There are many factors contributing to why people fail to partake in resistance training on a consistent basis. Maybe you don’t like the vibe of the local gym; or travel frequently for work and do not have a portable routine; perhaps you are at home with your child(ren) and are unable to find childcare. Whatever the reason, a simple solution is to create a bodyweight resistance program (i.e. workout) that can be done anywhere with either absolutely no equipment, or minimal, lightweight, portable equipment.
Yoga, calisthenics, and gymnastics are all prime examples of bodyweight training. Historically, gymnastics has always been an integral component of our physical education system: promoting core strength, coordination, postural control, and overall athleticism. With regards to resistance training, movements such as push-ups, pull-ups, planks, lunges, and squats are all bodyweight exercises.
Here are the top four benefits of bodyweight resistance training:
- Strengthens several muscle groups at once: most of the movements are going to incorporate more than one joint (i.e. multi-joint versus single-joint); therefore, involving multiple muscle groups. Push-ups, squats, lunges and pull-ups are all examples of multi-joint exercises which will result in greater energy expenditure, while simultaneously working on a greater need for muscle coordination and activation. Calling upon multiple muscle groups at the same time, or in a sequential manner, ultimately means you burn more energy and strengthen your muscles in less time.
- Develops relative strength: with bodyweight-only training the amount being lifted, or the load, is pre-determined by the person’s weight. Using the body as your resistance means you can develop your strength relative to your bodyweight but may not be able to maximize your absolute strength levels because you cannot add more load to the exercise. However, a person can easily increase the difficulty of an exercise by adding more repetitions or changing the movement pattern. Adding more repetitions means you will progressively shift from developing strength to more strength-endurance; however, for most people this shift is applicable to daily life. Athletes looking for peak performance will need to develop their maximum strength, but for the average person who does resistance training to be fit and feel strong for recreational activities or daily living, the shift to strength-endurance (e.g. doing 15 repetitions to failure rather than 6 or less) is still highly beneficial – imagine how many times in a day you might be required to squat down and pick up a baby from the floor! Two other ways to increase the difficulty is to change the movement pattern of the exercise to either a) change up the focus/demand or b) utilize gravity to increase the load/resistance. An example of a greater input from gravity would be raising the feet during a push-up. To manipulate the focus of an exercise or motion while still targeting the same major muscle groups, you could place your hands in the straps of a TRX suspension trainer or stand on an unstable or uneven surface to add a novel or different demand on the body.
- Low-cost training option: if you only use your bodyweight with no equipment, then the resistance training is free! You can do it anywhere – the living room, hotel room, in the backyard, etc. If you do choose to purchase a few pieces of equipment, such as a stability ball, several toner bands, or a suspension trainer, the cost is nominal compared to an annual gym membership or purchasing a machine of any type. Furthermore, most resistance training machines are designed to target only a single muscle group at a time. For example, the leg extension machine is for the quadriceps and the pec dec is for the chest muscles… but what about all of the other muscles in the body? You would need to purchase multiple machines if you wanted a full-body resistance training program based off of machines.
- Is specific to each individual: machines are not designed with ‘every body’ in mind. They are better suited for those individuals of average height, limb length, and range of motion. Using your own body weight eliminates this bias. Regardless of body shape and size, with the correct regression or progression, most people can incorporate a full-body multi-joint resistance exercise such as a squat or push-up into their routine – and not be limited by external factors, such as being too small or large for a particular machine.
Bodyweight resistance training is an affordable and effective method of developing relative body strength. If you require maximal strength for peak performance this type of training will not suffice; however, it is a highly efficient and convenient method for the typical adult aiming to maintain or build muscle mass to be fit and injury-free for weekend adventures or to keep up with the kids.