It’s rather difficult to go very long or very far without seeing or hearing about the fitness industry. We’re bombarded with advertisements for home workout equipment, for the latest 6 week or 90 day workout. It seems that a new big box gym is popping up on every corner, offering the latest and greatest in exercise classes and equipment. The menu includes Sculpt Something classes, Spinning for Tykes on Trikes, and Pilates in the Pool. In terms of strength training, you’re basically being rented access to machines that don’t do your body justice. There is a time and place for training with machines, sure, but this is a time where we need to fight for your ability to move naturally. Is this really what you’re limiting yourself to when it comes to training?
You know I’m a fan of the big barbell lifts, of utilizing dumbbells and kettlebells, of using medicine balls, bands, cable stations, and other equipment. Unless it moves on a fixed path, I tend to like it. Any piece of equipment can be used to elicit positive adaptation when applied correctly, but what about the times when you don’t have access to equipment, or you don’t want fancy equipment. You can create an impressive training effect if you remember that your body is one of the most versatile tools you have. When the efficacy of body weight movements is questioned, I typically turn to gymnasts as a case-closed example of the effects that training can have. Impressive physiques with simple equipment and dedicated training:
I’m sure you can quickly come up with a long list of body-weight only exercises that provide a big training stimulus. If we externally loaded exercises, you can built an entire training program and likely never need anything else! Let me share with you some of the best of the basics:
You’ve been doing push-ups for years, and you should keep it up. Pushups offer benefits for the upper back and core that you don’t get when you’re laying down on a bench, and as we know, they’re great for the beach muscles.
Inverted rows are easily my favorite pulling exercise, and I prefer them over chin-ups due to the abominable technique you usually see from chin-ups. It’s just as easy to mess up inverted rows, yes, but it seems to be less common. Make sure to brace your core, including your glutes, and push your chest up while driving your elbows back:
If you’re banging out reps of good lookin’ rows, then it’s likely that you can accomplish pretty pull-ups as well. Regardless of which grip you use, the sames cues apply. Tall chest, shoulders down, drive your elbows back behind you.
While I don’t program or use dips very frequently, they’re a great exercise for the upper body pressing muscles. If you have any shoulder pain, or pre-existing shoulder issues, I would stay away from them, but with adequate shoulder mobility, you can have yourself a good time with dips. In the video below you’ll see Joe Hashey of Synergy Athletics demonstrating some fun variations.
Even in their most basic forms, those are 4 quality exercises that can offer you a tremendous training effect. Just yesterday, I used those 4 exercises for my accessory training after taking some paused 2 board presses. After pairing weighted neutral grip chin-ups and dips, we completed a mini-circuit of inverted rows, battling ropes, and push-ups. Short, simple, and a great workout.
It’s important to be “brilliant at the basics”, and once you’ve mastered these basic variations, try moving on to variations that allow you to include more ‘core’ and grip work. Anti-rotation variations are some of my favorite, as are fat grip options. I found myself using both this weekend, during a training session on a local playground. It was Memorial Day weekend; Sunz out, Gunz out!
My training partner and I used a variety of chin-up variations using a fat bar paired with dips, a variety of push-up and inverted row variations, and then a collection of anti-rotation presses (using bands), some hanging leg raises/ toe-to-bars, and inverted rows. After that, we used the TRX to do some facepulls, bear hugs, and you guessed it, more inverted rows. We then followed it with some
inverted rows car pushes. Yes, just the car pushes. Yes, I know that’s not body weight training.
When given the option of comparing a body weight exercise to a machine-based version, I’ll almost always take the body weight version for myself and my clients. They offer more natural movement, require more muscle mass to be used, and require some actual coordination. Most of the time, you’ll be hard pressed to find exercises that offer great benefit than those that begin with a body weight pattern and add external load when necessary. Incorporate the exercises above into your programming, and let me know what you think.