Calisthenics (body weight exercise) is probably the oldest form of exercise known to man and still one of the most effective. Why should this be so?
Most modern gym equipment has been designed with convenience in mind: seats, hand grips, digital displays etc. Requiring less effort in some cases than good old body weight exercise.
Let’s use the trusted Press up, or push up as I like to call them, as an example. A full push up requires a good level of core strength to support your abdomen and legs, while also activating upper body parts: Shoulders, triceps, lats, trapezius and biceps as stabilizing muscles, meaning you are using a vast amount of muscles for that one simple exercise.
Compare this to, let’s say a seated chest press machine, that you would find in most decent gyms nowadays. Although the movement is almost identical, firstly you are working against gravity in a different way, sitting upright the core is not so much in demand, the legs are almost completely rested and the need for stabilisation reduces, so straight away you have reduced the effectiveness of the exercise. Functionally, calisthenics are probably better than free weights and machines. The only drawback is, that when you are stronger and carry little weight, you are restricted to using only the weight you carry. Where as with free weights and machines you can add as much weight as you wish.
At this point I should emphasize the importance of using machines when beginning to exercise as they will prepare you well, for more difficult and demanding exercises using free weights and body weight. The weight machines are also good for developing specific muscles. Let’s take the tricep cable pull-down as an example, while you are using stabilising muscles, such as shoulders (deltoids), core, and leg muscles, the main volume of work is being carried out by the triceps; provided you are using enough weight, and using correct form.
Free weights are great for either isolation or compound exercises, where several muscles are in use simultaneously, but again they require a certain level of strength and co-ordination. One important factor in all these types of resistance exercises is good form, so no jerky or sudden movements, and control throughout the exertion and rest phase of exercise, this will reduce injury risk and work the muscles more effectively.
If embarking upon a new exercise regimen, I would suggest starting on the resistance machines, then once you are comfortable with these and feel an increase in strength, proceed to try free weights. Once you have mastered these and improved your strength and stability further, attempt some calisthenics. This will not only give you a goal to work towards but will also add a new dimension to your resistance routine, giving you the option to change it up more often and use different muscles.
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