With all the knowledge that’s out there now about exercise, there’s really no excuse for not achieving your fitness goals. You can’t argue that you don’t know what to do because there are hundreds of coaches offering thousands of different programs (pick one!). People love to say they don’t have time to work out, but there are dozens of routines that can be completed in minutes.
The one defense I do hear come up again and again that has some merit is a lack of equipment. If you don’t have a gym membership or haven’t gotten around to outfitting your home with some dumbbells or bands, you have to train with your own body weight, and that can be confusing to people. Of course you can do pushups, pullups, situps, and body-weight squats, but they do get boring after a while. So the question stands: How do you challenge yourself with body-weight exercises alone, and keep your training interesting and evolving?
Here’s how. We’ve compiled 5 ways to work out without weights.
1. Count down from 10
Most of us fall into a rut with pullups and dips. We plateau at a certain number of sets and reps and can’t seem to get unstuck. Try performing sets of descending reps. Do a set of 10, then a set of 9, and so on down to 1 rep. As your muscles fatigue, the workload gets reduced, so you get just enough recovery to build up a good volume of exercise—55 total reps, a number most of us never approach with three sets to failure.
This countdown method is often used by guys who do all their training on monkey bars in your local park—the same ones who can knock out dozens of pullups in one shot.
2. Train like an animal
The best thing you can do to stick with any workout plan is to make it fun. Treat your training like play. You probably haven’t performed exercises like the bear crawl or crab walk since you were a kid, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t do them again. As a grownup, you’ll see how much harder it is to move in those postures, and you’ll immediately recognize any tight muscles or weak areas.
Training with kids exercises, goofy as they may look, will strengthen your core and increase mobility, as well as get your heart rate up and challenge your endurance. And honestly, they’re so silly you can’t help but enjoy performing them. Do them with your kids, or your girlfriend.
For the bear crawl, walk on all fours with your legs fairly straight so your hips are above head level. On the crab walk, sit on the floor, bridge your hips up, and walk forward and back on your hands and feet.
3. Use a deck of cards
You can make a game of any body-weight exercise by using a deck of cards to determine the reps you perform. Assign a different suit to each exercise you’re doing, so clubs could be pushups, diamonds could be pullups, hearts might be lunges, and spades situps. Place the deck on the floor face down and start turning over cards. Whatever number is on the card, that’s how many reps you do; for face cards, continue counting up. So a jack would mean 11 reps, a queen 12, king 13, and ace 14.
You can make jokers or any other card you like “wild” and perform any number of reps.
4. Do drop sets
You might only be familiar with drop sets as they’re done when using weights, but you can use them on body-weight lifts too. The trick is to vary your mechanical advantage. Start with a body position that makes the exercise hard, and then adjust it to “drop” to an easier position that lets you crank out more reps.
For instance, perform wide-grip pullups to just shy of failure. Immediately bring your grip in and turn your palms to face you so you’re doing a chinup. Do as many chinups as you can and then bring your hands in even closer so you’re doing a close-grip chinup with hands nearly touching. On pushups, you could start with your hands touching (a diamond pushup) and then move them out to shoulder width. When you can’t do any more reps like that, place your hands on a bench or seat so your body is at an incline—a much easier position to do pushups in. Rep out to failure.
5. Do “blurpees”
Occasionally, you’ll find yourself in an environment where you don’t have a chinup bar or even a tree or pipe you can hang off and your only equipment is the floor beneath you. In other words, a jail cell.
Just kidding! (Although if you are in jail, I’m not judging.)
In this case, it can be difficult to find a way to work your back. Enter what Tim Ferriss, author of The Four-Hour Body, calls the “blurpee”. It’s a classic burpee but with lat involvement, so you get the effect of doing pullups without having something to hang from to do them.
Squat down and shoot your legs back so you land in pushup positon. Now jump your legs back up, but land them outside your hands. Think about pulling with your lats to get your legs back into position to jump, and then come up. If you do it right, you’ll feel it in your back the next day.