When most of start exercising regularly, we typically gravitate to a combination of cardiovascular exercise and more traditional methods of weight training (think squats, presses, rows, and deadlifts).
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And, in short, there is nothing wrong with this.
Both of these training modalities allow us to build strength, power, and muscle mass, while also providing an excellent means of improving cardiovascular fitness – with the combination of these two training modes leading to improved health and some quality physique development.
But even so, it is important to note that there are many different modalities of training out there that provide a number of unique and beneficial training effects.
Which is what brings us to the topic of today’s article: body weight training.
What is body weight training?
Body weight training is ultimately a type of weight training that requires us to use our own body weight as the primary source of resistance. This type of training is often (and undeservedly) overlooked for other training methods because of its relatively simple application, and lack of fancy equipment.
Which is unfortunate.
I say unfortunate because, while body weight training may be inferior to traditional strength training when it comes to developing lower body strength (if we are thinking of squat and deadlift strength specifically), it offers an incredible way to improve lower body stability, upper body strength AND stability, while also maximizing muscle growth and core strength.Follow @AboutLifting
As a bonus, body weight training can be tailored to both beginners and advanced trainees (making it suitable for literally everyone), and requires very little equipment to perform, making it ideal for busy gyms, or those with home gym set ups.
Mastering our own body weight
Body weight training essentially allows us to master our own body weight, allowing us to control it through a number of different movements and through a variety of different positions.
This mastery is incredibly important, as it will carry over to real life situations extremely well (such as climbing up a ledge, standing from a seated position, or escaping a horde of ravenous zombies), improving our day to day function, while also increasing our capacity for movement in its entirety.
This mastery also allows us to work up to more challenging exercise variations, from which we can further build strength, stability, and muscle size.
Body weight training and stability
Body weight training provides a valuable way to promote the development of stability around both the upper and lower limbs.
Firstly, by utilizing single leg exercises such as split squats and pistol squats, we can challenge the muscles around the hip (with specific emphasis on the gluteal and the quadriceps) in a HUGE way. This can maximize our functional strength during athletic movements such as jumps and bounds, while also increasing our ability to perform day to day tasks such as walking upstairs – all while reducing our risk of lower limb injury.
Secondly, from an upper body perspective, body weight training using exercises such as chin up and push up variations promote the strength development of the shoulder and its surrounding musculature. This greatly increases the stability around the shoulder joint, which can lead to improved strength development combined with a reduced risk of shoulder injury.
Finally, body weight training (using exercises for both the upper and lower body) places a massive demand on the muscles of the trunk to maintain a neutral spinal position. This leads to an increase in core strength, which can further improve strength development and functional power, while also improving lower back health
Body weight training, muscle strength, and muscle size.
In conjunction with improvements in stability (which essentially leads to improvements in function), body weight training can also yield large improvements in muscle strength and size.
By placing our body in unique and demanding positions, body weight training allows to build ‘real world’ strength, in which we maximize our capacity to produce force in a variety of scenarios. This could mean pushing a broken down car to a close mechanic, taking the shopping from the car to the house in a single trip, or helping a friend move house.
Additionally, due to this unique demand combined with the controlled movement required during bodyweight training, bodyweight training also causes a large increase in ‘time under tension’, while also placing a large metabolic demand on the muscle tissue.
Both of which are known to contribute to large increases in muscle growth.
If we take a second to consider high level gymnasts’, they provide a fantastic example of how body weight training can lead to large increases in both strength and size – seriously those guys (and gals) are jacked.
Best bang for your buck body weight exercises
Like most things, when it comes to body weight exercises, some are better than others.
While I alluded some of those that do have benefit in above sections, I will clearly outline those best exercises in this section, and what benefits those exercises do offer.
For lower body strength, stability, and muscle development, you cannot look past the Pistol Squat. The pistol squat describes a single leg squat performed without any assistance, and absolutely crushes the muscles of the hip, leading to improved single leg stability and strength.
When it comes to developing the muscles of the upper back while also contributing to improved integrity of the shoulder joint, Inverted Rows are your best option. Inverted rows smash the muscles of the upper back (think rhomboids, and rotator cuff) leading to increased shoulder stability and total back development.
In a similar fashion, Close grip Chin ups offer a great way to improve shoulder stability while also building strength and size of the latissimus dorsi muscles, and the biceps.
For the development of trunk stability and core strength it’s hard to overlook the Dead Bug.
Dead Bugs provide a great stimulus that teach the muscles of the core to resist movement (leading to improved core strength), while also placing the abdominals under a huge amount of stress that will lead to improved muscle growth.
And finally, for upper body pressing strength you have to perform the Push Up. While often considered quite simple, the push up provides a great way to build the muscles of the chest and the arms, while also improving pressing strength and increasing shoulder stability.
Additionally, pushups can be regressed (think hands elevated) and progressed (think single arm push ups, or close hand pushups) in accordance to the individual’s current training level, making them extremely versatile and effective.
Body weight training offers a different training stimulus that can impure function, strength, and stability, while also increasing muscular development and reducing the risk of injuries.
Moreover, it can be tailored to the individual’s current training status and capabilities, making it an extremely safe and effective means of exercise.
Try out some of the exercises mentioned today and reap the rewards – seriously.