For all serious trainers, the gym is more than a collection of weights and machines — it’s an office, a temple, or even a Fortress of Solitude. It’s the place where mind and muscle work together as one to hone the body into a specimen of physical perfection. While all that might be true most of the time, let’s face it: between waiting in line for machines, forcing awkward conversations with Chatty Cathys, and listening to bogus sales pitches from pushy gym reps, there are times when the gym feels less like a sanctuary and more like the mall at Christmas.
Now that summer is finally here, it’s time to give the gym a break and train amidst the majesty of the great outdoors. Where are the weights, you ask? You are the weight! Everyone seems to have forgotten that some of the best exercises for scorching fat and building defined, lean muscle are bodyweight movements that require nothing more than a good attitude.
“Most body-weight exercises are compound movements that have been shown to burn more calories and are extremely effective at improving overall strength,” explains Xenia Busigin, CPTN-CPT, Bikini and Figure competitor, and Allmax representative. “There are so many exercises with so many variations that you will never get bored, and it doesn’t cost a thing.” Even if you’re not willing to abandon your gym routine altogether, introducing body-weight movements into your workouts is beneficial for building added strength and endurance as well.
Another often overlooked advantage to body-weight moves is that they’re more efficient than machines and free weights, given that they take no time to set up and can be performed rapidly one after the other, virtually anywhere. “You can get a lot of work done in a short amount of time by supersetting body-weight exercises and performing intervals,” says Busigin. “Doing so will really crank up the intensity, which will ramp up your metabolism for a longer post-exercise calorie burn.” In other words, a solid interval training routine won’t just get you sweating like a Kardashian in a spelling bee, it will also keep your body burning calories throughout the day.
The following body-weight circuit workout utilizes the strength-building, body-toning benefits of interval training. Perform three alternating sets of circuits A and B for six total sets. Do not rest between exercises, but do rest one minute between circuits. After the final circuit, rest one minute before performing 10 sets of stair sprints. To reap the full rewards of this high-intensity routine, make a point of doing it at least two to three times a week.
CIRCUIT A (x3)
1) Push-Up (20 reps)
2) Mountain Climber (50 reps)
3) Jump Squat (20 reps)
Targets: Chest, triceps, shoulders, core
Place your hands on the floor roughly shoulder- width apart with your legs behind you. Lower your body by bending at the elbows until your chest is a few inches from the floor, then return to the starting position by extending your arms.
Tip: “If you can’t do 20 full reps, lower your knees to the floor and resume the reps in this modified position to complete the set,” says Busigin.
Targets: Shoulders, core, glutes, hamstrings
Take a push-up position with your hands roughly shoulder-width apart. Keeping your body aligned, bring your right knee in toward your chest. Return to the starting position, then immediately repeat the movement with your left knee.
Tip: “This one is all about cardio,” says Busigin. “Keep your abs tight and move through the motion as quickly as you can as if you’re sprinting in the supine position.”
Targets: Glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings
Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Descend into a squat by throwing your hips back and bending your knees. Once you have reached the point at which your thighs are roughly parallel with the floor, explosively reverse the motion and jump off the floor as high as you can.
Tip: “Do jump squats on a soft surface like wood, grass, or carpet,” suggests Busigin. “The softer surface will absorb the shock instead of your joints.”
CIRCUIT B (x3)
1) Body-Weight Squat (20 reps)
2) Downward to Upward Dog (15 reps)
3) Fire Hydrant (15 reps)
4) Switch Lunge (30 reps)
Targets: Glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings
Take a relaxed stance with your knees slightly bent and feet shoulder-width apart. Bend at the hips and knees to lower your upper body into a squat position. Pause for one count, then return to the starting position by pressing through your heels and extending your knees and hips.
Tip: “Keep your weight in your heels,” Busigin says. “Imagine your toes coming off the ground. This will help to activate more of the posterior chain.”
Downward To Upward Dog
Targets: Arms, back, core, legs
Start by taking a downward dog position with your body facing the floor and hips pointed toward the ceiling so that you form an inverted “V.” Keep your back straight and legs fully extended. Drive your hips toward the floor while simultaneously raising your head toward the ceiling so that your lower body is parallel with the floor but your upper body is pointed up (not shown).
Tip: “How low can you go?” challenges Busigin. “The lower you get to the ground, the more challenging this exercise becomes.”
Targets: Arms, shoulders, glutes, obliques, quadriceps
In a push-up position, extend your right leg upward until it forms a straight line with your arm, diagonally . Bring your leg in toward your arm, knee bent and facing outward, until your right knee touches your right elbow . Return to the starting position, and complete your reps before switching sides.
Tip: “Squeeze your glutes during the exercise for best results.”
Targets: Glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, core
Begin by standing with your back straight and knees slightly bent. While keeping your upper body tall and vertical, step forward with your right leg and bend into a front lunge. Quickly jump up, switching the position of your legs so that you once again land in a lunge position, this time with your left leg extended forward. This is one rep. Repeat rapidly.
Tip: “Land as low in the lunge as you can for each rep. Staying low increases the tension on your glutes, hamstrings, and quads, yielding better results.”