Getting fit doesn't have to be rocket-science, and simple bodyweight exercises can be a great choice for achieving gains in strength, building muscle, boosting cardiovascular fitness, and burning fat. Not convinced? We’ve got 13 great reasons why bodyweight exercises should be a key component of everyone's workout regime (along with tips for boosting your own routine today!).
Why Bodyweight Exercises Kick Butt
1. Super-efficient workouts. Unless the goal is to look like Arnold circa 1977, the days of two-hour workouts are numbered. Research suggests high-output, bodyweight-based exercises such as plyometrics yield awesome fitness gains in very short workout durations Preferential type II muscle fiber damage from plyometric exercise. Macaluso F, Isaacs AW, Myburgh KH. Department of Physiological Sciences, Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Journal of Athletic Training. 2012 Aug;47(4):414-20.. Since there’s no equipment involved, bodyweight workouts make it easy to transition quickly from one exercise to the next. Shorter rest times mean it’s easy to quickly boost heart rate and burn some serious calories.
2. Combined cardio and strength training. Pressed for time but need to hit cardio and strength in one quick workout? Performing quick bodyweight cardio sessions (such as one minute of burpees or a set of jumping jacks) in between strength exercises will keep the heart pumping while still encouraging muscle and strength development Extremely low volume, whole-body aerobic-resistance training improves aerobic fitness and muscular endurance in females. McRae G, Payne A, Zelt JG, et al. School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 2012 Dec;37(6):1124-31..
3. Fast fat-burning. Looking to shed a few unwanted pounds? Just a few minutes of a bodyweight circuit training can have a major impact on the body's metabolism Evidence based exercise - Clinical benefits of high intensity interval training. Shiraev T, Barclay G. Australian Family Physician. 2012 Dec;41(12):960-2.. Don't believe it? Try adding a few quick sets of these amped-up burpees into any workout routine and see what happens!
4. Something for everyone. Bodyweight exercises are a great choice because they’re easily modified to challenge any fitness level. Adding extra repetitions, performing the exercises faster or super-slow, and perfecting form are a few ways to make even the simplest exercise more challenging. And progress is easy to measure, since bodyweight exercises offer endless ways to do a little more in each workout.
5. Improved core strength. The "core" is more than just abs. In fact, at least twenty-nine muscles make up the human core, and many simple bodyweight movements can be used to engage all of them. Such exercises improve core strength for better posture and improved athletic performance Optimizing performance by improving core stability and core strength. Hibbs AE, Thompson KG, French D, et al. English Institute of Sport, Gateshead International Stadium, Gateshead, UK. Sports Medicine. 2008;38(12):995-1008..
6. Increased flexibility. Not everyone who does regular resistance training has to end up with tight muscles, inflexible joints, and a bad case of imaginary lat syndrome. Bodyweight training for strength and flexibility can go hand-in-hand. Completing bodyweight exercises through a full range of motion is a great way to ensure joints are moving freely, can lead to improved posture, and might even reduce the chance of exercise-related injury Basic principles regarding strength, flexibility, and stability exercises. Micheo W, Baerga L, Miranda G.Physical Medicine, Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine Department and Sports Medicine Fellowship Program, University of Puerto Rico, School of Medicine, Medical Sciences Campus, San Juan. PM & R : The Journal of Injury, Function, and Rehabilitation. 2012 Nov;4(11):805-11. The effects of eccentric training on lower limb flexibility: a systematic review. O'Sullivan K, McAuliffe S, Deburca N. Department of Clinical Therapies, University of Limerick, Ireland. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2012 Sep;46(12):838-45.. And yoga, the bodyweight-based workout of choice for many, is another great way to to improve flexibility while also significantly improving strength Bikram yoga training and physical fitness in healthy young adults. Tracy BL, Hart CE. Neuromuscular Function Laboratory, Department of Health and Exercise Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2012 May 15..
7. Convenience. Ask someone why they don't exercise, and chances are "no time" or "inconvenience" might come up as culprits. Bodyweight exercises eliminate many of these common obstacles by allowing anyone to squeeze in workouts wherever they are. Exercising without equipment can be used as a stress reliever for those working from home or can provide a great hotel room workout for people on the road. "No time" really becomes no excuse.
8. Better balance. Since bodyweight exercises use no weights, increasing resistance is accomplished in other ways. For example, a regular bodyweight squat can be ramped up by swapping it for a single-leg squat (known as a pistol squat). Super-functional exercises like the pistol squat (and less intense ones, too!) can improve balance through increased body awareness and control. These advantages are another reason why bodyweight exercises can improve athletic performance.
9. Bye bye, boredom. It can be easy to get stuck in a workout rut of bench presses, lat pull-downs, and biceps curls (just ask this guy!). That's why bodyweight training can be so refreshing: There are countless exercise variations that can spice up any workout routine. Working with a variety of exercises not only relieves potential workout boredom, it can also help break through exercise plateaus to spark further fitness progress.
10. Fitness that's fun! Heading indoors for exercise is not everyone's cup of tea. That's another beauty of bodyweight exercises: They can be performed inside or outdoors, alone or with a group of friends, which is particularly enjoyable if some seemingly silly exercises are incorporated into the routine! A little laughter makes the process more enjoyable.
11. Fitness on the cheap. Simply put, gym memberships can be pricey, but bodyweight training is free. Experts cite the low cost of bodyweight training as a key part of its resurgence in popularity. Plus, amazing outdoor training locations have begun popping up that offer the perfect space for a free bodyweight workout (or you can just fight the kids for space at the local playground).
12. Injury prevention. Since injury is one of the main reasons why people fall off the exercise bandwagon, preventing those aches and pains should be a big priority. Bodyweight exercises are generally quite safe for any exerciser regardless of experience, age, or fitness level. Many simple bodyweight movements can actually be an effective option for rehabilitation, even for those with significant impairments The effectiveness of body weight-supported gait training and floor walking in patients with chronic stroke. Peurala SH, Tarkka IM, Pitkänen K, Sivenius J. Brain Research and Rehabilitation Center Neuron, Kuopio, Finland. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2005 Aug;86(8):1557-64..
13. Results. Let's talk results. Bodyweight exercises get results partly because they often involve compound movements (meaning numerous joints and muscles are engaged in each move). Compound exercises such as push-ups, lunges, and chin-ups have been shown to be extremely effective for strength gains and performance improvements. The results from bodyweight training are amplified even more because of the core strength they develop (see #5 above). And research shows improved core strength gained through bodyweight training translates into improved strength gains throughout the entire body Effect of core strength on the measure of power in the extremities. Shinkle J, Nesser TW, Demchak TJ, et al. Department of Athletic Training, Indiana State University, Terre Haute, Indiana. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2012 Feb;26(2):373-80..
Body Moving—The Takeaway
Sorry, there’s no "best way" for everyone to exercise. But bodyweight movements do offer a lot of benefits that other forms of resistance training can't match. The tremendous popularity of boot camp-style fitness classes and a boom of mobile exercise apps suggests people like what they see (and feel) after some workouts without weights (you know, besides our bodies).
New to resistance training? Grab an experienced friend or trainer for some tips to ensure that a new bodyweight routine is appropriate—and remember to warm up properly before each session.