In previous articles I have attempted to explain why bodyweight conditioning is a superior form of training. I’ve talked about gymnasts and how they are able to build incredible, animal like strength using nothing but their own bodyweight. Another example of athletes who are in incredible shape with terrific athletic ability are wrestlers. And by wrestlers, I don’t mean today’s professional wrestlers. Most of these are more entertainers than athletes. However, there was a time when professional wrestling was a real sport. Real wrestling, as opposed to the WWE stuff, requires strength, stamina and flexibility. Back at the turn of the last century, some of these real wrestling matches would go on for hours. How did these athletes get in the shape required to do this? You guessed it. Most of them used some form of bodyweight exercises.
One of the biggest proponents of natural bodyweight conditioning was a professional wrestler by the name of Karl Gotch. He wrestled in the Olympics in 1948 and turned professional thereafter. He was known for being in unbelievable shape and for being an absolute maniac when it came to conditioning. These are this thoughts on training:
“I don’t like weight lifting for wrestling”, says Karl. “I believe you should do gymnastic type exercises that use your own bodyweight. Take a gymnast, for example. he is the only athlete, that, without weight training, when given his own body weight and asked to press it overhead, will go BANG and press it without any problem. You’ve got to look at the animals in the wild. That’s what I did. I watched how they moved around and figured out how to do similar movements. When I was growing up in Belgium, a doctor friend of mine took me to the zoo to observe the animals. He said that they were the ones who knew how to train. He was right. So I started to put together a way of training … but I don’t want to take credit for it. How can you take credit for exercises and ideas that are at least 3000 years old?”
The bodyweight exercises that Karl is talking about are most likely the kind that Indian wrestlers used to perform (and still do). Exercises like Hindu squats and Hindu push ups, among others. As well, much of Yoga actually has it roots in wrestling, I believe.
Anyway, for most of his wrestling career, Karl was a fierce advocate of bodyweight conditioning. However, he had an open mind and he DID decide to train exclusively with weights. In his mind, how would he know if his natural methods were superior if he didn’t try the other way? He worked diligently at it, and once was able to squat 700 pounds and bench over 400. Pretty impressive. However, what Karl discovered is that the weight training did not give him CONDITIONED STRENGTH. Meaning, the strength he gained allowed him to lift weights, but that’s about it. When he was engaged in a wrestling match, he would get tired after a very short period of time. Again, this is the key. In my mind, man man exercises like weight lifting do not train your body in the way nature intended. You CAN achieve a certain look with it, which is fine. However, it is ultimately a phony look. Karl would call it counterfeit muscle. All of that muscle you acquire may look good, but none of it is worth a damn. What can you do with it? If you get tired playing tennis or pull a muscle lifting a bag of groceries, who cares? If you want to get in superior shape the strength you have must be balanced with stamina and flexibility. The way to get this is with a program of bodyweight conditioning.
So, the question is, what exactly do you want? Most likely, you’re not a wrestler (or a gymnast) and never plan to be. However, what are you looking for in an exercise program? If you want to acquire an athletic, healthy, natural body that is strong, flexible and possess great stamina, bodyweight exercises are the way to go. Always remember, animals in the wild don’t need to use machines or weights, and neither do you.