Bring Back Bodyweight Training
by Dave Bellomo
Body weight exercises such as push ups, sit ups, and lunges have been around for many decades. In fact, most of us can still recall our high school phys ed. teacher yelling at us to do 10 more jumping jacks in class. With the emergence of technology, however, bodyweight movements took a backseat to machines. Push-ups turned into dumbbells and barbells, then Nautilus. Instead of running outside, we now have treadmills, instead of climbing stairs, we have stair-climbing machines. Is it possible that the future will include machines that will exercise in our stead? As one who thoroughly enjoys exercising, I hope not.
Fortunately for serious strength and conditioning enthusiasts, things have come full circle. In recent years, with the revival of kettlebell training, MMA, and other related conditioning programs and disciplines, bodyweight training has come back in a big way. Fitness enthusiasts of all levels are reacquainting themselves with old school methods to become stronger and better conditioned. In addition, the goals of functional movement capacity and muscular endurance have become top priorities along with size and strength. Simply put, the people that are now training, want it all.
Crossfitters and mixed martial artists have been inspiring people to expand their training to include things such as high repetition burpees and box jumps. Obstacle races such as the Tough Mudder are motivating thousands to get out and “play” like the way we did as kids. Running, jumping, climbing and getting dirty are now socially acceptable adult activities.
For those individuals that are interested in building muscle, losing fat, and improving your overall conditioning, bodyweight exercises may be the answer. In addition, variety or lack of equipment should never be an issue. There are literally hundreds of variations of push ups, chin ups, lunges, and ab exercises.
To begin a bodyweight strength and conditioning program or to incorporate bodyweight movements into your current training program, start with the basics. Simple push ups, chin ups, and lunges have worked very well since the beginning of organized strength training. Focus on the perfection of technique and don’t let your ego dictate form. Just because you could perform 100 push ups without breaking a sweat when you were eighteen doesn’t mean that is the right place to start. Build volume by performing many low-repetition sets with perfect form. Over time, increase volume by adding more repetitions per set, more sets, or more training sessions. In addition, try adding at least one new exercise to your program each weak. It might be a push up variation, the addition of trail running, or even climbing on a jungle gym at your local park.
As you add new exercises, don’t be afraid to temporarily drop old ones if you feel that your training volume is surpassing your ability to recover from your workouts. Listen to your body. A few simple ways to check if you may be overtraining are to pay attention to your joints. Do your elbows, knees, and/or shoulders hurt deep in the joint. Also, be aware of near continual muscle soreness. While some inflammation comes with a good workout, constant soreness may indicate a need for longer recovery periods or a reduction in volume and/or intensity. Last, check your heart rate. Before beginning a new program take your resting heart rate first thing in the morning for three consecutive days to establish a base reading. Periodically check it again. If you find that your heart rate is more than a beat or two above normal, it may be an indication that your body is fighting inflammation in the form of overtraining or possibly a virus.
Regardless of your training goals, bodyweight exercises can be a great addition to any workout. Whether you prefer training in a gym, outdoors, or in your garage, exercises that require little or no equipment are easy to incorporate into a session. If your training program is getting old or if you are feeling less than motivated try incorporating some fun, effective movements into your program. No matter where you are or what you are doing, bodyweight exercises just might be the way to spice up your workouts.
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