There are a few options when it comes to training you can do without access to a gym. This article looks at the science behind bodyweight training at home – something pretty much all of us can do.
Anyone who follows my posts on this site will know that I am a huge advocate of bodyweight training, both when I’m at home and when I’m traveling.
Whilst I love doing weighted sessions in the gym, (especially when working on explosive power and posterior chain strength), I do think that for most people, bodyweight workouts can and should form a good portion of their workouts.
In the military, training using bodyweight was often the most practical form of training, especially when deployed in tough living conditions (think small spaces, remote locations and certainly no gym access!).
But there is some impressive science behind bodyweight training as well. There is a reason the military favor bodyweight training over weight training.
This article looks at the science behind bodyweight workouts and why they are so good for us.
Core muscle development
Firstly, most people are aware or have at least heard something about the importance of core muscle development.
Core exercises have become one of the most searched for term in fitness – and for good reason. Every major movement we make comes from our core.
A weak core means that we are going to be less effective in the movement we are trying to do, but more importantly, a weak core can open us up to injury (as I have previously found out).
A study into the effectiveness of the unstable platform (bodyweight exercises) and core development was conducted by a team of scientists and published in the Journal of Strength Conditioning.
They found that bodyweight exercises outperformed core activation in traditional gym weight training, with impressive results!
The core forms part of our abdominal support muscles and training the core is a great way to complement your abs training.
This is because of the fact that it uses the body’s unstable platform for pretty much all the exercises you can do under your own bodyweight, is perfect for core development.
Bodyweight training and muscle strength
‘But what about overall strength?!’, I hear you say. Well, because bodyweight exercises trigger so many muscle fibers when we perform them, they are actually one of the best ways to improve functional strength.
For those of you who are still skeptical as to whether bodyweight training can make your stronger – a study published in the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy showed that closed chain (bodyweight) exercises were responsible for a 31% increase in lower body strength after just 6 weeks.
This is compared to the open-chain (training with equipment) which only improved by 13%. The closed chain group also saw an increase in overall power output. The closed chain didn’t see any power increase.
That’s why I advocate bodyweight training so much – it builds functional fitness.
Bodyweight training and muscle size
If you are wanting to pack on huge amounts of Instagram-worthy muscle, then yes, shifting huge amounts of iron is the best way to achieve this size gains.
However, even if you want to get huge – don’t write off bodyweight training just yet.
One study conducted in the USA and published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research adds a twist to this old-school Pumping Iron-era theory.
In this study, 17 resistance-trained males were the test subjects. They were split into two groups. Group 1 followed a traditional strength training routine for eight weeks. Group 2 added plyometric pushups (clap pushups) to their standard training. Group 1 saw a 7.1% improvement in strength, whilst Group 2 saw an increase of 11.6%.
So, even if you want to pack on huge amounts of muscle, don’t rule out bodyweight training completely. It’s proven to make a significant difference.
There you have it. A few pieces of quality research on the benefits of bodyweight training. As I said, there’s a reason all of the leading militaries incorporate it into their basic (and elite) training.
If you really love using workout kit, there are some great products that enhance bodyweight training; once of my favorites is the TRX trainer. In my opinion, this is worth the cost, but it’s not essential.
Bodyweight training is a really useful, practical tool to train your body to be ready for the next challenge. And, in this uncertain world we live in, wouldn’t you want it to be ready?
As a buddy of mine (who would never touch a dumbbell) used to say; “nobody ever bench-pressed their way out of a situation”. So, whether it’s training for the unexpected, or just being able to give the other soccer team a run for their money, make sure you incorporate some bodyweight training into your weekly routine.
Behm DG1, Leonard AM, Young WB, Bonsey WA, MacKinnon SN, (2005) ‘Trunk muscle electromyographic activity with unstable and unilateral exercises’. School of Human Kinetics and Recreation. Canada. Retrieved 09 Dec 2019.
Augustsson J1, Esko A, Thomeé R, Svantesson U. (1998) ‘Weight training of the thigh muscles using closed vs. open kinetic chain exercises: a comparison of performance enhancement’. Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, Göteborg University, Sweden. Retrieved 09 Dec 2019.
Mangine GT1, Ratamess NA, Hoffman JR, Faigenbaum AD, Kang J, Chilakos A. (2008) ‘The effects of combined ballistic and heavy resistance training on maximal lower- and upper-body strength in recreationally trained men.’ Department of Health and Exercise Science, The College of New Jersey, USA. Retrieved 09 Dec 2019.