Bodyweight Workouts
Credit: Photograph by John Loomis

Bodyweight Workouts

Want to get strong and add muscle in a hurry? Conventional wisdom says to hit the weights three times a week, alternating workouts between chest and back and legs. But if that's the case, why don't Navy SEALs train that way? Why do Green Berets avoid the leg press and do simple lunges? Because lifting weights isolates muscles and forces artificial movement, promoting imbalances that decrease performance and predispose people to injury. "You would never lie down and isolate muscles in real life," says Mark Lauren, a Special Forces trainer. "So why would you train that way?" There's a smarter way to build muscle, and it's one you already know: bodyweight exercises. There's a reason push-ups, pull-ups, squats, dips, and hundreds of variations on these exercises have been around for years: They ignite muscles simultaneously rather than one at a time. Now bodyweight training is exploding in popularity, with thousands of YouTube channels devoted to the exercises, no-weight workout DVDs like P90X, and fitness centers that don't have conventional weight machines. "Your body was engineered to move," says Mark Verstegen, founder of Athletes' Performance, which trains pro athletes. "When you do bodyweight exercises, you create a diverse set of motor skills that make you healthier and higher performing."

There are other reasons trainers and athletes favor bodyweight exercise. "They create tone that stays with you much longer because you're training more muscle than you would with weights," says Neno Bland, a New York fitness coach. That tone is also athletic and functional. A bench press activates chest muscles but lets the rest of the body be slack, increasing muscle size but not useful strength. "You want movements that use many muscles at once," says Lauren. That's what push-ups do, firing the glutes, hamstrings, abs, chest, forearms, biceps, and back, while burning more calories with the same amount of exertion. Push-ups, unlike bench presses, also strengthen tendons, fasciae, and ligaments while engaging the core to prevent injury and improve overall strength.

These exercises are versatile, too. You can be finished with a home workout in the time it takes to find a parking spot at the gym. Or you can train on the road. Options are limitless, and exercises can be modified to keep workouts fun and challenging. Here's how to get started on a no-weights workout.

See also: The 30-Minute Bodyweight Workout