If there is one thing that you can rely on in the fitness world it is that nothing stays the same for long.
That’s right, year after year the best approach to ‘fitness’ reliably changes – or, rather, is reinvented for us – sparking trend after trend.
Of course, 2015 promises to be no different…
This year, one of the hottest new trends in fitness is body weight training.
In fact, according to a worldwide survey conducted by the American College Of Sports Medicine, body weight training is literally at the top of the list for this year.
If you’re thinking to yourself that body weight training doesn’t sound like a new thing, you’d be completely right.
It has been around for years – centuries, even – in one form or another.
That being said, now that it’s the hot new thing, I thought it would be helpful to delve into it a little bit – covering what body weight training actually is, how it works, and if I would recommend doing it.
Let’s get to it.
What Is Body Weight Training?
At its most basic level, body weight training is simply a type of strength training that uses only your body weight for resistance.
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No surprises there, I’m sure.
This means that body weight training incorporates many of the basic movements that you’re probably already familiar with, such as pushups, pullups, sit-ups, lunges, and burpees, just to name a few.
There are no dumbbells, barbells, gym machines, or any other fancy equipment. It really is strength training at its most basic – and most accessible.
Why Has Body Weight Training Become So Popular?
While it is difficult to know for sure what makes something turn into a trend, there are various reasons why many people are increasingly gravitating towards body weight training.
It can be done anywhere.
In my opinion, this is a big one.
Not having to go to a gym, or even leave your house, is a massive part of what makes body weight training appealing to many people.
This is especially true in the age of the internet, with several online companies now offering interactive body weight training classes online – through video sessions or Skype.
Even without the internet, it is easy enough to find a body weight training DVD that you can simply work out along to in front of your TV.
It doesn’t require any equipment.
While this isn’t always the case – which I’ll discuss more in a second – another draw of body weight training is that it is truly no frills.
You just need your body to train with, and no additional equipment whatsoever.
This is especially great for people that are on a budget. There is literally no reason that even the most frugally minded person can’t start working out with just their body weight.
It is quick and efficient.
Now this one is debatable, but since it is a perceived benefit of body weight training, I thought I’d include it.
These days, people are busier than ever (or at least many of us feel that way).
Body weight workouts are thought not to take very much time. You just quickly run through the basic movements. No re-racking weights or setting up equipment – much less having to spend the time to travel to the gym.
It can be safer than weight lifting.
You don’t have to look far to find stories of people that have hurt themselves weight lifting.
They use too much weight, they don’t practice proper form, and then boom – they are out of commission for quite awhile.
Body weight training, on the other hand, provides a lower impact alternative, where participants are less likely to hurt themselves.
Is Body Weight Training Right For You?
Now here is the question that really matters…
The thing is, despite its recent surge in popularity, body weight training isn’t necessarily the best fit for many guys that are looking to build lean muscle mass.
This is because it can be difficult to properly utilize progressive overload in body weight training.
Progressive overload is the most efficient way of developing muscle and strength; that is, systematically increasing the amount of resistance in your exercises.
When you are working with body weight exercises – like pushups, lunges, and burpees – it can be tough to gradually increase the resistance.
In fact, you really only have 2 options in order to progressively make each exercise more challenging: increase the number of reps or modify the exercise to make it more difficult.
Increasing reps can work to a point – but quite quickly it will fail to help you build any appreciable amount of muscle or strength, unless you are also able to increase the resistance as well.
Therefore, the only way to really build a strong, muscular body exclusively with body weight training is to adopt some of the more complex movements.
Pushups become one-handed pushups.
Inverted rows become arm-arm inverted rows.
You get the picture.
Also, you can choose to add resistance to the movements using weight vests, helping to make exercises like pull-ups more challenging; however, in doing so, you soon start venturing outside of strict body weight training, the more you rely on additional apparatus.
On the other hand, strength training with weights makes it far easier to steadily progress in small, controlled increments.
For this reason, I would generally recommend strength training with free weights over body weight training for most guys that are looking to build impressive physiques.
So Who Is Body Weight Training Suitable For?
All of that being said, body weight workouts might be a good fit for you if your goals are different to what I described above.
For instance, if you don’t really care about building much muscle, and want a workout that will get your heart pumping and some blood to your muscles, body weight workouts may be appropriate for you.
You also don’t need to join a gym – or go anywhere at all – which may make sense if you have a very limited budget or time available for working out.
And before someone jumps down my throat here, let me say that it IS possible to build impressive physiques with body weight training alone, but it requires a more advanced training regiment than most guys will want to do.
After all, male gymnasts have some of the most impressive physiques around, and rely almost entirely on body weight exercises.
But they are training with rings, and doing incredibly difficult movements like the Iron Cross, which certainly isn’t run of the mill body weight training that you’re likely to read about in articles this year.
So, in short, if you’re serious about building muscle, I would generally suggest that you stick to heavy weight training instead – incorporating compound lifts and focusing on making steady progressions.
However, if you are inclined to try body weight training, I would recommend getting yourself a set of TRX straps.
They are very affordable, and will give you many more options than just relying on the really basic body weight movements alone.
What do you think of body weight training? Has it been effective for you? Let us know in the comments.