Why does bodyweight training rock so much? Let me count the ways…
1) It is the ultimate test of body control and coordination.
Unless you walk around with a weight glued to your hand on the daily – which I sincerely doubt – the primary physical challenge you’ll face is moving your own body through free space with occasional bouts of moving other things around. Bodyweight training teaches you how to dominate gravity and control your body in all manner of ways in challenges that go above and beyond your daily challenges, thus making them mercifully and exponentially easier.
2) It is a rock-solid test of your overall strength-to-weight ratio.
Jason Ferruggia has pointed out that by gaining a lot of weight, it’s often easier to lift heavier weight, but it’s mainly because your leverages change as well as your ROM in many cases, and even your ability to bounce yourself off your belly. But if your chinups and dips are going down, for example, your strength-to-weight ratio is going down. If you don’t think this is important, ask yourself: Am I more impressed by someone who can squat 600 lbs and can’t even do more than one shakey, sad-sack pullup, or a dude who can squat 600 lbs AND can do 20 solid-ass pullups in a row?
3) It will teach you to create tension from nothing.
One reason (among a few, in my opinion) that gymnasts so often go from never having touched iron in their lives to doing jaw-dropping feats of strength with barbells is due to their ability to create tension out of nothing. They are masters of feeding tension forward, rather than simply reacting to outside stimuli. Cases in point: American Gymnastics coach Chris Sommer tells of a number of his students who have experienced what can only be described as balls-to-the-wall impressive results on their first dance with the barbell, including one high schooler who – in his first day of weight training – pulled a triple bodyweight deadlift. His students are hardly the exceptions to the rule. Strength Sensei Charles Poliquin has told have teaching two similiary iron-starved gymnasts who – within 3 weeks of learning the bench press – benched 350 lbs (160 kgs). Chew on that for a bit.
4) It goes with you no matter where you find yourself.
From a pure practicality standpoint, bodyweight beats all other forms of resistance hands down. Traveling? Well, you didn’t leave your dips, chinups, and pistols at home, nor did you leave your front lever or back lever or sprints there, either. Get to work.
5) An immense catalog of movements with enough variety to be approachable by all.
We are made to move – first through free space, then through free space with external objects. Because we are made to move our bodyweight first, bodyweight-based training is something that can be done on some level or another by literally anybody, young and old. You may not be able to do a full pushup yet, but you can most definitely do it with an elevation of some sort – even if it be higher than eagles’ nuts. In time, harder variations become easier to you, and the same is true for practically any movement in the calisthenics cadre.
The list could go on and on, but I think you’ve heard enough. Now go forth and push, pull, squat, bridge, sprint, crawl, and have a good ol’ time.