By Dr. Mercola
Many exercise systems often sound great at first glance, but in reality simply will not make a good fit for your life. Thankfully, there is something else you can try called bodyweight exercise, which is so flexible that it answers every possible concern you might have, including time constraints, prohibitive cost, and location concerns.
It got its name because your own body provides all the resistance needed to take you to the peak of fitness... and it does so at your own pace, without requiring a personal trainer to design the perfect system for your lifestyle and fitness level.
You likely already know that exercise is necessary for good health and a long life. What is not always clear is how you should go about it. There are a countless number of different plans and theories about how to exercise.
Of course researching and careful reflection is important, but it's confusing. What's the best plan? How hard or easy should your workout be? Then, there's the day-to-day reality, and the inevitable challenges of implementing an exercise regimen:
Not enough time… The equipment is too expensive … Traveling to the gym or other facility … You like outdoor exercising, but it's snowing.
Bodyweight exercises resolve all of these problems! You can do them anywhere, anytime, at your own pace and level, alone or with a friend—even if you and your friend are at different levels. It doesn't cost a single penny.
Yet, you can get a perfect workout as if it had been designed just for you. That's because it has—you will have designed it yourself!
It is not a newfangled idea. It's well researched, so you do not need to be concerned that you might hurt yourself. Bodyweight exercising uses your own body to provide resistance, so you do not even need weights—though you can use them if you wish. The method is not only effective, allowing you to train every muscle in your body, but is simple and let's you work out at your own pace.
Health Benefits of Bodyweight Exercise
In the Huffington Post Greatest series, Dave Smith discusses some of bodyweight exercising's benefits1.
- Workouts are highly efficient. As Dave points out, the goal is fitness, not to look like "Arnold circa 1977." No equipment means that there's minimal time transitioning from one exercise in your self-defined set to the next, so your heart rate is boosted quickly and keeps pumping.
- You get both cardiovascular and strength training. It is not necessary to do two separate workouts to achieve both types of fitness. Simply alternating exercise sets from cardiovascular to strength training keeps your pulse up.2
- Your core strength is improved. The Mayo Clinic tells us that 29 muscle pairs located in the pelvis, abdomen and lower back form the core that's needed to support your body and maintain balance.3 Your athletic ability, posture and all the little things you do every day—like just plain sitting or doing the laundry—will be improved when your core is strengthened and stabilized.4
- You'll be more flexible. Increased strength without improved flexibility won't do you much good. Good posture and athletic performance require good flexibility.5 Inability to stretch and bend is related to lack of flexibility.6
- Your balance will improve. As you progress into more difficult variations of exercises, your ability to balance is trained. Better balance helps give better body control.7 Since age and infirmity do not usually hinder performance of bodyweight exercises, they can be a great way for the elderly to maintain and improve balance.8
Almost Anyone Can Improve Fitness Health
Bodyweight exercise can be done by just about anyone. A study has documented that it benefits stroke patients.9 In fact, if bodyweight exercise can help someone who's suffered a major stroke and has difficulty walking, it's apparent that nearly anyone can benefit. Adaptability is what makes this system so good: It's adjustable to almost anyone, from the least fit to the professional athlete. Just learn the basics and try different approaches until you find what works best for you. If you get bored doing the same thing all the time, you can vary your workout. As your strength and endurance develop, you can modify the program. It's the ultimate personalized system—as if you had your own personal trainer. In fact, you do... yourself!
With Bodyweight Exercising, You Can Become Your Own Personal Trainer!
So how do you do it? Just watch this video of Jill Rodriguez, one of the personal trainers at Mercola.com, as she demonstrates basic exercises and how to add levels of difficulty as you're able:
You can do the exercises almost anywhere... at home, outdoors, or in a gym. If you and a friend like to exercise together, you can do the same basic program, but work out at your individual levels. It doesn't take a lot of time. There's no equipment to buy. Exercise to music or while watching television. Make it part of the transition from your work day to your personal time. You can just make it fun!
Personal Benefits of Bodyweight Exercise
Aside from the improvements to your physical state, bodyweight exercise provides some other goodies:
- Fat is burned quickly. If you want to shed a few pounds, bodyweight training can help simply by including some burpees—which I'll tell you more about a bit later. You'll be amazed at how the metabolic increase will help melt the pounds.10
- It's convenient. So often, the reason people do not exercise is simply that it's inconvenient. You have to go to a gym, or go outside when it's raining, or stay inside when it's beautiful outdoors. You do not need to pull equipment out and get set up. You do not need to fit exercise into a particular schedule. You just do it when it's convenient and fits your schedule.
- It's cheap. There is no equipment required. Your own body is all the equipment you'll need.
- It's fun! There's no boredom because you can vary your workout if doing the same old thing makes you want to quit. As the above video of demonstrates, there are all sorts of variations that you can try... and keep in mind that the video doesn’t show every possible exercise you could do.
- It's satisfying. You'll see and feel results quickly. Your mind will be sharper. You'll feel better. If overweight, you'll probably start losing weight quickly. You'll look better. Your energy levels will increase.
Do the Burpee for a Concentrated Workout
The burpee is a bodyweight exercise developed by Dr. Royal H. Burpee. It's both aerobic and anerobic, and provides both strength and cardiovascular workouts in one exercise. Doing burpees can shorten exercise time because it burns 50% more fat in short bursts. Like other bodyweight exercises, there are burpee variations that can make it easier or harder, depending on your requirements. All you need to know about it, including step-by-step instructions and a video demonstrating the burpee and variations can be seen here, along with all sorts of fun facts about it.
Technology to Support Bodyweight Workouts
Okay, it does seem a bit contradictory to suggest that these workouts, which do not require any more equipment than your own body, can be helped with technology. In today's world, though, we do have technological allies in fitness.
With prices ranging from free to $3.99, a previous article brings you information about six bodyweight apps for your iPad or phone. One helps you work out your own customized workout for your skill and fitness level. Another can keep your body challenged. Other non-bodyweight training apps help you track your progress in jogging or running, keep track of your workouts, or calculate heart rate with a range of tools to keep you on track. Technology lets you bring your own personal trainer along on every workout!
Proper Form for Maximum Benefit and Injury Avoidance
Bodyweight exercise is effective and frees you from the expenses and restrictions of most other exercise programs. However, it's critical to understand that you shouldn't just go slinging your body around or acting as if you're immune to injury. If you obey proper form, you will gain the most benefit and avoid injuries.
Two of the best strength-producing exercises are pull-ups and push-ups. To gain the most out of either one requires performing them properly. Men tend to focus on pull-ups and push-ups, but women, who often lack upper body strength, should give them a go, too.
Pull-ups are not the same thing as chin-ups. They're not as hard, but if you do them correctly, they're more beneficial. Not only do they build strength in upper back muscles, but they're also good for the central body core. Be sure to watch a recent video we did that shows you the proper form for doing pull-ups. If you aren't able to do full pull-ups yet, the article also gives information on how to work your way into them.
Believe it or not, if you want to strengthen your midsection, a great exercise is push-ups. They do, of course, increase upper body strength, but when done properly, you must keep your abdominals still, which requires keeping them taut. We also have a video that shows you how to do push-ups correctly. You'll learn how to target other muscle groups while doing perfect push-ups.
No One 'Correct' Way to Exercise
Every person is different, so there's not just one "correct" way to exercise. With all the exercise plans out there, it can be confusing and zap your motivation to even try to get started. So when you learn about the bodyweight system, which resolves all those excuses for not exercising, it can still be difficult to overcome the inertia to get started. To help you get through that difficulty and start making exercise a regular part of your life, Chris Freytag has offered 12 Steps to help you get going.
Because we're all different, what works for one person does nothing for another. You may need to set aside the same time every day, while your co-worker does better by keeping the time flexible. It will require, though, that you make a real commitment to exercise regularly and make it a routine part of life.
Bodyweight exercising is terrific for many with tight time or financial budgets or schedules—but it isn't right for everyone. Some people do better exercising in gyms with trainers. Some do not care what the weather is like. Cold or hot, wet or dry, they want to be outside on a regular basis, so they can best bring exercise into their outdoor activities.