Resistance Training with Body Weight Exercises
There are many types of resistance training, one can go to the gym and use the weight machines. One can buy some free weights, such as dumbbells weighing typically from 2 to 7 pounds. Or one can use resistance elastic bands.
Or one can try working with kettle balls. However when working with kettle balls, you need find proper training and technique so that you do not hurt yourself. Also there are barbells for the more advanced. However, they can be dangerous and are not recommended for beginners.
However all of these resistance training require some type of equipment, which are not available when one is traveling. In those cases, the best resistance training would be body weight exercises.
Body weight exercises are exactly what its name implies -- you are using your body weight as the resistance.
There are numerous body weight exercises including push-up, squat, pull-up, plank, dip, cruch, and sit-ups. Then there is the burpee which combines a few of them by doing a stand, squat, plank, squat, and jump.
Some of these require a bit of equipment and others do not. This article will focus on the two most useful body weight exercises that do not require any equipment: the push-up and the squat.
General Resistance Training Guidelines
Some general guidelines to keep in mind for all types of resistance training exercises. And that is to move in slow controlled movements. Sudden fast uncontrolled movements are what will cause injuries.
Never lock up your joints completely. Your elbow, for example, should never be completely straight. There should be at least a very slight bend. You do not want your weights to hang on your arms and pulling on your joints. Your joints are not supposed to be the ones holding up the weights; your muscles are.
The same goes for pull ups. You should not let your entire body weight pull down on your joints. There should always be a slight bend in your arms so that your muscles are doing all the work holding your weight up, not your joints.
Before embarking on any exercise program, check with your doctor first. Even so, one should not overexert and go beyond what your body can do. Start off slow and do at the level that you are capable and gradually increase.
It is not necessary to do them every day. If your muscle are sore the next day, wait until they are no longer sore before continuing. You need to give your muscles time to recover. It is during this recovery that it is building your muscle mass.
Why the need for resistance training?
Some may say that they have no need to look buff like Arnold Schwarzenegger. However as one approaches midlife, resistance training is not to build muscle. It is just so that we do not lose muscle and bone mass.
Sarcopenia is the degeneration of muscle mass and strength associated with aging. Starting at age 35, we lose on average 5 percent of muscle mass every 10 years. [reference: page 152 of YOU: On A Diet.]
Why do we lose muscle and bone mass? We lose them due to disuse. For example, astronauts who come back to Earth after a time spent in weightlessness of space will have measurable to significant amount of muscle and bone loss (depending on how long they were in space).
If you are not consuming enough protein and nutrient for your body's need, your body will get them from your muscles and from your bones. If your body needs protein for its function and you are not consuming enough protein, then it will get the protein from your muscles. If your diet is deficient in magnesium or calcium, then your body will have to extract these minerals from your bones. In effect, your muscle are your protein store and your bones are your mineral store.
There are many other health benefits for resistance training. Resistance training increases bone strength and density. They increases muscle and to some extent organ mass. It increases insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes.
As we get older, resistance training become increasingly more important. The elderly may say that I can not lift those weights. However as you will see, some of the body weight exercises can be made as easy and as light as one desire. If you can stand, you can do some of these.
In this respect, the push-up and its variants are the best. Because this category of exercise can be made to match the level of the individual from very easy to quite difficult.
The push-up is great because it utilizes a large number of your muscles at the same time --including the arms, the legs, and the abdominal, also known as the core.
For some, they may not be able to do a single push-up. In that case, we'll start very easy and work our way up.
The very easiest form is the "wall push-up". You stand next to a wall with both hands on it. Bend your arms and elbows so that you lean toward the wall. Then use your muscles to push yourself away from the wall. You are, of course, standing at all times. Most people who can stand, can do this. They can adjust the resistance by their distance that they stand from the wall.
For those who find that doing a slight push off the wall is too easy, then they can do push ups off a chair (or bench) with hands on the seat of the chair and both feet on the floor. This is sometimes known as the bench push-up.
The next level up, is to do the standard push-up with both hands and feet on the floor. Keep your body straight as you push your body off the floor. A great book on push ups is called 7 weeks to 100 Push-ups.
The book has a table of how many push ups a male or female in a given age group in optimum condition should be able to do. Based on the table, an male between 40 to 49 years should be able to do 13 to 21 pushups. And 7 to 14 push-ups for females.
A male over the age of 60 who is able to do more than 28 pushups is considered to be in excellent shape. For females over the age of 60, 16 or more pushups is excellent. There is a similar fitness level table on the book's website hundredpushups.com
Remember to breathe during the push-ups. Do not hold your breath. Preferably breathe in while descending, and breathe out while raising.
If you get bored, try close-stance push-up with your hands closer to each other so that the thumbs are touching. Then try push-ups with your hands far apart. You will notice that it focus the load on slightly different set of muscles. The wide-hands push-up uses more of your chest muscles than your arms.
One variant is to raise one arm up in the air after the up movement so that you are propped up with only one hand momentarily. When you get really good at this, it can become an one-handed push-up (but not recommended for beginners).
For those who find one hundred standard push-ups too easy or want to increase resistance, another variant is to put your legs on top of a box and your hands on the floor such that your feet are higher than your hands. This require much greater strength as you are pushing up on more weight. The higher your box, the more difficult it becomes.
If push ups are difficult on the wrist, you can use your fist over a soft mat or use push up bars.
Mark Sisson shows Push Up Progression
Mark Sisson is the author The Primal Blueprint, a book where he mentions the four "Primal Essential Movement" -- two of which is the push up and the squat. The other two is the plank and the pull up.
Although we do not discuss the plank and the pull up in this article, you can find his videos on these two on YouTube in the links here and here. (The pull up requires a bit of equipment and I think the push up is more useful than the plank.)
His eBook Primal BluePrint Fitness will have more details of these movements.
Below is his video of a progression of push-up variants from easy to more difficult.
The squat is another body weight exercise that requires no equipment. But this one focuses more on the legs and lower body. You just do a standard squat and come back up. If that is too difficult, lean your back against the wall as you do it. Squat deeper if you want more difficulty. And squat less if you want easier. Continue practicing until you no longer need the wall as your aid.
Watch Mark Sisson in the below video show you how to do a progression of squat from easy to difficult.
A variant of the squat exercise is the chair pose in yoga where you pretend to sit in an invisible chair. But you have to outstretched your arms forward, so it as to balance yourself so that you do not fall back on your behind.
To increase the difficulty, you can hold some weights. Or you can do a one legged squat, where the non-squating leg is bent behind (you can hold it with your hand). Alternatively you can have the non-squating leg be outstretched forward. This is sometimes known as the pistol.
There is a Scientific 7-Minute Workout poster found on The New York Times that combines cardio with body weight resistance training. The blog post says that this high-intensity interval training is as effective as a prolonged endurance training but in less time.
In WomensHealthMag.com, it shows some body weight exercises that includes ...
- the body-weight squat
- bend-over row with L-raise
- curtsy lunge