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Paige Waehner

Body Weight Exercises - Do they really work?

By August 23, 2012

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Over the years, I've worked in a number of fitness environments, but by far the most challenging is training a client at home with no equipment. Getting a good workout can be tricky if you don't have extra resistance around to boost the intensity. There are a few tricks you can use, however, to create great workouts with no equipment necessary:

  • Be creative. Even if you don't have traditional weights, there are other things you can use to add resistance. A staircase is a great place for step-ups, decline pushups or dips. You can hold a briefcase, laptop bag or a heavy book overhead during squats and lunges to add more resistance and full water bottles can substitute for light dumbbells for exercises such as lateral raises or overhead presses.
  • Slow things down or add slow, controlled pulses. If you don't have weights, some lower body moves like squats and lunges may feel a little easy. You can add intensity by slowing things down (e.g., 4-8 counts for each part of the movement) or adding small, controlled pulses. A short range of motion can really get the blood flowing to the muscles.
  • Try unilateral moves. Doing exercises on one leg or with one arm at a time can add intensity when you don't have much equipment handy. One-legged squats and one-arm triceps pushups are good examples of challenging unilateral exercises.
  • Try compound exercises. Sticking with multi-muscle exercises like pushups, squats, lunges and dips will add intensity to workouts by engaging the entire body.

I've also put together some of my favorite body weight exercises and a body weight circuit workout to give you even more options for exercising with no equipment.

Be sure to leave a comment and share your own favorite body weight workouts and exercises.

January 9, 2009 at 11:03 am
(1) catluver42 says:

I believe as long as your body is moving, you are working out. Running the vaccuum, dustin, doing the laundry, etc.. all can be considered workouts as long as you are off your duff. If you don’t have weights, I’ve heard of using cans of food instead and there are lots of floor exercises that are weight less.

January 9, 2009 at 12:51 pm
(2) michelle says:

Bodyweight is definitely challenging. I love the one’s by Craig Ballantyne, he has them on yahoo. I did his 100 the other day- minus the push ups because I’m doing the challenge from hundredpushups.com right now, too.

January 9, 2009 at 1:16 pm
(3) Jared says:

I workout 5-6 days a week in the gym for 2+ a time. I can get more exhausted in 20 minutes doing bodyweight squats, hindu pushups, and bridging than I can in the gym with a full weight regimen. The key is not to take too long to rest between exercises. It is good for both muscle toning/growth and cardio. The military has been using them for years to get their troops in shape, so don’t think that they are ineffective. I would recommend a pullup bar though.

January 9, 2009 at 6:18 pm
(4) Dawn says:

I have a question: When muscles are sore from a hard bodyweight workout – I usually give myself enough rest time that the paid goes away – this can be 2-3 days or more (if I never worked the muscle in that way)

Is this a good way to do it or just jump back into the exersises after a 48 hour rest?

January 9, 2009 at 6:59 pm
(5) bulrush says:

I’ve been working out for years. Run one day and lift weights plus some body resistance workouts the next. So I get quite a mix of exercise. I cant imagine why someone would use a telephone book or briefcase or some weird item for simple workout. I believe if you look for USED weights, dumbells, barbells, weight bench, etc the average person might stick with it longer. How many folks say they’ve been lifting their ironing board or phone book for 15 years? The actual weights/etc are cheap and worth buying. I’m in my mid 50′s and notice that I dont build muscle mass like I used to, and have put on a gut the last few years. So will have to start watching diet more. Younger folks will see quick results with weights. Again, the cost is almost inconsequential for the benefit.

January 9, 2009 at 9:49 pm
(6) Ted says:

one of mine is 50 jumping jacks followed with 2 minutes run in place followed by 25 push ups. Rest
and repeat – I do 3 sets.

January 11, 2009 at 12:14 pm
(7) Kathy says:

Is there a good excercise I can do for flapping arms? I have a torn rotater cuff that stops me from doing the exercises that have worked in the past.

January 11, 2009 at 4:42 pm
(8) 1morernd says:

I think it is foolish to think you can’t get a good strength training workout in without weights. Have you ever heard of Herschel Walker? He is famous for his bodyweight only workouts. Plus there are websites devoted solely to bodyweight only workouts. Try 25 burpees, followed by 25 warrior lunges, followed by 25 bicycle crunches. Rest 2 minutes, Repeat 4 times. After your done puking, then tell me you need weights for a solid workout. The burpees alone will crush you!

January 11, 2009 at 7:18 pm
(9) The Virginian says:

I’ve been doing a lot of bodyweight exercises lately including Push-ups to Side Planks, Incline Push-ups, Reverse Push-ups (bodyweight rows) although you need some sort of stationary bar for this one, pistol squats (one-legged squats) along with ab exercises: planks, side planks, bicycle crunches, lying hip twists.

I supplement this with a few dumbbell exercises (one-arm upright rows and military presses, stiff-leg deadlifts, side lunges, toe raises) and a couple machine exercises (knee raises, leg curls).

The one-leg and one-arm version of bodyweight exercises are excellent ways to make these exercises more challenging although it might be too tough for beginners. Beginners could “cheat” a little with the free arm or leg to get them through the exercise.

January 11, 2009 at 9:02 pm
(10) Brad says:

Oh man are you kidding? You can get an incredibly fierce and humbling workout with body weight only exercise! Crunches, push-ups, lunges, a whole hurt bag of “evil” plank stuff, etc. I saw some one mention burpees! I remember those things from hell week in high school football. How about mountain climbers? Like the gentleman said earlier, “after you’re done puking…”. I’ve been having my trainer focus me on core routines lately and he puts me through plenty of body weight moves that come together to thoroughly kick my butt. If you don’t have some body weight training moves in your routine, you’re missing out on an opportunity to mix up your workout and shock your body into the next level. They are really tough but worth every second!

January 11, 2009 at 9:18 pm
(11) highfiver says:

I am of lean built, 160lbs, use light to moderate weights and usually use my body weight for exercises. My routine includes push ups, chin-ups, squats, presses, sit-ups for abs, and it works.
I didn’t have excess weight problem. Infact i was under weight at 120 lbs. I gained those 40 pounds through regularly eating, never missing my breakfast and exercising hard.

January 12, 2009 at 12:09 am
(12) Fitness fan says:

If you enter “shoulder exercises” at the upper right corner of this web page, you will find many shoulder exercises in Paige’s blog. With your condition, however, rehabilitating the shoulder should be with the consult of an orthopedic specialist or physical therapist, assuming you haven’t already done so. Good luck.

January 12, 2009 at 2:37 pm
(13) georgette says:

Of coarse you can get a great workout with bodyweight exercises…the military proves that:) But as the top fitness trends show…bootcamp style workouts are hot….they are hot becuase they work! You can get results. Bootcamp style workouts are built on bodyweight training primarily.
great article!

January 13, 2009 at 4:36 pm
(14) Shellbug says:

Having started exercising again with an extra 40lbs on my body, of course I’m gettting a very good workout with body resistance only. It’s much harder to squat, lunge, run with the extra weight. Once the muscles have built back up and the weight starts coming off then I can work on more reps and intesity. Having joined a ‘fitness boot camp’ 3 days a week, my butt is KICKED by the end of the hour and I’m averaging 450-500 calories burned. I love it and will keep doing it. I travel a lot, and getting a great workout in when I’m in a hotel with no ‘weights’ to work with makes me concentrate on my workout even more!

January 14, 2009 at 5:36 pm
(15) Merry says:

I use body weight excercises in public, while waiting in line I stand on one foot and balance or suck in and out my abs, I do believe isometrics and body weight excercises do help and are convenient if you travel or have little time for excercise one day a week. I don’t recommend them for everyday but in a pinch they work.

August 23, 2012 at 9:40 pm
(16) Fitness fan says:

Push-ups turn out to be a versatile body-weight exercise. They can be made easier by pivoting on the knees rather than the feet, and easily made harder; incline push-ups, one-foot push-ups, ďspider-manĒ push-ups, push-ups with one-legged extensions to the side, one- handed push-ups, etc. Iíve added most of these more difficult push-ups to my normal workout. Slowing down the pace also intensifies the effort.

Sit-ups are good for the abs, but may become boring over time. Iíve created leg-lifts while face up for myself that emphasize upper and lower back, glutes, and abs; there are also benefits in balance and coordination.

I consider these part of my core exercises. In addition to these, I have created exercises with the bar weight that include switching hands back and forth with squatting to work the full body; also emphasizing balance and coordination. I have just added a reverse leg lift with my body face down as the counter exercise to my face up leg lifts.

The emphasis on my core exercises after an eight-month period has enabled me to perform a basic gymnastic exercise, a front leg lift from a vertical arm position, normally seen on the rings and parallel bars.

August 28, 2012 at 9:53 am
(17) Ray Quackenbush says:

I just purchased a book by a Mark Lauren “You are your own Gym” . I think it is fantastic as in the book it has over 125 exercises plus the varations that you can do with each one. You only use your own bodyweight and normal items that you can find anywhere. It also has different degrees of how hard to do and breaks the body down into four seperate groups. Might want to look into it.

August 28, 2012 at 2:23 pm
(18) Herb says:

Whats your toughts on TRX Training? I’v been doing them for a short time now and have gotten sore on almost every workout.

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