Fit Tip: Strength Training Without Weights
The first bodyweight exercises I ever did were pushups, sit-ups and jumping jacks.
Perhaps the same was true for you. Beyond pushups, (which I recently rediscovered my love for) there are a great number of excellent body weight exercises that you can do before, during, or after your regular strength training workout.
Back when I was a kid running around the neighborhood, you were good at sports, or not good at sports. Doing pushups and sit-ups would help you get stronger to become better at sports. Once you got proficient at bodyweight exercises you started weight training.
There were the big, strong guys and the fast, skinny guys. I was a fast, skinny kid. Whatever size you were, you wanted the positive aspects of the other. I was fast but wanted to be stronger.
Why you should do Bodyweight Workouts
Beyond my nostalgic moment there, I do believe strength training without weights should have a place in your training regimen. If you need to get some extra work in and don’t have the time to get to the gym, do a quick workout at home with squats, pushups, lunges and planks. In thirty minutes you can get in a great workout. Get warmed up, do a few circuits of bodyweight exercises, stretch and call it a day.
If you are a beginner and totally new to strength training, I suggest learning some of the basic bodyweight exercises before even setting foot in a gym. This is especially important if you are intimidated by a commercial gym and are unsure about equipment and exercises.
Learn how to do a respectable amount of pushups, planks, bodyweight squats, lunges, bridges and burpees before you embark on a complicated professional bodybuilding split routine. Your mind and body will thank you.
You will have a good base of total body strength, as well as being familiar with some basic moves you can implement anywhere regardless of equipment. Beyond building some muscle, your joints and bones will be strengthened which will help when you start barbell training.
If you are traveling and equipment is limited, bodyweight workouts are a great choice. If you are an older lifter and can’t do as much heavy weightlifting, these short workouts are a good way to pump up the muscles, and induce recovery by getting blood into the muscle.
Bodyweight workouts are also great for feeling healthy and athletic, while also working the muscles and promoting active recovery.
Another situation where these exercises are quite effective is when dealing with injuries, pain, or muscular imbalance. Most people who work office jobs will have tight hips, inactive glutes, and slouched shoulders. Exercises like planks, bird dogs, bridges, pushups can help with these issues.
Other benefits include conditioning, fat loss, and general physical preparedness. Your body is better able to withstand a greater volume of weightlifting which means more strength and muscle gains. Just don’t overdo it and interfere with your recovery. Start light and feel it out. See how your body responds to an additional workout or two per week and adjust from there.
How Does Strength Training Without Weights fit into a program?
When I played sports (especially football and baseball) we would always start off with a warm-up routine that consisted of various exercises like pushups, jumping jacks, crab walks, high knees, dynamic and static stretching. A quick bodyweight workout is a great choice for a warm-up instead of walking on a treadmill or just going right into weightlifting.
Bodyweight workouts are also good on rest days. Try them once a week on a day you normally rest. It doesn’t have to be strenuous; in fact you don’t want it to be so it won’t interfere with strength gains.
If your goal includes fat loss you could add some strength training without weights after your main training session. If you are doing a basic barbell training program for instance, you would do the barbell lifts, some assistance work, and then move to a quick bodyweight workout for some extra conditioning and muscle pump.
Which exercises are best?
Some of the best bodyweight exercises include: pushups, squats, lunges, mountain climbers, jumping jacks, planks, bridges, reverse crunches, burpees, wall sits, step-ups, donkey kick, bird dogs, supermans, handstand pushups, jump squats or lunges.
With some basic equipment you can perform dips, pull-ups, rope climbs, inverted row, planks, pushups, sit-ups with weight behind neck, hanging leg raise, natural glute-ham-raise (someone holding your feet down).
How Many Should I do?
Start with 2 sets of 8-10 reps. Each set consists of all exercises. The example below has 5 exercises. Perform all the exercises in order. Rest a minute, and do them again. Have fun with it. Challenge yourself but don’t worry about setting personal records.
Example Workout Routine
There are endless variations you can do, this is just one example I have found to be effective. You can use any combination of bodyweight exercises. Try a circuit of 5-8 exercises always starting with squats. (adjust as needed for your fitness level).
- Prisoner Squats (hands behind head, squat down until thighs are parallel with ground) – 8-10 reps
- Pushups 8-10 reps
- Mountain Climbers (pushup position with legs alternating up and down simulating a climbing motion) 8-10 reps
- Bridges (lying on back with feet on ground, lift butt off ground and squeeze glutes) 8-10 reps
- Lunges 8-10 reps for each leg
If this is too easy, add reps, up to 20 per exercise. Then you could add another exercise or another circuit. Experiment with it and have fun! You shouldn’t feel wiped out after these workouts. They get the blood flowing, make you sweat a bit, and get the body in motion which is a good thing.
For strength gains nothing compares to heavy barbell training, but strength training without weights is still effective. Beginners, older lifters, desk jockeys can all benefit from bodyweight training.
Before adding weight to a barbell, set some bodyweight training goals. Shoot for 20 pushups before bench pressing. See if you can do 15-20 body weight squats and lunges before adding weight to the barbell. It would also be wise to be able to hold a plank for at least a minute, along with some reverse crunches before you begin deadlifting.
Strength training without weights is an effective and versatile way of gaining strength and muscle. Try a bodyweight workout today and see how it improves your conditioning, mobility, and muscle endurance.