While fancy new gym equipment and trendy fitness classes come and go, we’ll always have a tool that we can exercise with at any time and in any place: our own bodies. Bodyweight training (or strength training exercises that do not require free weights or machines) ranked second on The American College of Sports Medicine’s survey of the top 20 global fitness trends for 2014. Even though this is only the second year that bodyweight training has made it on the list, using our own body’s weight to stay in shape is nothing new.
Some people may be skeptical of a workout that uses no expensive machines or heavy weights, but research shows bodyweight workouts improve strength, endurance, and power, and–if done right–can burn through major calories. Read on for some convincing reasons to incorporate bodyweight exercise into your workout routine.
Six Bodyweight Benefits
Convenient: Adding weight to a workout has benefits. But using your own bodyweight trumps dumbbells and barbells for convenience. With your own two hands and feet (and everything in between), you can accomplish a sweaty and effective workout anywhere–your living room, a hotel room, or outdoors in a minimal space. Some bodyweight workouts can be intensified with an on-hand prop, such as a chair, but it’s not a necessity.
Inexpensive: Although bodyweight moves can be performed at a gym, all you really need is your own body. At-home workouts also mean fewer social distractions.
Efficient: With no dumbbells, kettlebells, or barbells in the way, transitioning from one move to the next takes little time. With less rest, your heart rate maintains its elevated level, an important factor for calorie burn. Bodyweight workouts are essentially interval training, meaning alternating bursts of intense activity with periods of no- or low-intensity activity. This has been shown to be more efficient than steady-state cardio.
Customizable: Exercise machines are limited in range of use by their settings, but bodyweight exercises have a multitude of modifications for any fitness level. Take the push-up: varieties range from knees-on-the ground all the way to clap and handstand push-ups.
Multifaceted: There’s a reason the squat and push-up are recommended exercise: Both are compound movements, meaning they engage multiple joints and work more than one muscle group at a time.
Heart-Pumping and Strengthening: One of the most important benefits of bodyweight exercise is its ability to improve your cardiovascular endurance and muscle strength all at once. Frequently changing your position keeps the heart rate elevated, while body weight and gravity work together to strengthen muscles. One small study showed just one bout of 10 sets of 10 squat-jumps produced beneficial change in muscle fibers.
Bodyweight Moves to Replace Machines and Dumbbells
Your gym’s collection of exercise machines is designed to target each and every muscle group. But while free weight and bodyweight exercise require balance and stability, most machines force the body to move weight on a stable, single plane. This type of movement can be unnatural and taxing on the joints. Machines can also have a more limited range of motion when compared to non-machine work, so you may not get as much out of each rep.
Bodyweight exercises focus on the body’s natural movements–pushing and pulling–and have fewer limitations to that range of motion. There are dozens of bodyweight moves that can replace your favorite gym equipment, but here are a few of our favorites.