I'll be the first to admit that I love strength training equipment. Those of us who use weights know that defying gravity is the biggest challenge of all. But I find the need to mix up my workouts and get back to routines that involve pushing and pulling only my own body weight.
Believe me, your own body weight is enough to build strength and whole body fitness. You can build muscle with body weight exercises such as pull ups, chin ups, sit ups, crunches, lunges and squats, and with simple jumps, sprints and knee-high skips. If you're training in a sport, you can improve overall balance and reflexes and develop the quick muscle release and explosive power you need to play with plyometrics, boot camp fitness training workouts and other off-the-machine exercises.
Here are five essential equipment-free exercises that you can do in the gym or at home. If you string them together into a routine (and I'll suggest some), you can also do them at home, but it's best to have a mat, and training or careful practice. For pylometrics, practice your low-impact landings whether you're landing on your feet or your hands during explosive push ups. The idea is to do these moves always correctly, over and over, in your workout and build up the muscle memory to land without injury and minimize joint impact. That way, you avoid injury in your sport. (*note: always check with your physician before starting a new workout regimen)
- Vertical jumping. Try the straight jump-and-reach. Stand straight and tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms hanging down and relaxed. Squat slightly and jump up and high as you can. Stretch your arms above your head to touch something over your head or hit a mark on a wall. Now try jumping over an obstacle, say a foot-high box. Take the same stance, bend your hips slightly and jump over the box. Keep your body straight and tuck your knees toward your chest. Turn around and do it again. Now try a standing broad jump. Bend your knees slightly, swing your arms back and then forward as you jump and land on both feet. Stretch up slowly. Touch your toes slowly. Return to standing position and do it again. Try the standing broad jump with a one-foot landing, jump again and land on the other foot, jump again and land on both feet. Alternate broad jumps with sprints and you will be sweating. For one more vertical jump exercise, here's a video on depth jumping.
- Lateral hopping. Start with some lateral shuffles. Stan with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and your body leaning forward. Step with your right foot as far out to your right side as you can. Bring your left foot alongside back into the starting position. Keep going to the right, with your right foot leading the way, for a dozen steps. Now stop and lead with your left foot in the direction you just came. As long as you keep correct form, you can increase the pace. Now do some side-to-side ankle hops. Make two marks on the floor with tape about three feet apart. Stand on one leg next to one of the marks with your feet at shoulder-width and your arms relaxed at your side. Hop back and forth between the marks on the floor placing your right foot beside the right-hand mark and your left-foot beside the left-hand mark.
- Clapping push-ups. Start on the floor in a push up with your hands at shoulder width on a mat and your toes on the floor. Drop down to the floor and then push up explosively. At the top of the push-up, clap your hands together once and drop back to the floor. Ouch, those burn!
- Incline push-ups. Start on the floor, prone, with your hands shoulder-width apart and your toes on a box or a stack of books that makes your feet higher than your head. Explosively push up off the floor and lower yourself down. If you combine it with the clap, catch yourself on your hands on the mats in push-up position with a slightly wider hand width than when you started. Lower yourself, reset your hands and start over. Whoa, those really burn!
- Cardio. The American Council on Exercise recommends cardiovascular exercise, movement that gets your heart rate up to improve oxygen consumption by the body. Calisthenics are a good and necessary addition to your equipment-free body-weight exercises. You can skip rope, run up stairs, do jumping jacks, run in place, or do or knee-high skipping in place. Do three or four different exercises for 30 seconds each and then rest for two or three minutes. If you're near a field, try a 40-yard dash.
A key to using these exercises is to combine them so you get a full-body workout based on balance, form, strength, power and oxygen-rich movement. LiveStrong gives a good overview of equipment-free exercising. With a trainer or on your own, design a program. Keep it balanced. Don't go too fast, over-repeat, or work out too long. Remember to include recovery intervals.
A few seriously fun programs to check out for ideas: the 14-week, pre-boot camp Air Force workout; the NFL Scouting Combine routine; and the Daniel Craig Workout I ran across in Men's Health magazine (James Bond's workout!). Go for it!
Guest Author: Brett Warren is a fitness and weightlifting enthusiast from Boston, Massachusetts. He is passionate about nutraceutical science and loves his job developing workout supplements for Force Factor. Brett's extensive background in biochemical engineering means he's one scientist you don't want to mess with. When Brett is not crushing it in the gym or working at Force Factor, you can find him spending time outdoors with his family.
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