One direct impact of lockdowns and work from home routine of the new normal was that people were locked out of not only offices but from gyms and sports facilities too. As a result, despite the huge sales of home gym equipment over the last two years, one trend that has witnessed an exponential rise is body weight strength training. From calisthenics to yoga, not only were there new converts taking up these workouts but existing fitness enthusiasts were also turning to these routines because of the freedom and versatility they afford. Bengaluru-based architect Sujit Nair, who often works uncertain hours, found the no equipment video streaming workouts offered by CultFit not only liberating but more affordable and enjoyable too. What started as a lockdown fix has become his regular exercise routine.
Ease of workout is one of the biggest reasons for the growing popularity of body weight workouts, explains Rahul Huidrom, strength coach at CultFit. “No equipment, no problem… you can get in an effective workout just by using your own body weight as resistance.You don't even need a whole lot of space and can get your daily workout on the go. The top USP of bodyweight training routines is that nearly all these programs combine cardio and strength elements, so you get a very effective and efficient workout in a short period of time,” he says.
The rise of calisthenics: Calisthenics has been popular among recreational athletes due to its low cost and effective nature, says AK Abhinav, coach and founder of Bengaluru’s Namma X-Fit. “All you need is a pull-up and dip or parallel barsand you can build an effective strength training programme. This style of training emanates from Yoga and gymnastics and has now evolved into a training philosophy of its own,” adds Abhinav.
The push-pull routine is a great way to build balanced capacity in the upper body anterior and posterior muscle groups. Isometrics holds such as levers, L-sit, planchet and handstand are also a challenging for people to master and require not only core and muscle strength but immense stability too, says Abhinav. Both Abhinav and Huidrom confirm that calisthenics allow for the development of strength, endurance, flexibility, and coordination especially in the upper body and trunk.
Bodyweight workouts can help you to build overall stability of the body, improve core strength and increase range of motion—vital components of long-term injury prevention, explains Huidrom. “Body weight training has a potential benefit over weights as it retains balance between the anterior and posterior muscle groups. In the process, joint integrity of the shoulder complex is maintained whereas using weights for upper body training can result in favouring or overloading one set of muscles over the other and increase the risk of injury,” says Abhinav.
A direct outcome of such body weight training is that apart from building strength and muscle endurance, your upper body becomes aesthetically and naturally balanced, fitness coaches say. If you want evidence, just check out any gymnast. “They achieve their perfect upper body and trunk musclesover many years without lifting a single weight,” points out Abhinav. Normal people can use build a solid muscle building foundation with bodyweight movements using a combination of pull-ups, push ups, lunging, squatting, sprinting and plyometric training, adds Huidrom.
The shortcomings of bodyweight training: The trouble with calisthenics is that after a point you cannot enjoy gains or improve unless you invest a lot of time in improving your skills to do advanced exercises. “You need to decrease leverage, redistribute bodyweight, make it complex to further gains,” explains Abhinav. “For example, if you are able to do 25-30 push-ups and want to do one-arm push-ups, the progression is not as easy as just lifting more weight. You have to learn to stabilise one side of your body for you to perform a one arm push-up.This is where most folks give up as the progression requires more time and effort.”
The only other limitation of bodyweight training is when it comes to the lower body as it needs an external stimulus to counter all the forces of impact that the lower body is subject to, say experts. Yet another one is the fact that there are very few effective arm and shoulder exercises you can do using your own weight, points out Huidrom.
Bodyweight training quickly reaches its limits, says Huidrom, as in order to improve you must increase the difficulty. “One of the ways to do this is to increase the number of repetitions. But if you go beyond a certain rep range, say 25-30 repetitions in bodyweight training, you move from strength training to strength endurance training. For building size and strength in the muscles, increasing repetitions is not as effective as increasing weight,” he says.
However, calisthenics is definitely beneficial for any recreational athlete and fitness enthusiasts and if they complement it with a lower body weightlifting routine (squats, deadlifts and lunges), they will be beasts, sums up Abhinav.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.