Bodyweight exercises, or ‘Calisthenics’ as correctly known, are some of the most natural and effective exercises we can do.
Almost all calisthenic exercises can be performed anytime as they don’t require any equipment. You can hit all areas of the body and make some serious gains without ever lifting a dumbbell or setting foot in a gym.
I think bodyweight exercises should be an integral part of any fitness programme. Lifting, pushing and pulling your own bodyweight should feel like a natural movement to do. Strength to weight ratio is a key facet of total body fitness. After all what’s the point of being able to lift super heavy weights if you can’t even lift yourself!?
Most bodyweight exercises involve multiple muscle groups working together (as they should) which means greater functionality when relating to real life movements. Not to mention burning more calories than isolation exercises. Plus there is less risk of injury as you can’t really overload your muscles in the same way as lifting weights.
Keeping in tune with your body is vital for maximal performance, so much depends on the ‘mind-muscle connection’. Thinking about the muscles you are working as you’re working them results in better form and greater strength gains. I find this much easier to do when I’ve only got my bodyweight to think about. There is no barbell or machine to distract you, just you, your body and your mind. You can be more focussed and therefore produce your best effort.
Often people neglect bodyweight exercises, maybe due to the social emphasis on lifting weights these days, or maybe it’s because they are tough and challenging.
I swear by them and blasting out a quick 50 press ups when you’ve stopped after a long car journey is a great way to shrug off the sluggishness of sitting down for so long.
Here is a quick calisthenic circuit that you can perform anywhere with just your bodyweight and a pull/ chin up bar (or tree branch if you have access to one)
- Press Ups
(see previous blog https://danrochfort.co.uk/everyone-press-ups/); Hands raised (beginner), flat (intermediate), feet raised (advanced). Perform as many as you can then move on to the next exercise.
- Side plank (below)
Form a straight line from you head down to your feet whilst resting on one elbow. Don’t let your hips sag. Hold for as long as you can.
- Squat jumps
Hands by the side of your head, head up, eyes forward. Squat until your thighs are parallel with the floor keeping your back straight then push up hard and fast so that you jump off the floor. Land with bent knees going deep into a squat again and then repeat. Do as many reps as you can.
- Bird Dog (below)
Start with your hands and knees on the floor shoulder and hip width apart, maintain a flat back as if you have a cup of water balanced on there. Raise your right arm and left leg out straight in front/ behind you at the same time so they are parallel to the floor. Pause then lower and repeat on the other side. Perform 20 reps (10 each side)
- Tricep dips (below)
With your back to a knee-high bench/ chair place your hands behind you on the edge with your feet out straight in front of you. Lower your bottom by flexing the elbows until they reach 90 degrees then extend your arms and push back up. Do as many as you can before moving on to the next exercise.
- Plank (below)
Lie face down on the floor and prop yourself up on your elbows. Place your feet shoulder width apart and raise your torso off the floor. Brace your abs as if you are about to be punched in the stomach and keep a straight line from your head to your feet. Hold this position for as long as you can. Please note that my bum is slightly too high in this photo- I was attempting to keep my clean trousers off the wet grass!!
- Pull Ups
Grab a bar overhead with both hands using an overhand grip. Hands should be just past shoulder width apart. Pull yourself up towards the bar until your chin is above the bar. Slowly lower until your arms are straight. That’s one rep. Do as many as you can.
I often use bodyweight exercises as a warmup at the start of a resistance workout. Say 20 press ups followed by 20 inverted rows prior to an upper body workout, or 50 high tempo bodyweight squats before a lower body resistance workout. They can also be used as a finisher.