You don’t need a gym membership to get in some exercise. Many people know this, but end up taking the wrong approach, missing out on a lot of benefits.
Here’s how to get the most out of working out without weights (aka bodyweight exercises).
I’m a fan of any type of good competition, but there are two “sports” I just can’t seem to get into:
Golf and NASCAR.
However, when it comes to exercise, if my only option were to just do cardio the rest of my life… well, I’d rather watch paint dry on a race car in the middle of a golf course.
(That's a thing, right?)
Unfortunately, often times when people decide to work out without weights, all they do is cardio (sometimes even without knowing it – more on that in a second).
I’m not dogging cardio. It’s a critical component of getting in shape.
I’m saying it’s a mistake to limit your exercise to any one element of fitness, even if you don’t have a full gym at your disposal. Not only is it boring, it’s an incomplete picture of health.
The common element of fitness that gets overlooked with bodyweight exercise is strength.
Going for a jog, bike ride, or practicing some yoga poses are all fairly obvious forms of working out without weights, but they aren’t strength exercises. (They might increase muscular endurance, but that’s different from strength.)
The answer is to include some strength specific exercises in your workouts. Squats, glute bridges, push-ups, pull-ups* (a note on this in a minute), and planks are a great place to start.
However, even bodyweight strength exercises can unwittingly get turned into glorified cardio when they become too easy and you just start doing, as my son says, “a million-billion” reps.
I don’t WANT to give a set number of reps to tell you when you’ve gone from the strength range to the endurance range. Every person is different, every exercise is different, and training strength with just body weight is totally different than lifting weights.
But I know you’re going to ask, so…
If you can easily do anywhere from 20-40 consecutive reps of a bodyweight exercise, it’s probably time to either start lifting some weights, or learning more complex bodyweight movements (Al Kavadlo and his brother Danny are the best resources on this).
That’s not to say you should never do more reps than that. It’s just a rough guideline to make sure you find ways to progress.
*A Quick Note on Pull-Ups
If you’re committed to training without weights, you’re gonna need a pull-up bar. You don’t want to neglect your back muscles, and pull-ups are the way to do it.
If you can’t do more than a couple pull-ups, you’ll also need a suspension trainer (like TRX bands) or gymnastic rings for inverted rows, and possibly some pull-up bands for band-assisted pull-ups.
Putting it Together
Here’s how to create your own workout program, using no weights.
You’ll do a strength training workout around 3x a week, hitting your full body with each workout.
In other words, there’s no “chest day” (sorry, guys). Do a couple upper body and a couple lower body exercises every time. (One example: dips, reverse lunges, glute bridges, and an inverted row done under a table as shown below.)
You’ll start each workout with a warm-up that includes a couple core exercises (like various types of planks), and mobility work (like certain yoga movements).
Then 2-3x a week you’ll also do cardio...
One option is to include a short, high intensity interval session after your strength workouts. Another idea is to have a 30-60 minute low intensity cardio session on separate days.
The details don’t matter. Just do something.
In fact, this is somewhat of an ideal look at the whole thing. It’s not the only way to do it.
The most important thing is to figure out what will work best for you. If you can do more, go for it. If you’re nowhere near ready to take on this much, don’t sweat it. Do what you can, no matter how little it might seem, and build on it later.
For a specific workout program that doesn’t require any gym equipment, download our ebook “Home Workout for Beginners.”