Body weight exercises either require you to support the weight of your body with one or more of your limbs, or use your core muscles to lift your limbs against gravity’s resistance. Many Pilates movements and yoga poses are body weight exercises, as are traditional calisthenics. Body weight exercises improve muscular endurance; whether or not they can make you stronger is dependent on your level of muscular strength.
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Strength training encompasses the use of continuously heavier resistance to increase muscular strength. If you can only perform a low number of repetitions of a body weight exercise, such as a push-up, you’re building muscular strength. If you can easily perform more than 12 push-ups, you’re primarily developing muscular endurance. You can modify most body weight exercises to overload your muscles by adding extra resistance, working one side of your body at a time or modifying the movement. For example, a training partner can provide resistance by pressing his hand against your back as you push up, you can change the angle and difficulty of the movement by elevating your legs off the floor or you can perform one-armed push-ups.
Body Weight Calisthenics
How calisthenics affect your body depends on how you perform them: you can develop muscular strength, endurance and power, as well as flexibility. Squats, lunges, push-ups, pull-ups, chin-ups, dips, sit-ups, jumping jacks, burpees, calf raises, lying leg kick variations and suspended reverse crunches are examples of body weight exercises. If you’re unfit, you may only be able to perform 10 body weight squats with good form. As your muscles become stronger and your fitness increases, you can lift one foot off the floor at a time, performing single-leg squats. Once you’re able to perform a high number of single-leg squats -- with good form -- you can advance to plyometric, or jumping, squats.
Yoga and Pilates
Not all body weight exercises are classified as calisthenics; both yoga and Pilates mat workouts comprise body weight exercises. While you can perform many calisthenics in a functional way, such as lunges, movements in yoga and Pilates typically take your body through a functional, or natural, range of motion, placing your body in a variety of positions. This requires you to support and lift yourself with different muscle groups, and from multiple angles, depending on the movement sequence you perform. Yoga poses that develop muscular strength include inversion poses, arm balances and single-leg balance poses. The majority of Pilates mat exercises enhance muscular strength, including hip circles, the Pilates push-up and the corkscrew.
Body Weight Exercise Benefits
You can perform body weight exercises virtually anywhere, and without equipment. This is as beneficial for a stay-at-home mom getting in a quick workout at naptime as it is for an office worker performing squats and push-ups over his lunch break or a Navy SEAL getting in a strength training workout on the deck of a ship. Due to the nature of body weight exercises, you’re better able to train and develop your smaller, stabilizing muscles than you can with a typical weightlifting workout. If you’re looking to build bulk, you should performing a combination of body weight and weight training exercises using free weights such as dumbbells, barbells, resistance bands or medicine balls.