While not strictly considered an “apparatus” that most people consider, body weight adds several interesting dynamics to your training that previous apparatus discussions lack. It takes a different type of skill and fitness to throw your body weight around safely and there are many ways to use just your body weight to be fit. Some of the trendiest workouts take advantage of body weight—think Calisthenics, Parkour, Capoeira—actually any martial arts discipline, etc.
The biggest advantages of body weight training are pretty simple—you always have it with you and it’s always free. It can be as basic as squats, lunges, push-ups and pull-ups or as complicated as Parkour, using the surrounding environment to intensify the workout and push the body to its limits of endurance, strength, balance, core function, developing quick reflexes to adapt to the unexpected.
By and large, in its most common applications, body weight training is safe, functional and productive. Most trainers will use body weight exercises for at least a portion of any given workout—push-ups and squats are staples in any fitness toolbox and there are numerous variations and exercises that rely on these two positions as starting points. Good form is, for me, essential with these exercises and my clients all know that I will continue to correct and perfect their form until I’m happy.
Most trainers I know employ a variety of body weight exercises on a regular basis in addition to the above mentioned basics—plyometrics like box jumps, star jumps, split jumps, plyo-pushups are only a few trainer favorites and fall into body weight exercises as do most core and total body exercises such as bear crawls, burpees, mountain climbers, planks, and sit-ups.
While the most basic examples of body weight exercises tend to be quite safe, there are always risks with any type of workout, particularly when done incorrectly or when over trained and repetitive injuries take hold. Any good fitness program will make use of a large variety of exercises and, the deeper the trainer’s toolbox the more variety he/she will build into their workouts.
Arguably, competitive gymnasts perform the most extreme body weight training. After spending numerous years watching my daughter train and compete gymnastics, I one day held my head in my hands in utter anguish wondering what I had been thinking by giving in to her only activity interest when she was seven. Once she made pre-team, each and every workout pushed her little body to its limit. There were tears. There was frustration. There were angry coaches goading and pushing and driving exhausted little girls, forcing them to repeat conditioning exercises when their bodies were too tired to do it correctly. And, then there was the sweet, sweet taste of accomplishment when a new skill was mastered. There was the sparkle of joy and pride when a routine was competed in near flawless execution. There were excited salutes from the top of numerous podiums. This was a year round way of life that required full commitment, not only on her part but on mine as well. And, nowhere will you find an athlete as strong or fit as you will when looking at a gymnast.
Pound for pound, an Olympic gymnast is stronger than any pro-football player. In all the years I sat in the bleachers watching my daughter train, I never once saw her touch a dumbbell, barbell, or strength machine. Stationary bikes were used for rehabbing injured gymnasts and 2 pound ankle weights were employed to increase resistance. The lean, hard little girls—some of whom sported more manly physiques than I’ve ever actually seen on men—developed washboard abs and shredded muscle definition by simply using their body weight and practically living in the gym. It was an adventure to say the least and one that I don’t know that I would repeat. That said, my daughter and I still have a love for the sport of gymnastics and a much deeper appreciation for the select few who make it to the top of the gymnastics world. However, the repetitive stress of the extremes this sort of body weight training coupled with simply training all of the “ooooh & aaaah” skills left her with multiple injuries to both ankles, one knee, one shoulder, an elbow, a clavicle, the tailbone and finally a spinal stress fracture. After her shoulder surgery, my daughter retired from her sport of choice at the ripe old age of 15. She later went on to compete in “club” gymnastics in college at a much lower level than she had previously competed BUT she had fun with her sport again and was able to rekindle the joy she had felt at 7 when she quickly began perfecting skill after skill after skill.
My love of my own fitness experience led me to become a trainer more 10 years ago. I’ve learned to appreciate most modalities and techniques and to take what I like the best of each to piece them into challenging and fun workouts for my clients. There are so many ways to workout and be fit that I simply can’t omit valid and interesting elements because they don’t fit neatly into this method or that. My training has become a hybrid of many different styles and it works to help my clients get fit, stay fit, lose and maintain weight, and to improve their health!! I hope that you too will find enjoyment in your workouts and learn to incorporate variety!!