If you are just beginning an exercise program, or don’t like gyms, and want to workout at home, you can still have very productive workouts, even if you have little or no equipment using bodyweight exercises.
Much of the fancy equipment at gyms is really not necessary and mainly there to add variety or look attractive to potential new gym members.
That’s right! You can get just as good of a workout without having any large pieces of equipment, but you generally have to get a little creative with your exercises and training, especially if you do not have any equipment. That said, just adding some inexpensive equipment like dumbbells, cables/bands, or an exercise ball drastically increases the amount you can do at home.
However, this article assumes you do not have any equipment at all, which means a lot of the exercises you perform will be bodyweight exercises.
A bodyweight exercise is any exercise that uses your body as resistance, instead of an external weight, such as a dumbbell, cable, or machine.
Bodyweight exercises are often portrayed as simple exercises that anyone can perform, but this is only partially accurate. The most important thing to realize is bodyweight exercises are not one size fits all and there is no one exercise that is the right difficulty or appropriate for everyone, so you have to pick the right exercises for your ability level.
If the exercises are too easy, then you will not get much benefit from your workouts and they certainly will not be as productive as using appropriate weights at a gym. On the other hand, if the exercises are too tough, you can overstress your muscles and wear down your body, potentially leading to injuries or overtraining.
Gym equipment makes it easier to change the weight of an exercise so it appropriately matches your ability level, but the same thing can be accomplished with bodyweight exercises at home. It does take a little effort and creativity to increase or decrease the difficulty of a bodyweight exercise (without adding weight), but it can certainly be done and there are some examples in the accompanying video.
Picking exercises that are the right difficulty is very important, but it is still only one aspect of an effective workout. For a really effective health and fitness routine, there are a number of general rules you should follow as well…
First, it is important to always perform at least one exercise for every major muscle group.
The primary muscle groups are your chest (pecs), back (upper and lower), shoulders, abs, quads (front of thigh), and hamstrings (back of thigh). You can also include some exercises for your arms (biceps, triceps, and forearms) and calves, although many exercises that work the primary muscles work these as well.
As for specific exercises, probably the most common upper body one is the push-up, which works the chest, front shoulder, and triceps. Pull-ups are also popular, although modifications often have to be made and they work your back (lats), biceps, and forearms. The most popular lower body exercises include squat and lunge variations, which work most of the major muscles in the legs, especially the quads.
The abdominals are the easiest muscles to train at home and there are literally dozens of challenging exercises that can be performed without any equipment at all. There are also many exercises for all areas of the body that can be done using things around the house (cans of food, assorted containers, etc.) as weights. There are really too many examples to even list, but just know that even if you don’t have equipment, you still have options.
When it comes to how many reps you should perform of each exercise, a good starting range is 10 to 15. If you cannot perform 10 quality reps of an exercise, then the exercise is probably a too difficult. If you can do 15 reps and do not feel challenged at all, then the exercise is too easy. You can use these guidelines to help pick exercises that are the right level of difficulty for your ability level.
As for the number of sets and exercises, this really depends on your level of fitness. If you are just starting a workout program, 1 set of each exercise is probably enough, especially if the exercises are appropriately challenging. As your fitness level increases, you can add a second set to some of the exercises. However, avoid doubling your total work overnight.
If a normal workout consists of 1 set of 10 different exercises, moving to 2 sets of 10 exercises is to too much of an increase at one time. Instead you could try increasing 1 or 2 of the exercises to 2 sets per week until you are up to 2 sets of every exercise. This is just an example and the rate you increase your sets should depend on the overall workout difficulty and your ability to fully recover from the workouts.
Initially, the most important thing is to develop consistency with your workouts and make them a normal part of your weekly routine. You don’t have to exercise every day, but if you can do a home bodyweight workout 2 or 3 days a week and possibly walk or perform some other activity 2 or 3 days a week, you will be well on your way to making positive changes to your body.
Also, don’t worry if you are not able to perform exercises with perfect form. Many people avoid exercising because they are worried about doing things incorrectly. While this is a legitimate concern, it takes time and practice to develop good exercise technique and everyone has to start somewhere.
The most important thing is that you should never feel pain when performing any exercise. If something hurts or does not feel right, stop right away. In general, muscular feelings of tightness, fatigue, and mild burning sensations are normal during some exercises, but any sharp pain or discomfort that occurs at a specific point or joint is a sign that something is wrong.
If you have no previous exercise experience and are afraid of performing exercises incorrectly, it is probably in your best interest to hire a qualified personal trainer to help you learn correct exercise technique, at least for basic exercises and movements. Taking the time to learn about things like proper joint alignment can save you a lot of problems down the road.
Otherwise, my best advice is to pay attention to what muscles you are using and how your body feels during each exercise. Try to avoid distracting yourself by doing things like watching TV (unless you are following an exercise video) and really focus on the exercises.
This will help you learn more about your body and improve your form at a faster rate, which translates into more effective workouts and better overall results.
By Ross Harrison
VFT Fitness Expert
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