You don’t have to join a gym to get fit. Despite what many people think and what the multi-billion-dollar fitness industry promotes, exercise isn’t about the right pair of shoes, the right app or the right training studio. It’s about two things only, and they are both absolutely free of charge:
- Your Body
Your body contains all of the equipment you’ll ever need to get lean, muscular and aerobically in top condition. Granted your body-weight will not turn you into Mr. Olympia, but it will allow you to develop a physique that will turn heads.
Don’t believe me – take a look at a top competitive gymnast. I bet you’ll see a body that you’d kill for. Well, it was developed with just two things – the gymnast’s own body weight and the second crucial element in the fit success equation – gravity.
With nothing more than your birthday suit and the power of gravity, I’m going show you how to achieve awesome workouts that get results. We are going to focus on the two key fitness systems of your body to ensure complete, overall health, well-being and peak development. Those two systems are the aerobic and the anaerobic systems.
Gravity is a wonderful thing. As well as keeping stuff anchored to the surface of the earth, it allows you to get a great workout with nothing but your own body weight. With nothing but what you were born with you are able to build muscle mass and strength, increase muscular endurance and lose fat.
There are some obvious benefits of body weight training as opposed to making use of either free weights or machines.
- You don’t have to spend a small fortune to get your workout in
- You can work out anywhere, anytime
- The movement is natural and functional – you aren’t restricted or placed in a fixed position
- The movements are functional, allowing you to emulate the real movements that you perform throughout the day
Push / Pull Training
There are two basic ways to train your body. You either pull towards your body or you push away from your body. Due to the force of gravity, body weight training has traditionally been heavily weighted towards Push training.
Push movements like push-ups are more convenient than Pull movements like pull ups. All you need to do is lower yourself to the ground and then push back to the starting position.
Unless you balance your training between Pushing and Pulling, however, you will fail to achieve the balanced development and functional strength that you need for overall strength, muscularity and fitness. That is why bodyweight pulling movements are an important part of a well-rounded program.
This will require the use of some form of pull up bar which you can grip in order to pull your body away from the ground. You can use a beam in your garage, a home chin up bar door attachment or you can make your own chin up apparatus.
Modified pull up movements are a stepping-stone to full pull ups. These can be performed with a bar (broomstick handle?) and a couple of chairs.
Most bodyweight training programs that you’ll find neglect the training of the muscles of the back. That is a mistake. Without strong latissimus, rhombus and erector spinae muscles, you will open yourself up to structural imbalance problems, along with rounded shoulders, anterior pelvic tilt and lower back pain.
The ideal program we will creatively utilize variations of pulling exercises to ensure balanced development of the muscles of both the front and back of your body.
Train Hard, Train Safe
An effective bodyweight training program requires that you make use of everyday furniture that you have around your home. This may include a door frame, a chair or table top. It is vital that every piece of training equipment that you use is secure, stable and strong. Always stabilize items before using them. Do a couple of test repetitions before doing your actual set in order to test rigidity.
Bodyweight training is a very safe way to work out when compared to what goes on in most gyms. Still, one unwise move can plunge you into a world of pain – and frustration. Follow these guidelines to ensure that you are training safe while training hard:
Don’t Over Train
Your muscles don’t grow when you train. Unless you provide sufficient time for the muscle to recover before working it again, you will never make progress. Not providing your connective tissues time to recover between workouts can set you up for problems. For those reasons, you should give your body 48 hours of recovery before doing the same exercise again.
Use Perfect Form
You must have the focus and discipline to use proper form on every repetition. Don’t just focus on reaching a total number of reps. Make sure that your body is moving through a full range of motion, especially on movements like push-ups. Poor form is the number one cause of injury.
Balance Your Training
Your body is designed to work as a whole unit. If you train certain parts and not others, you will develop imbalances which will inevitably translate to injury. Your best protection against chronic injury, then, is balanced, strength, balanced flexibility and balanced muscle mass.
Stop When It Feels Wrong
There’s a fine line between being focused on hitting your rep target and using common sense when you feel pain. There is no sense in pushing through unnatural pain (as opposed to muscular fatigue) to finish your set. If you don’t give your body the respect it deserves, you may find yourself unable to train for weeks, defeating the purpose of what you’re doing. So, listen to your body.
The erroneous idea that bodyweight training is not serious training can lead people to skip the warm up. This is a mistake. You need to warm up to move your body from cold and rigid to warm and flexible. The colder a muscle is, the more prone it is to injury. Spend a few minutes gradually getting your heart rate up with jogging on the spot, jumping jacks or skipping. Warm up the particular muscles that you will be working by doing static stretches for them.
Too many people exercise mindlessly. They may be thinking about what happened at work that day, what they’ve still got to accomplish before bed or what’s for dinner, but not about what they are actually doing.
Yet, unless you are tuned in to the movement that you are currently performing you will not get the most out of it. You will also be increasing your risk of injury. That’s why it is crucial that you develop what is known as the mind-muscle connection.
Focus on the prime mover of the exercise. For example, when performing push-ups, focus on the feeling across your pectoral muscles. Feel them stretching, expanding and contracting. Imagine them as pistons, mechanically driving up and down.
Most people exercise too fast. They have a ‘get it over with’ mentality that leads to partial movements and sloppy form. Just watch people doing push-ups and you’ll see what I mean. They pump out quarter movements, dropping their head to limit the range of motion, at about 3 per second. They may as well have not bothered. To get the most out of your exercise, perform the concentric (positive part) of the movement to a 2-second count. The eccentric (negative) part should take 3 seconds.
Sample Bodyweight Home Training Program
Complete this program as a circuit, doing 12 repetitions on each exercise. Do not rest between exercises. At the end of the circuit rest for exactly two minutes and then do it again. Work up to completing 4 circuits of the program:
- Skipping x 30 seconds
- Modified Pull Ups
- Skipping x 30 seconds
- Reverse Dips
- Skipping x 30 seconds
- Bodyweight Squats
- Box Jumps
- Skipping x 30 seconds
- Mason Crunches
- Skipping x 30 seconds
- Jumping Split Lunges
Taking it to the Next Level with Resistance Bands
Resistance bands have been around forever. For a long time, though, they were in the gimmicky exercise category. In the last few years, though, resistance bands have also grown up.
Resistance bands offer some unique benefits over any other type of resistance training:
- They are lightweight, flexible and portable
- They are a great travel workout solution
- They allow for a freer range of motion than gravity bound equipment, allowing you to work from unique angles.
- They train muscles through both the positive and the negative range of an exercise.
Resistance tube bands come in various thicknesses and are usually color coded in accordance with the relative resistance level of the band. Many bands come with easy grip handles.
The bands provide a restoring force which is similar to a spring loaded weight machine. However, with bands, the force only comes into play when the ends of the band are pulled apart. So, the greater the extension of the band the greater the resistance.
This type of training is known as linear resistance exercise. It has been scientifically shown provide a more targeted workout to fast twitch muscle fibers, which are primarily responsible for the development of muscular power.
Resistance bands generally follow a standard color coded resistance level as follows:
- Level 1 (yellow) = 10 lbs
- Level 2 (green) = 20 lbs
- Level 3 (red) = 25 lbs
- Level 4 (blue) = 30 lbs
- Level 5 (extra heavy) = 35 lbs
- Level 6 (extra, extra heavy) = 40 lbs
Resistance band training offers the perfect complement to body weight exercise.