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What is Bodyweight Training?

Shelby Miller
Shelby Miller

Bodyweight training is a form of strength training that utilizes one’s own body weight for resistance. Examples include push-ups, squats, and lunges. Long favored by the military for conditioning, this type of training encourages strengthening one’s muscles via internal resistance before loading the body with external resistance, or additional weights like dumbbells. Experts recommend bodyweight training for a wide variety of exercisers, from beginners who need to master form and build basic strength to athletes who must develop improved balance, coordination, and proprioception, or body awareness, for their sport.

There are many benefits to incorporating bodyweight exercises into a strength-training routine. First, they can be done anywhere, so anyone who travels often can perform these exercises on the road to keep up with her workouts. Second, because they train fundamental movement patterns, mastery of bodyweight movements can lead to improved performance on exercises requiring a large external load, such as bench presses and barbell squats. Third, they can be used in the early phases of training, along with stretching, to overcome the muscle imbalances that are a product of daily routine, as in sitting hunched over a computer, or of an unbalanced strength training routine.

An anatomical illustration showing many muscles in the upper body.
An anatomical illustration showing many muscles in the upper body.

Bodyweight training can also be incorporated into a weight-lifting workout for a variety of purposes. Push-ups, for instance, can be performed before bench presses to warm up the chest, arms, and shoulder stabilizers. They can also be performed at the end of a chest workout, after the pectoral muscles have been exhausted from weighted presses and flies, to bring the muscles more fully to fatigue. Similarly, bodyweight squats can be used to warm up the legs for weighted squats, but they are just as useful on their own to fatigue the leg muscles.

Push-ups are one form of bodyweight training.
Push-ups are one form of bodyweight training.

In fact, when performed correctly, even advanced exercisers can be challenged by a bodyweight-only workout. One recommendation from fitness experts is to arrange these exercises in a circuit, alternating between lower body, upper body, and core movements so that little rest is required between movements. An example would be a set of lunges followed by a set of triceps dips followed by a plank hold, perhaps then followed by step-ups onto a bench, and so forth.

Bodyweight squats use only the body for resistance.
Bodyweight squats use only the body for resistance.

Another recommendation is to sprinkle higher intensity movements into the circuit to keep the heart rate up and further challenge the muscles; squat jumps, box jumps onto a platform, and jumping jacks are all examples. A final component of building a challenging bodyweight training regimen is tempo, or the speed of movements. Experts typically recommend performing the eccentric, or lowering, phase of the movement at a slower pace than the concentric, or contracting, phase of the movement. For instance, one might take three seconds to lower into a squat, pausing at the bottom, and then take one second to stand back up, which would be more challenging than lowering and lifting for one second each. Explosive movements like jumps, on the other hand, should be performed quickly to maximize the difficulty of the exercise.

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    • An anatomical illustration showing many muscles in the upper body.
      By: mikiradic
      An anatomical illustration showing many muscles in the upper body.
    • Push-ups are one form of bodyweight training.
      By: bertys30
      Push-ups are one form of bodyweight training.
    • Bodyweight squats use only the body for resistance.
      By: Monkey Business
      Bodyweight squats use only the body for resistance.
    • Dips -- an exercise in which the arms are used to push up the body -- can strengthen and tone the triceps.
      By: Vyacheslav Zyryanov
      Dips -- an exercise in which the arms are used to push up the body -- can strengthen and tone the triceps.