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Bodyweight Exercises For Strength?

Some people doubt they can use bodyweight exercises for strength gains. They shouldn't. Here's why.

bodyweight exercises for strenth
I often find myself surfing the net, scouring various forums and obscure web sites in an effort to learn more about fitness and health. When I do so, however, I'm often surprised how often I run into the opinion that bodyweight exercises are great for building endurance, but not strength. This is demonstrably not true. As I point out elsewhere on this site, how do animals such as Gorilla's or Chimpanzee's develop their amazing strength and power? They never lift weights, yet they posses astounding strength and power. Yes, the answer often comes back, but that is different. The muscles that animals posses are somehow "different" than human muscles, etc. I doubt this (muscle is muscle), but for the sake of argument  let's accept it for the time being. Instead, let's consider the example of one of the most "animal like" athletes I'm aware of. Namely, the Gymnast.

Every Four Years ...

Every four years it happens like clockwork. Bodybuilders and fitness types (not to mention the general public) all marvel at the amazing physiques and physical abilities of the Olympic Gymnasts. To a man (and woman) they all posses huge, muscular arms, broad shoulders, tiny waists, etc. How do they get this way? I read an interview with a gymnastics coach. This is how he explained it.

The Secret of the Gymnasts

First of all, explained this coach, Gymnasts NEVER lift weights. They use bodyweight exercises for all of their training. So, how are they able to acquire those killer biceps if they never lift a barbell? The secret, this coach said, is all the straight arm leverage work that gymnasts perform with their own bodyweight. Think of it this way. Let's say you have a plank that is supported at either end so that the middle is off the ground. If you rest a weight in the middle of the plank, how much weight can it hold while remaining straight? It really depends on how long the plank is. A short plank can hold a weight and remain straight no problem. If you make the plank longer it may be able to still support the weight, but it will start to droop in the middle. If you want the longer plank to remain straight, you have to strengthen it considerably.

The Iron Cross

When Gymnasts use bodyweight exercises for their training like the Iron Cross, this is essentially what they are doing. Forced to keep their arms straight, the muscles in the arms and chest are put under tremendous strain, resulting in incredible gains in strength, size, and endurance. By moving the body without bending the joints, you're increasing the length of the lever, magnifying the intensity of the exercise.

Gymnasts VS WeightLifters

This is why Gymnasts posses such incredible strength. One of the exercises a Gymnast does is called a Planche. This is essentially a pushup position held with the feet off the floor. The coach pointed out that he has known gymnasts who can do blanche pushups perform double their bodyweight bench presses on their first attempts no problem. However, a weight lifter who can bench press double his own weight is never able to perform a planche pushup. (Planche Pushups are an extremely advanced body weight exercise. Here's a video below to show you exactly what they are.)

Other Advantages of Body Weight Exercises

The Gymnastic Coach didn't put these out, but here are some other reasons gymnasts train with bodyweight exercises for endurance, flexibility and strength.

  • When you perform body weight exercises like hindu squats and hindu pushups, you are working all of the major muscle groups as a unit. This is how nature intended the muscles to work. The weightlifter trains his body using isolation movements. This is un-natural.
  • As "natural" movements, bodyweight workouts require a deeper level of self-concentration. When you focus on yourself, the neurological connections are stronger which leads to a much more intensive workout.
  • Bodyweight training allows you to work your body from virtually any angle or position.  The same cannot be said of weights, and this goes double for exercise machines.
  • Bodyweight training simultaneously increase strength, endurance, and flexibility. Hindu Squats and Hindu Pushups are perfect examples of this. You just don't get this kind of workout with weights.
  • Body weight Exercises attack the muscle at a deeper level than weights, giving you a greater "functional strength". Another example of this (besides my Planche pushup example above) is an individual who does pullups vs another individual who uses the lat pulldown machine. The person doing the pullups can easily use the machine. Again, the reverse is not true.

In Conclusion ...

If you doubt the whole animal thing as far as demonstrating the benefits of bodyweight exercises, consider the gymnast. They use bodyweight exercises for endurance, flexibility and MASSIVE STRENGTH gains. If this kind of training interests you, I would recommend you start with exercises like Hindu Pushups and Hindu Squats (The Planche Pushup is pretty advanced, especially for the beginner - but if you can do it, all the power to you), as well as some of the other exercises outlined in my book "Natural Fitness". You'll get amazingly strong in no time, just like the gymnasts.

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