The Beauty of Bodyweight Exercises

"Everybody always asks me: 'How much can you bench?' I'm like, 'I don't know, I don't lift weights.' Now that I'm in college, we lift weights every once in a while, but not maxing out. We do things with a weight vest on... That surprises people, too, how strong you can get by just basically lifting your body all the time."

-Jacob Dalton

I've been crammed in my house for most of the summer studying for the CPA exam. Almost on a whim, I decided to work out at the field across my house today just to remember what the sun looked like.

Part of me assumed that, having increased the weight on back squats and deadlifts for the last few months, my bodyweight movements would be far easier.

I was completely wrong; I went into the workout feeling like Mike Tyson only to find myself floored by Buster Douglas.

Doing single leg squats with a rail as a balancing support, I found myself barely able to do 9 reps on each leg. Sure I was hitting below parallel, but I was still shocked.

More than anything, that experience reemphasized the importance of one of my favorite forms for resistance training.

Body Power

Too often I run into people at the gym obsessing over their Bench Press or even Lat Pulldown weight.

Now believe me, I love weighted exercises. I'd go as far to say that bar exercises are the Michael Jordan of resistance training.

Bodyweight exercises, however, are bar movments' Scotty Pippen; less popular, but still essential to the Bulls and the Dream Team.

Interestingly enough, I've occasionally seen some big guys at the gym struggle to do Pull-Ups with just their bodyweight.

Benefits

There are numerous benefits to doing bodyweight training.

MORE CONVENIENCE

Sometimes it's nice to not have to worry about grabbing different dumbbells or changing the rack on a machine. Bodyweight exercises require nothing but your own body and a park or gym to go to. Now, sometimes you have to make due with what's around; the park I used is half calisthenics equipment and half playground. Surprisingly, doing dips off the jungle gym rails gets the job done.

Healthier joints

Since bodyweight movements are more natural in their range of motion, you won't have to worry about hurting your joints on most movements. Furthermore, since bodyweight movements tend to encourage higher reps, your muscles won't place as much stress on your tendons and bones as heavy strength movements would.

Less Cns intensive

Joints aside, another drawback of barbell movements like deadlifts and military press is that they place a great deal of stress on your CNS (central nervous system). While limited amounts of this can lead to impressive testosterone levels and size gains, overloading these types of movements will wreck you.

By implementing bodyweight workouts, you can prevent your body for overtraining and continue to push the limits.

Range of Motion

Another reason people think they've "mastered" their bodyweight is that they cheat the range of motion to get their reps up.

Take chin ups (palms facing you) for example. Too often, I see people kicking their legs and swinging their hips back and forth just to get their chin over the bar.

Try this instead: pull yourself to the bar with the bar almost touching your chest (and, obviously, not kicking your legs like some CrossFit initiate) and lower yourself down as far as you can without locking out.

Now, see if you can do 15. If you can, you have a stronger back than most guys I see around the gym.

While most people think the added range of motion focuses more on your biceps than your back, I find that it hits my inner back muscles (middle trapezius, rhomboids) while still targeting my lats.

Advancing Movements

One common criticism I see on bodybuilding forums is that eventually, lifters get to a point where bodyweight exercises just don't provide an effective stimulus for building muscle.

Honestly, your bodyweight loses its efficiency for building muscle once the resistance moves beyond a 15-rep-max.

But again, how many guys get to that point?!

How many guys do you personally know that can do full range chin ups or wide grip pull ups for 15 reps? Not many I'd bet!

In fact, I've occasionally seen some of the biggest guys at the gym struggle to do even a handful of pull ups with just their bodyweight (no plates or dumbbells).

It doesn't necessarily mean those guys are weak either. f you're an average, natural lifter, there's a limit to how much muscle and strength you can build. If you couldn't do ONE pull up before you started lifting, do you really think you'll do 50 eventually? Probably not.

But let's say you're an exception. Heck, let's say you're an Olympic-level athlete.

In that situation, all you need is to add a bit of resistance. A 40 or 60 lb weight vest from Amazon will do the job nicely. And if THAT still doesn't do it, get a weight belt and attach a few 45 lb plates.

Conclusion

Bodyweight exercises are great implementations for gaining muscle and strength.

Unfortunately, when my summer allergies started to really act up during these workouts, I returned to my local gym and did my usual routines.

However, I still implement bodyweight movements throughout my workouts even if it means doing some of them weighted.

You were born with only one body, so you might as well use it.