Should you incorporate bodyweight or gymnastic exercises into your barbell routine?

Second post in my mini classic barbell vs. bodyweight/gymnastics series, first post is here.

So, why incorporate more bodyweight exercises into your bodybuilding/barbell routine? Why not just keep it as it is. Can you find “better” exercises with bodyweight or are barbells and dumbells superior in every way? Can you build a better bicep with rings? Or are all these rants on one vs. the other rather insignificant, unless you take your goals into the equation.

This post could be several pages long, with points on why you should or should not implement more bodyweight exercises into your program, but I have focused on a few points that I find valuable.

Also to clear any doubts or uncertainties, I will define gymnastics/bodyweight conditioning as what is beyond mere push- and pullups. More skill and strength based exercises. Pullups falls on either side of the fence, but to put it shortly, they should just always be a stable part of your routine!

My belief is, that the majority of people, looking to stick their toe in the water, with gymnastics/bodyweight conditioning, already have decided, that they would like to learn some of the cool looking stuff, but they just do not know where to start. But for the ones that have not really decided yet, I will give you some good reasons to try it out and also a few reasons why you should probably just stick to classic barbell work.

First of, if you are pure bodybuilder by heart, and only look for the best exercises to make certain muscles grow, I can’t recommend, looking for bodyweight/gymnastic/ring-exercises. If you are only looking for muscle growth, this will not give you anything, that can not be obtained with good old, dum- and barbells. There are exercises, I totally believe, gives the same or better growth-stimuli, but the technical difficulty and thereby increase in injury-potential, just does’nt make it worth the hassle. Stick to basics. You can of course still implement some basic stuff, if you feel that hightens your motivation. But if it ain’t broke – don’t fix it.

There are many things I could rant about on crossfit, especially as I have done it myself, for a short period of time, but there are also quite a lot of good things, CF has brought along in its wake; one of them being an increased focus on the extremely overused term – functional strength. For some people, the focus has shifted from only looking good naked, to be able to do incredible things with your body, while still attaining the former. CF however, is very heavy on quantity, rather than quality, and this is one of the areas, where I am on a totally different page than crossfitters.

One of the reasons to go more bodyweight/gymnastics focussed then, is to gain more functional strength. Or as my definition of fitness explains, the more you are able to do with your body, the more fit you are.

Incorporating more gymnastics work into your routine, also trains what you could call body awareness. An often used term, among bodybuilders, is ”mind-to-muscle”. This refers to the simple fact, that you should be aware of, which muscles you are trying to train, and make sure that you are actually using these muscles, to move the weight. When doing for instance a handstand, you cannot balance your body by your wrists, without ensuring that your shoulders, back, abs, core, legs and feet are tight and in control. To add to the mix, you have to do all this, when being upside down. For people who has done gymnatics since childhood; this is easy – but if you haven’t done it before, the mere fact that you are upside down, makes it extremely hard to do as simple a task as tightening your butt. Over time you will gain experience and all this tightening and control, comes naturally which enables you to somewhat relax in parts of your body while holding a handstand. But as a beginner, you will be looking for all sorts of cues on how to make your body do as you want, since tightening the entire body often is too broad of a cue, and a simple thing as “point your toes as far towards the ceiling as possible” often does a much better job at getting the required outcome.

Focus on functional strength, often brings along awareness about mobility and flexibility. You can’t have a good straight handstand, without proper shoulder mobility. If your active leg split is weak, then you will have a hard time going from advanced tuck planche to straddle planche – since in effect, you are moving to something closer to full planche, if you can’t spread your legs wide enough. All these things, make you more inclined to have focus on flexibility and thereby keeping your body more healthy.

Along with increases in range of motion and technical difficulty comes increased injury potential. This is especially true, for a lot of the more technical exercises. But as with anything, if you keep the advised progressions and stay clear of rushing towards your goals, then they all can be performed safely. It all comes down to bringing your mind along when you train. Your body is rather good at telling, when something is hurting you, all you have to do, is be able to listen.

Once you have become rather conscious of how to scale bodyweight exercises and which exercises trains what, then you have gained a priceless asset, that you will forever be able to use to keep yourself in shape, either on a budget, during times where you do not have the time to head for the gym or on long term travels.

Finally, there of course are the fact, that a lot of the things you can learn to do with your body, just looks super cool! Once you gain a proper handstand, you will most likely do handstands on most of your vacation-photos. Do front and back-levers on everything you can hang from – and in effect just keep a bigger part of your world as a playground.

That was my “why” part, on bodyweight/gymnastics for now. Not that actionable, but stay tuned for the “how” as this will be rich in tips and ideas on how to experiment with bodyweight/gymnastics.

Continued in third part here.

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