With all the fitness options out there, it can be difficult to figure out what's "best."
Depending on who you ask in the fitness realm, bodyweight exercises are all you need to achieve all your goals. For others, it begins and ends with barbell training. Ask someone else and they'll tell you the kettlebell is king.
The truth is that each discipline has its own virtues and limitations. What's more, the human body doesn't respond as well to the same stimulus over and over again. It thrives in varying conditions and with novel stimuli. This is how you can access the greatest potential for strength, muscular endurance, and conditioning—and best of all, it can be done simply.
No, you don't need to hoard equipment or build an epic garage gym to make the most of these different modalities. All you need is your body, a bar, and a bell. Combine the three, and you'll be on the path to discovering how badass you can be!
With calisthenics, all you need is the floor and a pull-up bar. You don't need a gym, or even a roof over your head. It's the most self-reliant method there is.
Exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, and bodyweight squats are the fundamentals of all strength training, so even as you pursue other methods, it is vital to have a solid grasp of these foundational movement patterns.
But once you have a solid grasp on them and can manage relatively high reps, don't believe for a second that you've "outgrown" the basics. They still belong in your program, and their higher reps can be an advantage.
Put another way: An athlete who can press a heavy barbell overhead for 3 sets of 5 reps is strong. An athlete who can do that as part of a circuit, along with 10-20 pristinely executed push-ups and dips, is strong—and then some.
Additionally, working only with your own body can build unparalleled coordination and proprioceptive awareness. Mentally, you are also eliminating exterior distractions, meaning you can truly zone in on where you exist in space and how you navigate through it.
The barbell builds incredible strength, but it also develops and demands work ethic. The classic barbell lifts, such as the back squat, deadlift, Olympic lifts, and even the bench press, all require a precise combination of symmetry, coordination, and brute strength. If you are lacking in any of these realms, your performance will suffer.
Barbell lifts are often the first thing people try in the gym, but they're more advanced lifts than they get credit for. Once things get heavy, you have to earn every pound you add to the bar, and every percentage point of your 1RM.
Barbell lifting is a skill, and the coordination and mobility demands of advanced lifts rival or exceed either of the other modalities here. But your reward for developing these skills is significant: You get to lift serious weight, perhaps far more than your bodyweight. There's a thrill in this that shouldn't be discounted.
The barbell, for me, is where rage and ecstasy meet.
The kettlebell is an elegant teacher. Unlike the barbell (or dumbbell for that matter), its weight is located outside the hand, providing unique feedback as you attempt to position your body in relation to its resistance. In most cases, you also have fewer weights to choose from, which means you have to occasionally "live up to" the challenge of a bell. The kettlebell also offers several unique moves that simply aren't feasible with other modalities. Foremost among them: the swing and the get-up.
The kettlebell swing is a powerhouse of both strength and endurance, teaching athletes how to maximize tension versus relaxation, and to snap between the two instantly. It's this energy exchange that helps the best fighters hit the hardest. Learn to swing or snatch, and you learn to explode—while also building peerless conditioning that can last the long haul.
The get-up, by contrast, is a paragon of control and alignment. It demands you move through a broad range of motion while maintaining head-to-toe stability, helping a number of often vulnerable joints and muscles stay supple and strong. Both the swing and the get-up are highly intense, while still meditative in their own way.
How to Put Them Together
These workouts aren't written in stone; experiment on your own and see what combination works best for you. The true badass makes their own decision based on experience, situation, and reason. You'd be selling yourself short to do otherwise.
Here are three of my favorite BBB workouts to help unleash your inner badass:
1. Full-Body Circuit
This workout is based upon the principle of active recovery. While one muscle group rests, another gets blasted. Perform one set of each exercise, then move to the next.
2. Upper-Body Push/Pull
This workout emphasizes the upper body. It is a push/pull sequence, alternating between pressing and pulling motions. While it is written here as paired sets, you can also perform the exercises in order, if equipment availability is an issue.
3. Lower-Body Strength
This workout focuses on building the lower body, and overall mental toughness. It combines bodyweight moves for reps, slow grind for strengths, and jumps for explosiveness. Warm up with the first three exercises before moving on to the deadlift.
Take your time to ensure the best technique in your warm-up, not just during your deadlifts. Your attention to detail will pay off.