At the 2011 NSCA Coaches Conference [details available here], STACK spoke with TRX's director of programming Chris Frankel, who presented a session on “Bodyweight Training for Performance and Durability.” Frankel stated that bodyweight and stability exercises can be as effective as resistance exercises [those performed with added weight] for improving performance. In some instances, bodyweight and stability exercises may even be better.
Most athletes have the notion that resistance training is the best method for increasing strength and power, with evidence from the vast majority of elite athletes who use resistance-based exercises.
So why would anyone choose bodyweight exercises over tried-and-true resistance exercises? It turns out that bodyweight exercises result in similar strength gains, while also enhancing other performance attributes.
Frankel says that bodyweight exercises—such as Push-Ups, Pull-Ups, Lunges, Squats and any exercise with TRX straps [find more bodyweight exercises here]—are essential for building a strong muscle base, one that's prepared to handle the heavy weights used for resistance training. Imagine trying to perform a Bench Press if you can't do a few Push-Ups. Using too much weight too soon can lead to a failure of form, reducing the effectiveness of the exercise and placing you at risk for injury.
Instead of jumping into a resistance program, Frankel advocates starting with bodyweight exercises to establish the foundation for your training. Despite their lack of additional weight, you can be confident they will produce valuable strength gains. He cited a study of military personnel, which found few strength differences between soldiers who completed an eight-week resistance training program and those who finished a bodyweight program.
Once your body is adequately prepared for additional weight loads, use resistance exercises to take your strength to a higher level. However, bodyweight exercises should remain an important component of every athlete’s training program. Bodyweight exercises require significant core activation to maintain proper form and stability. You strengthen target areas—such as the upper body during a Push-Up—while also developing core and stabilizer muscles that support the body’s structure, enabling you to execute your skills consistently, powerfully and safely.