Mini Study: Bodyweight Strength Training Maintains, or Improves, 1RM Max Effort Strength

Study subjects in this mini study saw a 15% improvement in 1RM weighted pull up strength after doing 3 weeks of bodyweight-only pulling movements.

By Rob Shaul



Bodyweight-only strength training maintained lower body max effort strength, upper body max effort pressing strength, and increased upper body max effort pulling strength.


This 3.5-week Mini-Study investigated the transfer of bodyweight only strength training, to 1RM Max Effort Strength.

Five remote, veteran MTI lab rats completed the 3.5 Week study which began with a four event, 1RM max effort strength assessment:

  • 1RM Front Squat
  • 1RM Bench Press
  • 1RM Hinge Lift
  • 1RM Weighted Pull Up

After the assessment, over the next three weeks, the lab rats completed a bodyweight-only strength training plan. No loading was used but no loading. Below are the bodyweight exercises used in the training plan:

Upper Body

  • Push Ups
  • Pull Ups
  • Clapping Push Ups
  • Chin Ups
  • Hand Release Push Ups
  • Mixed-Grip Pull Ups
  • Parallel Bar Dips or Bench Dips
  • Horizontal Pull Ups


  • Sit Ups
  • EOs
  • Toes to Sky
  • Ankles to Bar

Lower Body

  • Bodyweigth Squats
  • Jumping Lunges
  • Box Jumps
  • In-Place Lunges

The training plan deployed a simple, time-based programming and progression three days/week. For each bodyweight exercise, the plan began with:

6 Rounds

  • 30 second max effort reps
  • 60 second rest

…. and over the course of the 3 weeks progressed to ….

6 Rounds

  • 45 second max effort reps
  • 60 second rest

Below was the weekly schedule:

  • Mon: Time-based bodyweight strength
  • Tue: Run, hike or bike, 45 minutes, moderate pace
  • Wed: Time-based bodyweight strength
  • Thur: Run, hike or bike, 45 minutes, moderate pace
  • Fri: Time-based bodyweight strength
  • Sat: Rest or outdoor recreation
  • Sun: Rest or outdoor recreation


Below are the mini-study results:

While the lab rats did show some minor strength improvement for the Front Squat and Hinge Lift, the improvement was minimal. What was surprising was the improvement in 1RM weighted pull ups strength – and overall average of 15% improvement.

Overall however, 1RM Strength across 4 assessed exercises did not decrease – which at a minimum gives some indication that time-based, bodyweight strength training can maintain 1RM max effort strength for a 3-4 week period, minimum.

Many athletes have circumstances come up which forces them to travel, go on a field exercise, school or some other event which will prevent them from free weight strength training, and often express concerns about the loss of strength during this period. This mini-study seems to indicate that time-based bodyweight strength training will allow them to at least maintain that 1RM max effort strength.

As with all studies, there are some concerns with this study design. The small subject pool of 5 athletes, all of which are fit, experienced athletes, could have skewed the results which may not be repeatable with less experienced subjects.



In designing this mini study I struggled somewhat on how to program the bodyweight strength training. My inclination was to do an assessment and deploy our proven assessment-based bodyweight strength progression, but because of the short duration of this mini study, I didn’t want to waste a training day on another assessment – and so developed and deployed this time-based progression.

My sense is this time-based progression needs study and refinement to determine the optimum work intervals, rest intervals, and best progression.


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