So today we have a guest post from Liverpool Strength Coach Owain Lloyd.
Bodyweight training, or Calisthenics from the Greek words Kalos for Beauty and Sthenos for Strength, are a series of movements that build strength and gymnastic ability, developing condition and body control as well as mobility, joint health and spinal flexibility.
Train anywhere and anytime for free. In your house, hotel room or prison cell, you can develop not just an impressive athletic physique but more importantly a healthy and balanced body at the same time.
Although the compound barbell movements should be prominent in your training programme if your goals include getting bigger, stronger or more cut, it’s well worth your time to improve at the most fundamental training we have: moving your own body through space. Taking time to perfect these basic movements will pay dividends. You can never have too much body control, or joints that are too healthy. The ability to move your own body under power is often taken for granted, especially by already strong people. Throwing huge weight around counts for a lot. However, building monster strength is a lifelong pursuit and such things as joint health, spinal mobility and recovery are often ignored in the pursuit of bigger numbers on the bar. Proper bodyweight training serves as an aid to the heavy lifter in this regard, promoting joint mobility and muscular balance. It also serves as a useful self assessment tool for damaged or unbalanced muscle. For example, if dips hurt your shoulders or elbows, and you move with correct form it could be an important warning about the state of your tendons and joints as you smash them chasing a scary bench press. Similarly with pull ups, they are the basic standard of shoulder health and function. If you can’t perform strict pull ups with proper engagement of the upper back and shoulders you are wasting your time with rows and other movements. Train the pull up with static holds, eccentric lowering etc until you can perform them properly. There is no excuse for a lifter who has trained for any length of time and still under-performs in these most basic of exercises.
Bodyweight training also allows you to add in more weekly training volume without compromising recovery, and it can in fact help speed muscle recovery by increasing blood flow to the tissues. Performing sets of press ups, dips, pull ups, lunges and other exercises every day can build your conditioning and work capacity, add muscle, and improve joint and tendon strength. Taking time to learn and perfect some calisthenic movements will expand your training “toolbox”, giving you the options of a complete whole body workout using just your own body and some floor space. This is a very useful skill to have when space or time is limited, or you don’t have access to a gym.
Being able to perform the various calisthenic movements well is a starting point for those new to training and especially coming back to the gym after a long layoff, for example after an injury. If you move badly you will do yourself no favours trying to hit big numbers on the bar straight away. Instead take the time to ensure that your body is balanced and ready to handle the weight. A big squat that comes with constant aches and hip twinges or a lower back that cramps when you walk upstairs is of very limited use to most people. The goal of strength training is not just to dominate the bar but also to be healthy. The two should never be mutually exclusive. There are many versions of the bodyweight movements, varying in difficulty for complete beginners to advanced trainees who want to challenge themselves. It’s surprising how much difference a subtle change of hand position or movement speed can make to an exercise.
These exercises are among the simplest and most basic, and are often overlooked in favour of modern gym machines and training programmes, but like many of the simplest things they remain effective. Develop complete strength, with healthy joints and a balanced physique. Look and feel strong, move well and under control, and become as powerful as possible. In addition to progressive strength work the basic bodyweight exercises will help ensure you recover better, are far less prone to injury, improve mobility and joint health, and will increase your overall athletic ability.
Owain is a personal trainer at Liverpool Personal Training Studios