Bodyweight exercises are my bread and butter. Deadlifts will always be near and dear to my heart, but there’s a sense of fulfilment that comes from being able to perform a perfect handstand or pistol squat that I just don’t get from barbell lifts (handstands also make for great party tricks!). Becoming proficient with bodyweight training also means you never have an excuse for missing a workout, which is something that tends to happen a lot more often once the summer settles in and vacation plans often conflict with the business of getting strong.
One missed workout won’t turn you into a string bean, but rebuilding the lost momentum that comes from a week or two away from the gym can be gruelling. By picking up a few easy-to-find and very affordable pieces of equipment, you can bring the gym with you to every weekend at the cottage getaway or beach getaway. Trust me – those Bud Light Limes will be all the more refreshing after a morning workout.
Suspension training system
Pull-ups are the ultimate back exercise. But, as anyone who’s ever tried – and failed – to complete a single rep without convulsing like a lake trout hooked on a line can attest, they’re also hard to do well. Enter the inverted row, a less-taxing cousin of the pull-up during which your feet stay in contact with the ground while you pull your body towards a chest-high point of contact. Similar movement pattern as a pull-up, much easier execution.
Inverted rows are just one of the dozens of exercises that can be performed using suspension training systems such as the Jungle Gym XT, TRX or basic gymnastic rings (you can even make your own rig if you’ve got the time, resources and creative inclination). Push-ups, hamstring curls, single-leg squats, body saws – you simply secure the straps to an overhang or lock them in place with the help of a heavy door and you have a full gym at your disposal. The versatility and portability of these systems makes them a must-have for anyone who wants to work out at home or on the road.
It’s become a cliché for trainers to bash cardio machines, but when you consider that a $2 jump rope can accomplish everything that a $1,000 elliptical machine can, it’s hard not to add to the hate-fest. There’s a reason skipping is a staple of boxers’ conditioning programs; whether you’re chasing a slow and steady aerobic high or an all-out high-intensity interval burn, jumping rope delivers the goods.
The trick to ultimate skipping supremacy is to maintain a steady rhythm while jumping just high enough to clear the rope. Don’t worry if you have two left feet or haven’t jumped rope since elementary school. In fact, that’s all the more reason to revisit this timeless exercise. After a few sessions, chances are you’ll notice a marked improvement in your agility, hand-eye co-ordination and ankle stability.
Just as the jump rope provides an affordable and efficient alternative to clunky cardio machines, the ab wheel does a better job of strengthening the core than any infomercial gadget, despite being nothing more than a small wheel with a pair of handles sticking out from the centre. The reason they’re not as popular as they should be is that the main exercise – the ab wheel roll-out – requires a fair amount of technical mastery.
The ab-wheel roll-out is basically a plank with an added element of movement. From a kneeling position, you roll the ab wheel forward with your arms while lowering your torso to the floor while maintaining a strong and stable back. The further your arms extend, the harder the exercise. And while it’s possible to modify the ab-wheel roll-out to any level of fitness, I don’t recommend this exercise for absolute beginners. If you can’t hold a legit plank for at least 30 to 40 seconds, start there first.
Putting it all together
Bodyweight training is all about simplicity. There’s no need to complicate things; stick with the basics and focus on making tiny increments of progress with each workout. And remember: Progress comes in many shapes and forms. It could mean more reps, another set or taking shorter breaks.
Paul Landini is a personal trainer and health educator at the Toronto West End College Street YMCA. Follow him on Twitter @mrpaullandini.