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I first learned calisthenics and bodyweight exercises in gym class in elementary school. In gym class, we mainly did push-ups, sit-ups, and jumps. I think we have also learned to do burpees and mountaineers. Our PE teacher even made us crawl bears from time to time.
When I was a wrestler in high school, we used bodyweight exercises and calisthenics as part of our warm-up and for conditioning purposes. We did push-ups, sit-ups, and jumps as part of our warm-up. Every now and then we would get into a big circle and do calisthenics at the end of practice. We went around the circle and each fighter chose an exercise to do. In other practices, we would count down. A countdown involved doing 10 reps of pushups, sit-ups, jumps, burpees, and laps around the fight room. Then we would do nine repetitions of each exercise. Then we did eight reps of each exercise and so on until the full countdown was finished.
We did a lot of sprinting in the fight room and in the adjoining gym. Every now and then we would do something called hit ’ems. We ran in place until our coach yelled, “Hit him!” Then we would fall face down and get back up as fast as possible. I remember leading this exercise myself once. Sometimes he would give me a break while running in place and other times he would do a quick succession of punches immediately after we were just back on our feet.
Some people make pretty big claims when it comes to bodyweight exercises. Some claim that bodyweight exercises are superior to weight lifting. Some believe otherwise. Some simply believe that endurance is endurance and that neither option is better than the other when it comes to strength and conditioning. I think bodyweight exercises can certainly play a role in your overall wrestling conditioning.
Matt Furey wrote a popular book titled Combat conditioning explaining the benefits of bodyweight training. Matt Furey is a former NCAA Division 2 Wrestling Champion and Shuai Chiao Kung Fu World Champion. So it may be a good idea to read what he has to say on the subject of bodyweight training. It states that bodyweight training is more functional (that is, strength you can use). It reminds your reader to consider how much stronger and more flexible animals are compared to humans. He also mentions how his mentor, wrestling legend Karl Gotch, told him that dancers have the strongest legs in the world. Dancers often squat only with body weight. Matt has many exercises and routines in his book, but he calls his three favorite exercises Royal Court.
Matt Furey’s Royal Cut:
- Hindu squats
- Hindu push-ups
- Rear bridge (if you are a wrestler, I assume you already do a rear bridge in practice every day)
Videos and descriptions of these exercises are easily found with a simple online search.
Pavel Tsatsouline is a former Spetsnaz (Russian Special Forces) physical training instructor. He now lives in the US and trains members of the US military and law enforcement. He wrote a book called The Naked Warrior discussing their views on bodyweight training. He believes that bodyweight training can be beneficial when weights are not available. He mentions the strength and musculature of gymnasts as an example of the value of exercise with body weight. Most of us have seen how well trained gymnasts are. Have you ever seen a gymnast do a plank? Have you ever seen a gymnast do an Iron Cross? They don’t lift weights and yet they are incredibly strong. Christopher Sommer wrote an interesting article titled Building an Olympic body through bodyweight conditioning that you could locate using an online search.
Three of Pavel’s favorite bodyweight exercises:
- One leg squats (also known as pistols)
- One-arm push-ups
Pavel doesn’t believe in doing endless sets of reps. He suggests doing a more difficult exercise by manipulating the leverage involved. For example, push-ups done with feet elevated are more difficult than normal push-ups. Pavel also believes in Greasing the Groove (GTG). This involves doing a few repetitions several times throughout the day. Always leave a representative at the bank. Don’t work to failure. You can do push-ups multiple times a day, but only a few reps in a given workout. Pavel also believes in making “stairs”. For example, you do a push-up and then you rest for a second. You stay in position and then you do two push-ups and rest for two seconds. You keep going up the ladder until the reps start to get tough. Then make another ladder.
Some of Pavel’s articles are easily found online.
Marcus fisher Marcus Fisher advises MMA (mixed martial arts) athletes and fighters on conditioning. He points out that some very successful wrestlers and wrestlers have primarily used bodyweight training rather than weight training. He does not claim that bodyweight training is superior or that weight training is ineffective, but he believes that bodyweight exercises can definitely be beneficial. You like bodyweight workouts because they train your body to function as a single unit. Like Matt Furey, Marcus finds bodyweight training more functional.
Marcus Fisher’s articles are easily found online.
Advantages of bodyweight training:
- Some coaches claim that it develops more functional strength
- It can be done almost anywhere.
- Does not require weights or machines
Disadvantages of bodyweight training:
- It can be difficult to continually add resistance to some exercises.
- Building a strong back chain is difficult with bodyweight-only routines
Bodyweight exercises to consider:
- Hindu squats
- One leg squats (pistols)
- Plyographic inflections
- Hindu push-ups
- Dive bomber push-ups
- One-arm push-ups
- Standing push-ups
- Raised legs
- Jumping jacks
- Seal cats
- Shuffle jacks
- the mountaineers
- Standing wide jump
- Slalom jumps
- Hill sprints
- The bear crawls
Special note on burpees
Many coaches believe that burpees are the best bodyweight exercise an athlete can do. According to Ross Enamait, “Burpees will condition your entire body. This exercise will build strength, explosive power, and anaerobic endurance.” Burpees can also be combined with push-ups or chin-ups and other variations.
Matt Wiggins has a show called Working class cardio who uses burpees, jumping jacks, and other bodyweight exercises. The circuits used in his program also use dumbbells and medicine balls. He claims that burpees can give you great aerobic exercise and are extremely versatile. Matt is a bit of a burpee fan.
Conclusion: do burpees!
Bodyweight training is not magic. Weight lifting can and should be part of your overall fitness program. However, bodyweight training can definitely be a great addition to your conditioning program. Bodyweight exercises and calisthenics aren’t just for gym class and warm-up. Try including some bodyweight exercises in your workout and see if your conditioning and wrestling performance improve.