A recent operation to repair my knee meant training had to be put on hold. When I did eventually begin to move again workouts were obviously not what they where. Any weighted or lower body work was out. My focus moved to bodyweight training for the upper body. At first I felt this was a massive set back. However, weeks of playing around with different variations of upper bodyweight movements changed my view. I realised that being limited in training doesn’t mean lower quality workouts. Hopefully what I have learnt from the past 2 months can help you too…
Bodyweight develops control
Bodyweight training has been around for years. They are the basics in developing strength and control. To most, on the face of it they look very simple. However, performing them correctly with good form is highly challenging.
Some of the basic bodyweight movements are:
- Pull Ups
- Press Ups
- Leg Raises
This list is not exhaustive but is an example of some bodyweight movements that can be performed. These type of movements only require your body and minimal equipment. We often become dependent on external training tools to develop our fitness. However, this is quite a narrow approach. Groups such as BarStarzz show the benefits of learning control through bodyweight training.
It is fairly illogical to think we can efficiently control external weight without first learning to control our bodies. Gymnasts have some of the strongest and most functional bodies on the planet. They build this through bodyweight movements over years and years. Therefore, learning control and building strength through bodyweight movements will be highly beneficial.
So, the first benefit I found wits bodyweight training is the strength and control you will gain. Taking a step back and building bodyweight movements into your routine may have transferable benefits to other areas of training.
Work on weakness
Almost all body parts are capable of being targeted by bodyweight movements. You don’t need a barbel or dumbbell to improve weak areas of the body. Taking some time off allowed me to focus on moving well with my upper body. This meant I could focus on movement patterns and improving areas I was lacking in before.
Bodyweight movements can form brilliant accessory movements. I was poor in pressing movements prior to surgery. Therefore, I used dips to build strength in my triceps, shoulders and chest. A lot of Olympic weightlifters will use bodyweight movements. They use high repetitions to improve areas of weakness and build quality muscle.
In addition, bodyweight exercises allow you to move without load causing excessive loading. This means you can focus on performing technically sound repetitions each time. Doing this will train your motor control, allowing you to move better later on under load. Eventually you should see improvements across all of your training just from mastering bodyweight training.
Therefore, the second benefit I found of utilising bodyweight work is that it allow you to focus on areas of weakness. Whether building strength or improving movement patterns, bodyweight training can be a great tool.
Learn to become creative
Quite honestly, bodyweight training can become repetitive. Especially if you are limited in movements. Now, this has its obvious benefits as per the point above, but it can be boring. Because of this bodyweight training forces you to get creative in planning your workouts. At some point you will have to change reps, timings, types and orders of workouts. This is something that can get lost within other form of training, even in sports like Crossfit. Constant variance is advocated within Crossfit and for good reason. It keeps your body guessing and forces it to constantly adapt and therefore develop.
So, with bodyweight training, you have to change the way you use movements frequently. Of course, building strength through sets and reps is needed. Onnit has in interesting article on how to do this with pull-up variance.
You find it becomes quite easy to mix and match different movements and create some potent workouts. One of the ones I tried was:
Every minute on the minute x 25
4 pull ups (with 4 second negatives)
4 dips (with 4 second negatives)
This got interesting very quickly but showed just how two movements can be so effective. Essentially, the third benefit of bodyweight training is that it teaches you to think outside of the box. You change how you think of workouts and combine movements. This translates well when shifting back into regular training and can benefit you in the long run.
Toughen up mentally
Finally, bodyweight training can get tough. Many people assume bodyweight movements are easy. This is why they tend to be overlooked. The reality is that this isn’t the case. Bodyweight training, like any workout, can get tough. So, a certain level of mental toughness is needed to push on. In addition, repetitive movements improve mental toughness in another way. Bodyweight training often requires high repetitions and 100 reps of anything requires commitment. So, going back day on day builds resilience and a strong mentality.
Finally, getting good at bodyweight movements is difficult. Inevitably there will be times when you get fed up. In addition, there will be times when you don’t want to do another bodyweight workout. Keeping patient when improvement doesn’t come easily is hard. Bodyweight training teaches you patience in overcoming this. When you do see improvements it is very satisfying.
Therefore, taking this mentality back into regular training will help. Having patience and grinding away will definitely see your training results improve.
These are just some of the benefits I’ve found from bodyweight training. Above all, it has helped me overcome injury. The benefits are not the be all and end all, nor right for everyone. However, I hope it helps you consider using bodyweight work in your training. Or, if you have an injury gives you an idea to get back into training.
Please feel free to post your thoughts in the comments below.