If you get any group of athletes debating which are the four best bodyweight exercises there will undoubtedly be a variety of different opinions. There are no right or wrong answers and a lot depends on the knowledge, experience, goals and aspirations of the person giving the opinion.
For example, a gymnast who wants incredible strength and explosive power is likely to give very different answers to a special forces operative who needs stamina and the ability to keep going rather than short burst of strength.
The same difference of opinion will be true if a person wanting to build a large muscled physique is debating the four best bodyweight exercises with an ultramarathon runner. The body-builder will no doubt choose exercises that require immense strength such as planche press ups, one leg squats and one arm chins while the runner would more than likely choose exercises that build stamina such as Hindu squats and lunges.
Therefore, the four best bodyweight exercises that are right for you does depend your goals and how fit you are. However, after more than 20 years of involvement in the fitness industry in my opinion the four best are the following.
The standard pull up
There are a large number of different pull ups and they all have something to offer. For example you can’t beat the clapping pull up for explosive power or the one arm pull up for strength building.
However, the standard pull up is one of the four best bodyweight exercises I would choose because it is a compound exercise (involves many muscle groups) and builds a combination of upper body strength, muscular endurance, coordination, general fitness and muscular definition.
The other great thing about this exercise is that most people no matter how fit can do at least a couple of pull ups and with some dedication can very quickly build up the strength and endurance to do 20 to 30 reps.
The press up
Ask most people to name a bodyweight exercises and 8 out of 10 will say the press up. There is a reason why this exercise is so well known and why most military units have it as the corner stone of their fitness training, the reason is that it works.
While it will not build the strength of hardcore bodyweight exercises such as the planche press up, the standard press up is a truly excellent compound exercise that builds basic upper body strength and allows quick progress to be made so that very soon you can be doing 50 to 100 reps which ensures excellent muscular endurance, core strength and the knowledge that you are in good shape.
The full hanging leg raise
The full hanging leg raise involves hanging from a pull up bar and then lifting your legs all the way up so that your toes touch the bar. It builds amazing core strength and is the best lower ab exercise that there is.
Although most people can’t do the true hanging leg raise the unique quality that this exercise has is that it is easy to start with the easier versions such as the hanging tuck and then build up over time until you nail the true version. Once you can do 10 to 20 full hanging leg raises you will have a level of core strength that can match anybodies.
It is also worth remembering that Russian special forces pride themselves on being able to 20 full hanging leg raises such is their belief in how good this exercise is.
The free squat
The free squat (no weights used) will not build the level of leg strength that can be obtained with weights because the high number of repetitions that are possible with this exercise are not conducive to strength building. However, what the free squat does build is basic strength but more importantly a level of muscular endurance and cadrio vascular fitness that has to be seen to be believed.
It is for this reason that anyone who wants a good level of overall fitness should make this a must do exercise. Also anyone who runs distance or is involved in sports such as soccer, basketball or martial arts will develop great reserves of muscular endurance and stamina way beyond most peoples once you include this exercise in your training.
Everybody should strive to have a well balanced training routine that incorporates strength building, endurance building and flexibility training and as a result a variety of the best bodyweight exercises should be used.
I personally train with a number of different bodyweight exercises as well as boxing and martial arts. However, if I had to choose the four best bodyweight exercises to train with these are the four I would choose.
If your goal is overall strength, endurance and fitness you cant go wrong by making the pull up, press up, hanging leg raise and free squat the corner stone of your training.
If you are really pushed for time you could even focus your training solely on these four exercises and once you can do 20 pull ups, 50 press ups, 10 full hanging leg raises and 100 free squats you will have the overall fitness to match anyone in the gym.
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