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Bodyweight Exercises- Not Just For Beginners

By: Sam Perry

Ever since we were in 5th grade gym class it has been pounded into our skulls about how important pushups are for fitness.  It is a timeless exercise that serves both the experienced bodybuilder and beginner at the same time.  It is still proven that the pushup is one of the finest exercises one can do to improve strength and stamina.  Even the U.S. Military still uses pushups as a principle exercise for building upper-body strength. 

So, how come bodyweight exercises, sans pushup, are not in common use?  A lot of exercise programs tell the novice to “start off by only using your bodyweight”.  I say, why does it have to end there?  There are so many ways to challenge the body through bodyweight exercises.  The pull-up is fairly popular, but many are afraid of them because of the fact that they can only manage a few.  Everyone can do pushups, but only a few can perform a properly executed pull-up.  I’ve seen it many times.  Ideally bodyweight manipulation should be the motivation and ultimate goal in any workout. 

Why appear to be strong if you can’t even hoist up your own body?  In my so-far limited experience as an Officer Candidate in the United States Marine Corps, I have learned through the prescribed workouts (or PT, as we call it) that the ultimate goal of the workouts is to improve strength, stamina, and prowess in manipulating one’s own bodyweight. 

In the Marines, I have discovered that the pull-up is the key.  The candidate’s ability to perform this single exercise is very telling to how strong they truly are.  This is because it separates the pretenders from the ones who are truly fit, and can successfully manipulate their body weight.  I have learned that this is a very important evaluating tool to gauge candidates on their true upper-body strength.

Also, there are so many different ways to exercise using your own bodyweight!  There are levels for the beginner, the intermediate, and even for the advanced. (Or so you may think).  As you gain more strength, you can add more difficult routines, including weighted pull-ups, handstand pushups, and finger pushups.  These are just a few of what can be achieved.  The possibilities are literally endless as to what you can accomplish when you master your own body. 

Bodyweight exercises are also the core of many martial arts and Asian-influenced fitness programs.  You don’t have to watch too many Bruce Lee movies to be astounded by his extraordinary level of fitness.  His signature one-fingered pushups and one-inch punches are amazing to this day.  He was a master of manipulating his own body through remarkable strength.  For many he represents the gold standard of fitness.

Using a variety of bodyweight exercises is also a great way to develop a well and correctly-proportioned body.  The human body is an amazing machine, and it has a lot of different muscles.  And they are all designed to be used.  How many times have we seen that guy in the gym with big bloated arms and a scrawny, underdeveloped chest?  Sadly, too often.  A lot of people overanalyze working out by targeting specific muscles too much.  I believe the best way to build muscle and achieve a high level of fitness is by using a lot of bodyweight exercises (especially at the beginning) and then mixing in a workout involving heavy weights and low reps using big multi-jointed movements around once a week.

I highly recommend Pete Sisco’s Maximum Strength Workout for this purpose.  I also do basic yoga every morning to stretch, relax, and help prevent injury.  Besides, it is a great way to start the day.  The combination of these three will help you achieve a well proportioned and very fit body, while also achieving strength and power gains in the most efficient way possible.  Using bodyweight exercises in your exercise program can help you cover all the fitness bases; strength, power, endurance, and a fit, healthy body.  Bodyweight exercises are the purest way to build and measure true strength and fitness.

Pushups and pull-ups are not just for beginners.  When done correctly, bodyweight exercises are a very challenging and highly effective way to maximize your potential as a human being.  I challenge you to tap into your true potential.  For your first bodyweight workout, do 50 pull-ups, 75 pushups, and 100 crunches as fast as you can, in as few sets as you can.  This is a great start.  You may be surprised, especially if you thought you were in shape.

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About the Author:  I am currently a sophomore at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania, studying Athletic Training.  I am, as such, very interested in sports and sports medicine.  I am a former high school wrestler and an avid Ultimate Frisbee player at ESU.   I also take a great interest in fitness, especially at the functional level.  I am currently an Officer Candidate in the USMC, and hope to complete my training at Officer Candidates School and then, after graduation, begin my life as a Marine Officer.