Bodyweight Exercise

By Matthew Hall

Picture yourself on the top of a mountain. You look out at a vast landscape of nature and as you turn to leave, your feet slip. All of a sudden you are sliding down towards the edge of a cliff and at the last moment, you manage to grab on to a tree limb. You hang there with no one around to help you, so what do you do? Unfortunately, many people reading this wouldn’t possess the strength to pull themselves up (and in this story, you would die).

One pull up! If any of you, like me, have flashbacks to middle school gym class, then you know how frustrating it can be to realize that you cannot perform one repetition of this simple movement. Even people who regularly exercise, from tennis players to marathon runners, often do not posses the strength to perform a pullup.

I think that while performing bodyweight exercises can be extremely humbling, it is also a great measure of general strength and athletic ability. It is entirely possible to build a physique worthy of a magazine cover using only bodyweight movements, and they are a great, free resource that can be adjusted for any level of fitness.

Push ups are probably the easiest movement for most people to develop. Everyone has seen them done, so we know where to begin. For those looking to be able to do one push up properly, begin with your knees on the ground and your hands slightly wider than shoulder width. Control your descent down, keep your back straight, and try to keep your elbows pointed inward toward your body, not outward. This puts unnecessary stress on your shoulders and elbows, and will cause pain in the future, if not immediately. Do an initial test of how many you can do in one set. Write this down as your benchmark for future workouts. A good beginning to a program would be three to five sets of as many as possible. You can do this every other day until your strength improves and you can perform 3 sets of 10 reps on your knees. Then move on to doing them with your feet on the ground. Again, control your descent and keep your back straight (don’t stick your behind in the air). Start with 3 sets of as many as you can until you can do 3 sets of 10 reps.

Pull ups are harder to develop without a gym membership. There are a number of exercises and machines, such as pulldowns and assisted pull-up machines that are the easiest way for a beginner to develop upper body strength, especially upper back and shoulders. If you have access to these machines, perform 3 sets of 10 reps 2 or 3 times a week, each week trying to add weight to the exercise. If you do not have access to these machines, you can purchase resistance bands and attach them to a chin-up bar (or monkey bar set at a playground) and place the band under your feet. This should assist you when attempting pull ups. Follow the same progression as with pull ups, until you can do one pull up unassisted.

So if you want to survive our cliffhanger scenario, get started on working to develop these movements. Your body can be a free gym once you have the ability to perform basic chin ups and push ups, as there are numerous modified versions of them to challenge yourself with. The new year is coming, so set your goal now and get started early!

Matthew Hall is currently a Customer Service Specialist  for the Central Branch of Howard County Library System. He spends the majority of his free time with his wife and kids. He is a graduate of Liberty University, and his interests include religious studies, psychology, and fitness.


1 Comment

  1. Bodyweight exercises have been godsend for me! I think I’ve lost about 5 pounds or so within the last months from doing circuit training with bodyweight exercises (burpees, pushups, pistols, etc). I found this pretty comprehensive list of 60 bodyweight exercises that shows you how to do each via video and instructionals. Took most of my exercises from there.