By Joli Guenther, MSSW, NASM
It's no surprise that bodyweight strength training is one of the hottest trends in fitness today. A natural complement to workouts on your home fitness equipment, this approach to strength training uses your bodyweight as resistance, making for accessible workouts you can take anywhere. The level of difficulty can easily be adapted to your level of fitness with options for both the beginners and the fitness buff. In addition to building muscle, you'll improve your core strength and range of movement, resulting in better function for your daily activities and improved form on your treadmill, recumbent bike, or elliptical. Ready to give strength training a try? Here are few tips to get you started.
Choosing your Exercises
When designing your home workout, choose a variety of exercises that target large muscle groups of your upper and lower body. Your routine should have some variation of a squat or wall-sit for the lower body, and both a pushing (for the chest) and a pulling (for the back) movement for the upper body. A simple routine for beginners might include a wall-sit, modified push-up and a cobra pose. You can use multiple exercises fatiguing the same body part to add an additional challenge and to lengthen your workout. You can also add simple props, such as an exercise ball or foam roller to further engage your core and challenge your stability. Although most bodyweight exercises will engage the core when performed correctly, you may also want to add in a set or two that specifically targets these areas, such as abdominal crunches or mountain climbers. For ideas on different types of exercises, you can find 50 Bodyweight Exercises through this link. For a beginner bodyweight circuit, this link has an excellent video to get beginners started.
Putting it into Practice
You can get benefits from strength training in as little as two workouts per week. However, in practice, I see much more dramatic changes in body composition and performance by adding in a third strength training workout each week. Give yourself at least one day between workouts to recover and expect a bit of post workout soreness on the day or two after your workout in the first few weeks. You can use traditional programs of counting reps, but I find that timing rather than counting your repetitions helps to keep the energy and intensity of your workout at an enjoyable and effective level. Start by spending 30-60 seconds on each exercise, rotating between upper and lower body movements. Keep your transitions short so you get the benefit of a cardiovascular challenge at the same time. As you gain fitness, work up to 90 seconds to two minutes at each station. You can start with one complete circuit of each exercise and build up to three circuits over time.
Fitting In with your Fitness Equipment
Unless you're specifically training for an endurance event, there's no point to slogging through hours of slow cardio on your treadmill or elliptical. You can gain serious fitness and push your body into burning fat, by keeping the intensity high and the duration short to moderate. Try using your fitness equipment to warm up for five to seven, followed by your strength training circuits, then finish with 10-15 minutes of intervals on your fitness equipment. Complete your workout with lower intensity cardio to cool down, followed by targeted stretching and/or foam rolling. This approach can be completed in 30-50 minutes and will give you a full body workout that includes strength, cardio and flexibility training. If you'd like to work out daily, you can alternate your strength training with additional workouts on your treadmill, recumbent bike, or elliptical. Use your home fitness equipment for a convenient warm-up on your strength training days and consider using your cardio workouts as recovery workouts between strength training by keeping the intensity and duration low to moderate. This is a great way to relieve the Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness that frequently comes with strength training, as well as a way to enjoy the increased calorie burn, energy and health benefits of a daily workout.
Weigh In: How do you fit strength training in to your home fitness routine?