Building Your Body

By Sharon Naylor

December 23, 2013 6 min read

You don't need to buy expensive workout machines and weight sets to get fit. "Real, effective fitness and simple, powerful exercises need nothing but the most basic (equipment) you already have: your body," says Phil Pierce, author of the "Bodyweight Training Handbook."

While it's nice to have cardio machines and full weight sets at your disposal, you can gain strength, build muscle, boost your cardiovascular fitness, tone, sculpt your body and lose weight just by doing exercises using your own body weight for resistance. You can perform exercises designed to strengthen you from top to bottom and get your heart pumping, sweat flowing and health benefits soaring.

Bodyweight exercises deliver a complete and balanced workout. "There are many ways to make a workout complete, depending on your goal. But to keep it simple, I believe a basic complete workout would consist of strength training, cardiovascular conditioning and mobility or flexibility training. We all need to focus on keeping our muscles strong, our heart healthy and our ability to move with ease and suppleness. By incorporating all three of these modalities into your workout plan, you will keep your body strong and healthy," says trainer Michelle Dozois, internationally recognized fitness expert, award-winning athlete, creator of multiple top-selling DVDs and featured trainer at online fitness classes website FitnessGlo.

It may surprise you that you can build muscles without lifting weights; however, think about one of the core bodyweight exercises: pushups. Properly done pushups can strengthen and tone your arms, back and chest, and work your stomach and glute muscles. No expensive weights needed. It's just your body in motion, pushing up and lowering down for a dual range of motion, resulting in muscle toning.

Here are some of the reasons why bodyweight training is as in demand as gym classes, workout DVDs or online classes:

-- Bodyweight exercises are efficient. Since you don't need to move from workout station to workout station, it's easy to transition from one exercise to the next. You can get a solid workout with shorter rest times, keeping your heart pumping, and you're done in less than an hour.

-- You can work out whenever you'd like, wherever you'd like. Standing in line at the DMV? Do some calf raises. Don't want to drive to the gym on a snowy day? You don't have to miss your workout -- you don't even need equipment.

-- You can get cardio and strength training in one session, mixing up bodyweight exercises to get your heart pumping while your muscles get a workout. Combine jumping jacks with situps for a surprisingly challenging workout using old school exercises that you've made new.

-- You can burn fat fast. Bodyweight exercises can be performed at such a pace and intensity as to rev up your fat-burning capacity in a short amount of time. (Just be smart about your pacing and wear proper footwear so you don't injure yourself overdoing it.)

-- You can modify your bodyweight exercises to suit your fitness level. For example, you might add extra repetitions or just do a few, or do bent-knee pushups rather than military style if it's easier on your back, and so on. You can then work out smarter and stronger, and judge your improvements over time when those bent-knee pushups aren't as hard as they used to be.

-- Other perks include strengthening your core, building flexibility, improving balance and staying engaged with your fitness goals by enjoying a variety of different exercises to keep your workouts fresh and fun. And you get fit for free. Avoiding pricy monthly gym memberships and not needing expensive fitness equipment is one of the top reasons bodyweight workouts are so popular right now.

What are these super-effective exercises? Here's a partial list:

-- Prone walkout: Beginning on all fours with the core engaged, slowly walk the hands forward, staying on the toes but not moving them forward. Next, gradually walk the hands backward to the starting position, maintaining stability and balance.

-- Plank: Lie facedown with forearms on the floor and hands clasped. Extend the legs behind the body and rise up on the toes. Keeping the back straight, tighten the core and hold the position for 30-60 seconds (or as long as you can).

-- Wall sit: Stand with your back against a solid, sturdy wall. Then, slowly slide your back down the wall until the thighs are parallel to the ground, making a 90-degree angle with your knees. Make sure the knees are directly above the ankles and keep the back straight. Hold for 60 seconds or as long as you can. Add some extra burn by doing bicep curls at the same time.

-- Lunge: Stand with hands on hips and feet hip-width apart. Step the right leg forward and slowly lower your body until the left knee is close to or touching the floor and bent at least 90 degrees. Return to the starting position and repeat with the left leg.

-- Add other exercises such as calf raises, pushups, triceps dips, arm circles and crunches. Create twists on bodyweight workout classics such as the pushup by doing a diamond pushup, which brings your hands in closer to the middle with your fingers meeting in a diamond shape, targeting a whole new set of muscles to work with each pushup.

As with any new workout plan, see your doctor to get the all clear before you embark upon your fitness plan. It's also smart to have a personal trainer instruct you on proper body positioning to help protect you from injury and deliver better results.

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