From my experience, body weight strength training, or exercising with nothing but your own body weight, is the key to unlocking your true potential. Why do I think this? Consider the animals in nature for a moment. A chimpanzee may only weight 100 pounds, but it can dead lift half a ton. It is estimated that a Gorilla is anywhere from 6 to 20 times as strong as a human being.
Naturalists have observed bears casually flipping over 500 pound boulders with a single paw. None of these animals lift weights or “exercise” in the way man does, yet they all possess unbelievable strength and power. Why is this, and what can we learn from it? I’m going to try and answer this question in this article, as well as provide some basic exercises you can try to unlock your own animal strength and power.
First of all I think it’s necessary to consider evolution and how natural selection has shaped ourselves and our animal brethren. Natural selection ensures that the strongest and fittest of any species are the ones that procreate and pass on their genes. Therefore, the bears, Gorillas, Kangaroos that do things that keep them strong and healthy are the ones that will survive. And what are these things? Simply doing the things that come naturally to them. In the bear’s case, walking, running, climbing trees, etc. Through a constant process of natural selection, mother nature ensures that a bear will be at his “Bear Best” by doing these natural things. Put another way, the bear is CONSTANTLY engaged in his own form of body weight strength training. This is the key to the bears incredible strength (not to mention every other animal in nature).
Is Man any different? For thousands upon thousands of years until very recently, the EXACT same evolutionary processes have been at work on us. Just like our animal friends, we evolved using nothing but our own body weight for exercise. Evolutionary speaking, it is only very recently that Man has become civilized, cutting himself off from nature and his natural strengths and abilities. This is why human beings have had to invent their own forms of exercise, like weight lifting, for example. However, are these new, man made forms of exercise any better for us than what mother nature over thousands of years of evolution has designed us for? I doubt it very seriously.
Consider for a moment the most “animal like” athlete I know off. Namely, the gymnast. In the Olympics, who isn’t impressed by the amazing physiques and feats of strength that they are able to perform? And how do they get this way? Not by lifting weights. Like our animal friends, they never touch them. They do it all through an intensive program of body weight strength training.
I think a brief story will be useful in illustrating this point. Christopher Sommers is a former gymnast and current gymnastic coach. In his book “Building The Gymnastic Body” he tells how he took up weight lifting soon after retiring from gymnastics. The first time he stepped in a gym, he was amazed at what he could do. He was easily out lifting all of the other more experienced weight lifters in the gym. Here are some of the weights he was able to lift on that day:
Double body weight dead liftMilitary press with 110% body weightChins with 50% of his body weight for repsDips + 60% of his body weight for reps75 pushpus in 1 minutewrist curls with 110% body weightRun a mile in 5:37 seconds / 11:30 two-mile runRan 20 miles on the spur of the movement.
Obviously, he was in phenomenal, almost Animal like shape. However, did he associate his amazing power to his past of body weight strength training? Unfortunately for him, no. What he thought is that if he was this good now, imagine how good he could be if he started weightlifting the proper way! So, he turned his back on his gymnastic training and starting weight lifting with a vengeance. What was the result? In his own words, he became sore, tired, stiff and slow. All of the amazing natural athletic ability that he once had was just seeping away from him.
Considering what I’ve written above, is this any surprise? The natural body weight strength training he was doing as a gymnast was what his body needed. It is what it had evolved to respond to. As soon as he gave it up and substituted man’s methods he started to get worse and worse. To make a long story short after much trial and error, Chris realized his error and went back to his gymnastic training. His body began to respond positively almost immediately and he was back in great shape in no time.
So, what does this mean for the average fitness enthusiast? To me, it means that if you want to get in great shape, you would be wise to follow the examples of the animals in nature and gymnasts. This means working WITH our evolutionary history and exercising with nothing but your own body weight. You don’t need fancy weights and machines. In fact, they’re counter productive. Now, I’ve been reading more than a few books about Gymnastic body weight Strength Training and let me tell you, these exercise are tough. Even the simple ones! If you want to get started using exercises like this I would recommend trying two others, They are the Hindu Squat and Hindu Pushup.
The Hindu Pushup and Squat are natural body weight exercises that have been used by Indian Wrestlers for thousands of years to build up fantastic strength and stamina. These exercises are tough, but anyone can do them. At first, you may only be able to do two or three. If this is the case, don’t worry about it. Just make sure you do them again the next day, except this time try and do one more. Before you know it, you’ll be on your way. In my opinion, these two exercises are the best foundation for any body weight strength training program you can think of.
1. To get into the ready position to perform a Hindu Pushup, start in the “up” position of a regular pushup with your feet spread wider than shoulder width.
2. Walk your hands backwards so that your butt is in the air, your arms and legs are straight, and you are looking back through your legs. From the side, your body should resemble an inverted “V”.
3. Start bending your elbows so that your body comes forward. Your hips will come down towards the floor. Before your head hits the floor, however, start to arch your spine so that you are looking towards the ceiling. Straighten your arms.
4. You should exhale as you are looking at the ceiling.
5. Keep your arms straight and push your butt back to the starting position while inhaling.
1. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms extended out from your chest parallel to the floor.
2. Breathe deeply, filling your lungs as you clench your fists and pull them towards your chest.
3. Keeping your back as straight as possible, lower your body by bending your knees. As you lower your body, you should extend your arms downward as well, behind your back if possible. Start to exhale the air from you lungs.
4. Toward the bottom of the movement, you should come up on your toes, keeping as straight a spine as possible.
5. Straighten your legs by pushing off your toes and swinging your arms forward. As you rise, press your heels to the floor and raise your arms to chest level, parallel to the floor.