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Is bodyweight training for me?

Is bodyweight training for me?

New Year, new fitness resolutions? Are you hoping that 2014 will be a year of unprecedented health and fitness for you? Then one form of exercise you should be considering is bodyweight training. It's an effective form of strength training that you can do anytime and anywhere.

So what is bodyweight training?

Bodyweight training is a form of strength training that relies on the weight of your body to provide resistance. It doesn't need any free weights, which makes it a very flexible workout – you can do it anytime, anywhere. And you can results pretty quickly.

Bodyweight training is not so much a new trend as a rediscovery of an old method. Think about it: Before we had all the fancy equipment that we take for granted today, their own body weight was all that anyone had at their disposal for strength training. It's most probably the sort of training that the Romans and Spartans used, for example. So it's a method with a tried and tested history.

Bodyweight exercise regimes have been in use in all sorts of contexts where people need to be at their fittest and strongest. The best example of this is the military. If it's good enough for the US Navy SEALS, then it probably has the potential do improve the strength of the rest of us mere mortals as well!

So if you're looking for a new way to tone up, add bodyweight training to your list of New Year's resolutions. Given its brevity and simplicity and the fact that it's free, you'll struggle to find good reasons not to put this good intention into action!

Five reasons why you should give bodyweight training a go

  • It's a very effective way of improving strength and movement.
  • It's free.
  • You can do it anywhere, anytime, so it's a great form of exercise for anyone who can't commit to regular gym visits.
  • It complements the sorts of strength exercises you might do at the gym, so it could be an ideal supplement to your regular routine (see below).
  • It's possible to tailor any bodyweight exercise to your individual level of fitness as required, so anyone of any fitness level can engage with bodyweight training and get something out of it.

Bodyweight training: how to do it

Bodyweight training is refreshingly simple and straightforward. It's made up of exercises that most of us are familiar with, such as push-ups, lunges and squats. But don't let that lull you into a false sense of complacency. You still need to follow some basic rules to get the most out of this workout.

Basic rules

  • As with any strength training, remember to warm up and cool down.
  • Include a variety of exercises to cover all the major muscle groups.
  • To work on endurance, increase the number of repetitions.
  • To work on strength, decrease leverage and work at the ends of your range of motion.
  • Make sure you rest in between circuits and in between workouts – it's during rest time that your body actually builds muscle.

Six exercises to help you get started

A typical bodyweight circuit might look like this:

  • bodyweight squats (8-10 reps)
  • push-ups (5-8 reps)
  • plank (hold for 15 seconds)
  • jumping jacks (15 reps)
  • bodyweight reverse lunges (6 reps per leg)
  • lying hip raises, double or single leg (10 reps)

Perform these exercises in sequence, rest in between each cycle, and let your fitness level determine the number of cycles. Beginners should aim to rest 30 seconds between each exercise, perform a total of 4 cycles, and rest 90 seconds between each cycle, taking only 15 minutes to complete the entire workout. If that isn't challenging enough, increase the number of reps or holding time for individual exercises, increase the number of cycles, and shorten your rest times a bit.

Does this mean no more gym workouts?

Well, no. For starters, nothing beats learning this form of exercise from qualified instructors. That way, you'll be sure that you're doing the moves correctly, minimise your risk of injury and maximise the efficacy of your workout. So it's worth looking out for bodyweight exercise classes at your local gym.

Furthermore, one way to look at bodyweight training is as an ideal supplement to your regular gym workouts. There are two factors involved here:

  • Even if you're executing the exact same moves using the weight of your body as you would with a resistance machine, you'll be working your muscles in a different way, so the two effectively complement each other.
  • A brief bodyweight exercise routine is an ideal supplement to your fitness regime for those times when, for whatever reason, getting to the gym just isn't realistic.