Think you need a gym membership with a hefty price tag to gain peak fitness? Wondering where you can store the clunky equipment at home instead? Think again.
Bodyweight training, sometimes referred to as calisthenics, is by far the best training solution for those of us who have limited time and money, or are simply put off by the idea of the gym or fitness classes. Here’s why:
You can do it anywhere. This is a great pro for those of us who hate the thought of exercising in front of other people, and for introverts like me who feel anxious in social situations. This has been a big issue for me in the past – it wasn’t so much the idea of the exercise that put me off going to the gym or to classes, it was the thought of having to make small talk with strangers! For the travellers out there it is a great solution when you are living out of a suitcase – especially in hotels with poorly equipped gyms (or no gym at all – hello Premier Inn!).
It’s time efficient. When you train in a gym, you need time beforehand to prepare for your session. You pack your bag, you trudge along to the venue, you get yourself changed and FINALLY you are ready for your workout. You’ve probably wasted a good 30 minutes of your life, and then you have to do it all over again once you are finished. If it’s a class, there’s the extra hassle of having to arrive at a set time.
All of this can be avoided with bodyweight training at home. You just put your gym gear on and go – if you’re like me you don’t even bother with trainers (so long as you are on a non-slip surface)!
It’s low cost. Gym membership costs can range from around £20 a month for a basic facility all the way up to 3 figures for the higher end venues. That’s a minimum of £240 a year, with a potential to run into the thousands!
There are many programmes available which will give you incredible results at home (if you stick to the schedule!). Some of my current favourites are from Beachbody and can cost as little as £50 (a one off cost).
I would never suggest embarking on a bodyweight training programme at home without a properly structured course for 2 reasons. Firstly, unless you are a qualified fitness instructor or personal trainer it is difficult to design a course that will get you the results you are looking for. Secondly, without structure and consistency it’s hard to stay motivated and challenging to measure progress.
You can scale up the intensity as you get fitter. Critics of bodyweight training will say that there is a ceiling to the progress you can make without lifting weights. This is true if you have specific fitness needs such as rehabilitation or a desire to build a very muscular body, where bodyweight training may not be a full solution for you. However, if general fitness is your goal (lean muscle mass, strength, agility, flexibility and endurance), you can be confident that this can be achieved with bodyweight training alone.
Bodyweight training doesn’t have to be an 80s style aerobics class á la Mr Motivator (however fun that might be!). With 2 simple techniques you can scale up the intensity and difficulty levels as your fitness increases.
The first of these techniques is destabilisation. A simple example of this is standing on one foot – by halving the contact surface area with the floor, you immediately feel slightly off balance, and the muscles of your standing leg have to work twice as hard. This method can be used in bodyweight training, starting at beginner level all the way up to advanced. If we take a push up as an example, a beginner might rest on their knees at first, reducing the body weight used in the move and enhancing stabilisation to take the pressure off the upper body. A progression of this would be a regular push up in a plank, decreasing the stability and increasing the weight to the upper body. A more advanced version would be a single leg push up – by lifting one leg you destabilise the leg that is left on the ground which adds a higher amount of stress to the muscle. You also shift more weight to your upper body.
The second of these techniques is plyometric training. Simply put, this method uses gravity to increase the workload on your muscles. We can look at the example of a push up again. For an intermediate level of difficulty you would start again on the knees performing a push up. At the bottom of the push up you would push yourself up through the elbow extension as quickly as possible. When the arms are fully extended your hands will leave the ground and you will clap whilst in the air. The advanced version of this would be a single leg push up in full plank, where the stability is decreased and the weight load on the upper body is increased.
You can target multiple qualities. In order to build a good level of all-round fitness there are 5 factors to consider – strength, endurance, flexibility, agility and balance. The good news is that you can undertake bodyweight only workouts which are designed to improve some or all of these areas in one session.
Endurance and agility are often the focus of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workouts, which involve working close to your maximum threshold for a short period of time followed by a rest. HIIT is a powerful weight loss tool, targeting fat loss and stimulating muscle growth. Balance and strength can also be worked on with HIIT workouts by employing destabilisation and plyometric exercises. Flexibility, strength and balance are in the spotlight for practices such as yoga and Pilates, which are also fantastic for mindfulness and boosting energy.
By completing a combination of these types of workouts, you will be hitting all the right areas for improving your general fitness.
You can measure your progress. It’s pretty easy to measure your progress with certain types of exercise. If you are a runner, you can measure distance and minutes per mile. If you are a weight lifter, you can measure reps and the amount of weight you are lifting. With single bodyweight exercises, such as a push up, you can measure the number of reps.
When it comes to a full bodyweight programme there is a common misconception that you cannot measure your progress as easily. However, with a well-structured programme this will be more than achievable.
There are 4 ways of measuring progress for a bodyweight workout:
AMRAP (as many rounds as possible). Here you will perform as many rounds of a set of exercises as possible in a given time period. For example: 8 push ups, 10 squats, 5 burpees with a 3 minute time limit.
For time. Here you will be given a specific set of exercises and you will complete them with good form as quickly as possible. For example, 3 rounds of 8 push ups, 10 squats, 5 burpees.
Time to failure. Here you will undertake a full workout, noting the time you first had to stop due to failure of good form.
Reps to failure. Here you will perform a particular exercise (e.g. push ups), noting the amount of reps you could complete before stopping due to failure of good form.
Have you tried a bodyweight programme at home? Share your experience with us in the comments below!