Here is a post for 2013. As I stand strong in following three exercises as my top bodyweight alternatives, I wanted add 2 bonus exercises that should be added to the mix. So enjoy the following, if you are already familiar with the following jump down to the [expanded] section. Enjoy!
I often hear people say that they have been a bit banged up from lifting weights and are looking for some alternative methods of resistance based training. My suggestion is that bodyweight training may be a great alternative. Some of the benefits include: improved joint health, increased mobility, and enhances neuromuscular adaptation (adapting the the movement patterns). Although a new routine may seem daunting at times, but with a daunting task often leads to great rewards.
Some rewards are mearly just getting more bang for your buck, you can often burn more calories in less time. In a recent study funded by the American Council of Exercise, researchers found bodyweight training can burn up to 16.2 calories per minute in men and 13 calories/minute in women. (That’s almost 1000 calories per hour.)
Another benefit is that you can workout anywhere. Since often no equipment is required for bodyweight exercises you are less dependent on relying on a facility equiped with the latest technology. We are often conditioned to believe that we need to move heavy objects or operate intricate exercise machinery to achieve a desirable physique. And why is this? Well.. it’s profitable. If the mission of many fitness clubs is to profit from the equipment, sales and membership fees then marketing and advertising is not likely geared to educate you on its alternatives.
So.. If someone where to ask me.. “Chris, if you where never to lift a weight or touch another machine again and you could only choose three alternative bodyweight exercises, what would they be?”
Well, here is my answer…
1. Alternative to Bench Press – Push-Up
How to do it: Kneel down on all fours and place your hands slightly beyond shoulder-width apart. Set your feet together and straighten your arms and legs. Your body should form a straight line from ankles to head. Keeping your elbows pulled in toward your sides, lower your chest to an inch above the floor, and press back up. That’s 1 rep.
Keep in mind this is not just a chest exercise. The exercise targets all the muscles in our upper body while building optimal strength in the forearms, shoulders, chest. The push-up is also a great for the ladies too. When done properly, the push-up also puts emphasis on building a strong core by stabilizing all layers of the abdominals and back. There is even some benefits to your hip joint, quads and hammies.
Are push-up exercises to easy..? Not always..
There are many variations of push-ups on of my favorite advanced push-ps is the Brazilian Twisting push-up.
How to do it? Assume a pushup position, but form fists with your hands so your knuckles are flat against the floor. Rotate your hips to the right and cross your right leg in front of your left. Then lower your chest toward the floor as you would for a standard pushup, being careful not to let your hips touch the floor. Push back up and return to the starting position. Repeat with your left leg.
2. Back Exercise Alternative – Recline pulls
How do I do it? First find or place a horizontal bar at a lower level (waist high) then lie with back on ground so bar is lined up with chest.
Next, hold bar with shoulder-width grip and pull your chest to the bar, keeping body straight and heels on ground
Lower with control; repeat.
A great goal would be (10 to 12 reps.)
If you need more of a challenge try mix it up by elevating your feet or adding a plyometric component. Trust me, they’re harder than they look!
3. Single Leg Squats Instead of Weighted Squats.
Ok on paper it looks great if you can squat 300lbs but is it necessary or even effective for balance, deceleration or force transfer?
I will leave that debate for another time. One thing I can tell you that a heavy back squat can pose more of a risk of injury than a single
leg bodyweight squat.
How do I do it? Downward Movement: With your weight balanced on the right foot and the toes of the left foot still on the floor, slowly begin to bend forward at the hips. Keep the abdominals braced. Do not allow the torso to shift or rotate. Keep your back flat and head aligned with your spine.
Upward Movement: Keep your bodyweight in your right side, exhale and slowly push the right foot into the ground to straighten hip and knee and return to start position. The core should be bracing through the entire movement to support the spine; keep the hips level and control balance.
Perform an efective number of repetitions. Change sides and complete another set of repetitions on the other leg.
note: the next two exercises involve gymnastic rings (still bodyweight exercises)
4. Dips With RTO (Ring Turn Out)
Not your average dip… This is much more challenging. I challenge you to at least 5 slow reps with a proper turnout at the top. The top you will be engaged in a support position. Visualize the lines of your knuckles pointing to the 10 and 2 o’clock at the apex, perform this without bending at the hips or leaning your torso forward. This will require good shoulder extension at the bottom. In the beginning just begin with a RTO hold (basically just hold the top or apex position.
5. Hinge Rows
This is an excellent option to really lighting up your mid traps and external rotator muscles, which are used in many gymnastic exercises. Visualize pulling yourself up to a double biceps pose while holding onto the rings the entire time. It may sound confusing but its actually pretty simple. Here’s how it goes.
1. Set up a pair of rings to hang about a foot above your head when your sitting on the floor.
2. While sitting on the floor, grab the rings. Keeping your heels on the floor, lie on your back with your arms straight and lift your hips off the ground, focus on keeping your body straight from head to heel.
3. Sit up (pike) until your head is in-between the rings and then hit the double bicep pose. You should be bending at your waist and elbows about 90 degrees.
4. Slowly lower yourself back down. Repeat 5 – 15 times.
More unilateral strength, become more efficiently loaded for locomotion. Single limb strength movements tend to require more stability and can activate the deep core muscles to help keep your body stable and balanced. You will use stabilization muscles that are not usually targeted and can remain dormant when training bilateral movements. Unilateral strength exercises can help to build an all around stronger, more stable, and faster body.
A good way to get started with bodyweight exercises without completely abandoning the weights is to take a hybrid approach. For example for your first target set go for the traditional exercise like a dumbbell bench press and then unload the chest with a bodyweight back exercise like the recline pull.
“American Council on Exercise’s Pro Source”
“National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Essentials of Personal Training”; Roger W. Earle and Thomas R. Baechle; 2003
“Exercise Physiology: Human Bioenergetics and Its Applications”; George A. Brooks, et al.; 2004