This is the most common question we get asked at SoloStrength. Naturally, being a bodyweight fitness company, we consider ourselves, not just experts, but passionate about the topic.
But first, what does being fit mean? It can mean different things to different people, but it is commonly accepted that a fit person is one that is strong, has endurance, is lean, and is athletic. So, in order to find out if you can get fit through bodyweight training, we will explore each of the three. Spoiler, the short answer is yes! You definitely can get fit with bodyweight training.
Muscles are made up of fibers that are bundled together to make contractile tissue. They are voluntary muscles (although sometimes can act involuntarily through reflexes), meaning you choose to use them - an important point that we will expand on later.
Think of these muscle fibers as a long chain, where each link is a contractile unit, called sarcomeres. In 10 millimeters of muscle fibers, you can find around 2000-2500 sarcomeres. You could imagine not all are identical, with some stronger than others.
When training, the weaker sarcomeres acquire many microtears. These tears are then healed and the muscles grow stronger than they were previously. It is an adaptive response. The more work you put in, the more the body must grow in order to adapt to the stress it's being put under. So long as you are striving to work harder than you did yesterday, your muscles will grow and get stronger.
Therefore, yes, you can build big and strong muscles with bodyweight fitness.
Many people think cardio is the only way to build endurance. While it can be a great form of building endurance, it is not the only way. To understand this, it helps to know how muscle activity is supported.
Blood vessels are important tissues that allow muscles to function. Both the arteries, which carry blood from the heart to the muscle, and the veins, which carry blood back to the heart, experience significant growth during any form of exercise.
There are several reasons for this. The first and simplest is because larger muscles just need a larger blood supply. Blood provides nutrients and helps expel waste, in essence, keeping tissue alive. A more interesting reason depends on muscular contraction. Flexing your muscles squeezes blood out of them, starving them of oxygen. This deprivation is what causes a burning sensation. The greater and longer the deprivation, the stronger the burn. It’s these periods of little blood in the muscle (and therefore little oxygen) that stimulate more blood vessel growth.
Why is this important? The more blood efficiently you can deliver blood to muscles, the longer you can go. Bodyweight fitness can involve much higher reps (depending on the exercise) than weight lifting, making it even more effective at stimulating blood vessel growth.
Therefore, yes, bodyweight training will increase your endurance.
We’ve talked about the muscle tissue and blood vessels, but there is a third component to this: the nervous system.
Nerves control muscle contraction. When you have a thought and decide to move, your brain sends a signal to the muscle to contract. That signal is sent through nerves. The more nerves you have controlling a muscle, the more finely tuned the movements can be. Think about the difference between how much control you have over your hands and fingers versus your back muscles.
This is not something that is set in stone, however. With more use, you can grow the number of nerves and their interconnections. The most interesting part of this you not only develop more control over a muscle through use, but you develop a better awareness of the muscle or limb, something called proprioception. It's a type of awareness of where the body part is in space. Your ability to “put your mind into that part” increases.
This is where things like coordination and explosiveness come from, although many other factors are in play.
So to answer the question, yes, you can increase athleticism through body weight alone.
The simplest explanation for becoming lean is that you must expend more energy than you consume. To understand this, let's break things down a little bit further.
Your body consumes a set level of energy in order to keep you alive. This is called the Basal Metabolic Rate, or BMR for short. It’s based on your age, weight, and gender. Combined with your day-to-day activities, this adds up to your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). Your TDEE in relation to how much you eat determines whether you will gain or lose weight.
Only two methods exist to tip the balance in either direction: modify the amount of energy expenditure through exercise or modify the energy intake through diet. If you want to lose weight, you must exercise more and eat less. It’s that simple.
There is a limit to how much you can exercise without burning out so a majority of the weight loss comes through diet. A simple way to think about it is knowing that 1lb of fat contains 3500 calories. If you eat 500 calories below your TDEE, you will lose 1lb of fat for every week that you eat in a deficit.
So how do calisthenics fit into this? The calories you burn while exercising may be just enough to raise your TDEE above your intake through food, thus putting you in a deficit.
So can bodyweight fitness get you lean? Yes, absolutely.
Do you need to lift weights? Only if you want to. The best habits are the ones you can stick to so if lifting weights helps you achieve your goals, then do that. There is nothing wrong with doing only calisthenics though.
Do you need to do cardio? This has the same argument as lifting weights. Only if you find enjoyment in it. If it's not something you can consistently do, stick with what works.
Although this is an extreme example, and you do not need to implement his routine, one of the best examples is Mike Tyson. Known for his strength, earning him the nickname of Iron Mike, he’s an example of just how far you can push physical development without the use of weights.
500 bench dips
500 shrugs with
1000 air squats
Let us know what your routine is, either through social media or email. If you need inspiration for exercises to add to your routine, check out our article on dip bar exercises or our series on training each body part.
Let us know what your routine is, either through social media or email. If you need inspiration for exercises to add to your routine, check out our article on Dip Bar Exercises or our series on training each body part:
View more SoloStrength SpeedFit® Training Here.
Posted: March 13, 2023
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