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How Bodyweight Exercises Can Build Serious Muscle

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Why Combining Bodyweight Exercises with Your Weight Training is the Number One Way to Improve Your Overall Fitness

Overall, bodyweight training is hugely underrated. Outside of a few guys in the industry, like the brilliant Adam Steer and Ryan Murdock (more on them later), most people who are looking to gain muscle and improve their fitness write off bodyweight exercises – movements devoid of external loading or, more simply, heavy-ass weights – as fit only for warm ups, in-home workouts, and people who can’t afford a gym pass.

Bullshit.

Bodyweight exercises like push-ups, pistol squats and L-seats have an essential place in any training routine – yep, that includes yours.

From Spartans to Romans to Navy SEALS, bodyweight-only training has been a consistent training component of practically every badass military organization from antiquity to the present.

Sure, this is partly due to the inexpensive nature and the inherent convenience of equipment-free workouts. But cost and convenience notwithstanding, bodyweight workouts are undeniably effective for everyone, from new recruits to the world’s greatest warriors, and they’re a critical component of many of the best fat loss and muscle gain programs available —like mine, for example :) Why?

Bodyweight exercises are fundamentally different from most weight bearing exercises—even when the same muscles or movement patterns are involved.

As an example, I don’t think anyone would debate that there is a tremendous difference between a bodyweight pull-up and a machine lat pull-down even though the same muscles — the latissimus dorsi, teres major, rhomboids, et al. — are involved. This will still be the case even if you use the same load; that is, use weight on the pull-down comparable to your bodyweight.

Of course, this raises the question: why are they different?

A lot of d-bags will tell you it’s because pull-ups are “hardcore” and pull-downs are kind of wussy. That argument is obviously not grounded in science, but this one is: Bodyweight exercises like pull-ups, push-ups, squats, and the like belong to a group of movements known as “closed kinetic chain exercises.” These are exercises performed where the hand or foot is fixed or in constant contact with a surface, and does not move relative to the body. Speaking generally, you are moving your body towards or away from an object.

448245553_6782352e21_oPhoto: Speshul Ted

Compare this with “open kinetic chain exercises” like the pull-down, bench press, or leg press, which involve moving something either towards or away from your body – this difference is of vital importance in the context of a complete training paradigm.

With the example of the pull-up (CKCE) versus the pull-down, (OKCE) you want look at the total picture. Physiologically, there is a tremendous difference between pulling yourself towards a fixed object and pulling an object towards yourself in a fixed position.

Incorporating bodyweight closed kinetic chain exercises into training programs stimulates your nervous system in a way that is completely different from open chain kinetic exercises.

So why should you care?

Exposing your nervous system to different types of stimuli helps to increase overall neurological efficiency; therefore doing CKC exercises like a push-up will have carryover to and help with increases in OKC exercises like the bench press.

Over time, this will help you increase both strength and mass.

In addition, the neurological stimulation activates muscle tissue in a different way, allowing for greater total recruitment of your muscles. This is great for hypertrophy, but also increases energy expenditure and fat loss.

Plus, closed chain movements are a little easier on the joints and tend to improve muscular coordination, balance and stability — that’s why they’re favored by a lot of athletes, particularly gymnasts.

Now, I generally shy away from the idea of doing only bodyweight training—that is, using it as your only way you train, ALL the time. (But then, I shy away from the idea of training monogamy in generally.)

That said, this is an enormously effective and undervalued training method that you need to be using more often.

That’s why, after over a year of planning, I finally made it happen.

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I want you to reap the benefits of bodyweight training – the improved neurological efficiency, the greater muscle recruitment, the heightened stability and athleticism – but you need a plan. To attain maximum benefit from bodyweight training, it needs to be incorporated in a specific, periodized way.

That’s why I’m about to release the long-awaited bodyweight version of Final Phase Fat Loss.

Appropriately, I’m calling it “Final Phase Fat Loss Bodyweight Edition.”  (Creative, I know.)

Co-written with bodyweight training gurus Adam Steer and Ryan Murdock, FPFL Bodyweight Edition uses the methods and modalities from the Final Phase Fat Loss System… with absolutely no equipment at all.

And yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds.

About the Author

John Romaniello is a level 70 orc wizard who spends his days lifting heavy shit and his nights fighting crime. When not doing that, he serves as the Chief Bro King of the Roman Empire and Executive Editor here on RFS. You can read his articles here, and rants on Facebook.

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  • Takezo

    Hi Roman,

    I love bodyweight workouts! I am 30 now and I have been getting stronger and stronger with pure bodyweight workouts for 7years!

    I would love to hear your view on using bodyweight training to end up looking like a spartan statue =)

    (Is it possible??)

  • Joel Bost

    This is what I call practical implementable advice. More please.Thanks.

  • Hill sprints are honestly one of the best exercises in the world for conditioning. If I had my way, every gym in the world would get rid of the “cardio area” and just have a giant hill for people to run up.

  • Thanks for the kind words, John! Animal walks for the win =) BW exercises are absolutely ESSENTIAL in a bootcamp setting.

  • GREAT point!

    I don't have kids, but I was a camp counselor for 7 summers, and whenever I did push ups of the like, the kids were all over me, trying to do them.

    BW exercises are awesome for getting the youngins involved =)

  • Hey Gianni,

    Congrats on the 6 pack! That's awesome, I'm excited to hear that.

    Let me know how I can continue to help you!

  • Andrew,

    Yea, a very good addition for people who can't make it to the gym. I love BW workouts for traveling, as well. Good luck!

  • Excellent! I'm excited to see how your clients do with FPFL Bodyweight edition!

  • Well, if you're training at least 3 times per week and making sure to eat healthy, then chances are you ARE making some small changes to your body. It just takes time to see them.

    Just make sure you're warming up, and then getting in about 15-35 minutes of training.

  • Hey Josh,

    That's pretty incredible sir, I am impressed. I can't wait to hear about your further results on FPFL BW

  • You know, I still go to the gym to do my BW workouts. I just like the environment. It's hard to break meathead habits!

    I can see the appeal of training at home, though; I hope you're enjoying the new program!

  • Hey Vic–YOU are the inspiration.

    Seriously!

  • Excellent! Glad I could help you out =)

  • vic

    I am 72 and continue to do bodyweight workouts every morning – I feel 'on top', and it sets me up for the day. My physique is reasonable, but I want to hear more from you as to how i can sharpen up my muscles and stay with a lean look.

    Thanks for your inspirations.

    Vic

  • gary

    John,the bodyweight stuff is great,i have been using Ryan/Adams stuff for a while and have mixed it in with your fpfl weighted,i use it for the hiit session,bodyweightcoach.com has some great stuff,but like you I enjoy the Iron too much to give it up totally,

    cool stuff as always

    cheers

    gaz

  • Hey Roman,

    Great post and its something im writing up on at the moment. I always find it crazy when you see guys benching/pressing when they cant do a decent amount of perfect technique push ups. People need to address bodyweight strength before external load. Fact.

  • Mateo

    Love body weight programs

  • Zac

    Nice, I like to throw in a week of bw exercises once a month just to add to the confusion, can’t wait for it man! Quality blog.

  • Helen Cowden

    This is fantastic. I am a mobile PT so less equipment I need, the better.

  • Patty

    I was thrilled when you introduced the bodyweight edition of FPFL. I follow Craig and Adam and Ryan and I like the stuff.,,,great stuff you can do in the privacy of your own home. Thanks!

  • Melissa

    Love BW exercises and I agree that they are underrated. I've worked with the military for years and they are proof that you can be lean and strong using BW exercises alone. I like adding them in with other exercises using equipment to get some of the BEST workouts.

  • Tanya

    Yep, love bodyweight training. I find BW programs stimulate my body in a way that can't be done by other programs. they all have their place but BW rules for me. Have purchased FPFLBE and really looking forward to giving it a go. Thanks Roman.

  • andrew john

    with my hectic work schedule, i have no time to go to the gym, so this will be a good one!

  • Rachel

    I'm a girl who likes versatility and options, so a bodyweight program in conjunction with your FPFL 2.0 gives me both! Thanks, Roman – continue the awesomeness!

    -R

  • I love to do bodyweight exercises when I am on holidays, weekends, hangin out with the kids (who love to join in) and find them great. Thanks for putting it out there

  • Tim

    Good Post John,

    I love lifting weights. I always have. That being said, BW exercises ALWAYS is part of not just what I do for my own workouts but 90% of the workouts I prescribe for my clients who want to lose weight. Here's a joke I heard that I'll adapt for the subject: BW exercises for fat loss. Ask your doctor is getting off your ass is right for you.

  • Gianni

    I been on FPFL for 4 weeks and already got a six pack. Now I can maintain/improve it when I go abroad in 2wks. Thanks John, you're awesome!

  • Franco G

    Soemthing tells me this will be intense.. can´t wait..

  • Will

    Hi, Jon – NO, you are NOT an arrogant jerk – IF YOU'VE GOT IT, FLAUNT IT! I like the I'M HOT pictures – especially the one on the right (leaning on your knees). It would be very hard to beat that one. As for the new manual, if you only had an alternate way of ordering, I would do it 'rat now' I DO NOT like to do business with CLICKBANK. It is too hard to keep track of one's finances. Best regards, Will

    Bananas are yellow until you peel them —

  • lisa

    I cant wait for tomorrow, with this beautiful weather I would love to be able to workout outside.

  • jmon

    I look forward to seeing your program. Getting out of the gym has increased my useable fitness tenfold. I was talking with a weight lifter recently and he told me he doesn't do bodyweight because it's too hard.

  • Wow! you've just red my mind John! I've been serching today for bodyweight exercise program…coz our gym is closed from yesterday.

    Thx! I enjoyed every bit of the post! I guess it's great for your body to change the way of training, it makes it guessing 'what's next…' as well as your nervous system flexibility!

    You just have to be more creative with it!

  • Antonio C Vieira Fo

    Water in my mouth…

    Can't wait to have this on my hands!!

    Hehehehe…

  • Killer stuff Roman. I've been doing pretty much exclusively body weight exercises in conjunction with slow carb diet as documented in the 4-Hour Body book.

    My results? In the first 5 weeks I lost 18 pounds on the scale (even more lbs of fat), while working out less! It's now been 3 months at the ripe old age of 33 I'm more lean & “cut” than at any other time in my life. I weigh less than what I weighed in high school which is still unbelievable to me.

    What's more incredible for me is these results have come with out me lifting a single weight or using any other equipment besides a tread mill a bosu ball & an exercise band.

    The exercises I'm doing most are as you recommended, push ups, pull ups, squats and lunges. I mix in some other fun body weight exercises as well. Plus I do the myotic crunch or cat vomit ab exercises twice per week. The only “cardio” I do is short intense interval running and playing pick up basketball once or twice a week.

    Again great stuff love this blog and will be coming back often…

  • Hi Roman, great post as always and words of wisdom! Love bodyweight exercises, have researched quite a bit and use in my home based sessions and boot camps. I a big fan of push up variations and animal walks, people look at you like you are out of your freakin mind but nothing like a duck walk to get the lactic acid going! What's your favourite? Thanks again for all the great content man, you are a legend

    John

  • Debbie

    Using body weight is an excellent option and one I use regularly. We have one gym here and it is always packed. And while I would love to go, the time factor involved with my job stinks. So I do all of my weights, resistance, and BW training at home. This has really worked for me. And the results are in the comments! So BW training is a great alternative to the gym! I use some BW training every day along with my cardio and other training. Can't wait to see your BW version of FPFL!

  • Tulips

    I've combined my Cardio workouts with body-weight only exercises such as squats, lunges etc. as indicated above for “closed kinetic chain exercises.”

    It all sounds wonderful…but actually how much of what do I have to do to see a difference on my thighs, hips and butt…?

    I might add that I eat healthy foods, drink plenty of water and use only fat-free products.

    Why aren't I getting any results and weight loss…?

  • Ironmike

    …Perfect justification as to why I get a better workout from steep hill sprints, pullups and raised-leg pushups. I'm a lot healthier and my body's more useful because of it.

  • Raphael

    Awesome. Been waiting for that. Nothing against iron but no gym close to home made me become a calisthenics fanatic ! And it made me build muscle and burn fat ! I have never been as ripped as I am today at age 37.

    You new program will hopefully make me loose those last fatty bits around the waist. They don't want to let me go ;-)

  • DonB

    Just what the doctor ordered! Will there be a kettlebell version of FPFL?

  • david

    excellent. love chins dips lunges and the other close chain work.

  • Steph

    Awesome, I can't wait for this workout to be released! I just finished FPFL2 and it is prob my most favorite workout plan I've ever done…so I know the BW version will absolutely rock!!

    I love BW exercises because I can do them anywhere, and I get to use so much muscle mass, multiple muscle groups, doing natural motions I do in my everyday life.

    I look forward to seeing your new workout John!!

  • We have been using back hyperextension exercises in my Provo physical therapy practice for the last 5 years. I notice from your discussion on this site that you are developing a training program based on closed chain exercises — “…these are exercises performed where the hand or foot is fixed or in constant contact with a surface, and does not move relative to the body.” My favorite core exercises in this area are roman chair exercises which are vitally important for core strengthening and power. You might want to add these to your program for your future clients. Thanks your the great blog!

  • Bob

    I'm experiencing some great results gaining size on bodyweight only training.

    I was forced to abandon the gym a month and a half ago when I moved from the states to Italy- not only are the gyms here way out of my price range and only open when I'm in school, not one had a power rack or squat rack, and the dumbells ended in the 30kg range.

    That ended up being a good thing, because it forced me to get extremely creative and use my body weight (along with some sled straps and green bands I brought along). At first I thought BW training would be too easy, but then I realized, how many one arm chins can I do? One arm push ups? Handstand push ups? The answer to all of those was zero to a few reps, and I knew I had all the resistence I needed.

    Now six weeks in, I'm definitely bigger, more flexible, and can do exercises that are just fun to do, like handstand walking, flags, seeing how close I can get to an iron cross, getting close to full splits, etc. I can't be too sure if I'm stronger because my strength “benchmarks” are the bench, squat, and deadlift. I wouldn't be surprised my bench is a bit higher.

  • Ylwa

    As a late drop-in on this conversation I must say I'm touched and impressed by the honest and motivating peer-support going on in this thread, and I've learned alot from reading this complete thread.

    I definetely join myself to the gategory of BW supporters, totally agreeing that it is a work-out form that has recieved an unfair amount of bad PR, when in fact BW is the mother of all our resistance training and deserves some god damn respect and gratefulness (godness, this really got me worked up).

    I firmly believe that the primary purpose of training should be to improve and facilitate your everyday life, and therefore your exercises should reflect common movements in our every-day life. Functionality. Functional training includes several movements incorporated to one and have so many benefits it's a whole other topic, but it does lead on to what I'd like to comment on next.

    I especially enjoy the debate you John and Sirena had going on isolation machines. I'm not a big supporter of isolation machines like Sirena and I totally agree with her very valid points on “natural movement”. I also blame parts of if on my physio-education barinwashing me a bit. However I believe that isolation machines have a point under 3 circiumstances.

    1: Very specific target training with very specific goals as you said

    2: Most of them are very safe and its almost impossible to perform an exercise wrong. I therefore find them valuable to an extent in rehabilitation, either when you want to re-introduce resistance training since it allows you make steadier, more regular increases than BW. Furthermore, they also allow you to work perfectly fit bodyparts during injuries and therefore minimize the risk of having a complete hold up in your training. Continuity is key to motivation and progress everywhere, but especially in training.

    3: Because of the saftey reason I also find machines useful when it comes to introducing complete newbies to training. Another big myth that I think needs to be discarded when it comes to BW is that it's so easy to do. I disagree. Convenient and user-friendly, absolutely. Easy – no. Many bodyweight exercises requires quite a bit of technical skills if they are to be performed safe and correctly, as well as a certain amount of strength. Beginners posess' neither. And you do need to learn how to walk before you can run.

    Having that said I would also like to point out my most obvius concern with machines, other than not complying with my opinions on functionality. I also believe that we are never stronger than our weakest spot and here machines a treatcherous, since they allow you to pile on weight that only works your larger, global muscles. Who hasn't met the guy who maxes out the chest flies machine but can't do 10 proper push-ups? BW exercises put a whole other workload on your stabilizers and your coordination, which is an absolute necessity if you want to move on to advanced resistance exercises such as deadlifts, weighted squats, military presses and not potentialy harm yourself. Badly.

    So after flashing my nerdy theoretical skills I'd like to share my favourite BW exercises: Pull-ups – the ultimate back exercise, decline push-ups – the most effective exercise to increase the size of your pecs, squats – can be variated in all eternity and is the most common movement we perfom, mountainclimbers, and peak push-ups – the first step towards your first ranger push up.

    Thanks for an awesome blog. So far I haven't come across a single post here that hasn't enriched my life. Keep it up, pretty-boy

  • Originally Posted By RalphOriginally Posted By John RomanielloOriginally Posted By RalphI just started bodyweight training because I was told that if done properly, It was extremely effective for fat loss. I'm currently skinny fat and my goal is to get my bodyfat into the single digits or close to it. I haven't had low bodyfat like that simce I was 18 (I'm 43 now) With that said, my only hurdle with the bodyfat exercises (besides being lazy) Is that there is something wrong with my wrist. I either have carpal tunnel, arthritis or tendonitis because I cannot bend my wrist past a certain point. it's locked up and causes me a ton of pain. My workaround for this is to use either dumbells or those pushup handles they sell at Modells lol. It may look silly but it works. all in all, I look forward to what you've come up with and if you do release a book maybe you could keep in mind a workaround for people like me who can't even do a pushup without using some sort of device! Hope all is well!

    ~R~

    Bodyweight training, is definitely effective for fat loss, if done correctly, so you heard right. For the most part I would say it has a lot more to do with the set-up of the program than the load.

    That is, the exercise selection (especially in relation to one another), the pacing, and the overall workload are probably going to the factors that help you lose fat, rather than whether you are benching near max weight.

    Of course, that is another post altogether.

    In terms of what you're doing for push-ups, Per is absolutely correct. Generally the increased ROM from using the handles is going to make the exercise more effective. And in your case, where it seems to be helping your wrist–or at least making it possible for you to execute efficiently–so much the better.

    Great discussion so far guys, really enjoying it.

    John,

    Thanks for the reply. I'm using a routine that Craig Ballantyne designed and I have another workout that I got off of gymjunkies. I'm pretty spent after I do a few rounds of either.

    Thanks again for the reply. This site rocks!!!

    all the best

    Ralph

    Just wanted to highlight this to touch on the program you're using. Craig Ballantyne's bodyweight manual is really excellent, and it has some innovative stuff in there. It's no wonder you're getting good results.

  • Originally Posted By RalphOriginally Posted By Per@Ralph –

    There's nothing silly about it Ralph! Acctually, when you use handles or blocks like that, you get a deeper stretch (if you go down just enough to kiss the floor) so the pushups you are doing are more hardcore then the ones the guys who aren't using handles are doing.

    Keep it up!

    Thanks a lot for the encouragement Per. I truly appreciate it. I picked bodyweight exercise not only because of their effectiveness for fatloss but also because I can do them at home. I think the added handles does make the pushup hardcore but let the truth be told that even though they are more harder…I'm not up to a good enough fitness level to put them to good use! I can only do a normal pushup and I end short of going all the way to the floor. With that said, I hope to be able to do that as soon as my level of fitness goes up! The good thing is that I'm down 8lbs since the first of this month. Ive got the diet dialed in pretty good but now I need to work a bit harder/smarter with the exercise routine.

    All the best!!

    Ralph

    Excellent results man, 8lbs is no joke! Keep it up and definitely keep us informed about your progress.

    On a side note – I really love the support. This kind of community is exactly what I'm hoping to create and foster at RFS. Thank you guys for getting in on the ground floor, and thank you for being supportive of one another. I honestly believe that peer-based support systems are more importantfor success than nearly anything else.

    Keep it up, and please keep reading!

  • Originally Posted By AyodeleI love body weight,as a matter of fact that is what i am using for my exercise, i hardly visit gym center. Back to my training days in military camp, dat is all what they use in building us all.

    My only problem about my body exercise is time. I am too busy to keep fit. I go to work very early,come back very late and that stuff.

    My submission is that body weight is economical and effective.

    I think it is in situations like yours that bodyweight training really earns its stripes.

    That is, for busy people who need to really be creative in terms of time management, often having to fit your workout into the hours of operation of a gym is inconvenient at best, and in some cases impossible.

    Imagine having rest your health and fitness on the idea that you could only train during “normal” hours? None of us would get anywhere.

    Thankfully, gyms generally have pretty good hours (for example my facililty is open 24 hours during the week) so for the vast majority of individuals, it is more about finding the wherewithal to make time and show up, rather than the gym hours.

    That said, for people like yourself who really seem not to be able to find time to train, bodyweight exercise is really the best alternative. As you mentioned, it is inexpensive and uber-convenient. You can do it at home; and if you structure it correctly, you really don't have to do it for that long.

    I think it's a matter of deconstructing existing ideas about what a workout is.

    Instead of thinking that a good workout is 45 minutes long, what if you worked out for 10 minutes, about 4-5 times per day?

    Maybe your results won't be as good (hard to really prove either way) but we can certainly say that you'd be better doing that, than doing nothing.

    Most of the time, it isn't a matter of figuring out what you want–it's about creating a realistic, actionable plan for getting it. And then finding the strength to follow it.

    That said, BW stuff is great for busy people, so definitely get your ass in gear and bangout some pushups before bed.

  • Originally Posted By SirenaMy distaste for single joint machines are multi-fold. Allow me to digress:

    1. In the grander scheme of things, exercise, health or just life in general, I look to get the biggest bang for my buck, the highest ROI, etc. And in terms of health and OVERALL fitness, single joint machines represent the worst investment portfolio you could have. My goal with my clients is to re-train their bodies to move like human beings again, and get the MOST out of our time together. Single joint machines are like trying to mow the lawn with a pair of scissors — may come in handy when you're trying to trim the edges, but not in the overall picture. (I use this analogy as I will be mowing the lawn today).

    2. 95% of my workouts are full-body circuits with various twists and turns. I do this to ensure that my clients work every muscle group, and every movement pattern in case they miss workouts. In my earlier days of training, I was a classic Monday Chest Tris, Wed Back Bis, and Fri Legs Shoulders. I found that Monday's workouts were great and if someone canceled, or re-scheduled we'd end up missing certain muscle groups. Trust me, I have learned since then.

    3. To the general public, (not well-educated fitpro's like us) single joint machines give the impression that our bodies parts are defragemented pieces. Do 60 minutes of treadmill, hop on the abdominal crunch machine and you're done you're ready for your bikini. I guess it's not the machine's fault, but perhaps I should be blaming the set-up of the modern day health club. Walking in to a typical large scale corporately owned gym and you would think it is NECESSARY to actually have all of those pieces of equipment. It's a false sense of reality to the new member who just joined full of excitement and anticipation. To me it's just like taking candy from a child, and sad to say much of our industry is like this. We need more people like RFS to set it all straight.

    4. However, like I said to each their own. And I do believe that if an individual is looking to specifically target a very specific muscle group for muscle growth, then isolation exercises will do just the trick. It works and you can see it in modern day sports: Rowers have well developed upper backs and shoulders, and speed skaters have quads the size of tree trunks. You can almost guess what sport an athlete belongs to just by the way shape of their bodies.

    5. In cases like Dave, who presents with an injury, that is a whole other story, and agree with you that full-range movements like push-ups would not be ideal for his situation. In my previous statements, I'm speaking in terms of a non-injured body.

    6. I also find that isolation exercises CAN be useful in terms of fixing faulty recruitment patterns in our movements. Too much to go into for this comment, but very quickly, in terms of the the inner unit of our of “core” (hate that word), like our TVA, I rock the heck out of tummy vacs, and pelvic tilts to help restore function.

    Anyways, I personally, have not used a single joint machine since early 2007. And I don't miss a beat. If you are going to isolate, make sure that you integrate.

    Ciao.

    Sirena

    Excellent points. I agree with roughly 90% of what you said.

    I will say that, for the purposes of building muscle, I have found with the vast majority of my clients I have used machines at one time or another. Mainly for pre- or post-exhaustion type movements. Pec fly before or after heavy or high rep DB benches for example.

    A lot of techniques like drop sets are also easier on single-joint machines, and for some of the bodybuilders I train, we use leg extensions and the like.

    Now, before we get too deep beyond this point, I'll say that these are very specific situations, with very, VERY specific goals. Roughly 90% of the time, the techniques are not applicable to a given client, and so don't get used.

    That said, I think our disagreement (if in fact there is one, which seems unlikely) would have a bit more to do with the fact that we are probably working with different populations in situations like those listed.

    I'll just close with this – I don't like to dismiss any method entirely. I think most things have merit and some level applicabilty, at least for some very specific situations.

    Moreover, I think it's a bad idea (for me, at least) to get into the habit of saying “this doesn't work” or “this is [universally] without use or merit” (be it machines or crossfit, or bodyweight training), as this is probably what leads to training dogmatism–something, in my view, to be avoided at all costs.

  • Ricardo

    John, I found out a while ago that body weight training is very beneficial to the overall plan that you have, I now use it in conjunction with the weights training

    and found a remarkable difference, (etc) body shape and waist line. I think that it is very underrated and you would do well to promote this more.

    Yours Sincerely.

  • Per

    @Ralph –

    Don't worry Ralph, you'll get there soon enough!

    Concerning “silly”, I am currently somewhat of an outsider among the resident iron-pumping “sasquatches”, regularily carrying around a purple stability ball and a yellow wobble-plate for some of my exercises. Talk about getting looks! But, then again, we are not working out for show for the other people at the gym, but for ourselves (and possibly for show for the other people at the *beach*…), so keep up what you are doing regardless of what other people think as longs as you know it's beneficial for *you*.

  • Ralph

    Originally Posted By John RomanielloOriginally Posted By RalphI just started bodyweight training because I was told that if done properly, It was extremely effective for fat loss. I'm currently skinny fat and my goal is to get my bodyfat into the single digits or close to it. I haven't had low bodyfat like that simce I was 18 (I'm 43 now) With that said, my only hurdle with the bodyfat exercises (besides being lazy) Is that there is something wrong with my wrist. I either have carpal tunnel, arthritis or tendonitis because I cannot bend my wrist past a certain point. it's locked up and causes me a ton of pain. My workaround for this is to use either dumbells or those pushup handles they sell at Modells lol. It may look silly but it works. all in all, I look forward to what you've come up with and if you do release a book maybe you could keep in mind a workaround for people like me who can't even do a pushup without using some sort of device! Hope all is well!

    ~R~

    Bodyweight training, is definitely effective for fat loss, if done correctly, so you heard right. For the most part I would say it has a lot more to do with the set-up of the program than the load.

    That is, the exercise selection (especially in relation to one another), the pacing, and the overall workload are probably going to the factors that help you lose fat, rather than whether you are benching near max weight.

    Of course, that is another post altogether.

    In terms of what you're doing for push-ups, Per is absolutely correct. Generally the increased ROM from using the handles is going to make the exercise more effective. And in your case, where it seems to be helping your wrist–or at least making it possible for you to execute efficiently–so much the better.

    Great discussion so far guys, really enjoying it.

    John,

    Thanks for the reply. I'm using a routine that Craig Ballantyne designed and I have another workout that I got off of gymjunkies. I'm pretty spent after I do a few rounds of either.

    Thanks again for the reply. This site rocks!!!

    all the best

    Ralph

  • Ralph

    Originally Posted By Per@Ralph –

    There's nothing silly about it Ralph! Acctually, when you use handles or blocks like that, you get a deeper stretch (if you go down just enough to kiss the floor) so the pushups you are doing are more hardcore then the ones the guys who aren't using handles are doing.

    Keep it up!

    Thanks a lot for the encouragement Per. I truly appreciate it. I picked bodyweight exercise not only because of their effectiveness for fatloss but also because I can do them at home. I think the added handles does make the pushup hardcore but let the truth be told that even though they are more harder…I'm not up to a good enough fitness level to put them to good use! I can only do a normal pushup and I end short of going all the way to the floor. With that said, I hope to be able to do that as soon as my level of fitness goes up! The good thing is that I'm down 8lbs since the first of this month. Ive got the diet dialed in pretty good but now I need to work a bit harder/smarter with the exercise routine.

    All the best!!

    Ralph

  • Omar

    I do bodyweight exercises when I don't go to the gym regularly, I think it helps maintain/increase muscle mass and increases fat loss but I don't think it targets that much muscle groups like weight training does.

  • Ayodele

    I love body weight,as a matter of fact that is what i am using for my exercise, i hardly visit gym center. Back to my training days in military camp, dat is all what they use in building us all.

    My only problem about my body exercise is time. I am too busy to keep fit. I go to work very early,come back very late and that stuff.

    My submission is that body weight is economical and effective.

  • David

    Find bodyweight exercises great for variety in training. Whether it's wide or narrow grip or uneven hand spacing on chin ups, dips, weighted variations or one legged squats, they can be challenging. Like in the previous comments posted it helps your body repond to everyday situations – not just a single plane of movement that machines sometimes offer. Thanks for the great info, am enjoying reading and learning more each time.

  • Originally Posted By RalphI just started bodyweight training because I was told that if done properly, It was extremely effective for fat loss. I'm currently skinny fat and my goal is to get my bodyfat into the single digits or close to it. I haven't had low bodyfat like that simce I was 18 (I'm 43 now) With that said, my only hurdle with the bodyfat exercises (besides being lazy) Is that there is something wrong with my wrist. I either have carpal tunnel, arthritis or tendonitis because I cannot bend my wrist past a certain point. it's locked up and causes me a ton of pain. My workaround for this is to use either dumbells or those pushup handles they sell at Modells lol. It may look silly but it works. all in all, I look forward to what you've come up with and if you do release a book maybe you could keep in mind a workaround for people like me who can't even do a pushup without using some sort of device! Hope all is well!

    ~R~

    Bodyweight training, is definitely effective for fat loss, if done correctly, so you heard right. For the most part I would say it has a lot more to do with the set-up of the program than the load.

    That is, the exercise selection (especially in relation to one another), the pacing, and the overall workload are probably going to the factors that help you lose fat, rather than whether you are benching near max weight.

    Of course, that is another post altogether.

    In terms of what you're doing for push-ups, Per is absolutely correct. Generally the increased ROM from using the handles is going to make the exercise more effective. And in your case, where it seems to be helping your wrist–or at least making it possible for you to execute efficiently–so much the better.

    Great discussion so far guys, really enjoying it.

  • Originally Posted By robI just turned 56. I have a partially torn right rotator cuff, a sprained left wrist tht's is taking forever to heal, and knees that have given me problems all the way back to high school foot ball days. There were so many free weight and machine movements that gave me problems more with the joints than with the muscles. Combining input from Craig Ballentyne, Vince Delmonte, Joel Marion, and Tom Venuto's sites as well as adding you to the list more recently, I've been working a body weight routine that's reallly been making more difference than anything has in the last four years. Pushups (with the rotating handles to keep the movement more natural), ab wheel, pull ups, chin ups, dips, reverse bodyweight rows, reverse bodyweight curls, and lower body with a routine with the stabilizer ball that is killer on the hams, quads, and glutes. All in all getting back to the basics has done more for me in the last few weeks than all the machines and weights did in four years. Rob says two thumbs up to bodyweight. And aways remember diet, diet, diet is 80% of the battle.

    favorite quote of the week….”A man becomes what he thinks about most of the time” Earl Nightingale…. and I think about a lean fit Rob most of the time these days. Thanks for the part you play in that John.

    Rob,

    Sorry to hear about the RC and wrist, man! That's a pretty bad combo.

    It sounds like you're getting the right information, and from the right places.

    (Before I continue, let me just thank you for adding me to that list. It's an honor to be considered a part of such august company.)

    In cases like yours, I would say you're doing all the right things, especially in terms of allow for natural movements and the like.

    Of course, as you mention, diet is the largest factor when it comes to losing fat, regardless of exercises selection. However, generally I think bodyweight stuff is exceptional for fat loss training.

  • My distaste for single joint machines are multi-fold. Allow me to digress:

    1. In the grander scheme of things, exercise, health or just life in general, I look to get the biggest bang for my buck, the highest ROI, etc. And in terms of health and OVERALL fitness, single joint machines represent the worst investment portfolio you could have. My goal with my clients is to re-train their bodies to move like human beings again, and get the MOST out of our time together. Single joint machines are like trying to mow the lawn with a pair of scissors — may come in handy when you're trying to trim the edges, but not in the overall picture. (I use this analogy as I will be mowing the lawn today).

    2. 95% of my workouts are full-body circuits with various twists and turns. I do this to ensure that my clients work every muscle group, and every movement pattern in case they miss workouts. In my earlier days of training, I was a classic Monday Chest Tris, Wed Back Bis, and Fri Legs Shoulders. I found that Monday's workouts were great and if someone canceled, or re-scheduled we'd end up missing certain muscle groups. Trust me, I have learned since then.

    3. To the general public, (not well-educated fitpro's like us) single joint machines give the impression that our bodies parts are defragemented pieces. Do 60 minutes of treadmill, hop on the abdominal crunch machine and you're done you're ready for your bikini. I guess it's not the machine's fault, but perhaps I should be blaming the set-up of the modern day health club. Walking in to a typical large scale corporately owned gym and you would think it is NECESSARY to actually have all of those pieces of equipment. It's a false sense of reality to the new member who just joined full of excitement and anticipation. To me it's just like taking candy from a child, and sad to say much of our industry is like this. We need more people like RFS to set it all straight.

    4. However, like I said to each their own. And I do believe that if an individual is looking to specifically target a very specific muscle group for muscle growth, then isolation exercises will do just the trick. It works and you can see it in modern day sports: Rowers have well developed upper backs and shoulders, and speed skaters have quads the size of tree trunks. You can almost guess what sport an athlete belongs to just by the way shape of their bodies.

    5. In cases like Dave, who presents with an injury, that is a whole other story, and agree with you that full-range movements like push-ups would not be ideal for his situation. In my previous statements, I'm speaking in terms of a non-injured body.

    6. I also find that isolation exercises CAN be useful in terms of fixing faulty recruitment patterns in our movements. Too much to go into for this comment, but very quickly, in terms of the the inner unit of our of “core” (hate that word), like our TVA, I rock the heck out of tummy vacs, and pelvic tilts to help restore function.

    Anyways, I personally, have not used a single joint machine since early 2007. And I don't miss a beat. If you are going to isolate, make sure that you integrate.

    Ciao.

    Sirena

  • Per

    @Ralph –

    There's nothing silly about it Ralph! Acctually, when you use handles or blocks like that, you get a deeper stretch (if you go down just enough to kiss the floor) so the pushups you are doing are more hardcore then the ones the guys who aren't using handles are doing.

    Keep it up!

  • Per

    Well, I don't think there's anything wrong with body weight exercises, do them *really* slow and usually the become quite heavy, like a 10 second down, 10 second up push-up for instance.

    The program I've been following during spring had at least one bwe per tripple-superset. For instance squat (with barbell), dips and burpees, which would be 2 bwe in that superset.

    My favourite ones are

    1. Medicine ball pushup: Put one hand on the ball, push up so that you “take off” and roll the ball over to the other hand while in mid-air, repeat. Gives explosive training as well as stabilization in the core/sholders. Starting out with a clap before trying the ball is a tip. (Try clapping behind your back when the medicine ball gets easy… ;O) )

    2. Pull-up: Primarily out of joy that I'm now able to do them, my weight to strength ratio was a little unfavourable earlier. But also cause they work such a huge part of the upper body.

    3. Hindu squat: Mat Furey's “invention”, kind of like a squat but you get up on your toes as well, and slightly below parallell, and pulling the arms back and swinging them forward on the way up. Sort of.

    4. 1-leg hip extension: With a proper squeeze on the top it really works the butt, can be done one on wobble-plate too.

    5. V-situps: With a proper squeece on the top, these become quite heavy quite fast even without added resistance. Can be done balancing on the edge of a bench too which adds a little extra gravity to the lower abs.

    Hmm… I've never tried to do these back to back, but now that I see the list, I got very inspired to try that out. From what I've heard, shuffling blood up and down the body should promote a strong metabolic response, so alternating upper and lower body like in the order 1,3,2,4,5 maybe can be worth trying out.

    Looking forward to adding your top 5 exercises John!

  • @David –

    I think I would agree to a point that you could probably do more work, more frequently, with less chance of injury doing BW training than weighted training.

    There are a lot of factors that go into any sort of problem that arises from training, particularly joint problems. Limiting load/weight is a way to eliminate a potentional factor for injuries, but comes with its own set of complications.

    For someone coming off surgery, many times bodyweight may not be the answer right away.

    For example, jumping into pushups after a shoulder surgery is probably unwise. Instead, PT exercises with light weight and bands would be necessary. So while this is technically 'external loading' it is probably the best tool in that instance.

    All of which brings me back to my main point – bodyweight exercises are awesome as a tool, but don't fill up the toolbox.

    That said, depending on the surgery you're having and how much time you think it'll take you to recover, getting into the habit oftraining with biody in advance is probably a great idea.

    Good luck with the surgery, of course, and please keep us posted on how you're doing with regard to both training and recovery.

  • Meshel

    It amazes me how a simple act can seem to spur the greatest change. I have been unhappy with my body for a number of years now and the loss of one of my two part time jobs seemingly was the kick in the pants I needed to make the decision and get serious about changing my body into one that I am proud of and feel good in. However, the loss of the job has meant a tightening of the belt so unfortunately a gym membership or any fancy home equipment is simply not in the budget. Resistance tubing, stability ball, body weight exercises and HIIT are what make up my workouts these days. As I learn more and more about body weight exercises and the way the body is meant to move, it just makes sense that it would be effective in sculpting a leaner, stronger body. I look forward to your top five as well as more from you.

  • Originally Posted By Sirena

    I'm a big fan of getting people to re-learn how to move their body's as most of us have forgotten our basic movement patterns due to inactivity and sitting on our arse's all day long.

    But, I do like my toys and love incorporating cable machines, medicine balls, and stability balls to up the ante. Not a fan of single joint machines whatsoever, but to each their own.

    Sirena

    My thoughts exactly. One of the things I constantly find myself stressing is the importance of using movement to teach movement. To that, I do a lot of dynamic exercises, particularly step ups, lunges, and a lot of mobility drills.

    In fact, I would say that I don't think I have designed a program in the past 5 years that didn't have some variation of the lunge included in 80% of training days.

    With regard to single joint stuff – are you limiting this comment to single joint exercises in general, or just single joint machines?

    Also, even if it is just machines, what are your thoughts on single joint machines for dedicated muscle growth? I've had great results with some, and I am always a bit hesitant to dismiss something out of hand.

    I understand this is a bit off topic, but I'd be curious to hear your thoughts.

  • Ralph

    I just started bodyweight training because I was told that if done properly, It was extremely effective for fat loss. I'm currently skinny fat and my goal is to get my bodyfat into the single digits or close to it. I haven't had low bodyfat like that simce I was 18 (I'm 43 now) With that said, my only hurdle with the bodyfat exercises (besides being lazy) Is that there is something wrong with my wrist. I either have carpal tunnel, arthritis or tendonitis because I cannot bend my wrist past a certain point. it's locked up and causes me a ton of pain. My workaround for this is to use either dumbells or those pushup handles they sell at Modells lol. It may look silly but it works. all in all, I look forward to what you've come up with and if you do release a book maybe you could keep in mind a workaround for people like me who can't even do a pushup without using some sort of device! Hope all is well!

    ~R~

  • rob

    I just turned 56. I have a partially torn right rotator cuff, a sprained left wrist tht's is taking forever to heal, and knees that have given me problems all the way back to high school foot ball days. There were so many free weight and machine movements that gave me problems more with the joints than with the muscles. Combining input from Craig Ballentyne, Vince Delmonte, Joel Marion, and Tom Venuto's sites as well as adding you to the list more recently, I've been working a body weight routine that's reallly been making more difference than anything has in the last four years. Pushups (with the rotating handles to keep the movement more natural), ab wheel, pull ups, chin ups, dips, reverse bodyweight rows, reverse bodyweight curls, and lower body with a routine with the stabilizer ball that is killer on the hams, quads, and glutes. All in all getting back to the basics has done more for me in the last few weeks than all the machines and weights did in four years. Rob says two thumbs up to bodyweight. And aways remember diet, diet, diet is 80% of the battle.

    favorite quote of the week….”A man becomes what he thinks about most of the time” Earl Nightingale…. and I think about a lean fit Rob most of the time these days. Thanks for the part you play in that John.

  • David

    Like u jon I don't totally agree w/only bodyweight training but I do think its important not to just incorporate w/ones regular regiment, but even as a start up to getting back in the gym or athletics. I even think that u could take time off from the gym to do only bodyweight exercises cuz its something u can do everyday w/out so much risk of injury(correct me if I'm wrong). I actually am having surgery soon and to be quite honest I will probably rely more on bodyweight training for a long time b4 I step foot in the gym. Love the post tho, lookin forward to more of ur wisdom Obi-wan.

  • Great post John.

    Personally speaking, I love body weight training. Put squats, lunges, and push-ups in an easy circuit and most people would be panting after the first round. I'm a big fan of getting people to re-learn how to move their body's as most of us have forgotten our basic movement patterns due to inactivity and sitting on our arse's all day long.

    But, I do like my toys and love incorporating cable machines, medicine balls, and stability balls to up the ante. Not a fan of single joint machines whatsoever, but to each their own.

    My top 5 favorite body weight exercises? Squat thrusts aka burpies, traditional push-ups, reverse lunges, ice skaters, prone planks.

    Sirena

  • @Brendan –

    You're absolutely right. I do so hate to use the term “hardcore” but there is definitely a level of challenge built in to bodyweight exercises that makes them feel different than anything else.

    And they have great built in motivation–nothing better than beating your own record on pull-ups, etc. In that regard, it's nice because you can really go to absolute failure in relative saftey. And despite being hard, it isn't overly draining on your recovery ability as maxing out on deadlifts, bench, etc.

    Anyone else have good thoughts on BW training?

  • Brendan

    I have always had certain bodyweight exercises as part of my program. Not because of any specific reason or scientific benefit that John writes about here. Perhaps it's testosterone driving the urge to maximize how many “chin-ups” you can do, or how many one-armed push-ups, or even better yet, how many hand-stand push-ups you can do. And pushing through these exercises to failure confirms that you're getting an awesome workout.

    Like you John, I don't know if I would support a 100% bodyweight program but including bodyweight exercises as part of an overall training program is good.