The Bodyweight Training Template 1: No Equipment Needed
Bodyweight training comes in two forms: with and without equipment.
Pure bodyweight training would be a situation you could find yourself in when at home, or not able to access any kind of apparatus: there is nothing for you to hang off of or push against, it is purely how you can use your body weight in an empty room or everyday items such as chairs or tables.
On the other hand bodyweight training could mean using your bodyweight to train, either in the gym or with access to a pull-up frame, with the specific intention of working on your strength-to-bodyweight ratio.
With this in mind, I’m going to give you two different templates that you can follow, because there is a big difference in terms of goals you can achieve with each type of training.
This post will focus on pure bodyweight training, or a template with which to train if you are at home and don’t have any equipment or anything to even hang off of.
Check back soon for another Template which will give you a rundown of exercises and a routine for those who want to develop their ability to handle their bodyweight (i.e. for a sport like climbing).
The Bodyweight Training Template 1: Without Equipment
Experience level: Any
Frequency: Can be done daily, dependant on intensity and level of fitness
Type of training: Use of bodyweight and everyday items to train muscular endurance
This template can be used in a few ways:
- For beginners who want to start a fitness program and/or develop a base level of strength
- As part of some ‘active recovery’ when you are away from a normal weights routine at the gym (like over the holidays)
- For those not interested in lifting heavy but keen to improve general core and overall strength to aid them in other goals (such as strengthening the body to run better without gaining any weight).
I’m going to divide the exercises into three groups: Upper body, Lower body and Core. I’ll explain each exercise then put it together in a routine which you can follow.
It is important to note that while this program is great for novices to gain control and strength, this kind of training will be primarily training muscular endurance rather than real strength.
You can certainly build a good physique and being able to perform 100 press-ups is impressive, but if you’re looking for size and raw power you’ll need to hit the weight room: after a while your bodyweight is not going to be enough to progressively overload your muscles (there won’t be enough stimulus to give them a reason to grow bigger).
Push-ups- No need for an introduction, push-ups are still one of the best movements and tests of strength and endurance.
It is important however that you do them properly. Everyone has seen the videos of ‘150 consecutive push-ups’ where the person is barely bending their arms whilst arching their back.
I’ll have a dedicated article coming soon about push-ups: in the meantime the key things to remember are
- Back is straight, abdominals tense. This is sometimes hard to tell yourself so get someone to look at you from the side and make sure that your body is in a straight line.
- Hands not too much wider than shoulder width, with the elbows around 45 degrees to your body (i.e. the elbows are not too flared). This might make it a bit harder, but it saves a lot of stress on your shoulders.
Remember the push-up is used to strengthen your chest, your shoulders, your triceps (back of the upper arm) and your core (lower back and abdominals).
So you should really be aiming to stay tight and concentrate on the contraction of your chest and triceps.
Don’t just smash the reps out.
Your usual tempo should be 1 second down, 1 second up (try counting 1 mississippi, 2 mississippi in your head). Make your goal to bring your chest around 1 inch from the floor for each rep.
If you don’t yet have the upper body strength to do push-ups on your toes, then rest on your knees, making sure that you keep your body in a straight line (i.e. so that your bum is not in the air).
Make it harder:
Once you’re able to do around 40 solid, full push-ups, you can increase the difficulty.
1. Put your feet on a chair. Changing the angle will make the reps harder, with more emphasis on your upper chest and front (anterior) deltoids (the front of your shoulders). Make sure you keep your body aligned: this will also challenge your abdominals more than regular push-ups.
Start on a shallow angles and increase it as you get stronger, until you can get to…
2. Handstand push-ups. If you can do a few reps of these you’re doing better than most: this is the equivalent to pushing your bodyweight overhead using only your arms and shoulders.
Once you are comfortable doing a few sets of 30 rep inclined push-ups you can give these a go, although make sure you do these first in your session as you want to be fresh.
Use a wall to balance against so you can concentrate on pressing.
Take it further: there’s not a pure bodyweight exercise that will test your pressing strength more than a handstand push-up, but if you really want to demonstrate body control, strength and balance try handstand walks.
Get up on your hands and try to move forward. Simple, eh?
Bodyweight squat- As with push-ups, pretty well-known but not always correctly executed exercise.
Although the squat is a natural human movement, the flexibility and strength to perform a full, controlled squat is something that is lost to many people as they grow up, due in part to the modern sedentary lifestyle.
The key to performing it well is down to having adequate posterior chain flexibility. Put simply, you want to be able to descend so your thighs are at least parallel to the ground whilst maintaining a flat tense lower back and without your knees going too far over your toes.
If you can go lower than parallel then try it, as long as you can maintain a flat back.
Again, don’t just pump the reps out, bouncing at the bottom. Do each rep with a one second down one second up rhythm, making sure you maintain your form.
Aim to do as many reps as you can without your form breaking down. Recover for 2 minutes and repeat.
I emphasise again that this is not going to make you massively strong, but it will do a good job of activating the muscles in your posterior chain whilst increasing muscular endurance.
Make it harder:
Too easy? Try one-legged squats, also known as pistols.
Same principle, but now you’re supporting your bodyweight with only one leg. This is also very much a balance movement, and one that will take practice and coordination to achieve.
Again, I’ll have a dedicated article coming up focusing on how you can get to this level soon.
Most of you will have heard of the plank, where you support yourself on your elbows and toes whilst trying to keep your body straight.
It is an effective exercise, but only if you can’t do many push-ups; if you can hold the push-up position then you can essentially save time and do two things at once.
Doing 30 non-stop push-ups can take around a minute, a minute where you have been holding a more difficult position of the plank (arms extended is more tiring).
If you can’t do anymore push-ups, then hold the top position or drop to the plank (on your elbows) and hold as long as you can.
Bodyweight exercises are a good starting point for beginners, but eventually as you get stronger they will be more of a muscular endurance exercise than anything else.
They can therefore be trained to failure i.e. do multiple sets where the aim of each set is to go to the point where you cannot complete another rep.
A good method of improvement would be to pick a number, like 100, and see how many sets it takes for you to get there, and how much rest you need between each set.
As you improve both the rest periods and the number of sets should decrease, until you are able to complete the 100 in one go.
Here’s a sample routine of what you could put together (very advanced):
- Hand stand push-ups, 2 sets, As Many Reps As Possible (AMRAP)
- Elevated push-ups, 70 total reps in as few sets as possible
- Normal push-ups, 50 total reps in as few sets as possible
- On last set of normal push-ups, hold in the plank position for as long as possible.
Allow anywhere between 1 to 2 minutes between sets. Recover for 3 minutes then go into legs:
- Pistols, 1 set AMRAP
- Bodyweight squats, 4 sets x 20 reps, with a 3 second hold in the bottom position of each rep
- Bodyweight squats, 150 total reps in as few sets as possible.
For an easier starter routine, remove the hand-stand push-ups and pistols and reduce the number of total reps to something that is comfortable for you.
With all these exercises feel free to vary the rest periods and rep tempo every time you workout, to keep it interesting and to challenge yourself in different ways.
So there you have it, a quick run-down of a way in which to exercise when you don’t have any equipment.
If your goal is not to gain muscle but rather endurance or functional strength for a sport this can be a good routine to use in place of a gym.
However you can take bodyweight training to the next level with a couple of simple pieces of equipment: more to come soon on bodyweight training in the gym.
If nothing else this is a great way to get started!
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