It might surprise you to find out that some of the most prolific athletes in pro basketball, football and golf are switching their routines from traditional weight lifting to being primarily bodyweight based.
Hundreds of athletes from quarterback Drew Brees, to Olympic Swimmer Christine Magnusson, and UFC athlete Brandon Vera all use bodyweight exercise as a main portion of their exercise routine.
What’s causing this shift from the gym to the park? Is there any merit in taking your training from the weight room to your living room?
Science says YES. Here’s why.
Bodyweight Training Builds More Muscle
The majority of bodyweight training is classified as “closed chain”. This is just the scientific way of saying that you’re moving your body through space instead of an outside object.
For example, a pullup is closed chain, while a Lat Pulldown is open chain.
Pushup – closed chain. Bench Press – open chain.
Squat – closed chain. Leg Press – open chain.
You get the idea.
Why is this important?
According to a study by the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy, closed chain exercises were responsible for a 31% increase in lower body strength after only six weeks, while the open chain group only improved 13%.
The closed chain (bodyweight) group also saw a marked increase in power output, increasing vertical jump capabilities by 10% while there was no increase in the open chain (machine based) group.
By learning to move your own body though space, you increase the amount of muscle fibers used. This directly causes more strength and muscular gains.
And if you’re at the level where you can do pushups and pullups all day without it being challenging, just add some extra “bodyweight” in the form of a weight vest or chains.
Bodyweight Training Burns More Fat
Imagine this. You and your caveman buddies are out foraging for berries, looking at rocks, and cracking jokes, when all the sudden a sabretooth tiger snatches up your friend Grog!
The rest of your group scatters, climbing trees to escape the tiger.
During this scenario your body is in fight or flight mode, dumping adrenaline into your bloodstream to help you escape. It’s also demanding that you release your non-functional tissue (fat), and instead prioritizing functional tissue (muscle). This is to ensure that you’re able to climb a tree faster and save your life.
Why is this important?
Even though your workouts aren’t technically life or death, your body only knows stress – so when you activate your sympathetic nervous system and initiate that fight or flight response through training, using bodyweight training signals your body to release fat to keep you alive.
That’s why a pullup will always be a better option than a pulldown. You use more muscle, burn more calories, and improve your hormonal signaling to burn fat.
If your goal is fat loss, the more you can move your body, the better results you’ll get. Get off that machine and start using a suspension trainer.
Move Better, Feel Better
If you’ve been trapped at a desk all day for work, it’s counterproductive to go to the gym and immediately sit back down to do chest press.
Training should be a chance to let your body move and reestablish good movement patterns, rather than reinforcing the bad ones we do all day.
Moving your body in different and interesting ways will help you activate muscles that keep your back, knees and shoulders healthy, while helping you get rid of computer posture.
If you’re a little beat up from your current weight lifting routine, using more bodyweight exercises will give you a chance to take some pressure off your joints while learning new and better techniques for when you do add more weight.
This will give you a good foundation, as well as allowing you to do the things you love without pain.
How Do I Add in More Bodyweight Training?
Adding more bodyweight training is easy.
If you already use the gym on a regular basis, just substitute some of your current machine or weighted exercises for bodyweight versions of the same muscle group.
Pushing – Pushups/Pike Pushups/Single Arm Pushups
Pulling – Suspension Trainer Row/Chin Up/ One Arm Row
Legs – Squat/Lunges/Rear Leg Elevated Split Squat/Jump Squat
Locomotion – Farmers walk/Overhead weight carry/ Bear Hug Carry
If you’re currently not working out, here’s the bodyweight program I use successfully with hundreds of clients using minimal gym equipment. Click to download.
Adding in just a few minutes of home based exercise per day has been shown to be an effective way to achieve long term results, as well as building the habits needed to stay Lean for Life.
· Bodyweight training is superior for building muscle because it uses a higher percentage of muscle tissue
· Bodyweight training is great for fat loss as well due to the evolutionary makeup of humans, and given the fact that muscular people get eaten less by tigers.
· Bodyweight training is a great way to get rid of imbalances by learning how to move your body through space.
· Add bodyweight training in at home, or at the gym.
· A 10 minute workout is superior to no workout, and bodyweight training can be done anywhere.
Weight training of the thigh muscles using closed vs. open kinetic chain exercises: a comparison of performance enhancement.J. Augustsson, A. Esko, R. Thomeé, U. Svantesson. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 1998 Jan; 27(1): 3–8. doi: 10.2519/jospt.19220.127.116.11