In this article we’ll focus on the best ways to start a simple and effective training routine. I’ve put together a list of bodyweight exercises to help you stay fit and increase your muscle mass. And the best part is that these exercises don’t require extra equipment and you can literally do them anywhere.
This isn’t a technical discussion about muscles mass, fat percentages, complicated fat calculators, calories and so on. I’m just going to focus on the following: simple bodyweight exercises with the goal of building strength, posture, balance and muscle mass, while effectively burning as much fat as possible.
Benefits of Strength Training
Incorporating a strength training routine into your daily life is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle. Personally I believe that even a simple strength training routine will improve anyone’s life in a matter of days. But don’t take my word for it, let’s look at some of the benefits associated with strength training.
Strength training can help you in the following ways:
- ncrease your muscle mass and burn body fat (even after you’ve exercised)
- build strong tendons and connective tissue
- look and feel great, have more energy
- improve your mood, mental health and cognitive functions
- improve your mobility, overall energy and stamina
- increase bone density and bone health
- improve your breathing and lung capacity
- decrease injury risk in everyday life
- improve or correct your posture
- reduce the symptoms associated with chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, back main, neck pain, headache
- keep a training schedule, improve your general mood, get tougher and stronger both physically and mentally
- perform basic movements that engage all your muscles in different ways
- find an excuse to get out of the house and connect with others
- develop a healthy routine that will eventually lead to other positive changes
- optimize your hormones for a healthy lifestyle (through exercise, lack of stress, sleep, diet, meditation, etc)
You Will Build Muscles, Posture and Strength
What does building muscles means? Building muscle mass refers to focusing your training efforts on increasing skeletal muscles. Not on how much time you are running, not on your general aerobic performance, but on improving your muscles to fat ratio. You want to build more muscles while burning the fat storages. This can translate into having more force, stability, improved balance or being able to lift heavy things.
How about posture? Simply put, having a correct posture means having a correct alignment of your spine. But in order to achieve a beautiful healthy posture, you need to strengthen the muscles that hold up the spine. And this can only be done through strength training kind of exercises (with or without weights). In this article we’ll focus on exercising using your own bodyweight.
How about strength? Simply put, strength refers to how much force you can exert against some type of resistance. Think of it like this: increasing your muscle mass will not only make you look more fit, but will also increase your capacity to carry heavy objects, flex your muscles, perform tasks or exercises that you were not able to do before, live with more confidence, “feel” your muscles and flex them whenever you want. You don’t have to be a superhero to have access to all of these, you only need to work your muscles constantly and they will develop beautifully.
So how do you build muscle mass? You can only do it through resistance training (aka strength training). You see, in order to tell your body that it needs to build up a muscle, you first need to “break down” the muscle. And you do it by constantly challenging the muscles with variations exercises. In this article we’ll focus on simple exercises where you’ll only use your bodyweight and nothing more. These exercises can be performed anywhere and are very efficient when it comes to building muscle mass, strength, balance, and posture.
Beginning Your Strength Training Routine
Personally, I don’t believe in training routines that will literally exhaust me and I don’t believe in protein powders. I think the “no pain, no gain” approach definitely works but it’s not for me. If you’re a beginner to strength training, my advice is to focus your efforts on learning how your body works, observe your muscles, learn how to execute simple exercises correctly and avoid injuries.
With this in mind, let’s focus on a few simple rules that will not only help you get maximum out of your training routine, but will also help you stay free of injuries. The last thing you want is to injure yourself, and that’s why all your training routines should start with a warm-up session.
Here are my simple rules for training efficiently:
- Always start with a 10-15 min warm-up session.
- Don’t spend more than 40-45 min on the training session (warm-up included).
- Work-out 3-4 times/week and only when you feel rested. It’s not about the frequency of your training, it’s about the quality of it.
- Start with simple exercises and, once you’ve mastered those, evolve towards more complicated routines.
- Watch the instructional videos for each exercise several times, until you’ll understand all the components of a certain exercise. Always respect the start and stop positions, and the advice from your instructor.
- If you notice pain, stop immediately and avoid doing that exercise until you have understood the cause of pain.
- Have patience, you won’t build muscles overnight. With time, you’ll notice that you can do more repetitions or that you’ll be able to support your body longer. You will also notice how you can flex some of your muscles, where in the past this wasn’t possible.
- You don’t need protein shakes or other kinds of sports drinks after a workout like this. If you feel the need to eat more, by all means eat more, but eat real food.
- Muscle soreness is real and it will happen, but this doesn’t mean that it’s a bad thing. Muscle soreness usually sets the next day, which means you can’t “detect” it during your training routine. That’s why it’s mandatory to take it slow as a beginner and don’t over exercise.
- Do not train if you feel tired or not completely recovered.
- Do not train with muscle soreness, because this can lead to some serious injuries.
- As a beginner it will take you longer to recover from muscles soreness. This is something normal.
- Foods containing electrolytes (sodium, magnesium, potassium) can lead to a faster recovery after a workout session. You also need to make sure that you drink enough water, relax after the workout, eat real food, sleep if you feel the need to sleep. All of these will promote a faster recovery and muscle growth.
- Do not train with a full stomach or if you are very hungry. A full stomach means your risk digestion problems, while being very hungry can lead to injuries due to being in a hurry to finish.
Choosing Your Exercises
You’ll be surprised how easy it is to get in shape. You only need to clean your diet, have a simple but effective training routine, get enough rest and keep it consistent.
For now we’ll concentrate on simple training exercises. I’m not going to list complicated programs here, instead I’ll just list all the exercises that you can do and it’ll be up to you to choose which exercises you want to start with.
I’ve put together this huge list of exercises so you can have the option to choose. And to make it easier for you, I’ve structured them into two main groups: Beginner and Advanced. You won’t need complicated training equipment and you can even perform all these exercises at home.
If you haven’t exercised in a while, you should definitely start with the first section (Beginner). These are very low impact exercises, designed to get your body used to the basic movements, while keeping injuries away. The second category (Advanced) it’s all about going to the next level when it comes to bodyweight training routines. The exercises are a bit more challenging and should be approached once you have mastered the techniques of the exercises in the first category.
Walking – What a great way to engage your body, and especially the feet muscles (quadriceps, hamstrings, calfs, etc) and your buttocks muscles (gluteal muscle). Walking also works all your back muscles, at least if you do it long enough. Walking on an incline will add more to the overall workout so keep this in mind
Nordic Walking – This type of walking refers to the use of poles while walking. Besides all the feet muscles, this type of exercise has a secondary focus on working out your arms, shoulders, upper chest and back muscles.
Half Squats – The half squat is a squat variation where you only go down half way into a normal squat. If regular squats are a challenge for you, consider including these half squats into your training routine until you feel ready to evolve to regular squats.
Wall Push-ups – Think of wall push-up as the entry level to push-ups. If you cannot do a push-up (and many people can’t) or even a half push-up, these are definitely the way to go. Wall push-ups aren’t too demanding in terms of the strength required and so they’re great if you aren’t used to working out your muscles everyday. The wall push-ups will strengthen your arms, shoulders and chest, at least to some extent. Once you feel ready, you can move to knee push-ups and later to regular push-ups.
Knee Push ups – moving up from wall push-up, the knee push-ups may feel strange at first. Besides arms, shoulders and chest, you’ll start engaging your abdomen (and with them your core muscles). These push-ups activate the same muscles as regular push-ups, just to a lower intensity.
Double or Single Leg Assisted Pull-ups– This variation is the entry level for regular pull-ups. Pull-ups will mainly target your lateral muscles, but will also work all your upper body muscles (chest, trapezius, deltoids, pecs, )including arms (biceps and forearms).
Hand Knee Plank (front + both sides) – This exercise is the entry level towards the classical plank exercise. Talking about what muscles are involved, this one focuses mainly on your core (abdominal) muscles, but also back and shoulders. This exercise also has a side variation where the focus will be on engaging your lateral abdominal muscles.
Forearm Knee Plank (front + both sides) – Same exercise as above, but this time your rest on your forearms instead of your hands. This means you’ll be focusing even more on your shoulders and back muscles, plus the main core muscles.
Crunch – Simple and hard at the same time, crunches are a great way to work your abdominal muscles. Make sure to execute them correctly by avoiding bringing the chin to the collarbone as it puts unnecessary pressure on your spine; also place your palms at the side of the head and keep the elbows out, chin slightly lifted. Do not lace your fingers behind your neck because that will put unnecessary pressure on your cervical spine.
Lateral Plank Walk – This exercise will engage all your core muscles but the side-to-side motion works your arms and deltoids too. Plus, it’ll challenge your balance and stability. You can move one right and one back, or several right and back again. This is one of those “creative” exercises, as I like to call them.
Tricep Dips – This exercise focuses mainly on your triceps, so it’s more of an isolation exercise. You can perform this exercise using a chair, bench and even on the floor. It’s important to start on good posture, placing your arms correctly behind your back. Lower the elbows to go down while you inhale, exhale to extend your elbows and lift your whole body up. Inhale down, followed by exhale up.
Forward Lunges – This exercises focuses on those lower body muscles, especially hips, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and core and the hard-to-reach muscles of your inner thighs. If you’re just beginning with lunges, take it easy and make sure that your knee is bent at 90 degrees. Observe correct posture and perfect balance, otherwise you risk putting unnecessary pressure on your joints and lower back. For an extra kick, use dumbbells in both hands.
Hiking – Think of hiking as the upgraded version of walking. With hiking you add the element of terrain to the walking equation, and possibly the use of poles. For an extra element, you can also work your arms by using poles, like in the nordic walk.
Sprinting – Once you’ve mastered walking and hiking to the point that you can walk at least 5km/day, it’s time to move to sprinting. Spring has some more health benefits than you might imagine: muscle growth, fat loss, mental health, and others. Keep in mind that it’s very important to keep it safe for you, while giving it as much as you can in terms of short explosive kind of effort.
Table Push-ups – These can be performed at several inclines (think chairs, table, work-out bench, or anything in-between). Depending on the incline, you’ll work different muscles at different intensities. These push-ups are a great alternative to regular push-ups, putting less load on your elbows but also reducing the overall weight you are pushing up. They’ll basically activate the same muscles as regular push-ups, just at different intensity (arms, shoulders, lateral muscles, abdomen and pretty much your entire core).
Standard Push-ups – The pushup is a simple exercise that can strengthen and tone many of your upper body and core muscles. But this doesn’t mean that it’s a simple exercise so, if you aren’t able to do a standard push-up, you can always start with easier variations until you get the strength for standard push-ups. it’s very important to keep yourself safe by executing the push-up correctly.
Standard Pull-ups – Pull-ups are a great way to work every muscle in your upper body. They’ll strengthen your back, lateral, arms, shoulders and chest, as well as the abdominal muscles (to some extent). Since the main focus in standard pull-ups is the back muscles, I see them as a complementary exercise to push-ups. Note that different variations will emphasize different muscles groups, so it’s wise to rotate the exercises from time to time. Besides the standard push-up, there are a few popular variations: variations that you might want to consider: reverse pull-ups, chin-ups, wide grip pull-ups, wide grip rear pull-ups.
Air Squats – This classic exercise works all your lower body muscles, including quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves and even your lower back muscles. Squats are great because they will also work your knees, by lubricating the joints with healthy blood, and will improve your core stability (balance).
Hands Feet Planks (front + laterals) – The plank is a type of isometric hold which can intensively activate the body’s core muscles (abdominal and low back), as well as upper back muscles, chest, shoulders and arms to some extent. The lateral variation of plank focuses more on the lateral abdominal muscle, but that isn’t to say that it doesn’t involve all other muscles mentioned above.
Forearms Feet Planks (front + laterals) – This is another variation of the hands and feet plank exercise. This one is a bit more intensive, where the focus will not only be on our abdominal and lower back muscles, but also on the upper muscles (front and back). The lateral variation will focus more on the lateral abdominal muscles as well as all those core muscles.
Lying Leg Raises – An addition to the classical crunch, the lying leg raises will bring your abs game to the next level. This exercise focuses on all your core, but compared to classical crunches this one focuses even more on the lower abs.
Lying Windshield Wipers – This exercise is somehow similar to the lying leg raises but with the addition that, once you’ve raised your legs, you move them side to side, like in the Russian Twist below. The focus here is on your abdominal muscles (front and lateral) and on keeping your entire core balanced and in control.
Russian Twist – The Russian twist targets all the muscles in your core, strengthening your core, obliques, and spine. It’s a rather simple exercise that also works great as an abs exercise. Don’t focus on too many repetitions, instead choose to focus on doing them correctly.
Reverse Plank – This is a rather simple exercise that focuses on a lot of muscles, challenging under-utilized muscles in a totally unique way. The reserve plank works your lower back, obliques, glutes and hamstrings, as well as the posterior muscles.
Inchworm – As with the side planks, this exercise is a bit more complex but the variation will do you a lot of good. It’s one of those exercises that require some kind of mobility and some force and stability in your core. It focuses on a lot of muscles, including back and core muscles.
Keep Your Workout Routine Simple
Don’t forget that it’s up to you to choose which exercise you want to do. Here are the step to take to make your own simple training routine:
- Start with 10-15 minutes of basic warm-ups (simple movements, like they taught you in school).
- Choose 3-4 exercises from either category and execute 2-3 sets of 10-20 repetitions. Rotate the exercises from time to time, so that you’ll work several muscles.
- Some exercises work the upper body muscles, while others focus on the lower body muscles. Make sure to choose a routine with exercises that work both categories of muscles.
- If you’re a beginner, you should always start with the most simple exercises (Beginner category).
- Do not over do it from the first session. The goal is not to get you sore, rather to get your body moving.
- Pay special attention to the correct techniques and don’t go to the maximum from the first repetitions.
- Setting high goals is great but keeping realistic goals vs your current condition is the most important.
- Skip an exercise if you don’t feel right or if it causes any kind of pain. Find an alternative replacement.
- Take some time to recover after your training session. Recovery is extremely important. Besides taking days off from training (depending on the intensity of your training routine), sleep, diet and meditation will certainly improve your recovery.
What is your experience with bodyweight training exercises? Do you find my advice useful? Let’s chat in the comments.