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The Benefits of Bodyweight Training

February 8, 2013 | James Overton

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Way before there were commercial gyms and workout magazines, people maintained strong and fit bodies. How was this possible without the latest DVD or web-based training program? By working for a living and developing good old-fashioned natural strength through bodyweight exercises.

If our ancestors wanted to exercise, they did bodyweight work. They had contests to see who could do the most Push-Ups and Pull-Ups. They ran sprints against each other with the loser buying the first round at the pub.

While reading Christopher Sommer's book, Building the Gymnastic Body, I learned how gymnasts who trained using only bodyweight exercises blew much bigger people away the first time they set foot in a gym to lift weights. (Check out Off-Season Bodyweight Training With Steelers WR Antonio Brown.)

With bodyweight exercises, you put your body through its natural range of motion. With gym equipment, we tend to lock our bodies into unnatural, awkward positions. Take squatting on a Smith machine, for example: the bar does not allow the body to move in its normal and natural plane, forcing an inefficient and possibly dangerous movement. Free standing Bodyweight Squats allow the body to move through its natural range of motion, which makes it much better in terms of building strength and flexibility at the same time.

Depending on your personal strength needs and goals, you can intensify bodyweight exercises with leverage, balance or by adding extra weight to your movement. Regular Push-Ups are performed with hands and toes on the ground. Kick up the intensity by placing your feet on a bench or ball. If that's still not enough, change your balance by raising one leg off the ground. Or go all out and do One-Handed Push-Ups. Still need more? Buy a weighted vest or fill a backpack with a few books to increase the weight.

After my research, I decided to personally test strength training with only my body weight. In 15 to 20 minutes, I got a better workout than my usual 45 to 60 at the gym. In the days following my first bodyweight workout, I noticed something odd. I wasn't sore. I was physically spent after my workout, but my body felt loose enough to work out every day after my bodyweight session. I decided to give myself a day's rest between workouts and felt stronger every time.

Being a baseball and softball instructor requires me to stay flexible enough to throw on a regular basis. In the past, certain workouts have made my arm too sore to throw to my players. After my bodyweight workouts, not only was my arm not sore, it was loose, strong and ready to perform.

That's why I suggest starting your own bodyweight workout today! (Check out STACK's Get Stronger: Bodyweight Exercises to create your own program.)

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