Updated 15 October 2013

Resistance training without barbells

Fitness experts say the only thing people need to push, pull and lift is the weight of their own body.


Man versus machines? In the realm of fitness at least man seems to be winning. Despite a gym floor bulging with weight-lifting equipment, fitness experts said the only thing people need to push, pull and lift is the weight of their own body.

"If more people knew you could get a good physique using your body as a barbell, they could take matters into their own hands," said Bret Contreras, author of "Body weight Strength Training Anatomy", a guide to 'body weight-only' workouts aimed at everyone from the exercise-challenged to the personal trainer. Known as the "Glute Guy", Arizona-based Contreras has been resistance training for 21 years. But in high school, he couldn't do a push-up.

"At 15 I was so skinny people used to make jokes," the 37-year-old said. "I just got so tired of being made fun of I decided to take charge." Often thought of as a stepping stone to weight training, body weight training can be a complete, whole body workout in itself, Contreras said.

Once the person masters the simpler version of a push-up, squat or chin-up, a more advanced version can be tackled, often with a little help from the living room furniture. "Find things in the environment: a table to get underneath – hold on to the sides of and then pull the body upward – and a rafter for a pull-up," he said.

Doesn't have to be intimidating

"To work your glutes (buttock muscles), all you need is a couch." Contreras recommends the beginner start with 15 minutes a day and increase over time.

"It doesn't have to be intimidating," he said. "You could do a 20-minute workout three times a week and have an incredible physique, so long as you push hard and keep challenging yourself. "ANYTIME, ANYWHERE Body weight exercises return people to the way they move naturally, according to Lisa Wheeler, national creative manager of group fitness at Equinox, the upscale chain of fitness centres.

"We squat, lunge, crawl, reach," she said, adding that a body weight class at Equinox is called "Animal Flow" because its crab crawls, lunges and swings were inspired by the primal movement patterns of man and beast. "Body weight training is great for mobility, stability and creating movement patterns," she said.

"You want to build a strong foundation, be stable around the shoulders, hips and spine. "Because the load doesn't change, progression is achieved by changing the centre of gravity of the exerciser or the complexity of the movement.

Mimics the way we move

Another challenge, she said, is getting enough pull to match the push of most body weight exercises. "Body weight training can make everything else better," she said.

"Jessica Matthews, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise, said body weight training blends with the trend toward functional training, or training that mimics the way we move in everyday life, as opposed to the older bodybuilder model of targeting one muscle group at a time.

"Our body is one kinetic chain, everything moves together, so most everyday exercises will move multiple muscle groups," she said.

Matthews said not only can body weight training be done anytime, anywhere, it also works easily into popular interval training, circuit and boot camp workouts. "Using body weight exercises allow more of a cardiovascular component because you can move rapidly from one exercise to the next," Matthews said.

So are machines a thing of the past? "I think there's a place for everything," she said, "For some people a fixed path might be the way to go. It boils down to having proper joint stability and quality range of movement, then adding load. Form is imperative."




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