A Quick History of Bodyweight Training 

A Quick History of Bodyweight Training 

An Introduction To Bodyweight Training

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Up until the 20th century strength training was performed with weights. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, explained that strength training was based on a simple principle.

“That which is used develops, and that which is not used wastes away.

He was referring in this case to muscles. Resistance training can be dated historically back as far as ancient Greece. Legend tells us that the wrestler Milo of Croton supposedly strength trained by lifting a calf onto his back, walking with this additional weight every day of his life until the calf reached maturity.

Beginning in the 1930s, Charles Atlas popularized strength training with the addition of isometric exercise. Many a young man read the famous Charles Atlas “bully on the beach” advertisements in the backs of comic books and sent away for his strength training program.

The 1960s and 70s saw exercise machines begin to replace free weights in an attempt to engage millions who were uncomfortable or intimidated by heavy metal weights and gyms full of bulky bodybuilders. 1977, the bodybuilding docudrama “Pumping Iron” was released. Primarily focusing on  Arnold Schwarzenegger and his quest for the title of Mister Olympia,the movie expanded the reach of strength training and bodybuilding.

This set off explosive growth and increased awareness around the world to the benefits of strength training, which was still predominantly a free weight system of fitness.


Here’s some historical highlights of Bodyweight Training…

The Indian Wrestling Cults. Did you know Indian wrestling as a sport (and near religion) goes back thousands of years? Approaching modern MMA in its mix of grappling and striking, Indian wrestlers developed extensive libraries of Bodyweight Training exercises, some revived in the last decade or so outside of India like the Hindu pushup and Hindu squat which we will touch on later.

The physical prowess of Indian wrestlers is legendary with well documented programs that included over 500 push ups and 1000 squats a day, six days a week!

The Spartan Warriors. If you’ve ever seen a statue or painting of a Spartan warrior you will probably have seen that the movie “300” was right on the mark with their depiction of the Spartan physique. The Spartans lifted no weights, but trained using advanced Bodyweight Training methods which left them with a still lasting reputation of being some of the finest physical specimen to ever walk the earth.

The Roman Gladiator. A distant cousin of the Spartan, Roman Gladiators employed similar training programs brought to them from the Greeks. Their results were equally impressive.

Charles Atlas and the American Physical Culturalists. The idea of building a healthy, great looking and powerful body first reignited in modern days at the start of the 1900’s. Probably the most popular and well known of these fitness enthusiasts was the legendary Charles Atlas.

Charles, along with most of his contemporaries, were dedicated Bodyweight Training advocates and built insanely well developed and athletically capable bodies. Google Charles Atlas, Earle Liederman, Jack Lalanne or other fitness gurus of their era and marvel at what they were able to achieve minus weights, anabolic steroids, supplements or even advanced diet ideas!

Modern Military Spec Ops. From the American Navy Seals to the British RAF and every special forces group in between has been built on a foundation of push ups, pull ups, crunches and so on. Very few indulge in much weight training. Can anyone really deny their high level of conditioning and life and death level of true functional fitness?

Matt Furey and the New Breed of Bodyweight Training. In the early 2000’s a somewhat over the top fitness coach and author is credited by most as bringing back Bodyweight Training to the forefront of discussion and reviving a whole arsenal of lost exercises.

Furey opened these doors and deserves more credit than he sometimes receives. Now it should be clear you are about to follow in some very legendary footsteps when you dive into Bodyweight Training. Are you ready to carry on this proud fitness tradition? I think you absolutely have what it takes.



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