There’s no doubt about it: there are a lot of people out there who would argue that without question, training with weights is the best way to get fit and strong, fast.
In fact, the majority of the fitness world treats bodyweight training as far less superior than heavy weight training, reserved only for traveling, coming back from an injury, or exercise newbies.
But there’s another group of people—people like Paul Wade, author of Convict Conditioning, and Al Kalvaldo, bodyweight and calisthenics expert, as well as the impressive feats of athletes like Barstarzz—who are proving that calisthenics are making a comeback. As masters of exercises like one-arm pull-ups, single-leg squats and one-arm handstand push-ups, these fitness fanatics are proving that bodyweight training is not just for wimps.
Here are 9 reasons why bodyweight training rocks:
1. It requires minimal to no equipment
Unlike most other forms of exercise, all you need to do bodyweight training is your own bodyweight—and maybe a pull-up bar or some dip bars. This gives you the freedom to work out in your local park (many city parks have pull-up bars to use—or the monkey bars at a kid’s playground work just fine), or even just in your own home.
This is a huge plus for anyone who travels often, doesn’t have access to a gym, or just plain likes to be able to work out anywhere, any time.
2. It’s 100% free
Gym memberships these days can range from $25 a month at a chain gym like 24 Hour Fitness to $200 or more at a CrossFit gym. For anyone on a budget, that’s a huge monthly expense!
Switching to bodyweight training means you no longer have to pay your monthly gym dues, since all of a sudden your entire workout is free.
3. It helps your body move like it was supposed to
You’ve probably heard a lot about functional fitness, a type of workout that helps you move better in real life and in sports, these days.
And there’s no doubt about it, bodyweight training is the ultimate form of functional fitness, since it helps you develop useful athletic abilities that can benefit you no matter what you’re doing—whether you’re climbing a tree, lifting a suitcase over your head in an airplane, or playing with your kids at the playground.
Better yet, since bodyweight training means you’ll be moving your body the way it was designed to move, you’ll move better in all areas of your life.
4. It makes you a better athlete
If you do any other sports aside from your workouts, you probably need to run, jump, twist, lunge, squat, pull, or press, if not all of the above.
And since bodyweight training helps your body move the way it wants to move naturally, all the bodyweight exercises you learn to do will help you tremendously in whatever sport you do, and make you a better, stronger and more efficient athlete overall.
5. It protects your joints and keeps you injury-free
To be strong all over, you need to not only have strong muscles, but also strong joints. And because bodyweight training works the joints and tendons as they are meant to be worked, it helps to create strong joints and tendons for life—and helps protect you from injuries.
One of the reasons that so many bodybuilders end up with joint issues in their shoulders, wrists, knees, or neck is that the joints of the body are simply not designed to deal with heavy loads of weight training. But calisthenics can prevent these all too common injuries by helping to strengthen your joints and tendons as well as your muscles.
6. It maximizes strength
Getting strong isn’t all about how much weight you can lift, press, or pull—it’s also about how strong your joints and tendons are. And since bodyweight training works your joints like they’re meant to be worked, calisthenics can help develop greater strength and power than weight training alone.
Plus, since bodyweight movements use multiple muscle groups at once, bodyweight training helps the body learn to work together as a whole, making your body more efficient overall and as strong as possible for your build.
7. It’s a cool party trick
Have you ever seen someone do a one-arm push-up, a freestanding handstand, or even a pistol in person? It’s a pretty impressive feat—and will no doubt amaze your friends.
So while I would never recommend switching to bodyweight training just to impress your friends, it’s certainly a plus.
8. It builds muscle (yes, really)
When most people think of bodyweight training, they don’t associate it with building muscle—you need heavy weights for that, right? Wrong.
If you stick to light, modified versions of bodyweight exercises, that’s all too true. But if you constantly push yourself to master harder versions of bodyweight exercises—going from the standard push-up to one-arm push-ups, from the basic air squat to a one-legged squat (also called a pistol), and regularly including handstand push-ups and harder versions of pull-ups into your routine—your body will turn into a muscle building machine.
9. It regulates body fat
Take a look at a lot of bodybuilders and participants of endurance athletics these days, and you’ll notice a trend: not all of them are as lean as you might imagine for someone doing so much exercise. That’s because when you’re constantly overloading your body with intense exercise, the natural result is that you get hungry—and unfortunately, you don’t always burn more calories than you eat with that type of training.
Because excess weight makes bodyweight training harder, however, your natural tendency will be to slim down and lose body fat to make the training easier and more efficient. As a plus, since the training is easier on your body, your appetite will level off and you’ll start eating the right amount for your body.
So find a pull-up bar, some dip bars, or just use your own body and get training in calisthenics today. You’ll not only get stronger, leaner, and more muscular—you’ll also become a better, healthier athlete overall.