What is a bodyweight exercise? It’s an exercise you do that involves using your own bodyweight (stating the obvious, I know). Essentially, they are strength training exercises that take advantage of your bodyweight to provide a degree of resistance against gravity. They have the ability to increase power, strength, endurance and physique.
Bodyweight exercises can be used in combinations to produce this brilliant thing called ‘Calisthenics’ and it’s a term I will refer to throughout this post. It’s important to understand the ins and outs of Calisthenics, what it is and what it isn’t, so we know how to use it to our advantage.
Calisthenics – What The Heck Is That?
We have the Greeks to thank for the literal meaning of the word, ‘kallos’ meaning beauty and ‘sthenos’ meaning strength. Calisthenics is an art form. It’s a method of combining bodyweight and inactivity to enhance your physique. I know what you’re thinking, how can I be inactive and get still get stronger?! Stay with me and I will explain all.
Wikipedia does a good job of defining, “Calisthenics is a form of exercise consisting of a variety of movements which exercise large muscle groups, such as running, standing, grasping, pushing, etc. These exercises are often performed rhythmically and with minimal equipment, as bodyweight exercises. They are intended to increase strength, fitness and flexibility, through movements such as pulling, pushing, bending, jumping, or swinging, using one’s bodyweight for resistance.”
Interestingly, most people who are into their fitness probably haven’t heard of Calisthenics. It is strange that it’s been one of the main sources of physical preparation since the dawn of time. I firmly believe this form of exercise is the most comfortable and natural for anyone to get involved in. Modern gyms, resistance machines, barbells, dumbbells are all very new methods of exercise, in terms of how humans have done it previously. Take the caveman for instance, you didn’t see him squatting in the gym, he was out jumping, climbing, running as part of his day-to-day.
The reason I originally developed an interest in Calisthenics is because I was looking for ways to maintain my strength whilst travelling abroad. I would frequently find myself without a gym and since the training doesn’t require a gym membership, it seemed to be the perfect solution.
Advantages – That’s What I’m Talking About!
Now I’ve explained what Calisthenics is (hopefully), we can move on to the exciting bit and take a look at how this method of training can benefit you:
- Anyone Can Do This – You and everyone else is accustomed in some way or another to bodyweight exercises. We have to carry ourselves around on a day-to-day basis, walking, lifting etc. Plus, resistance to each exercise is tailor made for the individual, since it’s your own bodyweight causing the resistance.
- Safer Than The Gym – If you are doing resistance training in the gym, you are far more likely to injure yourself than when performing Calisthenics. In order to increase resistance in the gym, when using weights, you simply add more weight. This can lead to injuries because people get carried away with adding too much weight, without properly building up to it. In Calisthenics things work a little differently; to increase resistance in bodyweight exercises you manipulate the range of motion and this takes time to master.
- Builds Strength Uniquely – Calisthenic training teaches the body to work as a unit, incorporating lots of muscle groups to work together. Unlike weight training in the gym, which tend to focus on individual muscle groups. Calisthenics tends to utilise isometric exercises (more jargon, sorry); the muscles are under tension but they aren’t getting longer or shorter. In these isometric exercises the body has to contract all muscle groups at the same time and as hard as possible. More muscles working, more strength being built…simple.
- No Expensive Equipment – This can prove to be a tremendous saving, as the equipment required for Calisthenics is limited, simple and very cheap to purchase. Plus, a gym membership is not required, which considering the average cost of a yearly membership in the UK is £415, that’s a big saving!
- The World Is Your Gym – Calisthenics can be performed anywhere and anytime. You are not bound by location. This has to be the ultimate ‘pro’ for anyone who enjoys fitness, strength training and travelling.
Disadvantages – There’s Always Some
It’s always worth considering the drawbacks to any training programme you may get involved in and Calisthenics is no exception. As much as I love using bodyweight exercises to maintain and develop my strength, they aren’t without their limitations.
- No Huge Leg Gains – In the lower part of the body you will find some of our biggest muscle groups, such as the quads and glutes. In order to build massive strength in these larger muscle groups they need to contract against a large amount of resistance. The only way to produce this large resistance is by using weights. Sadly, there isn’t a great deal of Calisthenic exercises that can produce enough resistance for huge strength gains in the lower body.
- Recording Progress Can Be Tricky – When performing weight training in the gym it’s very easy to keep track of your progress. Simply a case of writing in a little gym book how much weight you lifted, so when it comes to next time you can increase. In Calisthenics, increasing resistance is a case of manipulating the range of motion, holding a position for a length of time and increasing repetitions. Of course it’s possible to record all of this data, but it’s certainly not as accurate as weight training when looking at your progress.
- Can You Build Large Muscles?! – This is often disputed in the Calisthenics world, some believe you can’t others believe you can, but it’s worth including anyway. I certainly believe it is possible, simply because of watching gymnasts on YouTube and in the Olympics. Calisthenics is huge aspect of a gymnasts training and from what I’ve seen they have huge muscles.
Final Thoughts – What Is A Bodyweight Exercise & Why Are They So Good?
Well, we’ve established that a bodyweight exercise is a way of building strength, by using our own weight to provide resistance against gravity. There are multiple bodyweight exercises that can be performed, which can be used together in combinations to workout all muscle groups, called Calisthenic training.
Like all fitness training programmes it has it’s limitations, such as difficulty with tracking progress or building big legs, but there are so many benefits. Namely, the benefit of location freedom which for me is at the top of the list. Being able to workout all of my muscles, whilst building strength, anywhere and anytime.
As a seasoned traveller, I often seek out locations which are a little off the beaten track and find myself without any means to continue my resistance training, that I love to do in the gym. So for me Calisthenics is the perfect way to maintain and improve upon my strength whilst on the move.
But, perhaps the biggest reason of why Calisthenics and bodyweight exercises are so good is the fact that anyone can use these techniques. Whether you are a pro or a beginner, it doesn’t matter, you can keep fit whilst travelling and on the move. As far as I’m concerned, if you want to build strength, develop your physique and do it without needing to go to the gym then Calisthenic training is your perfect solution.