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How to Get in Shape Without a Gym Membership

When it comes to getting back in shape and taking your physique to the next level, exercise is a must. Unfortunately, while unquestionably beneficial, traditional weight training methods aren’t always that viable. They come at a cost, require specialist equipment (or a gym membership), and can soak up quite a bit of time to boot. Which is why its fortunate that this isn’t the only way to build muscle and strip fat. In fact, we can actually improve strength, promote muscle growth, and develop a lean and muscular body without any equipment at all. Enter bodyweight training.

What is Bodyweight Training? 

Body weight training simply describes a form of weight training where you use your own body weight as the primary form of resistance. This type of training is commonly (and undeservedly, I might add) looked down upon as an inferior form of training as it doesn’t require any fancy equipment. Moreover, it is often said to be ineffective at promoting muscle growth. Both of which is a complete and utter load of rubbish. Seriously. While bodyweight training may have some restrictions when it comes to the development strength in absolute terms (think bench press, squat, and deadlift strength), it offers a fantastic way to develop other aspects of strength and stability, while also stimulating huge amounts of muscle growth. When implemented correctly, that is. Seriously, did you know that a large portion of Michael B Jordan’s training program for black panther was designed around bodyweight training? Moreover, as an added bonus, bodyweight training is also extremely versatile. It doesn’t require any equipment, it can be performed absolutely anywhere, and it can be performed at absolutely any time.


What are the Benefits of Bodyweight Training? 

Body weight training requires us to master our own body as a primary form of resistance. This means mastering basic upper body and lower body exercises to promote a high level of movement quality, which can then be used to stimulate a high degree of muscle growth. In short, bodyweight training provides us with the opportunity to build functional muscle – muscle that not only looks good, but also allows us to perform at a high level instantaneously when required.  

Upper Body Dominant Bodyweight Training 

Bodyweight training with a primary emphasis on the upper body is a fantastic way to develop upper body strength and size. Our two key exercise variations here are push ups and chin ups. Push ups provide you with the perfect means to develop upper body strength, while also promoting muscle growth of the pectorals, deltoids, and triceps. In addition to working these key muscle groups, push up variations also require shoulder stability and efficient shoulder function – which, as a result, can lead to increased shoulder health. With this, we can also use our own bodyweight to overload rowing movements, such as chin ups. By training these movements we can promote the development of the muscles of the back, with specific emphasis on the lats, traps, rhomboids, and the biceps. Like push up variations, these movements also require stability at the shoulder. As a result, by training them regularly, we can greatly improve our shoulder stability, health, and function.

Lower Body Dominant Bodyweight Training 

When it comes to using bodyweight exercises to build lower body muscle mass, our best bet is single leg lower body exercises. Exercises like lunges, split squats, pistol squats, and calf raises, can develop and improve hip stability strength, while enhancing global leg strength in a very big way. Not to mention that these movements also promote muscle growth of the quads, calves, and hamstrings – all of which are integral to the perfect ‘X shaped’ body we all strive for. 

Bodyweight Abdominal Training 

And finally, we will touch on ab training. Fortunately for us, bodyweight resisted core exercises offer us with one of the most effective means of training the abdominal musculature, period. This means that they are absolutely perfect for developing a strong muscular midsection. Our best bets here are planks and side planks. While quite simple in premise, these movements target both the rectus abdominus (the ‘6-pack’ muscle) and the obliques (which sit on the side of the abs), both of which collectively make up the bulk of our abdominal musculature. The focus on these movements is to create as much tension as possible by bracing your abs as hard as you can (as if you are about to be punched in the stomach) and staying as still as humanly possible.

Under Armour
Under Armour

Putting it All Together 

So we know that bodyweight training can have some serious benefits for muscular development, and we know what exercises offer us the most bang for our buck – but there is something else we need to mention before we finish putting it all together. Tempo. Because bodyweight training uses less load than normal weight training, we need to stress the muscle through other mechanisms. As a result, our best bet is to increase the time under tension that your muscle tissue receives each and every set. Time under tension is exactly what it sounds like – the amount of time in which the muscle is loaded under tension, which is considered a primary factor for muscle growth. With this in mind, the easiest way to increase muscle time under tension is to manipulate the tempo of the movement. This is best done by increasing the duration of the eccentric (or lowering) portion of the lift, while adding small pauses at various points during the lift.  

The Perfect Bodyweight Program for Muscle Growth 

Taking all of the above into consideration, we have put together an example program that can be completed anywhere, and anytime. By using the above movements and their variations, and manipulating tempo effectively, we can create the optimal bodyweight training program for whole body muscle growth. This can be completed anywhere from 2-4 times per week, and offers the perfect way to get lean and muscular using nothing but your own bodyweight.  

Close Hand Push Up (3 sets x 8 reps): 3 second eccentric, with one second pause at bottom. Come up as fast as possible. 

Chin Up (5 sets x 6 reps): 2 second pause at top. 2 second eccentric portion. 

Reverse Lunge (3 sets x 10 reps each side): 3 second eccentric portion. 

Wide Hand Push Up (3 sets x 10 reps): 4 second eccentric, with one second pause at bottom. Come up as fast as possible.  

Split Squat (3 sets x 15 reps each side): 3 second eccentric portion. 2 second pause at bottom, with knee ~1 inch from floor. 

Single leg Calf Raise (3 sets x 10 repos each side): 3 second eccentric, with one second pause at bottom. Come up as fast as possible. 

Plank (3 x 30s) and Side Plank (3 x 20s each side).


Takeaway Message 

Bodyweight training should never be viewed as inferior to more traditional strength training methods. In fact, by using the right exercises and adjusting the tempo appropriately, it offers one of the most effective ways to build lean and functional muscle tissue that can take your look to the next level. Additionally, considering that it requires no equipment at all, bodyweight training is the perfect option that can be completed anywhere and at any time.


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