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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Resistance Training: Bodyweight Exercises

While working out at Gold's Gym, a few months after putting on 15 lbs of muscle, I signed up for some Tae Kwon Do classes. I had wanted to learn some martial arts for many years, and was finally ready to take the plunge. I was in good physical shape, both strength- and endurance-wise.

Or so I thought. I was fortunate enough to find a school staffed by former Korean Special Services members and... well, there's just no nice way to put it. They handed me my ass on a platter. They had no use for weight-training, and before long I stopped going to Gold's altogether because it was just getting in the way.

I went to class for a solid year before I had a day I wasn't sore. But at the age of 47, I was able to hold my own with the 20-year-olds. Trust me, there is nothing like having people come up to you and say, "What? I thought you were in your early 30s." And that happened to me several times.

I've since had to stop TKD, a combination of two freak injuries (only one was TKD-related) and a third-shift job that interfered with classes. But my instructors taught me how you get tough.

The key is bodyweight exercises. These are strength-building exercises that use the weight of your body for resistance. Many different types of exercise incorporate at least some use of bodyweight:
  • Callisthenics, such as pushups, pullups, squats, dips, and situps.
  • Plyometrics, which develop explosive power; they are usually associated with jumping, but there are upper body exercises too.
  • Pilates, particularly some of the mat exercises.
  • Yoga has some positions that incorporate bodyweight resistance moves.
The beauty of most bodyweight exercises is that you don't need any equipment, which means you can do them at home when it fits your schedule. Instead of doing a long workout, you can break it up so you do a few minutes in the morning, a few at lunch, a few after work, and a few before bed if you so choose. In fact, most people can get good results without doing a long workout at all.

One of the real strengths (pardon the pun) of bodyweight training is that most of these exercises work several muscle groups at once, which helps promote balance in your muscular development. In addition, these exercises also tend to duplicate actions you would normally perform during the day; as a result, you get stronger in practical ways that improve your everyday life.

I'm a big believer in bodyweight exercises, and I think you should include some in your workout routines. I know some of you will object that you can't perform some exercises using the weight of your body; that's ok, there are ways to adjust for weakness. Remember the Atlas pushup I spoke of a couple of weeks ago? I explained how you could adjust the difficulty by altering the relationship between your hands and your feet. Similar adjustments can be done with most bodyweight exercises. You can still overdo it if you're not careful, but it's less likely to happen than with weightlifting.

There are still other types of resistance training we need to be aware of, but I'll be coming back to bodyweight exercises later because you should consider adding some to your workout plan.


  1. Have you come across a book called "Balanced Golf: Harnessing the Simplicity, Focus, and Natural Motions of Martial Arts to Improve Your All-Around Game" by Ted Kiegiel and Peter F. Stevens ? I have it, but haven't gotten into it yet.

    Have you been able to get specific with how this has improved your golf game ?

  2. That's a new book to me, Court. I'm gonna have to check it out.

    The Tae Kwon Do really helped me power-wise; my ability to hit the ball solidly improved in a big way (possibly because I didn't get tired as easily) and I got where I could hit a high 2-iron, which is certainly a matter of clubhead speed. I said I was lucky to find a school with some ex-military instructors, but several of the other instructors played golf and often used golf images to help me learn the moves. One of my instructors played on the Nationwide Tour for a year (his first name was Ryan, but I forget his last).

    Several of the Tour players do some martial arts training (I'm pretty sure Kenny Perry is one of them), and Tadd Fujikawa is a good example of how martial arts technique can help; after all, he's considered a fairly long hitter for his size (5'1"), and he's a black belt in karate.

    Here's the current plan: I'm going to finish looking at the different types of resistance training we can use (one common martial arts method comes up in a couple of days), then at some popular ways to combine them, and then I'm going to show some golf-specific ways to incorporate them into a general fitness plan. I think it's important to do more than just golf-specific work, for balanced development if no other reason.

  3. Hey Mike,
    Be a real man, put down your clubs and enter a MMA tournament for Pete's sake... ;)

    You're right though, a lot of disciplines focus on balance and developing core power which can only improve your game.

  4. Pete, I am an unabashed pacifist... when it comes to being hit. I'd much rather knock the cover off a golf ball than have my cover knocked off!;-D