When you are your own gym, there’s really no excuse not to keep fit.
Calisthenics (the jazzed up way of saying bodyweight exercises) are exercises which use just your bodyweight for resistance to increase strength, fitness and flexibility by pulling, pushing, bending, jumping or swinging.
But what’s the best thing about bodyweight?
Party tricks. Not needing any equipment means you can bust your best bodyweight moves anywhere and everywhere. Which is a darn sight easier than carrying your olympic bar around “just in case” bragging opportunities arise, or worse still, dragging all your mates down to the gym to watch you bench press. Bodyweight exercises can be shown off anywhere and everywhere, every attention seekers dream.
Okay there’s a heck of a lot more to it than that, but it’s always a plus.
Benefits of Bodyweight training
No need for fancy kit and very little space.
As glorious as a squat rack is, it needs it’s fair share of space and comes with a hefty pricetag, training with bodyweight only is a) free, b) only takes up the space you need to move. So there’s no need for kit to clutter your house when it’s not in use.
Everywhere and anywhere is a gym.
It’s nigh on impossible to find an excuse not to do a bodyweight workout, from travelling to training in your PJ’s. Bodyweight workouts are convenient and can keep you in shape wherever you are.
Multi-tasking - Challenge a whole bundle of benefits at once.
Flexibility. Co-ordination. Strength. Balance. Endurance. Advanced calisthenics challenge your body in far more ways than just strength. Challenging your muscles to work together builds a better kinesthetic awareness, develops body control and puts you in better touch with your body in general.
Keep your weight in check.
Bodyweight exercises are great for HIIT (High Intensity Interval) style training and circuits which elevate the heart rate and burn more calories. You can be overweight and bench press, you can be overweight on a spin bike, but when it comes to calisthenics you need a good strength to weight ratio, which encourages you to get leaner and stronger all at once.
You can become a unit.
When you complete bodyweight exercises, you work your body as a unit. The moves require multiple muscles to work together to complete the exercise.
If one link in a chain is weak, the whole chain becomes weak, by working your body as a unit we ensure strength is developed throughout the chain as the muscles work together to become stronger.
A weighted isolation exercise such as the bicep curl works just the targeted biceps, whereas its body weight counterpart the chin up, works your biceps, back, abs and lower back in unison.
It’s always possible to shake things up.
No matter how much you love training, sometimes working out can be a chore and so that’s why bodyweight training is great. Simple things such as a change of scenery can bring the “va va voom” back to your workout, not so easy when you tied into gym memberships!
You can think outside the box.
Every body is different, meaning every body reacts differently to a particular exercise. What this means is that with bodyweight exercises there are endless possibilities for variations. Calisthenics challenge your creativity as you attempt to move your body in new ways and you will often have to adapt a move as you work towards a particular exercise. Variety is the spice of life.
You’ll save money
We touched on it before with point one, not needing fancy kit means not needing a gym membership. The average membership costs around £50 a month, so that's around £600 a year. Training with your bodyweight allows you to save your cash for other things.
It's excuse proof.
You only need to use your bodyweight, you don’t even need a ton of space because some moves can be done even with restricted room for movement. This means you're more likely to stay on track, as there’s really no way to talk yourself out of it.
Abs of steel.
Almost every bodyweight move requires you to work your core, engaging the abdominals to support your movement patterns. This is great for developing strong functional movement and of course, the elusive 6 pack.
Types of Bodyweight Training
Fitness DVD sales are constantly on the rise, the thought of being able to workout without even having to leave the house, or get dressed, is increasingly popular. Traditionally workout DVD’s were thought to be easy and for the elder woman. Rosemary Conley smiling away and barely breaking a sweat would plaster the screen and you’d be lucky to see any change in your body composition. Nowadays, we’re promised a better bum in as little as 3 minutes! Is it possible? Workout DVD’s typically involve high intensity interval workouts, ideal for getting your heart rate up in a short amount of time. Brands like Insanity boast multiple “before and after” stories and if you “dig deeper” you could be next.
These are great for people who lack creativity, or just like to follow a routine. As a personal trainer, I love a workout DVD, Jillian Michaels is a goddess and I love her, however I think it’s important to not depend solely on DVD’s, save them for the rainy days when you don’t want to go out, not as your only method of training. Why?
- A) Form: When you try a new DVD the chances are you’re going to be trying out new moves with nobody there to correct your form. This puts you at risk for injury and sometimes it can be more detrimental to your progress to be doing an exercise wrong.
- B) Progress: Your body is very clever. It will adapt to be the best at performing a given exercise that it can, so if you're repeatedly doing the same thing, what eventually happens is your progress plateaus. Your muscles don't grow or change and your body figures out how to use as little calories (energy) possible to complete this familiar task. Now some DVD’s tailor to this by offering different intensity workouts, but even then anywhere between 6-12 weeks into a programme, you progress will slow if you don't shake things up.
Workout DVD’S are easy to set up, you can be confident and comfortable in your own home and if the trainers any good, they’ll be motivating and challenging throughout.
Group exercises cottoned on to the power of bodyweight a long time ago, from yoga to pilates to legs bums and tums and Metafit. Group exercise classes utilise bodyweight moves, scorch calories and with any luck have an awesome instructor and soundtrack, but there’s more to it than that.
Additional benefits of group exercise:
- You’re more likely to show up. This a cost / commitment thing. The fact you have to book into a class makes you more likely to show up, plus if your gym charges a no show fee, you’ll make sure you get your money's worth.
- It’s more social (peer pressure). Going to a class with a friend can be more motivating as you get to see your friend as well as exercise, it can also lead to you insisting on working as hard as possible to show face in front of your mates, nobody wants to be left behind do they?
- The instructor can correct your form. Although it won’t be to the level of detail you get in a PT session as the instructor has one set of eyeballs and 30 members to watch over, someone making sure you don’t do yourself a serious injury is always a bonus.
- You should be challenged. Having someone else tell you what to do means you can’t opt for the moves that you find easiest, so you develop better overall fitness.
- You can prevent boredom. The instructors change their routines and music often to keep your body progressing and keep you from being bored of repeating the same class week in week out.
Over the years, fighting styles have been passed on from generation to generation, and from country to country as a method of improving self-defense and combative success, however most martial arts also boast the physical benefits of training achieved by any other form of exercise. A normal training session of Taekwondo or Hapkido involves a period of warming up, stretching, then training. The exercises involved in martial arts training improve balance, flexibility, stamina, and posture. Weight loss is promoted through extended cardiovascular activity.
Gymnastic moves are bodyweight exercises with the “wow” factor. Gymnastics is a sport of dedicated, athleticism and determination. High levels of balance, flexibility and coordination, as well as strength and power are required to be successful in this sport. In fact gymnasts arguably have some of the best physiques in the world.
Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that focuses on strength, flexibility and breathing to boost physical and mental wellbeing. The main focuses of yoga are posture and breathing. Yoga is beneficial as it helps further develop physical activity, especially strength, flexibility and balance. There is also some evidence that regular yoga practice is beneficial for people with high blood pressure, heart disease, aches and pains – including lower back pain – depression and stress.
30 Benefits of Yoga
- Improves your flexibility.
- Builds muscle strength.
- Perfects your posture.
- Prevents cartilage and joint breakdown.
- Protects your spine.
- Betters your bone health.
- Increases your blood flow.
- Drains your lymph and boosts immunity.
- Raises your heart rate.
- Reduces blood pressure.
- Regulates your adrenal glands.
- Makes you happier.
- Founds a healthy lifestyle.
- Lowers blood sugar.
- Helps you focus.
- Relaxes your system.
- Improves your balance.
- Maintains your nervous system.
- Releases tension in your limbs.
- Helps you sleep deeper.
- Boosts your immune system functionality.
- Gives your lungs room to breathe.
- Prevents IBS and other digestive problems.
- Gives you peace of mind.
- Increases self esteem.
- Eases pain.
- Gives you inner strength.
- Supports your connective tissue.
- Enhances mood.
- Promotes determination and development.
Back to Basics: Bodyweight exercises from top to toe
Handstands: Handstands work your entire body, with a particular focus in strength from the shoulders. To make this easier handstands can be completed against a wall for support.
Chin-ups: Chin ups work far more than just the back muscles, in fact this move challenges your entire body. Having your palms face towards you draws more focus to the biceps. This compound movement will promote extra growth and strength.
Dips: Dips are the perfect exercise for targeting the triceps and can easily be adapted to make the move easier or harder. Add weight for an extra kick or perform bench dips to lift less of your bodyweight.
Any variation of a pushup: The pushup is probably the most well-known bodyweight exercise. This basic move can be given endless twists to add more of a challenge from spiderman to hindu and plyometric pushups.
Pull ups: Redbull won’t give up wings… these do. Pull ups are a challenging exercise which triggers lots of growth in the back muscles.
Hyperextensions: Hyperextensions work the lower back, which is often a problem area. A strong lower back is required to support a strong core.
Squats: Basic squats, sumo squats, split leg squats and perhaps the toughest of them all pistol squats are all bodyweight exercises which focus on developing leg strength.
Glute-Ham raise: Glute-Ham raises require a person to hold your ankles whilst you lower yourself from kneeling to the ground or something for you to tuck the backs of your heels under for resistance, however these take your hamstrings through a far greater range of motion than your regular gym hamstring curl machine, as well as increase the time under tension.
Lunges: Another staple in any leg training, lunges work on single leg strength and allow for symmetrical, equal strength to be developed.
Crunch: There are endless crunch variations to challenge your core in multiple planes of movement. Using just bodyweight will ensure you trim and define your waist without adding bulk.
Leg raises: Leg raises target the lower abs which are often a stubborn area.
Sit Ups: The classic sit up can be varied by twisting and challenging the regular movement pattern to add more of a challenge to this simple core exercise.
L Sit: The L sit works on stability and a strong core is essential to maintain form for even as little as 10 seconds.
Plank: The plank looks a lot easier than it is, and when performed correctly can be one of the best core strengthening exercises. The plank helps develop strength in the core, shoulders, arms, and glute, all through one simple isometric hold.
Add a little bit of creativity to any of these moves and you’ve got yourself a party trick.