Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Get your workout done anywhere and anytime with these great bodyweight exercises!

Many people desire a healthy, lean body, but for some it’s really difficult to get proper gym time during the day. The reasons are many. Some mothers must look after their children and cannot leave the house for a session at the gym. Others simply don’t have time and get home late from work in the evenings. Some people may not be able to afford a gym membership fee. The list goes on and on.

Fortunately, there’s a number of great body weight exercises that you can do, in the comfort of your own home, without having to visit the gym. These exercises may be done literally anywhere and anytime, and don’t require massive machines or equipment or large spaces in which to perform them.
When I design a workout, any workout, I always break it down into major body groups and select exercises to target each group. This makes it easy to perform a workout that systematically targets the entire body. It also makes it easy to remember what to do and how to do it.

The groups in which I split the body are thus: Back, Chest, Arms, Shoulders, Core (middle or abs), Upper quadriceps, Hamstrings and Calves. The body weight workout below has been designed to target each of these major muscle groups for a total body workout.

#1: Back

A great exercise for the muscles of the back is the body weight pull up. Grab a sufficiently strong and sturdy bar with your hands approximately shoulder width apart, and from a hanging position, pull yourself upwards until you can reach over the bar with your chin. Lower yourself downwards until your arms are fully outstretched and repeat.

The pull up is a difficult exercise to begin with and if you’re unable to perform a pull up as of yet, try these other back exercises to help you to strengthen the muscles in your back. When you've lost some fat and built some back strength, try a pull up again, and if you still fail, don’t give up. Continue losing weight and building strength and eventually you’ll find a pull up as easy as 1-2-3. Even if you manage just one rep initially, that one rep is already a huge success. Next time, attempt to perform two reps, then three and so on.

When you eventually reach a point where you can comfortably perform 10 to 15 pull ups, increase the intensity of the exercise by adding some light weights to your feet, by widening your grip on the bar, by performing more repetitions, or all of them together.

Other great exercises for the back include the superman and one arm rows. To perform a superman, lie down flat on your belly with your arms outstretched in front of you. Now lift your hands, arms, shoulders and legs up off the ground. It’s almost as if you’re trying to fold yourself backwards. Move as far as you can and at the top of the movement, hold the position for 5 to 10 seconds. Then lower and repeat.

For one arm rows you’ll need some form of weight. If you’re at home, you can easily create such a weight for yourself. You could use a can of beans (which is also at just the right size for an easy grip), or if you want more weight, put a couple of cans in a bag and use the bag as your weight. You could also use bottles filled with water or sand, or even a bucket filled with stones, cans, water or sand. The possibilities are endless and you can easily create extra resistance with just a little creative thought.

With your weight in hand, stand against an elevated platform and put your one leg and one arm on the platform. A stool or a chair or the side of the bed will work wonderfully here. Now with the other arm, pull the weight up towards your chest, while keeping your shoulders and back perfectly still in position. Only your arm should move and your back and shoulders should be kept parallel to the floor. After a couple of reps, switch sides and do the same exercise for the other side of your body as well.

You can increase the intensity of one arm rows by performing more repetitions, or by adding extra weight.  

#2: Chest

The muscles of the chest may be given a great workout by performing push ups. But don’t think push ups are just a simple little exercise, there are many variations of the plain push up that you can use to really target the chest.

First up is the plain push up. Lie down on the floor on your stomach and place your hands underneath your shoulders. Now push your upper body upwards, while keeping the rest of your body absolutely straight, as straight as a plank. At the top of the movement, lower yourself down again, but do not lie down on the ground. Your chest should not reach lower than the width of a coffee mug from the ground. From that position push yourself upwards again and repeat.

It is important to keep your body straight throughout the movement. If you lower your middle, you risk lower back injury and you take away the focus of the exercise from the chest. If you raise your butt into the air, you also take away the focus from your chest and instead place it on your shoulders. You should also not let your chest touch the ground, as this could lead you to possibly lie down to rest. If you rest during the movement you won’t be able to activate muscle growth of your chest sufficiently. The exercise will then be wasted.

Other variations of the push up include, wide push ups, diamond push ups, uneven push ups and spider push ups. Click the links to see an example of all the variations.

If you initially struggle with a push up, you can decrease the intensity of the exercise by placing your knees on the ground. As you progress and grow in strength, you’ll find that you can do push ups from your feet, instead of your knees. Eventually you’ll have built enough chest strength to be able to really up the ante. This can be done by increasing the number of reps performed, by placing your feet up higher on a stool or chair, or by adding weight. Weight may be added by filling a backpack with items like water bottles or cans of food and then wearing the backpack while performing your push ups.

#3: Arms

Arms are divided into biceps and triceps. To exercise your triceps I recommend bench dips or overhead extensions if you’re unable to perform a bench dip at this point in time.

To perform a bench dip, sit with your back against a chair and press up on the chair with your hands and arms behind you. A couch, a bed or any other sturdy stool will also do. You are in essence lowering your lower body downwards in front of the chair. The farther you extend your legs in front of you, the more resistance you add to the movement and the more intense the movement becomes. If you’re able to place your legs on a pedestal or stool in front of you, you’ll create even more resistance and intensity.

Lower your body downwards in front of the chair, until your arms are bend at a 90 degree angle. Then lift yourself upwards again. Try to keep your elbows as close to your body as possible. The more the flare outwards, the less emphasis is placed on the triceps muscles.

If you’re unable to perform a bench dip as yet, strengthen your triceps muscles by performing weighted overhead extensions. Grab your weight again (can of beans, bottles of water or sand, etc.), and then, starting with one hand only, lift the weight up, over your head. Now, with an extended arm, bend your elbow to lower the weight until your arm is at a 90 degree bend. From there lift the weight up again until your arm is outstretched once more. Switch sides and perform the same for the other arm. As you progress and become stronger, increase the intensity by adding more weight or by performing more reps.

After a while, give the bench dips a go again, and see if you can do perhaps one or two reps. Then build from there exactly like you would do for pull ups.

To exercise the biceps, you’re going to have to use your weights again. With a weight in each hand, stand with your arms relaxed to your sides. Now curl the weights upwards towards your shoulder, being careful not to let your elbows move away from your sides and not to throw the weights upwards. The movement should be slow, methodical and controlled. Also, if you move your elbows, you take away the focus of the exercise from your biceps and place it on your shoulders so be careful and make sure your form is correct.

Increase the intensity of these biceps curls by increase the number of reps performed or by adding more weight, or by doing both.

#4: Shoulders

To exercise the muscles of the shoulders you need your weights again, the same weights you used for your back and biceps. Stand up straight and with the weight in hand at shoulder level and push the weight upwards over your head. From the top lower the weight again until your arm reaches a 90 degree bend, then push upwards again.

You can increase the intensity of the shoulder press by adding more weight or by performing more repetitions.

If you’re up for it, and you’re strong enough, you can attempt to do a handstand push up. Face a wall, and then perform a handstand against the wall. Do this by placing your hands on the ground and throwing your legs up and over against the wall, to end up in a handstand position. Now, lower yourself until your arms reach a 90 degree angle. From the lowered position, lift yourself up again.

Please be careful when you attempt the handstand push up. If you’re not strong enough, rather lose some more fat and build some more muscle lest you risk falling on your head.

#5: Core muscles

Two great exercises for your abs include vacuums and good old crunches. To perform a crunch, lie down on your back and bring your legs up. Now crunch forwards by lifting only your shoulders from the ground. You should feel a nice burn in your abs.

A vacuum is performed by pulling air into your lungs, and then squeezing your ab muscles tight, and pulling them inwards as you exhale. It should almost be like you’re trying to touch your abs to you spine. Pull them in deep and then hold the position for 10 seconds or so. Relax and repeat.

What’s really great about vacuums it that you can do them literally anywhere and discretely enough so others won’t notice. Perfect for the office or on the daily commute to and from work.

#6. Upper quadriceps and glutes

The best exercise for building quad and glute strength and size are squats. Squats are very easy to do. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart with your toes pointing slightly outwards. Now lower yourself while keeping your back perfectly straight. Lower yourself until your knees are bent approximately 90 degrees, then push back up again.

You can easily increase the intensity of your squat by doing more reps, placing your feet a little wider apart or by adding weight. To add weight to your squat, you could use your bottles or cans or perhaps even use a chair, lifted up over your head. As soon as you start feeling stronger and more able, go ahead and increase your squat intensity.

Follow up you squats with lunges. Take a large step forwards, then lower yourself until the knee of you back leg almost touches the ground. Then, just before it actually touches the ground, push back up again and take another step forward and repeat. Increase the intensity of your lunges by dangling weights from your hands.

#7. Hamstrings

A great exercise for the hamstrings are hamstring presses. Lie down on the ground, with your legs up on a stool or chair or bed or couch or something similar. Now, lift one leg into the air, and with the other leg, press down on the chair so as to lift your pelvis off of the floor. Do a number of reps like this, then repeat with the other leg. Increase the intensity of the movement by placing a weight on your pelvis.

#8. Calves

Round off your total body workout with the good set of calf raises. Stand with your toes on an elevated platform. A set of stairs will be ideal, however a pavement curb, or a brick will work just as well. Lower your heels down the step and then from that lowered position, lift yourself up on your toes, without using your hands to pull you upwards, or forwards. Repeat until you feel a nice burn.

You can increase the intensity of calf raises by increasing the amount of repetitions you perform or by adding weight. To add weight to your calf raises, do them one leg at a time, so that you lift your entire bodyweight with one calf. Then switch sides and repeat.


I recommend that you perform your bodyweight exercises back to back, without resting between body groups. This will give you a good cardio boost as well as exercising your muscles. When you do your total body workout, do it in the following manner: Start with your back, then chest, then shoulders, then arms, then core, then upper quads and glutes, then hamstrings, then calves and then core again. The exercises you would do back to back would therefore be: Pull ups (or one arm rows), supermans, push ups, shoulder presses (or handstand push ups), biceps curls, triceps extensions (or bench dips), crunches, squats, lunges, hamstring presses, calf raises and then vacuums.

One routine through all the exercises counts as one set and you are to perform three sets. Take a minute or two to rest between sets and catch your breath, but no more than 3 minutes. You’ll be able to work through a set quickly and easily if you gather all the equipment you’ll be needing and placing them in close proximity, so that you can easily move from one exercise to the next.

As far as repetitions go, always try to do the maximum amount possible until your reach a point of failure, where you can’t do even just one more rep. Then move on to the next and reach failure again. Pretty soon you’ll start to notice that you can do more and more reps before failing. Please don’t limit yourself to, say 20 reps, because this will limit your performance and progress. Always push to do as many as you can, up until failure is reached.

And that’s it folks. A great, full-body, bodyweight workout that you may do in the comfort of your own home, and which should not take more than 30 minutes to complete. All you need to do now is keep you diet in check, and the fat should melt away like the snows in spring. You can check out my post on how to lose fat without dieting for a nutrition starting point.

Stick with this workout and eat healthy foods and you’ll soon see a major difference! Best of luck!

Until next time friends, STAY TRUE AND TRAIN HARD!

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