Your running routine has been falling flat of late, and you’ve been getting super curious — and low-key inspired — by all those lifting videos your cousin’s been posting since her gym re-opened. You don’t have access to fancy equipment (or any at all), and you’re not really sure you even want to toss barbells around (isn’t that what people do at the gym?). But when you’re looking to get stronger without lifting weights, you may wonder if you even can indulge in strength training without equipment.
What Is Strength Training?
When you picture strength training, if you’re thinking of burly dudes squatting with barbells that weigh much more than they do, you’re not inaccurate. But strength training is also what you’re doing in yoga class every morning when you’re teaching yourself to hold a stable Warrior II. And neither version is better than the other.
Classically speaking, strength training — AKA resistance training — uses external resistance from a machine or free weights to make you stronger, says Lexes O’Hara, a NASM-certified personal trainer at Blink Fitness. But can you do effective strength training without weights? “You can absolutely perform strength training without equipment,” O’Hara tells Bustle. “This style of training is called calisthenics or bodyweight training.”
What Are The Benefits Of Bodyweight Strength Training?
“Strength training can improve muscular strength, power, and endurance,” says Simone Samuels, a personal training specialist and Superfit Hero sponsored athlete. “Strength training strengthens our bones, as well as our muscles. It boosts metabolism even after exercise, increases bone density, not to mention all of the benefits to one’s mood and mental health.”
As if that’s not enough, working out with just your bodyweight is something you can do on your own terms, in your own space, whenever you please. “It’s free and always accessible as long as your body is available,” Samuels explains.
How Can You Do Strength Training Without Equipment?
The first thing you’ll have to do is add some bodyweight strength training moves to your repertoire. According to O’Hara and Samuels, the best equipment-free strength exercises will engage your entire body at once. These moves can include squats, reverse lunges, push-ups, dead bugs, and burpees.
Never tried a bodyweight squat? No problem. “Beginners can try wall-sits and progress to squats when comfortable,” Samuels says.
Whether you’re staying in a squat position with your butt touching the wall behind you (a wall sit) or sinking into an unassisted squat, you’ll start with your feet a little wider than hip-width apart. Keep your heels on the ground and sit back with your butt, like you’re trying to sit on a chair that’s low and behind you. Keep your chest proud and reach your arms out in front of you for balance if you need to. See if you can get your butt lower than your knees.
To complete reverse lunges, you’ll stand tall, placing one foot behind you. Arrange your legs so that your front knee is tracking over your front foot and your back knee tracks under your back hip. Sink down into a lunge and bring your back knee as close to the ground as you can. Keep it even on both sides.
“You can do push-ups on your knees or in a full plank, on the wall or off of a counter, hands wide apart or hands touching to focus on triceps, incline push-ups, and decline pushups — the options are endless,” Samuels says.
One big thing to remember with pushups is not to flare your elbows out to the sides as you’re descending. Set up with your hands just barely outside of your shoulders with your shoulders over your wrists. Keep your elbows tucked into your sides, and think about pushing the ground away from you as you’re rising and pulling it to you when you’re descending. Squeeze your glutes to protect your lower back from sagging down during the movement. Perform incline pushups — standing up with your hands on a wall instead of on the ground — if you need to ease into this exercise.
You’ll perform this core exercise while lying on your back, Samuels explains. Start by pressing your low back into the ground while you raise your knees to 90 degrees (with your calves roughly parallel to the floor). Raise your arms toward the ceiling like a zombie.
On an exhale, straighten your left leg so your left foot presses toward the opposite side of the room and let your right arm drop above and behind your head at the same time. On an inhale, return both limbs to starting position — then do the same with your opposite leg and arm. Imagine each movement coming from your core rather than your limbs yanking themselves into position.
They’re often dreaded, sure, but Samuels says that burpees can be a great way to engage your whole body and get your heart rate up at the same time. Start by standing, then squat down and plant your hands on the ground. Step or hop back into a plank position. Perform a pushup if you want, or just hold the plank steady for a moment. Step or hop back up so that you move from a plank to a squat to standing. Finish the move with a jump up if you can (some folks will bring their arms above their head as they spring back up to standing). Rinse and repeat, and don’t forget to breathe.
Combine these moves in whatever order you’d like — it’s all about finding what feels exciting for you — to arrange your workouts.
Creating An Equipment-Free Strength Training Routine
Of course, you’ll have to know a little bit more than the moves in order to effectively put those pushups to work. O’Hara says you can do equipment-free strength training anywhere between two and six times a week for maximum effect. “I recommend gauging the rep count based on how difficult the movement feels,” O’Hara explains. “Ideally, you’ll stop when the last two or three reps feel challenging to complete.”
Since you’re working with just your bodyweight, O’Hara tells Bustle that you can likely stay safe performing the same moves with good form multiple times a week as long as you’re not repeating any moves that are causing you pain.
No matter how you incorporate strength training, O’Hara says to keep the emphasis on having fun. “Don’t put pressure on yourself to be perfect,” she advises. Sure, you want your form to be good for your safety, but beyond that, it’s about enjoying moving your body rather than doing exactly what your fave celebrity trainer is up to. Always focus on making the journey more fun and exciting, O’Hara recommends — that’s a recipe for creating a strength training routine you’ll love.
Simone Samuels, personal training specialist, Superfit Hero sponsored athlete
Lexes O’Hara, a NASM-certified personal trainer at Blink Fitness