Bodyweight Training is no freaking joke!
For a long time, bodyweight training (or calisthenics) was considered inferior to lifting weights. People associated bodyweight training with high rep push-ups, squats, chin-ups, and dips.
Fortunately, martial artists, gymnasts, and inmates showed us that bodyweight training is no freaking joke! The mind is the limit with bodyweight training.
Keep an open mind and foster creativity and you can take any simple bodyweight movement and turn it into an absolute nightmare. Many of the strongest weight lifters in your gym would be unable to knock out muscle ups, one arm push ups or explosive pistol squats.
But The Bodyweight Movement Has The Opposite Problem…
People that were once ignorant to bodyweight training have now become ignorant about weight training!
They have switched sides and now tout the benefits of bodyweight training and the damaging effects of lifting weights. It baffles my mind that humans inherently feel like they need to choose one or the other.
This takes me back in time to when Bruce Lee was dominating America…
It was then that martial artists were expected to be loyal in their chosen style of martial art. To cross-train and practice two or more arts would be blasphemy. Fortunately, Bruce Lee stepped away from the status quo and learned from as many styles as possible. Boxing, Wing Chun, Fencing, Savate, Muay Thai, BJJ, Wrestling… He then created Jeet Kune Do concepts which strived to end the dogmatic approach to martial arts and seek simplicity and effectiveness over all else. This paved the way for what has now become mixed martial arts.
The same concept is true with resistance training!
In order to be a true master of strength, it is not enough to lift external resistance. You must also master your own bodyweight. The marriage of bodyweight training and weight training is where the greatest gains will be realized.
I have always combined bodyweight movements with weight training. I want to be well rounded, universal and complete. I want to be able to hold my own in the weight room and the playground/beach park.
A Huge Benefit: The World is Your Gym
One major benefit of bodyweight training is that you can do it anywhere. I can easily maintain my strength and physique anywhere in the world as long as I perform some advanced bodyweight exercises a couple of times per week.
Whether I’m locked up in a prison cell, on a 3-week adventure or unable to make it to the gym I know I can get a bodyweight workout in. This allows for a great sense of freedom.
Now I don’t feel that bodyweight training should become the entirety of someone’s workout program. But rather bodyweight training should complement your routine. For packing on muscle nothing beats the simplicity of adding weight to the bar.
At any given time I recommend including a few bodyweight exercises in your routine. Keeping your bodyweight skills sharp will allow you to get a workout in anywhere if need be.
In addition, bodyweight training will also promote relative strength. Adding fat is very counterproductive with bodyweight exercises. A few pounds of fat gain can make an exercise much more challenging.
For this reason including bodyweight exercises in your routine will keep you motivated to avoid overeating and causing fat gain. With traditional weight training getting fatter helps. Fat is added leverage.
What Are The Best Bodyweight Exercises for Building Muscle & Strength?
1.) Full Range Handstand Push ups
Handstand push-ups have been my primary vertical pressing exercise for a long time. My joints feel way better doing these over traditional shoulder presses. You eventually want to build up to doing full range handstand push-ups with your hand elevated against the wall.
–> Hand Stand Push up Tutorial
2.) One Arm Push ups
One-arm push-ups provide a very unique challenge. For building pure pressing strength and muscle they are not as effective as bench pressing. For this reason, I like to use one arm push-ups as a secondary pushing exercise. The benefit of one arm push-ups are that they build enormous amounts of core stability, especially in the obliques. The anti-rotation element is very useful for punching power.
–> One Arm Push up Tutorial
3.) Bar Muscle ups
I sometimes like to finish off my workouts with a few sets of muscle-ups. The muscle-up is great for building explosive pulling power. The muscle-up involves doing an explosive pull-up up and over the bar into a dip. This takes a ton of upper body strength and power to pull off. Most people that witness this exercise firsthand are blown away. I will have a muscle up tutorial very soon.
4.) Pistols (one leg squats)
Pistols are my primary lower-body exercise. I like to do a few sets of 5 reps, slow and controlled. You can add weight to this exercise to make it more challenging but I prefer not to. Adding weight to this pistol can lead to excess lower body mass. For this reason, I just do them bodyweight. Sometimes I will perform them with an explosive jump onto a box for building pure power.
5.) Front Levers
For building incredible core strength and lat strength nothing beats front levers! This exercise is extremely challenging but with consistent effort, you can accomplish it.
6.) Stand to Stand Bridge
Bridging is absolutely incredible at increasing flexibility throughout your body, improving your athleticism and posture.
–> Stand to Stand Bridge Tutorial
Bonus: Weighted Chin Ups and Dips
Weighted chin-ups and dips are great movements for building extraordinary strength and muscle! Technically since you are adding weight these exercises are not bodyweight movements but lets not get into semantics.
Weighted chin-ups for a long time have been my only pulling exercise in my routine. My back has developed so well from getting strong at chin-ups that I haven’t had any need for further back training. To be honest my back has almost become too big from weighted chin-ups.
I now perform this exercise with my hands 4-6 inches apart to emphasize more biceps and fewer lats.
How Do You Combine Bodyweight Training with Weights?
One of my favorite methods for combining bodyweight training with weights is to perform a heavy pushing movement (Incline Bench Press) as my first exercise followed by a bodyweight pressing movement (one arm push-ups or handstand push-ups). This is usually how I start off my chest/shoulder/triceps workout. I then follow this up with lateral raises, skull crushers and occasionally muscle ups for fun.
If you want a complete bodyweight training system, be sure to check out my Bodyweight Mastery Program by clicking here!