Have you avoided starting a strength training program because you’re not sure where to start? Truth be told, it certainly can be intimidating to take on a weightlifting routine for the first time (or simply if you’re unsure what you’re doing, exactly); but getting over that initial hump is well worth it.
The good news is that you don’t need to hit the gym to reap the many benefits of regular strength training. In fact, bodyweight exercises can often provide the same (or similar) benefits to using weights, and you can do them anywhere, anytime.
What is weight training, exactly?
First and foremost, let’s look at what weight training is. Basically, it is the use of resistance with muscular contraction to build strength, muscle, and increase anaerobic endurance. It is based on the principle that your body will work to overcome a resistance force, and the act of training in this way repeatedly will build strength.
What are the benefits of weight training?
Resistance training is about much more than building sculpted muscles (although this is often a nice side effect). It also improves bone density, joint junction, and tendon and ligament strength.
Studies show that increased muscle mass raises your RMR (resting metabolic rate), meaning you burn more calories while at rest — which is why strength training is so important for weight loss (sometimes more beneficial than cardio, in fact). Last but certainly not least, weight training improves your heart and lung health, helps to prevent future injury, and improves flexibility and balance.
Ideally, you’ll weight train at least twice per week to maximize these benefits.
Top 5 Easy Bodyweight Exercises to Include in Your Routine
Beginner or not, bodyweight resistance exercises can take your fitness to the next level, and there’s really no excuse not to do them (remember: no gym membership needed). Incorporate the following movements to ensure that you’re targeting all major muscle groups and actively working to stay in shape and prevent future injury. Furthermore, it is essential that you master the bodyweight version of any exercise before adding additional weight.
Many fitness experts see the squat as one of the most important functional movements to include in everyone’s routine. The squat provides lower body strengthening and mobility and mimics a natural movement that we carry out in daily life. The problem is squats are not easy, mainly due to poor flexibility and mobility. When done correctly, they work the glutes, hamstrings, quads, erector spinae (muscles lining your spine), abs, adductors (inner thigh muscles), and more.
To properly execute the squat, stand with your feet just shoulder-width apart, keeping your knees centered over your ankles (not jutting out in front of your toes). Bend your knees as you sit the hips way back, maintaining your weight on the heels until you come to about 90 degrees from the floor. Press back up through your heels to starting position, squeezing your glutes at the top. This is one repetition.
For the females out there, you might be rolling your eyes at this one. But remember, even if you don’t (yet) have the strength to do a strict pull-up, there are easy ways to modify this important movement. The pull-up is excellent for overall body strength and endurance, and primarily works the triceps, lats, biceps, and various muscles of and around the shoulders.
To modify, use an elastic band for assistance (or two). You can decide whether to have your palms facing forward, backward, or between a wide or narrow grip. Each is beneficial in different ways. For a beginner, start with a wide grip, palms forward for a push-up variation.
Hang from the bar, shoulders pulled down and away from your ears, and pull your body straight up until your chin is just over the bar. Hold this position for a second and then slowly lower back to your starting position. Do as many reps as possible (even if you start with less than one).
A push-up is one of these best total body exercises you can do, but it’s easy to execute with poor form. The prime movers in a push-up are your pectoralis major, triceps, and anterior deltoids (located in your chest, shoulders, and arms). Push-ups are another very functional exercise, as they strengthen so many muscles essential to daily life, and mimic a common, pushing movement. They are also excellent for increasing core strength, when done correctly.
To properly execute the push-up, come into a plank position on your hands with your feet hip-width apart and hands directly underneath your shoulders. Keeping your core engaged and being sure your low back doesn’t sag down toward the floor, bend your elbows to come down, keeping your shoulders down and back (not up by your ears). Your neck should be long and in a neutral position with the spine as you come down to the floor and push back up to starting position.
Starting with the same form as described but on your knees is fine, and working your way up to a regular push-up.
The walking lunge exercise is important for leg strengthening, as well as hip flexibility. Begin in a standing position with feet together, and then take a big step out with one leg, lunging down. Your back knee should bend to 90 degrees, gently tapping or hovering just over the floor. In one slow and controlled motion, bring your back foot to meet the front, and repeat with the other leg.
One-Leg Balance Reach
This functional movement not only works on balance but also strengthens the lower and mid-back, as well as the glutes and hamstrings. Often, these posterior muscles are weak, and this can lead to injury. Begin by balancing on one leg, and you have the option to place a cone or any other object on the floor about one foot in front of you. Slowly, reach toward the cone (or floor), slightly bending the knee of your standing leg, weight evenly distributed through the foot. Return back to standing, and repeat.
Easy Bodyweight Workout Routine
Pulling from the exercises discussed here, an easy bodyweight routine might look like this:
5-minute warm-up: 10 minutes of jogging or dynamic movements to raise your heart rate.
10 walking lunges (10 each leg)
10 one-leg balance reach (5 each side)
Rest 2 minutes and repeat circuit 3 times total
You can also mix in some cardio if you’d like to turn this into a circuit training workout by throwing in some jumping jacks, speed skaters, or lateral hops. Whether you’re at the gym or in your living room, this workout is quick and gets the job done.