Tuesday, February 3, 2015

No Gym? No Problem!

Sometimes, isn't the gym just a total pain?
  • When it's crowded, you can't get onto the machines or get a hold of the equipment you want to use.
  • Even worse, if you're trying to do HIIT circuit training, it's almost impossible to move quickly from one exercise to the next without someone jumping in.
  • Even worse, there's always that guy who has six machines occupied at once -- and gives you a hard time if you try to work in.
  • People leave the machines sweaty.
  • People occupy machines or benches while they're texting away between sets.
  • People don't re-rack their stuff and it gets in the way.
  • Equipment gets broken and sits unrepaired.
  • It's intimidating if you're not familiar with the equipment, particularly the weightlifting equipment.
  • The Self-Admiration Society is really annoying.
I could go on and on. Now I'm not trying to tell you that you shouldn't go to the gym. There are lots of friendly, helpful, courteous people there. If you can get there early in the morning, you can avoid a lot of the crowding problems. And some gyms are better than others about getting their stuff fixed. If you find that the gym is the place for you to work on fitness, go for it! Being a Regular Guy is all about finding what works for you.

But I gave up my gym membership months ago, and I don't regret it an iota. If you're a Regular Guy reader, you know I'm a big believer in bodyweight exercises.
My warm-weather home gym

I have a few reasons for being really big on this approach:

  • Cost: It's more or less free. 
  • Scheduling: I don't have to allocate time for driving to and from the gym.
  • Time-saver: It's more efficient than the gym or even a home gym. If you have a Bowflex or something, you can do all sorts of cool stuff, but you have to stop to set up the machine for each move.
  • HIIT: Going from one exercise to the next is just a matter of switching positions. There's never any lag time -- unless you want some.
  • Variations/progression: Making an exercise more difficult, or easier, is generally just a matter of altering your position.
  • Location: In the warm weather, I can do my routine outdoors. In the winter, I move inside.
But really, the biggest reason I believe in the bodyweight routine is that it really works for me. As an endurance runner, I know I'm never going to be totally jacked, but I'm definitely making nice strength gains and seeing muscles in places I've never really seen them before -- even when I was lifting heavy at the gym.

I feel like I have a reasonable amount of knowledge here, but I am by no means a certified trainer. I'm just talking about what works for me. So before you try any of this stuff, you should check it out thoroughly. And start slow and easy, so you can get a sense of what your body can handle, and what actually challenges you. 

What I'm thinking of is a "bodyweight move of the day" series, where I highlight one exercise that works for me, give you a photo or photos, explain how I do it, tell you why I like it and what I find tough about it, and show the variations I work into it. But I don't think it would be fair to lead you this far without at least a basic rundown of my routines.

  • Jumping jacks: A good, all-purpose dynamic warm-up stretch that can double as cardio training. I'll sometimes do a set between circuits.
  • Planks: There are a number of variations, and I'm still working on learning them. I do the standard forearm plank and side plank. I'll also do a cross tap, where I lift one hand across my chest to the opposite shoulder -- harder than you'd think. On the side plank, I'll dip my hips a dozen times each side for a little more dynamic workout.
  • Squats: Sometimes on the front porch I'll hold a garden brick in front of me to add a little challenge. Other variations: the prisoner squat (hands interlocked behind my head) and altering the width of your stance.
  • Lunges: I just do the standard forward lunge. Killer for my quads.
  • Push-ups: I'd like to improve here. I vary the distance between my hands -- the closer, the more difficult. I can do 2 or 3 "diamond" pushups where you make a diamond shape with your hands. 
  • Crunches: There are tons of different crunches. I favor the bicycle crunch because I feel like I'm working my abs and not pulling my head up with my hands.
  • Horizontal leg lifts: I lie flat and then pull my knees toward me, then extend out and hold for a count. To make it harder, I'll add a crunch when my knees are bent.
  • Vertical leg lifts: I lie flat with my arms extended outward, then lift my straight legs up until they're perpendicular to the floor. You can make it harder by altering your arm position, but I've never tried that -- this is hard enough for me!
  • Step-ups: Outside, I step up onto that table behind my towel. One foot up, then the other, then down in the same order. I do a set of between 12 and 20, then switch to use the other leg to pull me up.
  • Knee step-ups: I don't have a table or bench to step up onto indoors, so I kneel and then stand up using just one leg at a time.
  • Tricep dips: I sit on the edge of the table with my palms down beside me. Then lower myself down, hold for a count, and lift up. The key is keeping my back close to the edge of the table. I can make it harder by extending my legs or even propping them up fully extended on a chair.
  • Mountain climbers: The grade-school gym special. I get into push-up position, then hop one foot as far forward as I can, then alternate. The key for strength gains is not to sprint through it.
  • Plank jacks: I get into push-up position and then do a jumping-jack motion on the floor. Tough to do more than a half-dozen.
There are some moves I'm looking to include more, such as burpees, groiners and split squats. I stopped doing wall sits because they simply hurt my knees. And I'm always looking for new ideas, so if there's stuff you do that you think I'd like, please tell me about it. 

As I said, relying solely on bodyweight routines for strength training isn't for everyone. But if gym is just not the place for you, and you aren't in the market for expensive equipment, consider giving it a shot!

1 comment:

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