Bodyweight exercises are a great tool you can use to boost your health, increase muscle size, strength and many other things. And the best of all, bodyweight workouts can be done anywhere, anytime without any equipment required.
Bodyweight exercises are the best way to strengthen your body as a whole and see improvements in your well-being, overall strength and cardiovascular health.
Exercise in general is one of the best things anyone can do for their health, physique, or whatever goals you might have. And I think everyone should do some kind of activity as just being active promotes your health and undoes damages done by a sedentary lifestyle and prolonged sitting.
Training with your bodyweight is also known as calisthenics. There are many different bodyweight exercises and varieties thereof that you can do in order to train every muscle in your body. Bodyweight exercising does count as strength training and strength training has much more benefits than just gaining muscle.
Here’s a few.
- helps prevent osteoporosis as it’s the best way to improve and maintain as much bone mineral density as possible
- improves your range of motion which will help prevent injury. Interesting fact: you can’t train an entire muscle optimally, if much of the range of motion of that muscle is un-accessible due to low flexibility
- increases overall strength and ability to perform functional (day-to-day) movements
- helps to lose weight
- slows cellular aging which will help you to live a longer, healthier life
- increases BDNF (brain derived neurotropic factor) which helps you remember and learn better. It’s like fertilizer for your brain
- improves blood pressure, blood glucose and blood lipids
- increases muscle mass, and the more muscle mass you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate, etc…
So what makes bodyweight exercises so unique and different from other styles of training?
1) Bodyweight exercises are self-limiting, which means that when you can’t do another rep, you can’t take off weight and do a few more reps as with weight training, which makes it a very safe way to train.
2) Bodyweight exercises require that your body work as a whole during all exercises, which improves your overall strength, teaches your body to work in unison and it’s an excellent way to do a full body workout fast and effective.
Free weight exercises, such as bodyweight squats and push-ups, recruit much more muscle fibers and are far more superior than machines or any other type of training. It’s the ultimate form of compound movements. You can look at a “swole” guy in the gym who can bench a lot of weight, but can he do a one arm push-up, muscle up, or a one leg squat? Bodyweight exercising is the most superior type of exercise to improve overall strength and health.
3) Your core and stability is trained during each exercise which improves your balance and helps you to maintain posture during the movements of every day activities.
4) Bodyweight exercises require shorter rest and you can perform more overall reps compared to with weights. This is also a great way to increase your anaerobic strength (the first initial reps where you are the strongest) as well as your aerobic fitness by pushing your heart rate up to finish one of these intense workouts. Such intense workouts are great for fat loss.
5) Your body quickly learns how to do the movements (as you’re moving your body in natural ways during the exercises) and then you become stronger real fast. Your nervous system is responsible for learning something new, and then recruits more muscle to get stronger in the movements. Which happens very fast when using bodyweight exercises, such as advancing from half squats, to full squats, to lunges, to doing one leg squats.
The best exercises you can do when you want to add weight to your squat is by doing goblin squats, or front squats with a stone/weight like the strongmen do. I just pick my wife up on my back an do lots of reps.
6) There are a wide variety of ways to increase the difficulty of the exercises to keep on challenging your muscles to progress. Such as progressing from normal push-up to one arm push-up, resting shorter, and by increasing the weight.
7) It’s great for boosting anabolic hormones such as your testosterone and growth hormone. Growth hormone is extremely important for health, and is also called the “fitness hormone”. The hormonal response during a strenuous bodyweight exercise is much greater than doing some sort of machine or isolation movement.
8) You can perform a bodyweight session anywhere, in your hotel room, at home, outside in the sun, in your office and the best of all is, you don’t require any equipment to do it and it’s also free of charge.
9) Muscle activation during bodyweight exercises is greater than when trying to isolate a muscle.
And here’s how you combine it with blood flow restriction.
Blood flow restriction training
When you progress to a point where bodyweight exercises aren’t a challenge anymore, or you just want to step up your training, or add in some variety, blood flow restriction (BFR) training is a great tool.
It basically involves tying a strap, band, tube or cloth around the upper extremities of your arms and legs to restrict/slow down venous blood flow. Arteries bring blood to the muscle/tissue (arterial blood flow) and veins transport the blood back to the heart (venous blood flow). We don’t want to restrict arterial blood flow by any means, only venous blood flow that’s why it’s so important not to tie it too tight.
The tightness should be 7 out of 10 for your legs and 6 out of 10 for your arms. This ensures blood flow isn’t inhibited, but just enough so that there is resistance to slow down blood flow back to the heart. If your limbs start to go numb, it’s too tight. You want to make sure it’s not too tight, as this will lead to blood flow accumulation which can cause problems. BFR training is very safe when done correctly.
BFR was originally designed to help individuals with rehabilitation. Individuals who were unable to lift heavier weight due to an injury. With BFR training, these individuals can then train with lighter weight and get the same results, strength and hypertrophy wise, as when they would have with heavier weight. This also helps to better oxygenate the tissue and increases nutrient delivery to the muscle, which also helps tissue to heal faster.
Here are some benefits of BFR…
1) Lowers the pH in your muscles, which is known to increase growth hormone levels. During sets it significantly increases the CO2 levels as well as the demand for oxygen. This creates a hypoxic environment which further boosts growth hormone and testosterone levels in the muscle to bind with androgen receptors. Hence causing growth.
2) Increases the lactic acid and other waste product buildup in that muscle will create a much more anabolic environment for muscle growth, as it gives the same effect as when training with heavy weight
3) When the body senses a state of extreme fatigue (which happens with BFR training), it recruits more fast twitch muscles in order to do the exercise. This results in better hypertrophy.
4) It helps recover from an injury much faster by forcing more rapid muscle fatigue and failure which sets into motion subsequent repair and regeneration processes. It also speeds up the muscle and strength regain at a much faster pace (as you’re not held back by the inability to train as heavy and intense).
5) You get to use very light weights – 30% to 50% – of your 1RM and reap the benefits as if when training with a heavier weight. For maximal activation of fast twitch muscle fibers, aim for 40% to 50% of your 1RM in weight when doing an exercise.
For example, someone can squat 140kg (315lb) and weigh 80kg (180lb). His legs don’t count as weight for the squat and lower extremities weigh about 12% of total bodyweight. So subtract 12% from 80kg, which gives you 70.4kg + 140kg (squat 1RM) = 210.4kg in total for his 1RM (bodyweight included). So 40% of his total 1RM would be 84.16kg (40% of 210.4kg). That means he can do squats with a 14kg weight and get the same results as if training with 80% of his 1RM.
6) Dr. Yasuda found that when restricting the blood flow of the arms during bench press, that there was a 16% increase in chest muscle activation. They also found that the group that did BFR got 8% and 16% hypertrophy in their triceps and pectoralis major, respectively, while the other group that didn’t do BFR only got -1 and 2% hypertrophy.
7) Bodyweight exercises combined with BFR results in greater increase in muscle power and hypertrophy than just bodyweight exercises alone (Dong et al., 2015)
The guidelines for BFR:
Reps: Between 30 to 15. You want to pump as much blood and induce as much fatigue as possible.
Sets: Only 3. On the first set, go for 30 reps, if you can do more, try increasing the difficulty of the exercise. Then, for the second set, aim for 15+ and on the last set, go to failure. Avoid going to failure on the first and second set, but go all out on the last one.
Rest: 30 sec
Number of exercises per muscle group: 1 is sufficient, but more can always be done. I like to start with squats. (I pick my wife up on my shoulders and start squatting). I do this for only 3 sets and then I go to one leg squats for another 3 sets.
Frequency per week: It’s advised to do it only every other day. I advise starting at doing one muscle group only once a week to let my muscles adapt to this way of training, this increased the frequency to two time and then thrice a week.
This protocol is really safe, very effective and will ensure you get outstanding benefits quickly. It’s also very time effecting, takes about less than 20 min to do a full body workout.
These three exercises should be the core of your training program:
Pushups: which involves triceps, deltoids, pectoralis, and other muscles that assist in stability including the core (abdominals and back muscles), glutes, legs and calves. – Excellent varieties include, wide grip push-ups, wide grip dips and close grip push-ups.
45º Inverted rows: which involves biceps, back, deltoids and other muscles that assist in stability. – Excellent varieties include, narrow grip pull-ups to lower chest, wide grip behind the neck pull-ups.
Squats: which involves quads, hamstrings, calves, adductors and abductors, glutes, and all other muscles needed for stability. – Excellent varieties include, sissy squats, front squats, one leg squats.
And then later you can start to include extra exercises per muscle group in each workout. I advise to do no more than 15 sets in total for each muscle group per workout, but rather 6-10. If you feel a given exercise works a specific muscle well enough, there’s no need to add extra exercises, but rather do that one exercise for the given amount of sets and really focus on performing the exercise with perfect form and concentration. Doing more exercises might result in greater overall muscle development.
Here’s just a random photo of me after doing my bodyweight session with BFR. I have some knee wraps and they work perfect. Looks a bit weird though but gets the job done… In the future I might invest in proper bands that’s designed specific for BFR training.
In conclusion, final guidelines;
Start out easy and light and progressively increase the intensity, frequency and volume.
You can rest longer than 30 sec, but no longer than 60 sec and work your way down to 15 sec for the best intensity and muscle stimulation.
Never push a muscle group to maximal failure more than once a week, but rather just sub-maximal failure twice a week. A muscle needs 72 hours and sometimes more to recuperate completely. Training to and past failure frequently will shunt growth and lead to a decrease in testosterone, giving you a less vascular, smooth and flat look.