For a long time, I refused to do any bodyweight training. I didn’t like it. I didn’t enjoy the idea of doing pushups and pull-ups. Especially because, for a lot of that time, I couldn’t really do any of those.
However, I’ve come to recognize a few things, including a little bit about myself. In particular, my formerly snobbish attitude on bodyweight training.
Now, I think it’s a solid method of training and here are some of the advantages of it. These are all things you should at least think about when it comes to training modalities.
You can’t really beat free.
Seriously, the vast majority of bodyweight training requires no equipment to speak of. The little bit that does–things like pull-ups, for example–doesn’t require expensive gear. I build a pull-up bar in my back yard with a couple of 4×4 posts anchored in the ground with a bag’s worth of Quikcrete and a length of 3/4″ pipe. That’s it.
If you’ve got the overhead space, you can get a pull-up bar that hangs over a door for very little money. Seriously, it’s not expensive.
Contrast that with something like barbell training. Even if you go the gym route, costs add up over time.
The kicker for body weight? It can be even cheaper if you have a fitness trail in your community. If you do, they’re set up for calisthenics already as well as having a little bit of a trail to run for some conditioning.
I’m going to talk a bit about things I’ve heard and read, not studies on the topic, but bear with me.
Apparently, one of the advantages of bodyweight training is that you can recover far more quickly. That means you can train more often. Ultimately, it means you can put a lot more volume on your muscles and reap more benefits.
Strength is built not while you work, but while you recover. If this is accurate, then you build up neuromuscular adaptations far faster with bodyweight training than you do with barbells.
The downside of this is the science backing the claims. After all, I haven’t found any yet, and I’ve done a bit of looking. That doesn’t mean it’s not out there, but I haven’t seen it.
However, based on my own experiences with bodyweight training recently, I’m inclined to believe it’s accurate.
Perhaps the best thing here is that you can do a lot of bodyweight movements pretty much anywhere. This is great if you get hammered by a hurricane and have to play refugee for a week.
When that happened to me, I got sidetracked because none of my equipment was portable.
While kettlebells can be, that’s really only an option for most folks if they’re driving. Flying with one, unless your taking it to a competition where you’ll need it, is probably not going to be a whole lot of fun. Especially as you get stronger.
Yet your body is going to be wherever you are. That means you won’t miss training because of something beyond your control.
While a few things might be a bit trickier, that’s not to say they can’t be done.
Impressing your friends
Fitness is its own reward. You’re not in this to impress anyone except yourself.
But, we’re human and that means many of us like to show off.
With bodyweight training, it’s possible to develop not just the strength to impress people, but the technique to do so as well. You see, some of the most impressive bodyweight feats aren’t just about being strong. They involve technique.
For example, someone can bench 400 lbs, but if they don’t know or can’t figure out the technique for a one-arm pushup, they’re going to have problems.
Not that they can’t do it, but they won’t do it efficiently.
Bodyweight training is also something that most people understand. If you do a lot of pushups, they don’t have to train to appreciate just how difficult it is. Most of them already know.
Get into things like doing flags and everyone gets impressed.
I’m not going to tell you that bodyweight training is all you need or the One True Way. It’s not.
Like most everything else, it’s a way.
I’ve noticed that, for myself, that bodyweight training has some significant downsides, especially for me.
You see, I have some issues with balance. They likely stem from a medical condition that runs in both sides of my family, so while I can work around them, they’re still an issue.
That means certain exercises are going to be problematic. It’s hard to do a handstand pushup if you can’t get into a handstand. It’s also an issue when trying to do pistol squats.
Don’t think I’m not still trying to work on some of these. I am. Still. But I’ve got a bit of a roadblock to clear before I can do them.
However, with bodyweight, it’s incredibly difficult do really get good training for certain movement patterns without those progressions. It’s hard to train an overhead pushing movement unless you can get vertical. It’s difficult to get sufficient leg training on just your bodyweight unless you can do it one-legged. Stuff like that.
This may well be unique to people like me, though.
What isn’t is the top end levels of strength attainable on bodyweight training.
If your goal is to squat 800 lbs, you’re going to need more than some pistol squats. You’re going to have to squat heavy. There’s just now way around it.
For many, bodyweight training isn’t necessarily ideal for their goals. Even then, I still think it’s a useful tool in the toolbox, but I also don’t think these people should rely on it.
Frankly, I think everyone should spend some time doing some bodyweight training. Never be without a place to train again.