Not only are you bound to encounter a situation every now and then when making it to the gym isn’t feasible, but sometimes you just don’t feel like making the trek to the gym. Despite this, many people still want to workout. This is where a good bodyweight workout comes in handy.
I myself run into this situation most often when traveling. I’ll be staying at a hotel, and I head down to the “gym” on the main floor, and low and behold, there’s a treadmill that looks likes someone took it from a museum. Sometimes, there might also be an equally archaic stationary bike. As far as weights go however, I’m continually disappointed in the selection, or lack there of.
Bodyweight routines are great, because not only do they build muscle and strength, but they can also work your anaerobic system at the exact same time. Due to the nature of bodyweight exercises, you can go from one to another relatively quickly, negating the time for lengthy rest periods and thereby increasing your cardio workout.
Not only are bodyweight exercises sometimes your only option, they’re also completely necessary in my opinion. In fact, I’d say they’re downright vital when it comes to having a functional and impressive body. Why is this? It’s because bodyweight exercises are perhaps some of the greatest indicators of overall fitness and strength there are. They leave very little room for cheating, they leave very few muscles out of the equation, and they often make up for holes and vulnerabilities left by years of traditional weight training.
Case in point. Not long ago an MMA fighter, also a powerlifter, walked into a training session in my gym that was focused building functional strength. I knew this guy, and was well aware of his tendency to brag (not an uncommon trait to stumble upon in a gym, I know). His latest and greatest news was that he had successfully performed a full parallel squat with 580lbs on the rack.
That’s nothing to scoff at, not at all. Without any argument it would be say to safe that with a feat like that, it would be appropriate to call this guy strong. However, if you were to judge this guy by his performance in this the bodyweight training session? Well, I’d classify him as out of shape. Yup, he couldn’t even make it to the 15 minute mark before bowing out. Not only that, but he couldn’t even perform one single legged squat. Not one. Coming from someone who can squat 580lbs with both his legs, this is, at first glance, surprising.
Mobility and Strength
If you look at this powerlifters situation a little more closely, it makes a little bit more sense. The body is extremely good compensating for weaknesses that traditional weight lifting creates. In the case of the squat, the outer hip muscles and glutes are left behind and the lower back and hamstrings take a good amount of the work. When this powerlifter attempted a real-life, functional movement, his stabilizer muscles failed him miserably. This hardly qualifies him as a well-rounded, grade A fitness student.
Bodyweight exercises require much more mobility and stability than traditional strength training exercises. If you regularly include bodyweight exercises in your workouts, you already know how much they’ll compliment and benefit your weight training. This is why I recommend taking a day off here and there from your usual routine and supplementing it with this bodyweight routine. Without further ado, let’s have a look at this bodyweight workout.
The Bodyweight Workout
Click on the exercise name for visual instructions on how to do it.
This can be done from any kitchen bench, chair, couch, coffee table, etc. Feel free to get a little inventive if you’d like. Basically, you just do a normal dip while your feet are resting on something stable. Do 8-12.
Stand shoulder width apart the same way you would as if you were doing a barbell squat, and keep your arms at your side. Lower yourself down into a full, deep, squat, then drive your legs through the floor explosively to launch yourself as high in the air as you can. Upon landing, you have completed one repetition. Do 8-12.
A variation of the normal push-up, the only difference is that your hands lie closer together. I like to use my pointer fingers and thumbs to touch to make a diamond shape with my hands on the floor. If you’re just beginning, place your hand shoulder width apart as this will be a bit easier. This variation will put more emphasis on your arms. Do 10-15.
The burpee takes you from a normal standing position down into a pushup, and finishes off with a jump squat. This one will really get your heart pumping. Do 12 of these or as many as you can in 60 seconds.
Run on the spot for 60 seconds.
Prop yourself up against a wall (upside-down) with your arms fully extended. Then lower yourself until your head is nearly on the floor. Return to the starting position. This may be a little daunting at first, so feel free to start off with a pike press. Do as many of these as you can, or up to 10.
Sit down on the floor with your legs fully extended out in front of you. Now, push yourself up in the air by driving your hands through the floor. Keep your legs perfectly straight. They should look like they’re floating parallel to the floor when you’re at the top of the movement. One set should be at least 15 seconds long. Work on it until you can hold it for 60 seconds. Some people find this easier to do with push-up bars (myself included). I personally use these ones.
I know how this sounds, but don’t knock it until you try it. It works your glutes better than nearly any other exercises I can think of. Sit yourself up against a bench or a couch, prop one leg up on something sturdy, place your other leg up close to your chest, and drive your hips up off the floor until they’re parallel to the floor. Do 8 on each leg.
You might be familiar with this one from the gym already. From a standing position, lunge forward with one leg and bring that leg’s quad to a parallel position to the floor. Your other knee should stop just short of the floor, it should not hit the floor and subsequently “bounce” off, this is a common problem I see in the gym. Do 8 then switch to the oppose leg and do 8 more.
Lay on the floor beneath a study table, or beneath a broom/pole that’s supported on each end. Grab the edge of the table, or your broom, and pull yourself up towards it. Try to squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement, and keep your body perfectly straight throughout the movement. The only part of your body that should be touching the ground when you’re at the top is your heels. Do 8-12.
One of the best core exercises around (far more effective than your average sit-up), the plank works your abs well. Lay down flat on the floor, then prop yourself up on your forearms. Keep your body perfectly straight, don’t stick your butt out, and don’t let it sink. Like the name implies, imagine your body is a plank. Hold this position for at least 15 seconds, and try to build up to 60 seconds. This is one set.
Sit against the wall as if you were sitting on an invisible chair. Your legs should form an ‘L’ and your thighs should be parallel to the ground. Hold this position for up to 60 seconds. That’ll be one set.
Surely this one needs no introduction. You will be reminded of your junior high Phys Ed class while doing these, but they’ll get your heart pumping and contribute nicely to the anaerobic portion of your workout. Do these for 60 seconds, that is one set.
This is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Jump up, and try to tuck your thighs up as close to your chest as possible during each jump. Do as many as you can, or up to 60 seconds.
Throw a towel over a sturdy door so your hands have a something soft to hang on to. Pull yourself up against the door as high as you can. This will hit your arm and back muscles hard. Do as many as you can up to 12.
Last but not least, calf raises will hit, wait for it… wait for it… your calves. I know, shocking. Many people neglect these muscles, which I believe is a mistake as not only are they a vital part of a healthy and fit body, but they’re also a very visible body part. A nice set of calves are a great indicator of someones overall fitness. Do 25 of these.
Once you can easily make it through one set of each of these exercises, then go and and do the circuit for a second time. If you’re really fit and feel like you need more of a challenge, you can do a third round. The faster you move from one exercise to another, the greater the cardiovascular component of this workout. Personally, I try to do this workout as fast as I can, because that way I know i’m benefiting both my aerobic and anaerobic systems.