Strength training with one’s bodyweight has been used and documented being used since the era of the great Greek philosophers, and even before that. In fact, the word “Calisthenics”, is derived from the Greek words “kallos”, meaning beauty, & “sthenos”, meaning strength.
Mentions of Calisthenics can be found dating as far back as 480BC, in the chronicles of Herodotus on the Battle of Thermopylae, where spartan warriors were seen practicing naked calisthenics. Pausanias, a Greek geographer and traveler also noticed how the Greek athletes of the Olympic games also trained with calisthenics.
Before those accounts though, and long after, up until today, many different athletes from different cultures all around the world practice calisthenics as a way of transforming their body’s physical strength and appearance.
Why strength training with bodyweight?
Barely any equipment needed:
This is probably one of the first reasons that comes to mind. High quality workouts can be performed pretty much anywhere, at any time. In your office, you local park, your garden, or from the comfort of your own room. In terms of equipment, you don’t have to pay for a hefty gym membership, and neither do you have to spend 30 minutes driving there.
When you are starting out, a pull up bar is sufficient to keep you progressing for a long time. If you have access to a strong tree branch, even that can be put to good use. Otherwise, the probably most worthwhile piece of equipment to invest in, are gymnastic rings.
They can be anchored anywhere strong enough to support your weight, and used for an almost unlimited supply of exercises. Although they may be a but tough to get used to at first for beginners, they will quickly allow you to progress further than you ever have before, and give you access to the essential compound movements like dips, pull ups, ring push ups, rows, and plenty more, anywhere where your rings can be hung.
Lastly, the extra stability needed to performed a controlled movement with gymnastic rings will recruit a larger amount of muscle fibers and boost your strength and muscle gains considerably, as well as help to greatly reinforce your connective tissues.
A natural and complete way of training:
Bodyweight training incorporates for the most part natural movements that people can be called upon to perform in their everyday life, or would to in survival situations especially. Things like pulling one’s body up (pull ups), pushing your body away from a surface (push ups), or even squatting and muscles ups, are all functional, basic strength skills that provide the foundations of any bodyweight workout.
These same exercises can then be rendered more difficult through the use of harder variants of these same exercises, or “progressions“, or by adding weight with a dip belt or weighted vest.
In Calisthenics, it’s usually harder to isolate a muscle than with standard weight training, meaning that you are mostly going to be performing exercises that recruit a multitude of muscles at the same time (great for building a balanced level of strength and muscle in the whole body). It is however possible to perform isolation exercises such as bicep curls, tricep extensions, and plenty more with the use of gymnastic rings, or a simple low bar.
Superior control of your body:
[pullquote align=”normal” cite=”Socrates”]No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.[/pullquote]
It’s a wonderful thing when one get’s to a certain level of strength, and is able to do things such as freestanding handstand push ups, pistol squats, one arm pull ups, advanced versions of the L-sit (a gymnast’s manna), and the beastly iron cross. This is a level of strength anyone can attain with some work and consistency. Certainly, one evident drawback of pure weight training is that without incorporating certain calisthenics exercises such as handstands, advanced skills like freestanding handstand push ups cannot be obtained.
As I am writing this, I can recall when my principal focus was around weight training. After 2 years of extensive weight training, one day I exited the gym, I tried to perform a handstand, and some form of press to handstand, only to fall flat on the floor. As I got up and looked at the thick calluses on my hands, I realized that my strength at the moment could mostly only be applied to lifting weights, but by no means had I improved the overall control over my own bodyweight through space. I felt like a clumsy bulk of muscles, not really effective for anything other than lifting weights.
The following years were spent gaining new levels of strength and control on advanced bodyweight movements, balance, coordination, and much more (combined with weight training). After a few years of using a hybrid, bodyweight, weighted calisthenics, and barbell training program, I now feel like a much better, all around athlete.
Bodyweight training anatomy
With bodyweight training, your body is worked as a whole, with several large muscle groups usually working together through a given range of motion. Just like with weights, you want to make sure that you are spending a reasonable amount of time under tension for maximal hypertrophy.
One question that is repeatedly asked is whether weights are superior over bodyweight training, or if it’s the other way round. The answer to that is that you must emember that resistance is resistance. Your body does not know whether it is being subjected to external resistance with the use of weights, or if it’s using it’s own weight as resistance. One can achieve a brilliant upper body physique with just bodyweight training alone, although it’s recommended (but in no means an obligation) that you use barbell training for the lower body.
The key factor to remember when trying to gain strength and grow muscle are that you need both consistency, and progressive overload. If you combine this with good programming and the right diet to fit your goals, you will see constant progress, for years on.
Bodyweight strength training programs
Having done research on the most efficient and valuable training programs that I could find out there, you can find these resources here. Have a look through them, and discover which method of bodyweight training suits you best.
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- Bodyweight Tribe 15 week ring routine
- Bodyweight Tribe guide to bodyweight strength training, progressions, nutrition, mindset, and recovery
- Best calisthenics programs review with 9 efficient routines from bodyweight training experts
Bodyweight strength training – Conclusion
Bodyweight strength training is a time old way of putting on impressive amounts of strength and muscle. It has been used for hundreds of years and refined, and presents itself today as one of the principal training methods of many elite athletes and fighting forces around the world. It’s a natural, complete way of training that will teach you superior control over your own bodyweight. If you want to know more about this way of training, access different workouts plans and more, click the links above, and you should have everything you need to build a strong foundation, and beyond, all the way to elite levels of strength.
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