As I do every 6-8 weeks, I’ve recently decided to change my workout routine. I was focused on heavy strength training to help build dense muscles. Now I’m planning to take a break from lifting and focus on strength training without weights. By simply using my bodyweight, I’m confident I can perform a home workout without equipment that will help me maintain the size of my muscles while actually increasing functional strength.
Two staples of any bodyweight routine are pushups and squats. There are quite a few variations on these exercises that make them easy enough for beginners and challenging enough for advanced trainees. They are both compound exercises meaning they work multiple muscles. These are the best types of exercise to build overall functional strength. Combined, these two exercises alone could really work your entire body, but there are other upper and lower bodyweight exercises that can help round out a strength training routine as well.
While doing lots of pushups is great for endurance, I’m going to recommend a different approach. In general, strength training is best done in low rep ranges. Once you get past 20 pushups, you’re really building more endurance than strength. That’s why making pushups harder is critical if you want to build strength.
For beginners, pushups can be done on their knees or standing against the wall if necessary. Once you can do a good number of standard pushups, then the fun really begins. Standard pushups generally provide a great overall workout for the chest, arms, and even core, but here are a few different types of pushups you can experiment with to vary the targeted muscles and make them more challenging:
- Closed grip pushups: focus on tricpes
- Wide grip pushups: focus on shoulders
- Decline pushups: focus on the upper chest (help build square pecs)
- Hindu pushups: incorporates the back
- Plyometric pushups: explode off the ground
- Hip pushup: I learned this one from my friend Yavor at Relative Strength Advantage
- Finger tip pushups: focus on forearm/hand strength
- One arm pushups: a great way to increase strength one arm at a time
- Handstand pushups: the ultimate challenge, significant focus on shoulders
I’d recommend building up strength using each type of pushup. Once you work up to 15-20 reps, try to incorporate a different type in your routine. You might only be able to perform 1-3 reps for some of the more challenging pushup variations.
Normally I am against direct leg training, especially when it comes to lifting weights. High intensity interval training (HIIT) that blends sprinting with active recovery is all I really think you need to build leg strength. I think weights lead to a bulky appearance whereas I aim for the lean, athletic look. However, bodyweight squats are a good way to build up leg strength and shouldn’t result in much mass gain if done using low reps. Once again, there are quite a few variations of squats. Beginners can simply do half squats, gradually working until they can do a full squat. Advanced trainees can make squats more explosive, and challenging, by doing squat jumps. Bodyweight squats can be made much more difficult by performing the one leg variation.
Bodyweight Density Training
A simple strength training routine involves density training. You switch back and forth between pushups and squats in superset fashion. You do this for 15 straight minutes. You can perform any variety of each exercise that you like, but I’d start with the standard pushups and squats so you can see how challenging it is. Begin by performing 5 pushups. Get up and do 5 squats. Go back and forth like this for as long as you can. Never start a rep that you can’t complete though; you don’t want to train your muscles to failure. Reduce the number of reps for each exercise or add some rest time between sets as needed to recover. I think you’ll be surprised at how difficult this is, even after just a few minutes.
Other Exercises for Strength Training Without Weights
Pushups and squats are certainly the most convenient exercises to perform a home workout without equipment but there are other bodyweight exercises that you can add to your routine. Pull ups are a great back and arm exercise, although they require a bar or something to hang from. You could always hang from a door if necessary. Inverted rows, essentially horizontal pull ups, require a bar as well but could possibly be done by hanging off the side of a table. Dips work the chest and triceps and can be done by using two sturdy chairs. For legs, plyometrics exercises serve as a great way to perform strength training without weights as they focus on explosive movements. Overall you can have great success and experience strength gains simply by using your own bodyweight, even if you limit yourself to variations of squats and pushups.
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