Bodyweight training is surging in popularity. This trend can be seen in the form of the calisthenics fitness movement and is the foundation of CrossFit training. If you follow any fitness tags on IG, Snapchat, or TikTok, you’ve surely seen posts of people performing gravity-defying yoga stands or difficult strength and technique movements, like planches or muscle-ups. But outside of the amazing strength and skill of athletes shared on social media, anyone can undertake bodyweight training, and there are three solid reasons to do so: it costs nothing, its beneficial for all age groups and levels of fitness, and it can make you stronger than the muscle-isolating, aesthetically geared workouts prevalent in commercial gyms. If you have a tight budget, are lifelong fitness-minded, or are simply just alive, these perks of bodyweight training are difficult for other fitness programs to beat.
The Logic of Bodyweight Exercise
Bodyweight training has always been the foundation of a sound exercise regimen to build basic strength and stability before loading the body with external resistance, like free weights. This strategy, taught in personal training courses and to kinesiology students, prevents short-term injuries and reduces the formation of muscle imbalances that can lead to future injuries. The incremental methodology and synergistic elements that play into a well-made bodyweight routine, firmly place bodyweight training under the umbrella of functional training.
Functional and bodyweight training are two complementary methods that lay a solid foundation for injury-free muscle and strength gains. Functional strength is more than how much weight a specific muscle can bear: it involves balance, flexibility, and coordination through whole-body movements. You will often meet people with a fitness model physique who still can’t accomplish much in the realm of functional movements, such as performing pull-ups or a strict-form deep squat. This common phenomenon is evidence that isolation routines in the weight room can make many people look athletically impressive, but their appearance is no reflection of their actual athletic abilities.
Focusing on developing “mirror muscles” instead of developing all muscle groups equally, has little long-term practicality and is most often a ticking time bomb for injuries. Even though most of us want the “gym fit” look, functional strength is what we all actually need.
Functional training focuses on the way humans move in day-to-day life and in athletic pursuits. Core areas of concern are establishing proper posture and correct movement habits prior to taking on complex exercise routines. If poor movement and posture fail to be corrected, dangerous movement patterns can carry over to a new routine and invite injury immediately or down the line. This is where functional and bodyweight training partners with each other. To address poor movement issues, functional training relies on building up bodyweight mobility and strength to develop core athletic movement sequences.
Do you have a hunch at the base of your neck? Is one of your shoulders higher than the other? Do you have a hard time sitting on the floor? If you cannot easily squat to pick something up off the floor, bend over to touch your toes, or balance on one leg, these weaknesses should be corrected before engaging in weight-bearing exercises to avoid injury.
Functional training can alleviate many forms of chronic pain and restore a full range of motion to the body. When taking on functional exercise, you should learn to assess your movement capabilities to ensure proper form and execution and also track your progress. If you lack experience with this, seek help from a professional trainer who specializes in functional movement and/or corrective exercise. Your training plan should be individualized to address and resolve your body’s specific weaknesses.
How to Start Bodyweight Training
The Alexander Technique is an ideal starting point for functional training. It cultivates mindfulness around the ways humans use their bodies in daily activities. The changes are subtle and incorporated into everyday life, so it is hard for some people to see it as a fitness activity. However, as you learn to align yourself properly your body will begin to build the strength and balance you didn’t even realize you were lacking.
Five functional exercises that everyone should use to build their foundation are the squat, push-up, pull-up, row, and plank. These exercises alone can realign and build the entire body by developing stability, skill, and strength. If you are new to bodyweight training, it may take some time to master these basics. To overcome this introductory phase, spend fifteen to twenty minutes a day practicing the above five recommended exercises until the movements become natural. After mastering baseline bodyweight exercises, free weights can be incorporated into functional training routines to increase intensity and progressively overload muscles to build mass and improve strength. Dumbbells, kettlebells, battle ropes, and medicine balls are equipment commonly used to enhance the functional skill and strength initially gained with bodyweight movements.
Bodyweight training is affordable, can be done anywhere, and is recommended for all fitness levels. Whereas, the muscle isolation-based weight training popular in many gyms and for physique competitions, increases the likeliness of developing muscle imbalances and often does. This reality is why aesthetically geared training should never be a starting point for an exercise regime or the base of anyone’s training scheme. Fitness professionals understand the risks of following physique-based training and are taught to design routines that develop a solid foundation in bodyweight skill and strength to create well-rounded, functional. But that’s not all, bodyweight training can still provide the strength challenges to build a muscular, aesthetically pleasing physique.
“Rise of the Body-Weight Workout”: https://magazine.nasm.org/american-fitness-magazine/issues/jan-feb-2015/body-weight-training
“7 Amazing Things That Will Happen When You Do Plank Every Day”: https://www.lifehack.org/292578/7-things-that-will-happen-when-you-do-planking-exercise-every-day