounds and difficult moves between workouts.

Calisthenics for Muscle Strength and Endurance

From there, you can continue with your bent arm movements to build muscle endurance and greater strength-to-weight ratio. The options go far beyond press ups and sit ups though. You can try archer push ups, handstand push ups (there’s a bent and straight arm variety), dips, ring dips, or bent arm planche push ups, you can use explosive movements like the muscle up or clapping push ups and pull ups, these teach the body to more readily recruit those fast twitch fibers for explosive shows of strength – ideal for combat, climbing, and more.

Rope climbing

Rope climbs are fantastic for your grip strength and your biceps development but once again place a lot of strain on the tendons – so build up to the higher repetitions. The stronger you get, the more options you will create.

If you have a climbing wall near you – even better. Climbing and bouldering are perfect for developing your strength-to-weight ratio, not to mention building huge lats, forearms, and biceps. They’ll train muscle endurance and cardio too.

For our Nightwing workout, we’re going to follow those more compound and challenging movements with these more typical, less compound exercises. That means you might start your push day with planche progressions, then maybe some overhead presses, before moving on to clapping push ups, archer push ups, one armed tricep dips, and big drop sets involving different dip variations. Of course, the full workouts are available at the bottom of this post. There’s also something extra for Patreon supporters to help out.

Bent arm strength

We’re separating the routine into a pull day and a push day, which will allow us to train with more intensity than we could by doing both in the same day, and give us more opportunity for recovery. We’ll be employing my old favourite ‘mechanical dropsets’ to up the challenge and intensity using these more basic movements. That means going past failure by switching to an easier variation of the same exercise. So, for instance, you might try weighted dips, followed by dips, followed by push ups, followed by push ups on your knees. All performed with no break, to build up tons of metabolic stress and muscle damage. Explosive movements also go at the start of these sets, as they require more fast twitch muscle.

A few simple purchases can provide you with all the tools you need for a very comprehensive bodyweight workout. Those include parellelettes which are low-to-the-ground parallel bars for performing v-sits and planche, parallel bars, a pull up bar (of course), and a rope. Gymnastics rings are also an incredibly versatile tool for bodyweight training – they cost a fraction of TRX and provide countless more options from support holds, to ring dips, to bodyweight rows, to offset push-ups, Bulgarian split squats, and more.

home bodyweight gym

Invest in just a few of these and you’ll have a comprehensive home gym for building agility, power, and explosiveness.

Grip Training

One thing that might surprise you, is that a lot of professional gymnasts and coaches preach the importance of grip strength training.

This makes every single movement you perform easier: pulling movements go without saying, but even handstands require you to ‘grip’ the floor to an extent. Since training my grip, I’ve found that wall mounts and other parkour moves are significantly easier.

Incidental training grip

A good example of what a difference the right grip can make can be seen in the muscle up. To perform this correctly, you should use a grip called the ‘false grip’ where the wrists are at the same level as the rings. This then allows a seamless transition from the hang to the press with no need for momentum. That translates directly to the kind of climbing prowess and agility we’re trying to achieve as Nightwing.

Rope climbs, dead hangs, and other bodyweight moves can help you to increase your grip strength, but so too can overcoming isometrics – squeezing grip trainers, or trying to bend iron bars for instance. I highly recommend this option, as it is one of the only ways, we can use our max strength with our grip.

Also: the easiest way to develop your false grip and the associated wrist and forearm strength? Practice using it!

The Program

With all that out of the way, let’s move on to the actual Nightwing training program.

Nightwing training program

No rest between drop sets. 1 minute rest between all else. Go to failure unless specified otherwise.

Of course, moves can be swapped out for comparable alternatives. E.g. ring dips for ring push ups. Variety is the spice of life!

 

Push Day

>1 Minute Planche Progressions x 3

>1 Minute Straight Arm Press/Progressions x 3

3 x 8 Military Press (stopping just short of failure)

Handstand Push Ups 2 x 5 (bent arm or straight – balance against a wall if needed)

Ring Dips 2 x 10 (or stopping a little short of failure)

Drop Set [Explosive Dips – Dips]

Drop Set [Clapping Push Ups – Archer Push Ups – Push Ups]

Drop Set [1 Arm Tricep Dip – Tricep Dips – L-Sit]

2 x 8 Finger Push Ups

Grip Trainer 3 x 10 Seconds

 

Pull Day

>1 Minute Front Lever Progressions x 3

Muscle Ups / Progressions 2 x 6

1 Armed Chin Ups / Progressions 2 x 6

Rope Climbs 1 Minute x 2 (AMRAP)

Bicep Curls 2 x 8

Rows 2 x 8

10 Minutes Rock Climbing (If available)

Drop Set [Clapping Pull Ups – Archer Pull Ups – Pull Ups – Pull Up Negatives]

Wrist Curls 2 x 10

Pronated Wrist Curls 2 x 10

2 x 1 Minute Hang

 

Let me know what you think in the comments below, and of course stay tuned for Part 3 where we’ll be discussing core strength and mobility!

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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