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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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March 12 2014

Are Bodyweight Exercises Alone Enough?

By Mark Sisson
207 Comments

RingsIn my Primal Blueprint Fitness eBook, I promote a bodyweight training program. Though it can be modified with weight vests, at its core it is comprised entirely of exercises that use your own bodyweight as resistance – pushups, pullups, planks, rows, squats, and sprints. For the majority of people who try it, it works great because PBF is a basic program designed to appeal to people from every fitness background. People who’ve never lifted a weight in their lives can jump right in with the beginning progressions, move on up through the more difficult variants, and get quite fit in the process. It’s not the end all, be all of training – and I make that pretty clear in the eBook – but it’s a foundation for solid, all around fitness. Some choose to move beyond it or incorporate weighted movements, some are content.

Still, some people are skeptical about the efficacy of a bodyweight training program. Is it truly enough, or just “good enough”? Can you really get big and strong without slinging heavy weights around?

It depends on what you mean by “enough,” of course, but the answer is generally “yes.” Bodyweight training is a legitimate option for anyone interested in building an impressive physique, increasing their strength, improving their athletic performance, mobility, and flexibility, and establishing excellent mind-body-space awareness. Plus, the ability to bust out some ridiculous moves on the pullup bars at the local park has to count for something.

Don’t take my word for it, though. Check out some of the people getting and staying very, very strong using primarily bodyweight exercises:

Al Kavadlo

Beastskills

Gymnastics Bodies

Eat Move Improve

Hannibal

So yes, a smart bodyweight program can rival the best barbell training, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. These guys aren’t just mindlessly doing progressively greater numbers of pushups, pullups, and air squats. If you want to get as strong as possible, just doing more reps won’t cut it. You need intelligent progression.

Progression isn’t just adding reps. Eventually, you have to make the exercises harder to keep getting stronger, either by adding weight, increasing the degree of stabilization required, or decreasing the amount of leverage you have. Normal dips too easy? Move onto ring dips, and then weighted ring dips. Doing twenty pullups in a row without much issue? Try wearing a weight vest or work your way toward a one arm pullup. Bodyweight rows with your feet up on blocks a cinch? Try taking one foot off, then both, then trying front levers.

And that’s part of the reason why most people opt for barbells over bodyweight training: it’s easier and far less humbling to add weights to a bar than remove leverage from a bodyweight movement. In many cases, to progress in bodyweight means learning an entirely new movement from scratch. Starting over from zero. It’s harder to quantify than weight training and easier to get stuck.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not effective. In fact, the degree of difficulty required to perform some of the more intermediate and advanced bodyweight exercises implies their effectiveness.

What kind of exercises qualify as “bodyweight training”?

There are three primary categories, and the most successful people draw on exercises from all three.

Calisthenics are the basic bodyweight exercises like pullups, pushups, squats, jumping jacks, lunges, dips, planks, and rows. They have the broadest appeal, attracting elderly Chinese ladies wearing windbreakers and impossibly muscled guys wearing jeans and Jordans.

Plyometrics consist of explosive bodyweight exercises, like depth jumps, box jumps, broad jumps, jump squats, Russian lunges, burpees, and jumping pushups.

Gymnastics describes the highly technical movements those amazingly compact, muscular people perform during every summer Olympics. Most people probably won’t ever reach that level, but they can still get really strong using the rings to work on the earlier progressions that precede the expert-level movements, like levers, planches, muscle-ups, rows, pullups, and dips.

How does bodyweight training measure up to weight training?

There’s not a ton of research, but it seemed to fare well in the one study I found. Athletes were placed on one of three training programs: traditional resistance training, “complex training” (an undulating mix of high and low intensity weight training), or plyometrics training. By the end of the study, all groups had experienced identical gains in back squat, Romanian deadlift, and calf raise strength.

There may be little research directly comparing bodyweight training to barbell training or other forms of strength and conditioning, but my intent is not to claim one is better than the other. They’re all different, and they’re all effective. We do have research showing the beneficial effects of bodyweight exercises on the same types of performance markers we traditionally target with weight training, however, and there may even be a few unique effects.

Bodyweight exercises require activation of more muscles.

Bodyweight exercises are closed kinetic chain movements; rather than moving an object toward or away from your body, you are moving your body toward or away from the ground. This requires cooperation between all the muscles that form the kinetic chain and provides an arguably more complete stimulus of the musculature. For instance, in a bench press, your core is supported by the bench; in a pushup, your core is supported by the core musculature.

Bodyweight exercises develop proprioceptive awareness.

Bodyweight training refers to moving your body through space, and this movement provides additional feedback to your body and brain when compared to lifting a weight with your arms. Neuromuscular activation is highest during exercises that move the body.

Bodyweight exercises can’t be replicated by weight training.

Many people avoid bodyweight exercises because they can’t figure out how to replicate some of their favorite barbell exercises, like overhead press (try handstand pushups), bench press (try ring pushups), or barbell rows (try tuck front lever rows), but what about the inability of barbell exercises to replace many bodyweight movements? You can’t replicate swinging on monkey bars, climbing a rope, doing a muscle-up, crawling on your hands, or performing an L-sit with weights, just to name a few. Even the weight training exercises that seem to replicate bodyweight exercises have different effects; compare your lat pulldown machine performance with your deadhang pullup performance for a perfect example.

A recent review spanning several decades of research summed up the effects of lower body plyometrics training on neuromuscular, performance, and health adaptations in healthy people:

  • Increased neuromuscular activation.
  • Increased strength and power.
  • Faster stretch-shortening cycle of muscles, leading to improved performance.
  • Improved coordination between muscles involved in the movements.
  • Enhancement of general athletic capability, including jumping, sprinting, agility, and endurance.
  • Reduced risk of lower body injuries in susceptible populations.
  • Increased bone mass.

The one area where bodyweight training probably falls short is the lower body. For the most part, our legs and glutes are just way too strong to reach their full potential through air squats – and most bodyweight proponents will agree. However, a program consisting of plyometrics (jumping lunges/squats, broad jumps, depth jumps), single leg squats, and sprinting, especially hill sprints, can produce a strong lower body. You may not get the same degree of hypertrophy without adding weights to your lower body work, but you can certainly get stronger.

Am I suggesting that everyone ditch the weights, cancel the gym membership, and invest in a set of Perfect Pushups? No. The two can coexist quite happily. In fact, if I’m designing the optimal program for strength and mass, I’m going with a fusion of bodyweight training (gymnastics, ring work, pullups, dips) for the upper body and weight training (lunges, squats, deadlifts) for the lower body.

My point is simple. If you have no access to quality gym equipment, if you live next door to a park with an awesome outdoor workout station, if you hate weight training, if you fear weight training, or even if just prefer bodyweight exercises, fear not: you can build an awesome body and get incredibly strong by emphasizing bodyweight training.

What about you? Do you prefer bodyweight exercises to weight training? What kind of results have you seen doing one or the other?

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207 thoughts on “Are Bodyweight Exercises Alone Enough?”

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    1. Great post and reaffirms how I train. I’m 51 and can do as many chins, followed by 100 push ups. The A frame and mat area at the gym is now bigger than the weights area, where I go for dead lifts and some squats and that’s it. “Conventional” training is moving in our direction at a pace that puts the food idiots a thousand years behind. People are waking up to this approach and lifestyle in the UK at an ever increasing pace and it’s GREAT. 3 years ago no got us, now our primal lives are admired in growing numbers. Yay!!!

      1. Try training for the one-armed chin up, or good form (no kipping) muscle up, that will reduce your 51 reps back to 1, if lucky.

  1. The “Hannibal” video blows my mind. Has opened up a huge array of new challenges for me -thanks!

  2. Useful info. Thanks!

    FYI – you’ve got Al’s site linked twice.

  3. Very nice way of addressing this topic. Bodyweight and weights MUST be seen through the lense of one’s goals. What do you want to do? Be able to have the utmost control of your body in any position? Be able to move that huge piece of solid oak furniture? Once that has been established, the research must be done and the appropriate path mapped out. I’d like people to understand what strength means. I think they often misunderstand or have a very vague idea. I know this because I was (am) one of those people! What looks strong isn’t always strong, and what you mean by strong may not be Strong. I’d like to see the subtle or not-so-subtle differences addressed and cleared up. My resource for this type of information so far as been StrongFirst and its proponents.

    1. Some more example goal – Be able to do something under load for an extended period of time? Do something explosively? Etc.

  4. Where are all the women in these videos? I’d be really happy and more inspired if I saw some women doing the exercises that for example Al Kavadlo does. Anyone know of any videos?

    1. I thought just the same; there were a few girls watching in both the Hannibal and gymnasticbodies clips! Eye roll!

    2. Do a You Tube search for Zuzka Light. I’ve been doing her workouts since last October (most are body weight-based and also feature plyo moves). Hope that helps.

      1. Zuzka Light has incredibly unbalanced workouts. I used to follow her but being someone who researches a lot about fitness overall and the science behind it, I learned that it is very important to balance out your workouts to avoid injuries. Considering her workouts tend to be full body, they very rarely incorporate a combination of push/pull, core and leg muscles all in one workout and that is a recipe for back pain and injuries. Not to mention she encourages people to push themselves to levels that are both dangerous and without merit because to have a great physique does not mean ending up on the floor from exhaustion. People have to be careful with who they get training advice from because a lot of these internet personalities who do have amazing bodies don’t necessarily know the best or safest way to achieve great results.

        1. Alex ~ I have to agree with you. My post is now several months old. as it turns out, back in July – August, I began to burn out on her ‘push yourself to the limit / keep up the pace’ mentality, along with her workouts. There were weeks when she would focus SO much on lower body, doing jump lunges, jump squats, side jump squats, etc. that I called it quits and ended my Zgym membership. For a few months I exercised intuitively, listening to my body and doing more ballet-style workouts, along with basic strength moves (like pushups, planks, pullups), walking, and yoga. Just this week I began missing the challenging aspects of HIIT, so I’ve begun crafting my own workouts, putting together moves that target the WHOLE body, and going at MY pace – fast and hard enough to get winded & sweat, but without having to conform to someone else’s speed or routine.
          Cheers.

      2. Pheebie I’m not sure if this reply will be in the right order but I couldn’t reply directly to your last post. Anyhow I’m glad to hear more people are finding out that these “Zwows” are not the smartest way to get in shape. I’m glad I never signed up to her Zgym, specially after realizing how much those workouts were lacking. One thing I’ve learned over the last few months is that fitness is most definitely not a one size fits all. A thousand people can’t follow these cookie cutter workouts and expect the same results. I currently do like a couple other internet sites that are free might add, BUT I tailor them to my needs. I take the rest periods/reps/sets that are appropriate for me and sometimes take away exercises if I feel they are too over loaded. And I now make sure that they are well balanced since I do full body workouts. Since you like HIIT I recommend you look into Melissa Bender’s Site. She has a ton of workouts of all kinds, HIIT, weights, body weight etc and they are very well balanced. She’s got the right idea but I don’t rely on someone else’s workouts exclusively, I use them as an aid and then fine tune it. It only took me years to figure that out, go figure:)

        1. Alex – thanks for pointing me in the direction of Melissa Bender’s site. I’ve been browsing through the content and watching some of the videos – lots of great information, tips, and ideas. I literally could spend and entire day perusing health & fitness sites. 🙂

    3. They’re out there… a lot of them in fact. Check out Staci at NerdFitness.com or Danny J at The SweatyBetties.com… or BodyRock.tv (multiple females).

      I also personally know plenty of women who blow me and most guys away in the gym. Don’t let the smaller number of female trainers discourage you.

      BE THE CHANGE! 😉

      1. Thanks guys for all the information! Of course I would have been able to find some of these myself if I’d just put some effort into it. I guess my point is that this site should have been more inclusive in the first place. Not a critique, just a tip to make more women inspired to do these kind of workouts! I’ve just never seen myself as a hunky topless tattooed man… 😛

        1. Agree completely! Loads of muscley dudes was off-putting to me when I began exercising as a chubby woman (nice to look at though ;)). We hold up half the sky.

          But I am absolutely inspired by today’s post. Makes me want to wag work and practice handstand push-ups all day!

        2. Frankly, that was my first thought, too, when I clicked on all the videos and saw all men.

        3. If you hadn’t said it first, I was going to say it. I’m not a spectator, but I’m not a beefy man, either!

        4. To all the women in this post, the caption above simply states that there are some people getting very, very strong doing bodyweight only. The links are to some more prominent sites and trainers. The fact that there are only men in those videos represents the very real statistics that there aren’t many prominent trainers/videos available. I am 100% positive it was not a reflection of Mark’s lack of research or respect for women who do so. In fact, I have seen a TON of articles and info on this site dedicated solely to females. As well, the links we posted in response above show several women whose sites are mostly (or all) geared towards women. But I don’t see many guys posting comments requesting videos of guys be there to inspire them. I have literally done many of the workouts on Danny J’s site and never once thought I would be any more motivated by a male. Maybe that’s just me. I hope one day there are more sites/videos available out there because that will mean the ratio of women instructors/ bloggers/ trainers has improved. Until then, please… be the change you’re looking for.

          This from a guy who teaches only women by the way, at a bootcamp owned by a woman. Also, 3 out of 5 of my own trainers (who train me) are women (and good LORD they are bada$$).

          Happy Health!!

        5. Check out Odelia Goldschmidt, who works with Ido Portal. She is ridiculously strong and moves very well.

    4. I second Zuzka Light, and also DailyHiit (formerly Bodyrock) for lots of videos of women doing mainly bodyweight routines.

    5. You may find what you’re looking for on this site. The woman who owns it used to comment here sometimes. She looks fit and STRONG. Used to be a professional figure skater.
      http://www.lovingfit.com

    6. Look up Adrienne Harvey, she’s part of the team that does the PCC certification (mostly run by Al and his brother). In the PCC vids there’s loads of women 🙂 Other female sources of impressive bodyweight feats :Girls gone strong, Boss Girls etc

    7. Look up Nicki Doane doing the hard variations of Ashtanga yoga. There is a demo on one of here DVDs that is just insane.

    8. This is still a very developing “unstructured” type of “sport”, if you could even call it that – its really a renaissance in the most ancient form of training. If your looking for an “instructor” specific for female needs, they may not really exist, perhaps you could be one of the pioneers, at some point, somebody has to be the first at something right ? Having said that, there are loads of books to get you started, convict conditioning, rough strength notes, the list goes on – the other great thing with the “body weight” journey is learning to be self-reliant – be your own instructor.

  5. This couldnt have come at a better time because just this morning I was thinking I wanted to do just bodyweight work with sprints for 6-12 weeks. Heavy lifts has taken its toll over the past year and I am trying to improve my golf swing. Thanks Mark!

  6. I started Convict Conditioning upon moving to a foriegn country. My foriegn language skills are not up to communicating about gym stuff, and I liked that CC purports to strengthen connective tissue as well as muscle.

    Like Mark said above, I found CC to be a worthy challenge for my upper body, but the only challenge to the lower body so far has been endurance-oriented, trying to do 3 sets of 40 pike squats. Heck, that’s an attention span challenge, too!

    I shall have to add a plyometrics workout just for my legs and see if that helps.

    1. I also did CC. I’ve been doing more weights, but have decided to mix in CC. I think the different movements that make each progression more difficult adds some good stability work along with the strength.

      I don’t understand why you didn’t find the lower-body to be just endurance. Maybe you can crank out pistols (1-legged squats), but I’m not close. That’s still quite the challenge for me.

      1. I find the leg workout relatively easy so far becuase I started at the very beginning like the author recommended. If I started at the level I would find difficult, that would eliminate the chance to strengthen my connective tissue that the author promises.

    2. i was afraid to squat for a long time, did not want to risk back injury. what i did was pistol squats with a 12kg dumb bell in my hand on the squatting leg side to balance out the weight of the lifted leg. used to do 4×12. that drew some looks in the gym 🙂 few of the barbell squatters could do that many. then i started regular barbell squats with low weight (just my bodyweight) but hated it. I have problem with the balance and still afraid to hurt my back. so started to do deep jumpsquats with 10kg dumbbells in each hand, once a week 16×16 as a form of HIIT. was amazed to see how muscular my thighs got. apart fm spitting my lungs out at the end fm exhaustion that is. will keep this routine for a while. did anybody try pushups/pullups as a form of HIIT training? that could be one way of doing more than 1 HIIT session a week. alternate the body parts to avoid overtraining.

  7. Yes, bodyweight excercises and sprinting are the bomb for a nice body. I’ll take the lean, mean, fluid, native culture look, over the muscle bound unnatural look any day of the week. I admit to having an aversion to the bulked up folks. Looks like they spend way too much time on themselves, thinking about themselves. 2-25 minute bodyweight workouts and a sprint session a week will give you unbelievable results without killing yourself with weightlifting.

    1. Nocona, I couldn’t agree more. You’re 100% on the mark with your comment.

    2. Some of the best bods in the business are Aussie Rules players — incredibly fast, and strong without being hypertrophic. Bulky muscles would be useless, and would only slow down a player and make him use too much energy.

      Believe it or not, under all the fat, sumo wrestlers are also incredibly fit. The layers of fat help protect them from injury when they fall; and their big bellies serve to lower their centre of gravity, making it harder for an opponent to move them. Their traditional training regimen consists of body-weight exercises, but some also supplement with weight-training.

      It’s good to lift heavy things, but if that’s all you do…..?

    3. Sounds like my exercise routine. And it works. I’m lean but not that muscular, yet 🙂

  8. I made the transition from weight training to bodyweight training only. I made the switch a few months or so ago and I have seen better results in all areas, include muscle mass itself.
    As you pointed out in the article, there are progressions as well. The average gym rat wouldn’t know this and probably wouldn’t want to look into it either. That’s unfortunate because the benefits are incredible in so many ways.
    I love the fact the there is greater ranges of motion and more muscle is activated, both of which explain the gain in muscle mass I have experienced as never before.
    I also agree with the mention of sprints. Little did I know that long distance jogging was actually hurting me to a certain degree. Now it’s only sprints for me and I love them. They don’t take long and make me feel so much better than a 30 minute jog.
    My only regret is that I did not discover bodyweight training (and sprints) earlier.

  9. There is no reason to be alive if you can’t do deadlift.

    1. hah. I severely need to get back in/in better shape and have just started working on that. Deadlifts are one of my main exercises. They rule. In the past they were amazing for me for packing on strength and muscle when I was dedicated to doing them regularly. Waking up and heading down to the basement within minutes to lift 20 pounds more than my weight 10 times in a row made me feel like a beast. Now I’m nowhere near that.. When spring is here and I’m biking everywhere and camping and spending plenty of time working out when not getting natural exercise through survival tasks, then maybe I’ll be back on my way. In short, that’s my basic plan for this year.

    2. couldn’t agree more. my goal is deadlifitng 2x my bodyweight. currently at 145%

  10. A lot of people (mostly guys) are afraid by moving to bodyweight exercises there gonna lose there size and stength.

    I took 6 months off of all weights and got on a bodyweight kick, retested my 225 bench press max and it had gone up two reps!

    Obviously more advanced bodyweight exercises were used, but you can get strong using bodyweight.

    Best part is you can take them anywhere pull-ups on trees during a hike. Push ups on the grass. Something really great about taking the workout outside!

  11. Im surprised mark doesnt provide more reference to the reduced risk of injury, or even healing abilities, using body weight exercises. This is a big one for me. a couple yrs ago i got biceps tendonitis from using barbells and constantly had shoulder pain during exercise. so i got the book ‘convict conditioning’ and totally changed my workout regimen to use ONLY bodyweight exercises. Since then, my tendonitis has healed(without taking any time off) and gained much more overall flexibility and mobility in my joints. not to mention I have gained alot of overall strength in the process as well(was albe to master the pistol after about 1 yr finally!)
    I dont plan on lifting a weight again any time soon!

  12. Are you familiar with Pure Barre? What do you think about that?

    1. The combination of Pure Barre (or any barre workout) for the lower body and Horizontal Conditioning for the upper body are like a magical bodyweight only combination 🙂

  13. Both Convict Conditioning by Paul Wade and Project: Kratos by Drew Baye are fantastic books. HIT bodyweight exercises are great and I love the freedom to workout wherever I am.

  14. The Beastskills link goes to AlKavadlo. Al is my hero, but I do wanna see the Beastskills!

  15. Bodyweight hands down for me. Especially in the summer. Nothing better than being outside in sun using a tree f

  16. I have been doing gym for 17 years, standard stuff: barbell, dumbbells, machine, etc…
    Since one year I am doing bodyweight exercises (callisthenics, plyometrics and isometrics) at home and in my garage (I could not install the bar in the living room). The progresses I have been making are impressive… no more gym subscriptions for me.

  17. Bodyweight hands down for me. Especially in the summer. Nothing better than being outside in sun using a tree for pull-ups.

    Also I tend to think most Special Ops units in the military have guys in quite great shape. They go through years of training and never see a barbell or dumbbell, yet they are in fantastic shape.

    1. You are seriously out of touch if you believe SpecOps “never see a barbell or dumbell”. Having been in such a unit for over a decade now, lifting iron has always been a mainstay of our conditioning. Yes, we use bodyweight stuff too, pullups sprint interval…and every one in my unit does squats, deadlifts, etc.

      The bangwagon condescending tone here is a little offputting to be honest. Guys talking about how the avg gym rat doesn’t know about bodyweight exercises? Give me a break, most of these muscleheads know more about exercise science than we do. What the choose to do is for their own needs. When their CHOICE is different than yours, it doesn’t mean they are ignorant or ill informed. Try being a little less smug.

      1. I apologize if I came off “smug”. That was not my intention. I do however know in most training and assessment selection courses bodyweight and rucking are the primary means of physical conditioning. I never said anything bad about barbells and dumbbells. I just said they aren’t for me. I use them all the time, especially in the harsh winter like we’ve had recently (I live up north – quite a bit of snow) but I prefer to use bodyweight outside when possible. I don’t think I am out of touch for making a statement of opinion. I know quite of few people in spec ops who use Crossfit, SEALfit and many other condition programs that integrate bars, DBs, KBs, bodyweight, sprinting, etc.

        Maybe you should reread my comment. There was no smugness, nor did I call anyone or anything a “gym rat,” “ignorant” or “ill informed.” I simply stated I prefer bodyweight to barbell and dumbbell exercises. There is nothing wrong with an opinion.

        If you truly are in the service you have my gratitude for serving our country. Thank you. However, I don’t think you need to read too much into a simple statement.

        1. Relax. He didn’t just mean your comment. There was another comment that mentioned gym rats not being in-the-know about bodyweight exercises. Your comment is not smug. Carry-on and eat more Kale.

  18. My perspective is that of a middle-aged non-athletic woman, and I tried a lot of things, but heavy weight lifting is what I find the most effective. I am pair-shaped, and I did not start doing weights beyond the Buns of Steel till my thirties, but I always did cardio before, and was skinny-fat.

    Body weight training to get to advanced levels requires level of coordination, flexibility and athletic prowess that I can’t achieve, and in fact all my many injuries came from trying to do dynamic fast non-weighted exercise. I ripped my knee playing soccer, then doing double unders, then digging. I stressed my bunions to the point of not being able to walk running. When I try to spring my knees feel unstable. I broke two toes and sprang an ankle when I was doing high knee jumps on an exercise mat.

    Weight training with barbell is very easy, and is done at a slow pace. The worst injury I sustained was a painful wrist and I corrected it by adjusting my grip on the bench.

    Muscle-wise, I have only seen visible muscular increase when doing heavy weights training. Shred workouts with light weights and high intensity divested me of the upper body and left my ample hips the same.

    So, for a mature untrained woman without much athletic achievement behind her and with a pronounced pear-shaped divide, I recommend heavy lifting, particular if upper body strength/growth is the goal.

    1. Hi Leida,

      I am not a physician nor a fitness expert, but to me it sounds like your joints and connective tissues are not suited for the loads you’ve been providing them. In terms of muscular strength and mass, weight training is very useful and provides all of the benefits of resistance training that I’m sure you’ve taken the time to acquaint yourself with. I don’t recommend stopping if you’re enjoying the benefits, but I invite you to try some of the connective tissue/joint repair, rehab & conditioning available on gymnasticbodies.com. I believe it will help you feel more capable in terms of your flexibility and mobile strength than you may feel are not possible for you, from the sound of your comment.

      Most individuals are not aware of the amount of time it takes to strengthen the connective tissue and joints alongside the musculature (nor the importance of it, sometimes), and this, alongside mobility work, are largely responsible for injury prevention, especially of the
      nature you’ve mentioned.

      I believe anyone can enjoy an athletic, functional physique, complete with flexibility, mobility and strength. I am a year late in my reply, but I wish you all the best in the future!

  19. Been lifting for almost 40 years, and I now see a convergence near. Two curves, one is my strength, no longer rising, but declining slowly (to be expected). The other is my joint health, steadily declining (to be expected). Where the two curves cross is where permanent injury occurs. Bodyweight vs. free weights doesn’t make a difference in this. If you do heavy bench, or you do one-armed incline pushups, the laws of physics and biology on those poorly “vasculated” joint parts still apply.

  20. I’m working on getting over an old knee injury so I can finally do more about getting fit again. Steadily working on the plank, pullups and pushups, but every time I do a full squat or use machines to try to work legs, I get sharp pain in the injured knee.
    Anyone know of an alternative to squats I could try until my knee is better?

    1. Straight leg raises with an ankle weight. Start at 100 reps at 2 lbs and gradually work your way up to 150 reps with 10 lbs. Raise the leg no more than 8 inches while keeping the other leg bent 90 degrees. Do them with the toe point straight up and pulled toward your torso (don’t “point” your toe), and then incorporate 150 reps of raises with the toe pointed to the side at a 45 degree angle.

      Worked for me.

      -Joe

    2. you can still do squats just do easier versions and work your way up. Start with a 1/2 squat or assisted squat or something that reduces your range of motion or takes load off the knee. This will allow the ligaments and connective tissues in your joint to build up along with the muscle. this is where weightlifting loses out, people tend to jump in and lift as much weight as possible as quickly as possible without building up their joints and then injure themselves.
      i would recommend the book ‘convict conditioning’ for some great progressions in squatting.

      1. thank you so much. this makes sense to me. strong ligaments and tendons need to be addressed, and this sounds like a great possibility. thanks to joe also for leg lift suggestions.

        1. Kay, I just returned from the amazing PrimalCon Tulum and learned a ton of great information to advance me out of my fitness rut. Coming off bilateral hand surgery for carpal tunnel, most of the bodyweight exercises were not possible for me right now. However, I did realize I needed to work alot harder on my leg strength. Right now, the attempts at sprints were met with right medial (inner) knee pain, which also stopped me with deep squats. Now that I’m home, I decided to have a local orthopedic surgeon check it out. Plain xrays showed little in the way of knee degeneration but he did order a knee MRI. I hurt my right knee doing a breaststroke kick variation with a sidestroke swim back in college 30 years ago. Lo and behold, this is a mechanism for a condition called Pes Anserine Bursitis, which you can look up. I was given some stretching exercises and waiting for the MRI in a couple days. The information I was given by my physician indicates that it is best prevented by a proper warmup that includes stretching of the hamstring muscles, the inner thigh muscles, and the top thigh muscles. Gradually increasing activity level, rather than doing everything at once, will also help prevent its development.

          Hopefully by PrimalCon Oxnard I will overcome this condition and be in much better shape to advance the activities without pain. Hope this helps.

        2. Half-squats work the quads, but do not engage the posterior chain muscles (emphasis on Hammies & Glutes). This movement can ultimately result in a strength imbalance which actually leaves the knees more vulnerable to further injury.

          I would recommend any exercises that you can perform comfortably which target the quads, hamstrings and glutes, along with body weight squats to parallel as soon as practical.

          Caveat emptor: I am not a professional, and I offer this recommendation without knowing which type of knee injury you are dealing with.

          Best of luck to you Kay.

        3. When you squat, remember to keep your centre of gravity over your heels all the way down and all the way back up. Let your hips do all the work. A lot of people complain about knee pain because they let their centre of gravity drift forward and their knees end up working too hard.

          There’s a free tutorial on my blog for some lower body exercises that are awesome yet overlooked by conventional fitness. (Some judo and jiujutsu people know about them, but, like fishermen, don’t share their secrets.)

    3. Suggestion: read the book “how to become a supple leopard” by Kelly Starret. Detailed explanation on how to do squats in a safe way

      1. thanks to all for the helpful comments. my knee injury is an old one more than 20 yrs ago but rarely bothered me even when I used to run marathons. it seems to give pain in the tendon/ligament at the top and bottom of the kneecap and only hurts on and off when I am on stairs or trying to do squats.
        I will check out the books and links, and take my time getting my fitness back this time.
        Dana, thanks to you as well, I never did have an xray or mri, it may be worth doing even now, to get more info.

  21. Anyone who is trying advanced bodyweight exercises, and not ready for it or in shape, will certainly run the risk of injury. However, slow progressions from the basics will most likely decrease the risk of injury in comparison to weight workouts.

  22. Spot on.

    I doubt if Grok was spending 90 minutes at the gym each day pumping iron. If he was he would be eaten a long time ago by a lion because he didn’t have the endurance and agility to run away and climb up some rocks or something.

    As a former gymnast, I’ve always wondered why people spent so much time in a weight room doing repetitive motion exercises (curls and whatnot). What are people doing it for? Most of these people usually don’t even do a sport outside of the gym (think classic gym rat with the pencil legs) and if they are, the added muscle (bulk) is adding to their bodyweight to strength ratio, which in many cases doesn’t improve athletic performance. Ok, maybe if you’re competing in weight lifting or are a linebacker, which most of us aren’t.

    I’m not saying some gym work doesn’t help, but people would be better off (saved money, more fresh air, etc) by going to the local park or wherever (think movnat) and simple moving your body.

    1. Functional fitness. Train in order to be able to play without injury….

    2. I totally agree! It seems to me that the logical reason for exercising your body is because… you want to be able to move with ease in the real world. So what exactly does lifting weights or working out on machines prepare you for? What, other than aesthetics, does bulk get you? Certainly not agility or flexibility.

      My own personal “aha” moment came while watching the movie Avatar. Isn’t that the kind of creature we are meant to be – that can move fluidly with strength and agility and dare I say joy? Those creatures are having FUN as they move because that movement is just so fundamental to the way they are in the world. They can explode with speed if they need to, or sit still and silent and receptive. That’s so much more useful than a six-pack.

      Seems the movenat method is all about this. Personally I combine yoga and trail running, but maybe I’ll give movenat a try one of these days.

  23. Upper bodyweight movements are easy. As soon as you have progressed to weighted pushups, pullups and rows for 10+ reps you should have the upper body you’ve always wanted.

    As the article states, it’s very hard to target the lower body and many people who only do bodyweight training for their legs are, IMO, leaving a lot on the table. I’d go as far to say that – outside of the genetically gifted – it is very hard to build an impressive set of legs using only your bodyweight.

    The good news is that you don’t need weighted squats and deadlifts to create a set of wheels. Even if you are immobile and/or previously injured, you can still use movements like split squats, hip thrusts, hyperextensions, and glute-ham raises that are very safe and allow for weighted progression.

    A great article on 21 Safe Exercises:

    http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/most_recent/21_exercises_for_injury_free_mass

    1. I dont really agree with this. You can build an extremely beefy set of legs doing pistol squats, you just have to be motivated and very self-disciplined about keeping proper form and pushing yourself.
      I have never done any kind of weighted exercise for my lower legs. I love to bike and have conquered the pistol after working at it for a while now, and I do believe my legs would give any gym rat who squats a ton a run for his money 🙂
      I have done some of the exercises you list in the last paragraph, which are also bodyweight exercises btw

      1. I agree that pistol squats are pretty darn awesome and those lifts I mentioned can, no doubt, be done with bodyweight. There are also studies that untrained individuals using 30% of 1RM to failure are able to put on just as much muscle mass as those using 80% of 1RM.

        My main contention with doing bodyweight pistols and even heavy barbell squats is not that you can’t build a beefy set of legs with them, but rather that you mainly build a beefy set of quads with them. Research shows that these movements do not put tension on the glutes/hamstrings through a full range of motion and, as a sprinter, these muscles are highly valuable and extremely hard to train heavy (even 30% 1RM) without the use of an external load.

      1. i don’t know much about sumo training but i assume that lower body was developed lifting the adversary’s body too (and not without resistance fm that side), and those guys are pretty heavy 🙂

        1. Good observations.

          A lot of wrestlers start out pretty average-sized. Although there are minimum height and weight requirements, there are no weight categories as in Greco-Roman wrestling and Judo. The smaller wrestlers — who are much more interesting to watch, because they are faster, more agile, and able to use many different techniques — usually fail to progress after a certain point.

          The guy in the photo was one of the exceptions, reaching the Grand Champion level despite being shorter and lighter than most (AND struggling with a bad shoulder throughout his career).

          Traditionally, wrestlers lifted heavy things such as large sacks of rice. These days they use barbells, but from what I’ve seen, their lifting is more of an afterthought. Pushing/sliding drills with a partner play an important role in their training, but they don’t routinely lift their opponents, although there are winning techniques that involve lifting. A wrestler wouldn’t typically use a lifting technique until after he had broken his opponent’s balance, and was already driving him out of the ring. The lift just finishes him off, as it were.

          However…..if you were to ask a wrestler what the secret of his strength, power, and success was, he would tell you it was mostly due to “shiko”, the infamous Sumo Stomp. Wrestlers perform hundreds of stomps a day to develop strength, flexibility and balance. The stomp is the mental and physical foundation of Sumo conditioning.

          This is what a sumo wrestler looks like under the layers of fat:

          http://www.leonishiki.com/sumo/images/Chiyonofuji.JPG

          Same wrestler as in the previous super-glutes shot, but earlier on in his career.

  24. Mark,
    What do suggest for people like me? I have had multiple right shoulder surgeries including distal clavicle resection, and RC repairs due extensive damage to supraspinatus, subscapularis, infraspinatus, and torn bicep. Hard to do a pushup, and at this point, can do pullups. Any guidance would be appreciated.

    1. I am not Mark, but I do have some input. I had Rt Shoulder Surgery, and battle tendonitis in both shoulders and elbows. I get inflammation in these areas at the drop of a hat. If I do 2 or 3 dips on the parallel bars, I am out for a week or two. So, I started doing isometric holds on parallel bars and rings. I can do this with out aggravating my susceptible joints. And I am getting stronger. Try L-Sits, tucked front levers, frog stands, etc. I realize your situation is more severe than mine, but this has been working great for me. Best of luck.

      1. I also have had some serious issues with my right shoulder. I have found Pilates a great help in improving posture and getting those shoulder blades back into socket. I do a lot of band exercises with huge emphasis on posture whilst doing them. Also Pilates is great for core exercises, balance, flexibilty and maintaining long lean flexible muscles which are much less likely to get injured than the short tight muscles I used to develop with weights. Functional exercise is the way to go.

        1. Functional exercises can include weights, as well. For example, Turkish Get Ups with a kettlebell are great for rehabbing shoulders, and I think LCDR would greatly benefit from those.

        2. Agree fully about kettlebells. Once they are done with correct posture and form they are good. If the shoulders have become rounded you need specific exercises to get the blades back into the correct position. This is where Pilates and other forms of postural correction exercises really help. Unless this is addressed the injuries just keep reoccurring.

  25. I think the most impressively strong person I’ve ever known was a yoga teacher I had the fortune of briefly studying under. He demonstrated once for us just how strong yoga can be. Impressive! Then he made us stand in mountain for 15 minutes…

  26. I was not string enough for most body weight exercises so I went with barbells. I love how quantifiable they are.

  27. I’m thinking about buying a suspension trainer and quitting my gym. I’ve been looking at the TRX system (and its knockoff, the MOSS 3000) and the Jungle Gym TX. In the past, I have tried using Mark Lauren’s regimen (YAYOG), but quickly realized I didn’t have the correct set up at home to perform many of the exercises without equipment. Does anyone have any insight about whether suspension trainers are effective or about which trainer to buy?

    1. A suspension trainer is several notches down my list.

      If you have the room, an Olympic bar and weight set will do far more for your physique and will scale up as you get stronger. A suspension trainer will not.

      If room is tight, a pair of adjustable dumbbells like the Powerblock Urethane series can start small and relatively inexpensive and be scaled up as you get stronger.

      If the budget won’t allow for that, then bodyweight exercises plus a suspension trainer are an effective combo. Not ideal, but certainly sufficient for a novice trainer to improve and an intermediate trainer to maintain their strength.

      I’ve not tried the cheaper suspension trainers. There are quite a few if you search on Amazon and ebay. Watch out for build quality and read the reviews of other users. Uncomfortable handles will dissuade you from using your trainer. Cheap components with poor stitching could actually endanger you.

      Choose carefully and be well!

      Ben Fury

        1. Jungle Gym XT looks good. The WOSS 3000 equalizer also has great reviews and is less than half the price.

        2. I looked at the WOSS 3000. I decided to pay a little more for the Jungle Gym XT because of the design of the handles/foot cradles.

  28. Great Article,

    I am a big proponent of using body weight for training. I have gotten some great results by training bodyweight that i would have never received with weights.
    Increasing my: balance, flexibility, mobility, proprioception, joint stabilization. But most important its lots of fun.

    Another great website i recommend you check out is http://www.goldmedalbodies.com.

    They have great tutorials and programs to help you get started or go deeper with learning bodyweight skillls.

    Have a good day,

    Daniel

  29. The key for me is to do them really slowly until complete muscle failure. For me this is high intensity and my HR goes upwards of 80%. Routine takes about 15 minutes. I cannot say this builds lots of bulk, however – I’m 47 and don’t want to be big; just fit, lean with good core strength and this method works very well for that.

    1. I realise your comment here is over 3 years old Andy, but I was wondering if you saw this, if you could share what you do for your 15min workout? Particularly lower body? I have a 15min lower body workout, but I’m so damned impatient that I find it really difficult to do it as slowly and as carefully as I know I should…. but I think some of that is boredom with it.

  30. Great article.
    The best workouts I get now are body weight based as they can always be adapted with adding in some weight with dumbbells, weighted vests etc and there are almost infinite hand positions you can do in chin ups or dips to always change the muscle stimulation.
    One only has to look at the gymnasts to see the effects of body weight exercises

  31. If someone had suggested this to me two years ago I’d have been skeptical. I spent six months last year doing nothing but bodyweight training, and more recently do something similar to what Mark suggests combining bodyweight and free weight movements and it’s working better than I would have expected.

    Currently alternating between these two, using a bodyweight station I designed with bars for push ups, rowing, dipping, chin ups, and a variety of pull ups, and a step and pad for leg exercises:

    A.

    1. Bodyweight Knee Flexion (hanging from rowing bars, ankles over pad)
    2. Bodyweight Knee Extension (supported on push up bars, shins over pad)
    3. Dumbbell Squat
    4. Chin-up
    5. Push-up
    6. Row
    7. Pike Push-up OR Dumbbell Press
    8. Dumbbell Crunch
    9. Manually-resisted Neck Extension
    10. Manually-resisted Neck Flexion
    11. Gripping

    B.

    1. One-leg Squat
    2. Dumbbell Stiff-leg Deadlift
    3. Dip
    4. Parallel-grip Pull-up
    5. Incline Dumbbell Press
    6. Yates Row (underhand grip)
    7. One-leg Heel Raise
    8. Hanging Leg Raise
    9. Dumbbell Wrist Curl
    10. Dumbbell Wrist Extension

  32. I’ve been doing ‘convict conditioning’ for about a year now and it has been very good for me. I’ve improved my strength and have toned up very well without a lot of bulk. I highly recommend both books to anyone that wants functional strength without having to go to a gym. The only piece of equipment required is a pullup bar which is another bonus of the program, I can workout while I am on vacation even when the hotel has no gym.

  33. I have seen it mentioned a few times, but ill say again the the Convict Conditioning system( book 1 & 2) by Paul wade has been plenty challenging. I have been working my way through the big 4 since last july and have seen major gains in strength and flexibility but also have leaned out a great deal. As well doing bodyweight exercises, and doing them properly, amour proofs your body against injuries as your body has to move as a whole unit as opposed to bodybuilding type moves that isolate a certain body part.The Naked Warrior by Pavel is also a good resource for bodyweight mechanics as it focuses on the squat and the pushup.

    I have also added in the Program Minimum 2.0 from Pavel’s Simple and Sinister kettlebell program. Anything by him is gold and the newer stuff is pure minimalist in its approach as all the fat is trimmed away and u left with simple, basic, and less effort and time for big gains in strength and conditioning. Good gains less injury and you able to keep same routine for a long time, all this in 30 min a day.

  34. I didn’t see it mentioned here, but Pavel Tsatsouline’s Naked Warrior is a great resource as well. This book addresses the issue of getting high resistance workouts with body weight only.

    I know Pavel is a controversial figure (many have developed a deep hate for him) but his approach has always worked for me. If you disregard all the “Secret Russian technique” non-sense in his books and videos, there really is a lot of great material in them.

    Ido Portal’s stuff is also great.

  35. I like bodyweight training because it’s so easy to fit in anywhere in any time that’s available. I’ve taken up yoga and find it much more challenging than it looks. The bodyweight parts of yoga can be very difficult. I’m 50 years old now and I feel that if I can one day be on top of these yoga poses, I’ll be quite fit indeed.

    Thanks for the interesting and thought-provoking article.

  36. Try P90X; good combo of single hand weights and body weight exercises. A lot of variety, too, and a good nutrition guide. Tony Horton is humorous, as well. I like how you can do it at home with a dvd player.

    1. Come to think of it, Mark had something to do with the nutrition guide for P90X and that is how I found him in the first place.

  37. Gah! The use of the word “results” is killing me!! If you don’t define “results” before you start, ANYTHING you notice at the end is a “result”. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, ANY path will get you there. Everything must be understood in its Context. Bodyweight or free-weight, they’re both good depending on what you want.

    And if you get hurt doing something, it’s either because the exercise was crap in the first place, some gimmick someone made up, or you’re doing something wrong, in which case you need to seek out the professionals. (Or you had a pre-existing condition). Don’t judge something by your own crappy standards.

    And who cares what Grok would do? (Sorry Mark.) Do you choose to look at it that way? Ok, but don’t knock the people who are kicking butt at something Grok wouldn’t do.

    Ah, mini-rant over. Really, no offense meant to anyone. I’m just very passionate about understanding things correctly.

  38. I’m still asking myself that question. I can do pushups and pullups with my full body weight which is a pretty good work out for me. I also leg press 450 lbs and wonder how I can translate that to bodyweight exercises. Squats with just my bodyweight does nothing for me as a lot of other lower bodyweight exercises.

    1. Look at the bottom of Mark’s post where he talks about a fusion approach. Incorporate dumbbell or barbell work (like goblet squats for instance). The free weight will require greater balance that the leg press machine.

      1. …and probably less weight! Thanks, Joe I will try it once a get a workout partner. I can’t trust myself to do that on my own.

    2. The irony for me, the gym is actually easier. I am very heat intolerant so being out in the sun (even the Portland summer sun) is too much. I also don’t have space for “equipment” at home though I will invest in kettlebells.

      1. Even at the gym you’ll have someone that can help you perfect your goblet squat form and you can use kettlebells or dumbbells for that (at gym or home). Good luck, go slow and perfect the form before adding too much weight. 🙂

    3. Have you tried the pistol squat? That requires a great deal of strength as well as balance and flexibility, and works every muscle in your leg including the smaller muscles that weighted squats may not hit due to the balance required. If that gets easy, you can try doing it with your hands behind your head, spring out into a box jump, etc. al kavadlo does some incredibly difficult variations of the pistol which would challenge anyone imho

    4. If you can leg press 450, you are beyond the limits of body weight training being of much use to you for lower body strength improvements. Buy or get access to an Olympic weight set. Ditch the leg press and learn to dead lift, squat, and overhead press with great form. Check out Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength videos for great form tips. You don’t need a partner for dead lifting or overhead press. You can do without one for squatting if you have a lifting cage with the safety rails set properly and learn to bail out of failed lifts correctly. Still, it’s always best to do potentially dangerous lifts like squats and bench press with a partner. Even if they screw up and don’t catch the bar, at least there’s someone there to pull the bar off you and call 911 in a worst case scenario. (translation: choose someone mature and attentive with good powers of concentration for your workout partner. A missed or partial spot can be worse than no spot at all.)

      Don’t sell the dead lift short though. You can do it with just a bar, weights, and some padding on the ground to make sure you don’t break your flooring. And the strain on the entire body from the dead lift is unmatched by any other exercise including the squat.

      Body weight training is always useful for other things beside strength like balance, coordination, change of direction, range of motion, stretch shortening cycle improvements, etc. But for optimum lower body strength, barbells are the cheapest solution that are also fully effective..

      Be well,
      Ben Fury

      1. Hi Ben,

        I do squats without a cage and dead lifts – both with weights but no overhead presses due to poor balance (from a chronic illness) and the fact that I don’t have a partner. I know I will have to start really slow and low for overhead presses. I do everything at the gym because I really don’t have space at home for any equipment. I do a fair amount of upper body body weight exercises to help with coordination.

        I will check out Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength videos!

        Thanks!!

        1. legpresses can not be compared to squats. they are a completely different exercise. isolated. leading to unbalanced strength. i know a guy who can legpress a ton but can barely squat his own bodyweight. i would not recommend them to anybody. waste of time.

  39. If folks want a really complete guide to bodyweight exercises, graded by difficulty, with illustrations depicting which muscles are being used, they should consider getting Bret Contreras’s book: Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy (ISBN 978-1-4504-2929-0).

    If you’re just getting started, stick with the 4 Primal movements and master them, then move on to Contreras’ book for more ideas.

    Just a recommendation.

  40. One word and its not “rosebud” KETTELBELLS. Functional fitness folks. and don’t forget according to MARKS DAILEY APPLE and i think its true, 80% of what you see in the mirror is controlled buy what you put in your mouth! There is room for all of this. results will follow the ability to play with it.

  41. So annoying when these videos won’t play on iPad. At least I can watch Al….

  42. Hannibal rocks as do many other people going natural, no ‘roids, no space age exercise equipment, just pure, refined, functional strength at insane levels. Gave up the formal gym and dead weight scene a couple of decades ago and have never looked back. Where ever I am is my gym and improvement is a common occurrence. My joints feel good, I feel good, and the only membership fee I pay is dedication and sweat.

  43. I think Mark had it in his summary: mainly bodyweight movements for all the excellent reasons he listed supplemented by some weight lifting, especially for the lower body.

    and I also think things like tire-flipping and sled dragging and pulling are non-bodyweight exercises that are highly functional.

    @Tom – I’ve had good results with the Fix My Shoulder program from Rick Kasejl at ExerciseForInjuries.net It took a while, but that program has worked better than other rehab programs and therapy I’ve tried. I still get go a Turkish Getup with any signficant weight but at least I’m making progress

  44. I am a fairly heavy big guy. Probably 115kg ( around 240lbs or something ) I’m 6’2 so pretty tall. I’m quite muscular and have good endurance. I also started doing sprints by using a cross trainer/row machine etc..anything that is low/no impact. I usually do 1min all out, 1 min rest. Sometimes 30sec all out/1min rest and various combinations of the above for 20 mins. Sometimes 25 with 5 min warm up. I never do steady cardio. Am I overdoing it? I do as much body weight excercises as I can but weighing almost 250lbs doesn’t allow me much upper body lifting as i simply cant lift myself up more than 5-6 times 🙁 and my legs are way to strong and big for air squats or similar ( 7 years of basket ball ). I’m not super interested in having 7% body fat. 10-15 would be nice. I train 4 times a week. Almost never longer than one hour and it almost always includes cross trainer sprints…I am getting stronger using barbells but trying lifting myself up and I feel like a fat little girl….what could I try?

    1. I’d like to add that i am not overweight. just quite muscular, broad with quite massive quads and glutes. probably where half of my weight sits and im happy with being big…i just think if i actually manage to grow enough strength to lift myself up 15 times my biceps will be the size of tree trunks…i already have problems with clothes! 🙂

      1. oops sorry, the above is from Jacob, not jake ( different PC remembered different nick names )

  45. That’s why I love Pilates. Forget the reformer, even, Just do Pilates on a mat. Killer, versatile workout.

  46. Hey ladies,
    Don’t forget that Pole Dancing is the ultimate form of body weight training. You are carrying your body weight on your arms as you lift and spin around a pole. Plus you are aiming to turn these exercises into a beautiful piece of movement artistry. Initially it’s not easy to do but it is amazing how you can increase your upper body and core strength in particular. Most studios will also incorporate leg exercises into their conditioning and dance routines so that your legs also get a great workout. In addition you need to work on your flexibility. The overall body type that pole dancers develop is very toned, lean and with lovely long lines.
    Ultimately we are trying to create very aesthetic lines and movements on a vertical apparatus.
    Give it a go!!

  47. @jacob
    Try the one-leg squats from convict conditioning, they should give you plenty of challenge for a while.

    1. @Nikko, I already do Bulgarian split one leg squats but i have been doing them in a smith machine for balance ( or lack thereof ). After reading this article I tried doing them just with a bench and heavy dumbells…suddenly it got harder since I had to balance at the same time but obviously the weight had to drop – first because of the balancing, second I can only hold so heavy dumbells – the grip gives up before my legs do…obviously my lower body is way stronger than my upper . It’s like a cardio session by itself! One leg squats means lifting one leg in front of the other and just squat on one leg? I might try that….i think i tried that once but my knee hurt so i stopped. my body telling me not to do them? or me doing them incorrectly? I often close my eyes when lifting just trying to feel the muscles and if it hurts or not and try to get my form like that rather than looking in the mirror. Has worked so far. Knees seem to be doing fine and I can deep squat…I can’t figure out where such a lift ( one leg lsquat ) would be natural for Grok? ( Bulgarian split squat would probably be equivalent to Grok, let’s say, standing on a log, stepping forward with one leg to lift something that is below and at a certain distance from the log ? – I’m just trying to get away from any unnatural moves I’ve been performing at the gym for years )

      1. I forgot to mention there are several steps before you should be doing 1 leg squats. I’m on step 7 and it’s quite a challenge in terms of balance and strength. You can see an example in this youtube video:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2LiVcJlOJ8

        They have certainly improved my ability when doing stair sprints and i find it very easy to stand from a sitting position using just my legs. The author points out that mobility in the legs is far important than just strength alone, which really makes a lot of sense.

  48. I was doing calisthenics for many years with okay results. I was mainly adding endless reps to hindu push-ups and squats. When I discovered Mark’s Primal Fitness program and started adding progressive harder exercises, things started changing. Later I moved onto Convict Conditioning.

    Gained 20lbs of muscle in 12 months. Really transformed my strength.

    I love calisthenics mainly because I can do them outside in the woods. I use pine trees for pull-up bars.. Doesn’t matter how cold it is. -20oC. No problem. Actually I prefer the winter. It’s better than the rainy seasons.

  49. While I enjoy (some) body weight exercises, I really prefer to get in the gym and lift weights. I generally see faster results with time in the gym, whether it is immediate weight gain or a more toned physique… but that’s just me 🙂

  50. Sarah Thompson, just posted a pole strength video and couldn’t agree more about pole fitness as the finest conditioning I’ve ever sweated through!

  51. I’m 41 and my exercise routines consist almost entirely of bodyweight calisthenics, plyometrics, and yoga, with a kettlebell day mixed in, and I’ve never been stronger. Not only are they more fun to me than lifting, but I can do them anywhere…in the house in the winter, in the park in the summer, on the beach when I’m taking some R&R. I do believe this is how humans are genetically designed to train, and I can run rings around most guys half my age.

  52. Yes– I agree about the benefits of body weight exercises for fitness. My chosen method is yoga and I’ve seen my core strength improve incredibly– with planks, handstands , arm balances, etc. And it improves my overall fitness level, so when I choose to go play outdoors, running , biking , skiing… I have a good starting point and perform well even if it’s been a while…

  53. Well, am not good at practicing regular exercise and I want to make it a habit. All the tips you’re sharing here will for sure help me out one day, when I start it 😉

    P.S: Will reconsider my intentions to start a regular exercise.

  54. I don’t agree with inferior lower body development using just bodyweight. If you perform slower reps of squats and stay in hard position for a few seconds, or perform pistols this way…you are extremely advanced and the load of let’s say 80kg for one limb using slow reps and manipulating range of motion and timing…most won’t even achieve one rep of that:-) Also, Bret Contreras says he struggles to do 20 reps of one leg calf raise, and if you again manipulated the timing, it would be even harder. Project Kratos by Drew Baye describes these options in detail.

    1. Plyometrics such as box jump and broad jump are quite effective, too, at developing strength and mass on the lower body, and at the same time agility.
      An intense session of uphill sprints can kill your legs way more than a session of squat at the gym (and without hurting the back and the neck).
      One other interesting exercise is the duck walk. Try it for 10 minutes in a row without pause and you’ll discover dozens of new ways to swear 😀

    2. The unilateral squat AKA “pistol” can be made much harder if you slow the movement down, avoid locking out at the top, hold the bottom position for a few seconds (the real bottom, hip crease below the top of the knee) and especially if you slow the starts way down so you barely move for the first few inches.

      I suspect a lot of people underestimate how difficult bodyweight exercises can be because they perform them as poorly and inefficiently as they do weighted exercises.

      1. I’d like to see one of those “kings of the bench” I used to meet in the gym, do one set of one-arm push-up. Or maybe just one rep. Keep some kleenex at reach in case of epistaxis.

        1. That was funny after I looked up epistaxis (for those too lazy to do that, it means a nosebleed).

        2. “King of the bench” in a local gym is different from a professional who bench presses 1,000 pounds.

  55. I do bodyweight training for nearly a year (I use the “You are your own gym app by Mark Lauren). Slowly I can see results. In combination with a paleo lifestyle for nearly half a year the results start to show up 🙂

    I was always afraid of going to a gym and lifting weight. Also the memberships in Germany are not that cheap and the next gym is a couple of kilometers away.
    With the bodyweight training I do not have to leave the house (and my daughter can climb on me while doing pushups :-)).

  56. I’ve been following the “Convict Conditioning” program for about 8 months now and it’s AWESOME. I have more muscle than ever (still not ripped) and I’m stronger. Plus I save a ton of money on going to the gym. Highly recommended!

  57. I went from having some fun grappling in a basement, to doing a “gym program”, getting tired of it and getting my first kettlebell and training only with that.
    Now 2 years later I make my own programs (change programs every 4-8 weeks). These blocks consist of BW only, or KB with some BW, or a mix of BW, KB and BB deadlifts + loaded carries…I’ll be 36 this year and I would kick my 20-25 year old self’s butt in pretty much any way imaginable 🙂
    Unlike most people I did not do any sports or activities before I was 32 now (which is why people I only meet sporadically tend to be super suprised to see the change from 120KG couch patatoe to 105KG of mostly muscle :p (ah won’t lie, still over 20% BF)

  58. Great article! Love BW movements. After years of struggling with the HS, I am finaly at the age of 52 able to hold one for about 5 seconds. What really helped me was following Chris Salvato’s 28 day HS challenge. It is the best program out there to showing how to hold your HS. I highly reccommend anybody trying to to get their HS to check it out.

  59. Loved this!! Great post Mark. I agree with your summation.

    Personally I have a preference for bodyweight work (chins, dips, rows, L-sits and pushups). It just feels more useful and I also find it more impressive as a feat in others. However, I also include some full-body weighted work with clean and presses, deadlifts and the like.

    All of that is topped off with a little stretching, mobility work and also some sprints 1 to 2 times per week.

    I have found that simpler and more minimalist is better for me with my workouts. I enjoy this approach more and what could be more minimalist than working out with your own body as the weight?

  60. Bodyweight exercises generally are a lot more interesting and more rewarding to perform. Better mind-body connection. Check out my crew. We do body weight workouts all the time in my backyard!

    http://youtu.be/aaz_mT4JCGs

  61. After reading the comments describing various exercises and routines (body-weight or otherwise), I have to wonder what a paleo person — or a modern day “primitive” person — would think. I think they would run away as fast as they could, thinking we were all suffering from a form of mass insanity or demonic possession! 🙂

  62. OH my!!!! All these videos are amazing, makes me wish I was that limber, fit, etc but here I am sitting wishing to be outside on a walk. I think I will BAM turn it up a notch so that I can have a stronger core as well as less giggly stuff as I walk, run, sprint and play.

  63. Go down the gym for 6 months and you think you’re doing great. Go out into the garden and dig up a tree (roots and all) and you’ll wake up aching with muscles you didn’t know you had. Has taken me a long time to realise that weight training is good but very focused on certain muscle groups and doesn’t involve a lot of natural body movements. Have done yoga and that is far harder than pressing weights. Have tried all sorts of exercise regimes and just taken up boxing – main conclusion: they all overlap with basic exercises i.e. strengthen your legs, arms and core. How’s it done? Press ups, squats, sprints, plank, stretches

  64. i do mostly bodyweight and little else. weighted pullups, weighted dips, weighted jumpsquats, handstand pushups and deadlift. never dreamed about having the body and stamina this routine gave me. functional fitness nonplusultra. i came to consider isolated bodypart training useless. i don’t use my bodyparts in isolation in real life, so what would be the point?

  65. I have never seen any evidence that a skinny person got big muscles using bodyweight exercises alone. In fact, I’ve rarely seen anyone who was skinny and then built an impressive physique with weight training. We only ever see these people after the physique was built. What about before? In my experience the people who “build” impressive physiques were never skinny, but usually overweight. They had a decent frame underneath the flab to work with and hone/build.
    I don’t believe in the carte blanche, “use resistance training and build muscles”. It doesn’t work like that. If it did, we would see many more folks walking around with big muscles who lift weights, but we don’t. I would say less than 1% of people who practice resistance training build decent physiques. Look around your gym the next time you are there. Just my observations over many years in the fitness industry.

    1. Rudolf, lots of truth to that article based on what I’ve experienced and learned over the years.

      I focus on bodyweight exercises and sprints. I’ll never bother with gym machines or cardio machines ever again. Waste of time. Period.

  66. Nice article. It’s amazing how the real strong kids are always gymnasts. They can do what the rest of us can, but not always the other way around.

    1. You’re right Ryan. It’s part of why I have shifted over to a bodyweight workout routine. What they have is real strength, and the muscles to go along with it.

  67. calisthenics are highly respected, but I think you can’t achieve like a 60 Inch Box Squat Jump just with bodyweight exercices.

    1. Yes John, I agree. Legs definitely benefit from including weight work too.

  68. Instead of weights for the legs try glute ham raises, pistol squats, single calf raises and sprinting.

  69. I prefer a mix of bodyweight and weighted exercises. I love body weight stuff, there is really nothing like it. But I won’t ever NOT do weighted exercises, I think it gives my program the mix that it needs.

  70. I have changed my training to more bodyweights with very limited weight lifting. With my back injury it makes more sense (self proclaimed survivalist) that my body be more proportional then it was before. I, like most others, hit the bench too much which threw me out of line. Ever since I switched to more bodyweights I have evened out and strengthened my back considerable. I still would like to use weights for lower body and the occasionally bench but body weights allows me more range of motion.

    As long as people are being physically active there is no wrong way to train 9not including form in that).

  71. great post . Body weight exercises define how we do exercises as per the law of physics. done correctly they are most effective.

  72. This article pretty much sums up what I always have taught my students… It’s an old school bodybuilding proverb that goes like this; “Anything works for a little while, but nothing works all of the time”.

    Essentially what I mean is just by changing up your routine and making it more challenging or different within reason, works. Whether it’s body weight exercises, kettle-bells or whatever the flavor of the month is. It’s basic muscle confusion principals and progressive resistance that will build muscle period, regardless of the method.

  73. Hi Guys,

    I have been working out with weights for a year now and now i got interested in combining it with bodyweight training. I gained some muscle mass but i Don t want to lose it nevertheless i would like to have functional strenghth and An athletic physique without having a bulky look. I am considering a workout as following…
    For example
    Bench press superset with one hand pushups
    Pike pushups superset wit lateral flys
    Pull ups and curls
    Australian pull ups
    Squats weighted and box jumps

    All these exercises in push and pull type workout.
    Would this be effective?

    I would really appreciate your advice.

  74. I am not sure if this has been posted yet but another great web-site to view is http://www.ashotofadrenaline.com. Todd Kuslikis has some great workouts and some good interviews with many top bodyweight gurus. He even teaches you how to build your own bodyweight gym made out of PVC pipe.

  75. Thank you for the article

    I really don’t know the bodyweight exercise has many benefits like this. I am hesitating to come fitness center or buy some gym equipments. But as your article, body weight has various exercises and it seem interesting, I think I will try with it instead come to gym center.

  76. If your goal is just pure strength and size, then weight training is the most efficient, as mark pointed out, when you want to progress in bodyweight, it usually means going back to square one and learning a new move. In weights, you just add more weight, so once you have learn’t the moves, you don’t have to “re-learn”, and many of the moves (apart from say deadlifts, squats, snatches) are isolation moves that only involves a couple of muscles. If I was going to pick one move from weight lifting to do, it would be the deadlift.

    Bodyweight training I guess can add much more of a skill challenge, which some people may or may not want, depending on their objectives. A lot of the advanced moves are not just muscular strength, but nervous system strength, and co-ordination of many muscles in the right sequence – you could say its brain training as well.

  77. Well Herschel Walker is regarded as one of the best athletes of all time and he does nothing but pushups, sit ups, cardio and dips…

  78. The best workout is the one you’ll actually do. If you’re more likely to commit to working out with Bodyweight, do it! If not, join a gym! Part of this comes down to accountability – do you need a partner?

  79. Calisthenics exercises are the best for anyone of any age according to me.
    Always works for me.
    Cheers!

  80. Great article! Thank you. I just started using bodyweight training and it is wonderful to see your positive post!

  81. Am I against weight lifting and body building?In short the answer is no, I’m not.But hands-down, I believe bodyweight exercises are the way to go and lifting weights in what ever form should be complementary. I weight trained (mainly with free weights) from my early 20s toabout 4 and a half years ago…and I’ll be 49 this year!I loved training with weights. But around 35  I started to notice aches and pains in my joints-particularly my arms, shouldersand neck.Just getting older I hypothesized…And then a few years later my son got interested in arm-wrestling and we got training with a Canadian ex world champion for a while…even got an arm wrestling table made ’specially for the job!
    Actually I wasn’t too bad (and my son had some real potential) I even beat the ex- champ a couple of times! Here’s the kicker…I had to quit and fast. My arms suffered so badly-my tendons and joints- and I was in literal pain for wellover 12 months! But I carried on with the weights.Then a few summers back  just before going back to the home country (brought up on a farm in England…another story here for another time) I learnt about functional strength exercises or bodyweight exercise.Thought I’d give it a try. Truth is 20 years ago I would have shunned the very notion…please don’t fall into the same trap! Bodyweight exercise programs are great for every level of fitness and strength because they challenge you to a degree that you would be hard pressed to receive from regular old weight training or bodybuilding type movements.

  82. I began performing bodyweight exercises early on in 2006. But, if I threw a handstand my wrists would feel like they were too weak to hold. But wait a minute…  I weight trained for 20 years! Shouldn’t they be strong enough! I went to bed at night and my arms would ache all night…I didn’t know what to do with them, but I had a gut feeling that what I was doing was benefiting me so I resolved to carry on.One of the first exercises I began with was handstand push-ups. My first attempt was not what I had expected, I mean I’m a reasonably strong person but I could hardly manage one push-up!!What was very interesting was when I asked my 19 year old son if he could do any……he flipped into a handstand and pumped out 5 or 6 without much difficulty at all…wow! How come he could do that? Big clue here…please listen closely-Jamie, my son, as a pre-teen and then into his teen years did a lot of break dancing. Aha, that’s why he could do handstand push-ups, he was already versed and conditioned as a bodyweight practitioner! Me, I was an ex lifter of metal!! (I’m still not saying here that you should not lift weights-but for now I have chosen not to).

  83. Hey,
    I know it’s a bit late… but…

    it’s great to see body weight exercise getting the recognition and appeal it deserves… I believe strength, exercise, fitness in the mainstream have it backwards.. it should be a heck of a lot of body weight exercises with mobility and some weights added for extra benefits.

    Something you may want to check out is the GymnasticBodies course by Coach Sommers. It’s a guaranteed step by step method to gain tremendous strength, mobility and flexibility to what ever level you want (like freaky gymnastic rings strength)…

    but even the basic person can get to a two minute (perfectly straight) handstand!

  84. I still favor free weights over bodyweight only, although there are advantages to both. With free weights, I focus on compound movements more than isolation.

  85. I am curious if the Metabolic Aftershock program would serve in my fitness program along a walking/sprinting program. I am a retired postal worker as of almost a year. My job was continuous six days a week for 24 years. Now I am reveling in not working so hard. I am 61 and female. I have been doing the Metabolic Aftershock, and even though I am breathless, I’m wondering if it covers the basis. Thanks for your time. I love your website and new eating program. It’s changed me in such a positive way!

  86. My question is this… 98% of most body-weight, calisthenic, and strength workout programs, I always hear “Just do what you can do.”, but take away the rings, pull up, hand stand, and one legged squats and dip exercises, it only left me with literally left doing push ups, and they never helped me get to where I wanted to be, to do those- rings, pull up, hand stand, and one legged squats and dip exercises.

    I am 5ft 5in, 234lbs and have finally gotten past dealing with a year of debilitating asthma, I am obviously not in any kind of real shape- other than round. And I am not sure how to get started. Now I know that body-weight work out really do work… but it just seems that I am at a disadvantage do to my limitations of not being able to start off with the rings, pull up, hand stand, and one legged squats and dip exercises.

    Can anyone give me any information on this?

  87. The big problem with trying to progress with body weight is the chunky nature of difficulty increments. With weights, you can move up in 5lb increments to slowly make things more difficult over time (Milo’s calf). With push ups, for example, you just have one giant leap from the push up to a one handed push-up. There’s just no middle ground.

    That said, bodyweight exercises are probably the best place to start, and good to keep around in some form long after you’re on to weights.

  88. Love it! More of this please! You’re going to have to try harder to convince us real nerds that you’re one too

  89. Just Bodyweight training not enough for perfect health and fitness you can must another exercise they will help you to give a perfect help maintain other part and so we should take some tips for a professional trainer in that cases.

  90. Hey there,

    I loved your book. I did many changes over the last weeks and it already shows some great effects on my basic aerobic fitness.

    One thing I am not sure about. Are the basic bodyweight exercices meant to be done everyday no matter in what stage of training cycle you are?

    Is it ok to do them daily during the first 8-12 weeks while building basic aerobic fitness? Or should they only be done during later stages while building strength and muscles?

    Many thanks for any input on this…
    Thomas