Before cable machines and Bose balls, even before kettle bells and dumbbells, people trained using their own bodyweight. Although this type of training developed out of necessity it has stood the test of time.
Bodyweight training goes back thousands of years and was the chosen training method for the Greeks, Romans and Navy SEALS, and has been a consistent component of nearly every military organization from past to present. Outside of being used in the training of the world’s greatest warriors, bodyweight exercises continue to be used in the athletic training world and is a key component of many of the best fat loss and muscle gain workouts available.
Bodyweight training is any exercise that involves using the body as a means of resistance against gravity. Common types of body weight training include calisthenics exercises — like sit-ups and push-ups — plyometrics to improve explosive power and yoga emphasizing a mind-body connection.
Bodyweight training became popular because of its inexpensive nature, the inherent convenience of not needing any equipment and being able to perform these exercises anywhere. While there are plenty of different methods and fitness equipment to choose from, bodyweight training still has advantages over traditional training options.
Because of individual differences in size and strength, it is difficult to construct strength-training machines to accommodate everyone’s needs and shape, while bodyweight training is unique to that individual.
Another advantage of bodyweight training is that most exercises are closed chain exercise. Closed chain exercises are performed where the hand or foot is fixed and does not move relative to the body. Pull-ups and push-ups are examples of closed chain exercises, while the lat pull down and bench press are open chain exercises. Closed chain exercises often involve multiple muscles and joints and in turn use more energy to burn fat or increase lean muscle mass. For the most part, if you are moving your body toward or away from an object, it is a closed chain exercise; if you’re moving something either toward or away from your body, it is an open chain exercise.
The biggest disadvantage to bodyweight training is that it is perceived as too easy for the experienced trainee and too hard for the beginner. However, with proper exercise execution and knowledge, it is possible to develop a bodyweight only training program to fit anyone’s needs.
Bodyweight training is not only effective on its own, but when added to a program involving weights, increases efficacy as well. External loads can also be added to exercises like dips, push-ups and pull-ups to challenge the strongest of athletes. Many people feel they need specialized exercise equipment to reach their goals, but the most effective and most underutilized piece of equipment you already own.
— Kyler Crouse, BS, CSCS