Building a Body Weight Workout: Body Weight Exercises You Can Do (Almost) Anywhere
A body weight workout is one in which an athlete’s own body weight stands in for an entire gym full of machines and dumbbells. Developing a body weight exercise plan means finding ways to exert our muscles against simple obstacles that are always available no matter where we are, like gravity. Body weight exercise moves can be simple or complex. A few classic examples include push-ups, sit-ups, and squats. But some body weight workout plans can also be incredibly complex and clever. When we use our own body weight to create resistance, a couple of things happen:
What are Body Weight Exercises and What Do They Do?
First, we exercise not only our bodies, but also our sense of resourcefulness. A great body weight workout is one that can be done in a hotel room while traveling, in a back yard, or in a garage with no gym equipment in sight. To launch into a set of body weight exercises, we just have to…launch into them. But this can require a little ingenuity. The best body weight workout plans are those that help us maximize resistance using only simple physics and the power of our own limbs.
Second, body weight exercises help develop what some experts call the “rails”. This is an entire ecosystem of conscious and unconscious movements and the subtle muscles that support them, muscles that contribute to intangible elements of fitness like balance and coordination. These intangibles also include a heightened awareness of our physical selves. (For example, if you climb out onto that branch, will it support your weight? Free-weight and body weight workout routines can help us answer these questions and develop these senses in ways that machine workouts can’t.)
The Benefits of a Body Weight Workout
Body weight workout plans offer several undeniable benefits:
- A body weight workout, such as the KB Duo, is portable and cheap. Carrying your body around costs nothing, gravity is free, walls are all over the place waiting to be leaned on, and the ground isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
- Body weight exercises, by nature, often cross-train multiple muscle groups at the same time. A machine may target one area while allowing the others to remain static, but a body weight workout typically engages the core as well as the biceps, quads, etc.
- Body weight exercises are naturally progressive. As we gain strength, mass and flexibility, the degree of potential resistance also increases up to a certain point. (See the special considerations below)
Classic Body Weight Exercises, With Modifications
Here are some classic body weight exercise moves along with modifications that can increase the difficulty of each one:
Everyone recognizes the simple, reliable push-up. Lying face-down with your palms pressed to the floor and your body weight resting on your palms and toes, use your arms to push yourself off the ground. Then try the same move with only one arm (spread your feet apart for balance.) Try the push-up on an incline, with your feet elevated higher than your palms. For extreme resistance, stand on your hands with your feet touching a wall (for balance). Lower your head to the ground and push yourself back up.
The Back Bridge
Lie on your back, reach your arms toward your ears, and press your palms/fingertips to the floor. Placing your body weight on your feet and hands, push your torso up and away from the floor. Your body should form an arch. Maintain that position and you’ll feel the resistance in your back, arms and upper legs. Modify the difficulty of this move (and the danger—be careful), by entering the bridge from a standing position.
If you have access to two sturdy parallel bars, suspend your body between them with your arms straight. Lower yourself until your upper arm reaches parallel, then push yourself back up. You can also hold yourself up using the two bars and bend your legs toward your torso. This can strengthen your abs.
To do a chin-up, find a sturdy bar running parallel to the ground and grip the bar with your palms facing toward you. Lift your body weight toward the bar. This move will build strength in your biceps, especially if your hands are close together. The pull-up is a similar move with the palms facing away from you. Pull-ups place strain on the back, the abs, the lats, and the forearms.
The Body Weight Workout: Special Considerations
Body weight workouts offer plenty of advantages, but they don’t provide a perfect solution to every workout challenge. Before you rely exclusively on body weight exercises to stay fit, keep these considerations in mind:
- When your heaviest weight is your own body, resistance stays high as long as your strength-to-body weight ratio stays low. But if you’re small and your pound-for-pound strength is high (as it often is for some gymnasts and smaller athletes) your body weight might not provide sufficient resistance after a while. That’s where your ingenuity will come in handy. To keep the exercises challenging, you’ll need to adopt techniques like keeping your arms straight, elevating your feet, or doing moves with one arm/leg at a time (like one-arm push-ups). Find ways to build resistance by placing yourself at a mechanical disadvantage.
- Feel free to combine body weight exercises with traditional weights. For example, wearing a heavy vest, using ankle weights, or even having someone press down on your back as you complete a push-up can maximize the benefits of a body weight workout. But be safe. The body weight workout environment is, by nature, unstructured. No matter how clever a move may seem or how much resistance it creates, stop doing it if you feel unbalanced or if the move causes pain in the joints, neck, or back.
- A great body weight work out will yield better results if it’s just one part of an overall healthy lifestyle. Make sure your body weight exercise plan includes plenty of sleep, adequate stress management, and a diet heavy on leafy green vegetables and whole grain carbohydrates.