Bodyweight training: new exercise regime on the rise
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Who needs a gym when the weight of your own hulking frame is all you need to build lean muscle and blast fat? Bodyweight training – which helped propel Team GB’s gymnasts to success at the London Olympics – could just be the biggest exercise trend of 2013.
It’s the most common New Year fitness faux pas – rushing out to join a gym in January, only to watch as your visits become about as frequent as Halley’s comet (that’s once every 75 years, folks).
Work commitments, your social life and a shortage of proper workout know-how all combine to get in the way of our good intentions. But don’t give up yet – fitness experts have good news for your abs, and your bank account. It turns out your body (and perhaps your sitting room floor), may be the only equipment you require to kick-start your fitness regime and help you finally achieve the sculpted body you’ve been chasing after for years.
Personal trainer Jacob Nadav (JacobPT.co.uk) says: “Bodyweight training is the art of training without equipment - using your own body and taking advantage of levers and unilateral training methods.”
Sounds good to us. Go on.
Trainer Gavin Walsh (walshthefataway.com) adds: “Bodyweight training is quite simply using your own body weight to exercise. There are lots of exercises you can do to help you lose weight and get fit without the need for equipment or expensive gym memberships.”
A recent study out of Queen’s University in Canada found that bodyweight workouts just four minutes long had the same benefits of a 30-minute cardio session. Participants in the research increased their aerobic fitness by 7-8%. The training also allows you to build muscle without being too aggressive on the joints. So what do the experts really think about this form of training?
Master the basics of boyweights before progressing to weights
Lean on me
Whereas weightlifting exercises can be a tad overwhelming for the uninitiated, anyone can jump into bodyweight training, regardless of their level of fitness. In fact, it’s particularly good for those of you who are just starting out, as a precursor to introducing sessions involving weights later on.
The key to getting the most out of bodyweight training is, as with yoga or Pilates, mastering the basics. Walsh says: “At this time of year many people join a gym and start lifting and pushing weights, the shocking truth is that many of these men can’t even use their own bodyweight effectively. What the gyms don’t want you to know is that you can lose weight and get fit without lifting a single dumbbell. Bodyweight training can achieve all of this, if performed in the right manner.
“The great thing about this type of training is that it can be done anywhere and at any time.”
For beginners out there, learning how to master push ups should be a prerequisite to pumping iron – though many men skip this step, heading straight for the weight room instead. “Why would I stick someone on a bench press if they can’t do 20 press-ups with good form?” says Walsh.
Nadav adds: “Generally, you will be a fool to rely solely on technology and machinery and ignore callisthenics training using your own body. In my opinion, everyone can benefit from it and it should play a big part in any training programme.”
As you get stronger, positions can be altered to shift mass further away from the joints, increasing strength like adding weights onto a bench press. Nadav says: “Bodyweight training forces your body to activate more muscle groups than if you were to use a machine or free weights, which means you benefit from greater stability and you can often apply more tension.”
You also have more control over your target areas, which means bodyweight training could be the answer if you find weight lifting too hard on the body. Nadav says: “Everybody can get a lot out of it, but those who need strengthening up or suffer from imbalances and pains can benefit the most.”
Eventually you may need to include free weights to push your body further
Wait for weights
Once you’ve mastered the art of bodyweight exercises, choosing whether to combine this style of training with exercising with dumbbells depends on your fitness style and goals.
Walsh says: “If a complete newbie comes to me I will use mainly bodyweight exercises at first and bring in the weights later. It’s common sense. I’ll make sure they have mastered the basics and then look to use weights if their goals require it and their lifestyle permits it.bench
“The problem with bodyweight training is that there is a ceiling in terms of muscle development. This is when using weights becomes more beneficial than bodyweight training as the body can no longer be put under enough stress to warrant a change in muscle size. At this point there is only one thing that will do the job and that means lifting heavy stuff, namely dumbbells and barbells. “
Reaching this ‘ceiling’, however, does not mean that bodyweight training should disappear from your training diary. “I often use my own body weight to exercise when I’m short of time and I can’t get to the gym. I’ll get to work right in front of the TV with a mixed bag of bodyweight exercises if I have to,” says Walsh.
“I also often use bodyweight exercises with my more advanced clients as workout finishers. I might throw in a series of bodyweight exercises to target a particular body part or to get their heart rate flying and finish on a high.”
If sticking to a regular gym programme is unrealistic for you, you should aim to keep your workouts short and do some sort of bodyweight training every day. “On the flipside,” concludes Walsh, “if someone has got time to get to the gym, the bodyweight training will taper off as their experience in the gym grows.”
Regardless of how you use it, bodyweight training will make you stronger, leaner and more toned. Take that, gym!
To get started, try Gavin Walsh’s favourite exercises a few times a week. You can even do them in your pants in front of the telly:
- 10 x press-ups with chest to ground and then 25 x box jumps (jump on to a bench). Repeat x 3 without any rest towards the end of your workout.
- 300 reps: 25 x press-ups, 25 x squat thrusts, 25 x squats, 25 x lunges, 50 x jumping jacks, 50 x bicycle crunches, 25 x lunges, 25 x squats, 25 x squat thrusts, 25 x press-ups. Perform all exercises without any scheduled rest as a full workout or workout finisher.
- 100 burpees as quickly as possible. For beginners this is a workout in itself.
- Leg matrix: 24 x squats, 24 x lunges, 12 x jump squats, 12 x lunge jumps. Beginner x 1, intermediate x 2, advanced x as many rounds as possible with no rest.
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