“Use your body to improve your body.”– Something some zen master said at some point probably
Bodyweight training means doing any exercise that leverages your own bodyweight to build strength and muscle, burn fat, and become more resilient. Now, you might think that’s just basic stuff like push-ups and squats. Those things ARE bodyweight movements, and absolutely crucial to building a healthy foundation.
Hidden in plain sight however, your own body’s weight is actually a complete training system waiting to be used. +5 points to Gryffindor for you being a complete training system.
You can use your body’s weight as a centerpiece in your training routine for decades to come, like me:
Coach Jim also centers his workouts around bodyweight training:
You can also use a bodyweight workout to build a foundational strength before you move to barbell workouts, or mix in some bodyweight training to complement your yoga/swimming/running/dancing/international jewel thievery. Today, we’ll take you through exactly how to get started.
The best part: since bodyweight training scales in difficulty and has plenty of variety, it truly can be used from Level 1 to Level 50.
Is Bodyweight Training Better Than Weight Machines?
Your body is a complex piece of machinery that has been fine-tuned over thousands of generations. Think of yourself as Human Ver. 100000000.0.0.1. We’ve been doing “bodyweight training” as a species since our days as cavemen and cavewomen – except back then it wasn’t called training, it was called “life” and there was no spandex:
Sitting in a deep squat around a campfire with our tribe.
Crawling under and over things as we encountered obstacles in nature.
Pulling ourselves up into a tree or over a cliff to escape danger.
Pushing ourselves up onto a ledge or platform to get a better view.
Swinging from vine to vine as King of the Jungle. (Okay maybe not this one).
Because we’ve had to adapt to do all of those things to survive, our bodies LOVE the idea of working with all of our muscles and bones and joints in unison to accomplish movements or overcome obstacles. If you’ve ever heard the term “Functional Fitness,” that’s what we’re talking about here.
It’s the reason we rage against the machines in the gym – cue “Bulls on Parade” – they often create imbalances and other weird problems through isolation and non-functional movement.
Think of it this way: Cavemen didn’t pick up various rocks to isolate their triceps muscles or do “curlz for the cavegurlz.” And they certainly didn’t lie on a bench at a 30-degree angle while doing log presses to emphasize their upper pectoral muscles before going to kill a gazelle.
Instead, men and women did whatever they needed to do in order to survive — and their bodies adapted as a result.
If you’ve been reading Nerd Fitness for a while, you know I’m a fan of this quote from the trainer of the actors in the movie 300: “Appearance is a consequence of fitness.”
When you do bodyweight training, your body becomes more efficient working as a unified organism: all of your muscles, tendons, joints, and bones get strong as hell together — and safely.
Plus, you get to master your body like a freaking Jedi.
We know that strength training — with your bodyweight or with free weights — also happens to burn plenty of calories and builds muscle and strength. So it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, young or old — bodyweight strength training can help you build a body that looks good and feels good. In fact, as you get older one of the best ways to feel young is to stay strong! Just ask our older rebels.
Period. Exclamation point! Loud noises!
Where Should I Perform Bodyweight Exercises
Bodyweight training can be done ANYWHERE.
Read that sentence one more time. Crap, there goes that excuse for not exercising! You always have your body with you, which means you always have the ability to exercise, even if it’s just for a few reps here and there.
You can always improve yourself physically. Anytime. Anywhere. Whether you’re:
Seriously, right now you can just drop down and do some (knee/wall) push-ups.
You didn’t do them, did you?! You sandbaggin’ son of a biscuit… you SAILOR you.
Even if you DIDN’T do them, you weren’t completely overwhelmed at the idea of doing a few reps!
My point is this: You don’t need access to a gym to get in great shape. You simply need to know a few moves — which we’ll teach you below — and you can train anywhere.
How to Progress with Bodyweight Training
Although bodyweight exercises are a bit tougher to visualize as a scalable activity compared to weight lifting (where you just put more weight on the bar), with just a little bit knowledge bodyweight training is like improving a particular skill tree in video games.
For example, in the push-up you might start on your knees:
Or with your hands on an elevated surface:
Over time, by slowly adjusting the angle you are manipulating your bodyweight, you can effectively change the difficulty of an exercise to make it more challenging. With a tougher angle, you have to move a higher percentage of your bodyweight, and thus more strength is needed!
I guarantee you can train with just your bodyweight for the next 20 years and you will not reach a “MAX LEVEL” screen.
Here’s what an oversimplified progression tree for the squat might look like:
#1) Assisted Bodyweight Squat
#2) Bodyweight Squat
#3) Assisted One Leg Squat
#4) One Leg Squat
Show me somebody that has advanced to the end of one or more bodyweight skill trees, and I’ll show you somebody that is in peak physical condition (and looks damn good too!).
Once you learn the progressions, it’s just like adding points to a skill tree or leveling up a skill to unlock the next one in a video game. You start at the base exercise, get stronger and better, and then rank up when that movement becomes too easy. Gamification ftw.
There’s always a new skill to work on, a new challenging variation, the next level in the skill you’re working on.
Can You Build Muscle With Only a Bodyweight Workout?
Bodyweight training can help you build a great physique.
If you’re like me (and the other 7.2 billion people on the planet), you might look at gymnasts or see what Coach Jim is doing in that photo above and say “holy crap I wish I had a body like that” or “dang, would be cool to do that, but not me.”
If you happen to be somebody who is stockier or heavier, you might look at a bodyweight-training-Jedi and say “I can’t train like them, because I’m not built like them. I need to lose weight first before trying to those things”
You’ve got it backwards.
They look like they do precisely because they train like that!
In fact, we have TONS of success stories from people in our community, male and female who have transformed thanks to bodyweight training. Yours truly included!
Some people use the training to slim WAY down, others like me, use it to pack some muscle on (click on each photo for the story!):
Now, not only do ninja/assassin/gymnasts look good, they can also do some pretty cool party tricks – like Jim doing one-arm handstands:
I don’t think I’ll be doing handstands on stacked chairs anytime soon, or busting out one-handed handstands, but it’s amazing to know what our bodies are capable of when we train them with conviction and follow the right progressions!
If you’re somebody who scrolls through Instagram far too often (like me!), use motivation properly and follow people that inspire you to be stronger, fitter, and better.
If you’re brand new to Nerd Fitness, we recommend you get started with the Nerd Fitness Beginner Bodyweight Workout. Read the article, and watch the video below, featuring me about 30 pounds lighter and with helmet hair:
(Fun fact, this is our most viewed video on Youtube at 1,400,000 views, and my shorts are on backwards. Professionalism at its finest!)
If you can do a workout with 3 sets of 10 push-ups, 3 sets of 20 bodyweight squats, and 3 sets of 5 pull-ups, you will be in better shape than 95% of your peers.
That should get you well on your way to becoming a badass version of you.
Now the only thing left to do is start!
If you want some help getting going…
Here are some options for next steps with Nerd Fitness:
Option #1) If you want a professional coach in your pocket, who can do video form checks, provide feedback, and adjust your workouts based on the equipment you have available, check out our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program!
For example, let’s say you find yourself stuck indoors during a pandemic, and you want somebody to custom-build you a workout program based on the equipment and furniture you have. That’s where an online coach is a game-changer!
Personally, I’ve been working with the same online coach since 2015 and it’s changed my life. You can learn more by clicking on the box below: