Four months into my marriage, my wife and I moved from a college town in Texas to a Hudson River town 40 minutes north of New York City. Calling this move an ‘adjustment’ would be a gross understatement.
Prior to this move, I had spent the previous 18 months focusing on a combination of weight training and indoor rock-climbing at my graduate school’s recreational center. Finding direct replacements of this type of training in our NYC suburb didn’t seem possible. Our apartment complex did not have any type of gym facility. Our NY town’s gym membership was exorbitantly expensive (go figure). The closest rock-climbing facility was over 40 minutes away by car with a costly membership and high day-climb expense. Our NY apartment was too small for me to build a home gym inside (again, go figure). Plus, my job was a year-long assignment with a relocation in its future, so any gym equipment I purchased would have been moved across the country.
It was with these variables in mind that I started studying bodyweight training.
Bodyweight training is what it sounds like: using your body as the weight for your training. It’s the category of exercise that does not need any type of standard gym equipment: no dumbbells, kettlebells, machines, or gym memberships required. The staple exercises include push-ups, pull-ups, body squats, crunches, lunges, etc…, but the potential variations of these exercises allow for infinite applications and variety in workout plans.
Here are 6 reasons why you should learn and start bodyweight training.
Learning bodyweight training will save you both money and time spent on gym costs. The cost of a gym membership can range anywhere from $10/month (Planet Fitness), to $40/month (Anytime Fitness), to $130/month (Lifetime fitness), and beyond. Factor in any additional amenities you buy with your membership, any cost of group classes or purchased sessions with a personal trainer, and your monthly bill for exercise will start to add up.
However, I think the time spent commuting to and training at the gym is the substantial cost and obstacle for a man with responsibilities. Lack of time is a perennial excuse for why people do not exercise. Training at the gym can cost anywhere from 30 – 60 minutes of your time, and commuting there can be anywhere from 5 – 30 minutes in one direction. Hitting three workout sessions a week at the gym within these ranges will cost anywhere from 120 to 360 minutes of your time per week, which is a high cost for a man with family, work, and ministry responsibilities.
With bodyweight training, I have found that I can get a great full-body workout in about 30 – 40 minutes. At three sessions a week, I’m only spending 90 – 120 minutes per week exercising, and the only commute I do is a warm-up run to the park right down the street. Learning how to do bodyweight training will take away any time-related excuse you have for not exercising, plus will save you the financial costs of gym memberships and other amenities.
You can get a great workout and maintain a high level of fitness through bodyweight training. You will build muscular endurance, muscular strength, and burn fat. Bodyweight exercises also tend to be ‘compound’ exercises, and since they work several muscles at the same time, your workouts tend to be more efficient. Every muscle group can be hit during bodyweight training.
Admittedly, resistance training with weights in the gym will yield ‘bigger’ results if your goal is hypertrophy (building lean muscle). You may never look like Arnie if you solely do push-ups. However, functional fitness is better developed by bodyweight training, which is why elite training uses bodyweight exercises as its foundation. CrossFit includes bodyweight exercises in some of its flagship training movements, such as burpees, kipping pull-ups, toes to bar, and handstand pushups. When I studied martial arts, bodyweight training was all we did for strength and conditioning. We performed different variations of push-ups, squats, kicks, and balance exercises to build muscular endurance for fighting and self-defense. The U.S. military utilizes bodyweight training for the same effect. Mark Lauren, author of “You Are Your Own Gym”, has trained U.S. special forces for years nearly exclusively with bodyweight exercises, and has preached the benefits of bodyweight training with a very effective training program.
The Wall Street Journal reported that 17% of gyms permanently closed in 2020 due to COVID (https://www.wsj.com/articles/
the-gym-is-open-but- everythings-different- 11615887001). Major gym chains such as 24-hour fitness or Gold’s gym have filed for bankruptcy. The gyms that did make it had to wrestle with re-opening risks, sanitization requirements, mask-wearing policies, and the future of fitness in a post-2020 world.
Bodyweight training offers a type of training that is durable. People who were reliant on a gym to maintain their fitness had to make some serious adjustments in 2020, as their exercise routines were disrupted and blocked by something outside of their control. A closed gym meant a closed-door to fitness for those reliant on gyms. However, bodyweight training endured 2020 without impedance. Bodyweight training is not impacted by a closure of a physical location, a business not stewarding its money well, or the political sensitivities and directions of the day. Bodyweight training endured 2020, and has the ability to endure any future shift in availabilities of local gyms.
The only equipment truly required for bodyweight training is… you guessed it… your body and your weight. And we already lug this around with us all day.
You can do body-squats at coffee shops (the reactions are priceless), burpees in Central Park, push-ups on hotel floors, dips in your office, rows on door knobs (with a towel), sit-ups on the beach, and leg lifts in your bedroom. The equipment needed for bodyweight training can be packed with you while traveling, done anywhere inside your home, and performed at any time of the day. If the fitness industry was able to manufacture a product that you could carry with you all the time to be used in any location in order for you to get a great workout, that product would be a bestseller. And you already have it with you.
Bodyweight exercises can be both progressed and regressed in order to fit into your current level of fitness. Let me use a standard push-up as an example.
To progress the difficulty of a standard push-up, try doing it with your feet elevated. When that becomes easy, try a push-up with your feet elevated and your hands on an uneven surface, such as one hand on the first step of a staircase and the other hand on the second step. When that becomes easy, try a standard push-up with only one hand.
To regress the difficulty of a standard push-up, try doing the push-up on your knees instead of your feet. If that is too difficult, try doing a push-up on your knees with your hands elevated. And if that is too difficult, try standing and performing push-ups with your hands on an elevated surface, like a bathroom sink.
These variations can be applied for any type of bodyweight exercise, which allows you to scale the difficulty of your movement. You can make the exercises easier if you are a beginner or harder if you are seasoned. The ability to scale movements based on difficulty also allows for creativity in developing your own exercises, and new movements can help you overcome boredom if you find yourself plateaued or stuck in the same exercise routine.
Lastly, bodyweight exercises can be modeled by you and then taught to your children. There are some limitations on strength training for youth, as their muscles and bones are not yet ready for weight-bearing exercises. The focus of strength training for youth should be on proper form, postural control, and not on increasing weight loads. However, any child can do and learn push-ups, pull-ups, body squats, and sit-ups. This is why bodyweight training is often the staple strength and conditioning routine for youth sports. As a parent, if you learn and master the basics of bodyweight exercises, you can then teach your young children how to perform movements that will be the foundation for their own understanding and practice of physical fitness.
When we moved into our new home in Texas, we moved into a home across the street from a park. With a high-energy three-year-old daughter, this park became one of our frequently visited places. During one of these visits, I decided to do 30 burpees while my daughter played. It had been a long day at work, I had sat for most of the day, and getting my blood pumping and my feet moving outside was something my body had craved while at the office. Around the 15th burpee, I heard some little grunts and giggles just a few feet away from me. My daughter had been watching me, and she decided that she wanted to do burpees too. I still laugh remembering her determined face as she tried her best to mimic my burpee movement.
She voluntarily joined in on doing a set of burpees after watching her dad. It’s probably wishful thinking to want her to always find enjoyment in the burpee, but I do hope that she will carry the happy sensation of performing body movements throughout her life. I want to teach her how to move, strengthen and take care of her body, and bodyweight exercise is the tool I will use to lay that foundation.
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Layman's Fitness is dedicated to providing God-exalting information, motivation, methods, and workout plans so that the everyday man is better equipped to glorify God with his body.