For the past several years, the American College on Sports Medicine has released an annual list of rising fitness trends. Despite the fact that it’s been in use for literally thousands of years, though, body weight training had never appeared on that list. That is, it never appeared until it suddenly claimed third position in 2013.
Clearly, body weight training is an up-and-coming trend, partially thanks to its promotion by countless gyms and workout programs. But, really, the success of those programs and promotional efforts is due to the fact that body weight training is incredibly useful. Not only is this approach to fitness effective, but also it requires no equipment, can be done anywhere you are and allows for a staggering amount of variations. With a touch of creativity and planning, you can easily design a program to help you meet you goals regardless whether you’re at home or away on vacation. Because it uses your own body and simulates natural movements, as well, body weight training has a greatly reduced risk of injury compared to other training methods. What follows are three basic, classic body weight exercises that focus on all of your major muscles groups. With a few slight tweaks in body position and technique, you can quickly change these movements to make them more or less challenging.
The traditional squat is a familiar movement for most people, since it’s one that we do frequently throughout our daily activities. To do a squat, stand with your arms at your sides and your feet just slightly wider than shoulder width. Bend at your knees and lower your body until you are basically in a sitting position. Keep your back straight throughout the movement. Slowly return to the starting position.
While this exercise does engage your entire lower body, the fact that it’s essentially what your legs are built to do means that it’s usually too easy to give you an effective workout. Of course, you could do an incredible amount of reps until you reach exhaustion but that will amount to little more than a cardiovascular exercise. A much more effective approach would be increasing the difficulty of your squat.
The one-legged squat will give you a more challenging workout with the added bonus of core involvement. Just as the name suggests, this exercise requires you to perform a squat but with one leg extended out in front of you. To help you stay balanced hold your arms straight out ahead of you. Lower yourself down until your thigh is parallel to the ground and slowly return to standing.
The push up is frequently used as a measure of upper-body strength by organizations ranging from the military to athletic teams. Many people, though, find the push up to be just too difficult when they first start exercising.
If that’s the case, an easier variation – and a good place to start – is the incline push up. As the name suggests, this variation on the push up has you place your hands against a counter or other stable surface so that your body forms an angle with the floor. You can adjust the difficulty by changing the angle of your body. To make the exercise easier, increase the angle so that you are standing more and more upright. If you want to make it more challenging, though, lower your body closer to the floor.
Once you can do this type of push up, you can try to do a few reps of standard push-ups. After a time, though, you find that you need even more of a challenge. To accomplish this, go in the opposite direction as before and increase the height of your feet. Doing so will shift your weight forward and place more demand on your chest and shoulders.
For more tips on push up variations, see my past post on the subject
Most core exercises are, in fact, body weight in nature. For example, the crunch, sit-up and Russian twists all rely on your body to create it’s on resistance.
Just to be clear, “core” is an umbrella term that refers to the various muscles that wrap around your midsection. This includes your abs, lower back, oblique’s and even portions of your hips. All of these muscles work together to keep you stable and upright while facilitating a wide range of movements.
In a previous post, we discussed several variations on the plank and how to incorporate them in to your workout routine. Essentially, the basic plank consists of assuming a push up position and holding that stance for 30 seconds. During that time, your hips should be raised off the floor and your back should remain straight. This forces your core to contract isometrically, which is its primary function.