FYI for Beginners: Do NOT attempt to modify the Recommended Routine

The “Recommended Routine” of Reddit’s /r/bodyweightfitness is one of the classic beginner routines to prepare someone for gymnastics and bodyweight strength training. The routine was constructed around 2012 and was based to a large extent off a lot of the principles from the first edition of Overcoming Gravity. I wrote this post more than a year ago about why the routine was constructed the way it is to provide insight into a lot of the particular structure in the routine.

This is important for A Beginner’s guide to Overcoming Gravity and it shows up in a similar form as the “sample routine” in Overcoming Gravity Second Edition.

Let’s get into it.

There’s recently been lots of posts on modifying the recommended routine. Let me share with you some thoughts and insights about doing this.

Generally speaking, the recommend routine (and all of its previous incarnations) is a generalized routine that is well suited to beginners in order to build a sufficient base from which to train more advanced bodyweight movements.

There are several key words in this sentence, so let me talk about them specifically.

  • Generalized routine — a generalized routine is made for the generalized population as a whole. Much of the strength progressions, mobility, and flexibility work are aimed specifically at correcting posture, imbalances, and other types of issues that you would see in the general population. This means that the RR is not geared toward those who have specific mastery with gymnastics skills or have other sports backgrounds. If you have one of those backgrounds, then there may be many things in the recommend routine that you don’t need to do.

For example, if you have impeccable body positioning from previous gymnastics experience you do not need to do the position drills (or bodyline drills as they’re called in the recommended routine). They are specifically placed in the recommend routine in order that beginners learn how to maintain tension in their core and good positions during bodyweight exercises.

Good positions during bodyweight exercises is important as progressions such as pushups rely on a straight body in order to maximize strength and technique. If you are able to hold perfect body positions during difficult and intense bodyweight exercises then you simply do not need to perform hollow or arch holds anymore because you have the sufficient experience and strength to do it perfectly already.

  • Well suited to beginners — if you are more advanced in training then the recommended routine is not for you. Obviously, you can go back to if it you want to reinforce some of the basic fundamental movements. However, it is primarily suited for untrained or somewhat trained beginners in order to progress the basics of strength, body position, flexibility, and mobility. This means that if you already have sufficient experience in any of these areas this routine may be inefficient for you.

Alternatively, if you are a beginner there is a reason that such things were placed into the routine. The previous example of position drills is exactly this point. Beginners need them and maybe intermediates. Those who are advanced simply do not need positional drills in their routines anymore unless they want them as they are a waste of time. Likewise, the pairing and balance of the exercises is another one. Trying to “remove pullups” or “change exercises” is simply not a good idea because they were placed in the routine specifically for a certain reason whether to maintain good posture, structural balance, or provide a solid strength foundation for your future training.

  • in order to build a sufficient base from which to train more advanced bodyweight movements — This is the most important part of the FYI in my opinion. Lots of the posts recently and in the past have to do with modifying the recommended routine for one thing or another.

While this is not necessarily a bad thing, there is a lot of training/sports science and years of coaching experience that went into creating the routine. Hence, modifying it out of its original incarnation tends to be an unwise thing to do if you are a beginner.

The main issue of modification out of the original incarnation has to do with progress and results. Any time an inexperienced person modifies a set routine they willingly opt into a state of “I know better than the person who designed this.” While it’s true that such people who modify a routine can come away with superior results, the vast majority of time this is NOT the case and they come away with inferior or vastly inferior results or progress.

Clarification —  Re: “I know better than…”

There is reasoning behind many things in the recommend routine. We don’t have any problems if someone is asking about reasoning behind certain exercises either. For example, with back lever it’s unwise to jump straight into back lever. It’s more important to realize that the RR recommendation of skin the cat/german hang, support holds, positional drills, and pullups and rows is building a foundation of strength and connective tissue integrity and positioning in order to prepare you for back lever. Most new people do not recognize why many of the exercises are programmed the way they are for higher level goals.

The problem, then, that this poses is for critique. If someone says they did the recommend routine then we can offer them suggestions to tailor it if they were having issues in a certain area. However, if they change the routine then we don’t necessarily know where you might have screwed up because you already altered the final expected results by changing the routine. When you change the routine you also change the expected results. Hence, you have gone off own your own path of training alone without the combined experience of tens of thousands of people who have gone before you who can monitor your progress and help you along.

This is one of the major factors that inhibit a lot of progress of beginners who want to do their own thing rather than stick to the program. This is seen not just with the recommend routine but also within any type of beginner program such as Starting Strength, StrongLifts, or individual sports or disciplines like martial arts, gymnastics, or whatever. If you deviate from what the coaches that have experiences are saying then it makes it very hard to figure out what you’re doing wrong or what you may need to change if you unexpectedly plateau or stagnate in your training.

TL;DR Thus, do not modify the recommend routine if at all possible if you are a beginner. Two exceptions:

  • Injury concerns. If this is the case, talk to a medical or rehab professional about what you should be doing instead of some exercises.
  • Other sports or discipline background. You may need to decrease the frequency or adjust your schedule or the routine if you are training for another sport because the routine ceases to become “stand alone” and is instead part of a “program geared at improving performance”

edit: Re: this is “nazi-ish.” This post is a GENERAL RECOMMENDATION just as the RR is a generalized routine. Of course there will be some exceptions such as highly specific goals, injuries, sports backgrounds, and the like. If you think you have an exception then ask a question.

Overall, my recommendations are still the same. In general, beginners should focus on training the basics to build a good base. Often this will be from “expert opinion” about what works well and what doesn’t. Obviously, there are some exceptions.

Original Reddit post. Cover image by “rhine”.

Author: Steven Low

Steven Low, author of Overcoming Gravity: A Systematic Approach to Gymnastics and Bodyweight Strength (Second Edition), is a former gymnast who has performed with and coached the exhibitional gymnastics troupe, Gymkana. Steven has a Bachelor of Science 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 trainer for Dragon Door’s Progressive Calisthenics Certification (PCC). 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.