the joy of strength training


December 2nd, 2007 at 6:51 pm

Bodyweight or bust!

I like going to the gym, but sometimes I wish I could have my own gym at home. A power rack in the basement, a pull-up bar in the lounge, maybe some gymnastic rings and a rope on the tree outside.

pull-up outsideExcept that I don’t have a basement. Or a garden, let alone a tree. I don’t even have a back yard. I live in a small flat with an outside stairwell and a concrete area that’s about half the size of a small back yard!

However, this doesn’t mean I can’t do my strength training at home. I just have to be more inventive about it. There is a wide range of strength exercises you can do using only your own bodyweight and whatever walls, railings, stairs you have to hand.

But surely, you are thinking, you can’t get really strong with bodyweight exercises? Well, here’s what strength training expert Alwyn Cosgrove has to say on the matter:

“In my training facility everyone begins with bodyweight exercises. You have to earn the right to lift weights in my facility. Now I’m sure some of you are jumping up and down right about now, convinced that your bodyweight is not enough for you to get a ‘good workout’. You think you’re much too strong. And you’re probably right. If you’re an Olympic Gymnast that is. Remember – most gymnasts use primarily their bodyweight in their conditioning programs and have no problem developing great physiques and great strength levels.”

It’s possible to work the whole body using just your bodyweight. You can train strength, core and explosive power. There are many exercises you can use; in the following video clip I demonstrate a few of my favourites.

The exercises I demonstrate in the clip are:

1. Strength

Pull-ups – with an overhand grip, these work the back (particularly the lats), arms and core. Unluckily I don’t have a bar, just a rather awkward bit of wood that I can’t grip properly. If you don’t have any kind of bar to hand you can use a ledge instead. Not ideal, but at least your fingers will get really strong and you can consider taking up rock climbing!

Inverted rows with underhand grip – these also work the whole back and the underhand grip gives the biceps a bit more of a workout

One-legged squats – also known as pistols, this exercise works the legs (particularly quads and glutes) and the core. You can do these standing flat on the ground, but using a step or a box will allow you to go lower and get a more beneficial range of motion, especially if your hamstrings are not very flexible. You can add weight to the move by holding a heavy object out in front of you. An old telly, perhaps! This exercise is great because it trains balance, flexibility and co-ordination as well as leg strength.

handstand push-upModified handstand push-ups – handstand push-ups are excellent for working the shoulders. I’m sorry to say that I can’t crank out many full handstand push-ups, so I use this modified version with my feet on a wall at right angles to my body. The closer your hands are to the wall, the harder the exercise is. If you don’t have a handy wall of the right height, you can use a chair. A tip is to keep your head between your arms, so you are looking at the wall behind you not the ground below you. If full handstand push-ups are too easy for you, increase the range of motion by putting each hand on a brick or a concrete block.

Chest dips – a wide arm grip works the chest more, whereas a narrower grip works the triceps.

Tricep extension – this works the triceps and the core. This version of the exercise is more challenging than it looks, but if you find it too easy, raise your legs up so that your body is parallel to the floor to increase the difficulty.

Don’t forget, you can add a weighted vest to any of these exercises for additional challenge.

2. Core

Most people know the popular bodyweight exercises for core, such as sit-ups and crunches, bicycle, twists, plank and so on. For this reason, and because the core is being worked in most of the other exercises, I have only included one core exercise in this video demo.

V-ups – works the core, particularly the abs. Holding a weight in your hands will increase the intensity.

3. Explosive power

This is an area of strength often neglected in training. Power is a function of strength and speed and I believe it is necessary for anyone who wants to claim all-round strength.

Clap push-ups – also known as pylometric push-ups. I demonstrate the basic version here but you can spice up your clap push-ups by using blocks or steps. For example, you can use the corner of a step to do power overs (check out my Fun With Press-ups article if you don’t know what power overs are).

Stair jump – this is my outdoor replacement for a box jump. If you have a sturdy box, that would probably be better as you would be able to perform the exercise faster. The flight of steps I use happens to be 25 inches high. I recommend the stair or box jump to be at least 24 inches, more if possible. This is a great exercise for explosive leg power and vertical jump training.

Tuck jump – this exercise trains the explosive power of the legs and is also a great conditioning exercise. Really try to get the knees as close to the chest as possible, no half measures on this one! A good exercise to finish with.

So, no more excuses. See how inventive you can be in your own backyard or garden. Ross Training has plenty of ideas too.

What’s your favourite no-equipment bodyweight exercise?

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