NO WEIGHTS? NO PROBLEM
At the London Olympics, people gathered to stare in disbelief at the astounding performances of gymnasts as they demonstrated unbelievable strength and coordination and eye-popping physiques. Would you believe these amazing athletes use little more than their own bodies to develop their abilities? There are no barbells, dumbbells or weight machines at gymnastics gyms.
Most movement doesn’t involve lifting heavy things, so it makes sense that more of your workout should involve your own body. Weightlifting is great for some things, but the nature of weights limits what you can do with them. Learning to use your body for strength training gives you more options in terms of how and where you can train.
So, how can you build the amazing strength, body awareness and physique of a gymnast? Start by incorporating these power- and strength-based variations of regular bodyweight movements. They can be trained individually or as part of a more varied workout.
The most common, and most useful, bodyweight strength move is the pull-up. Being chased by Korean mobsters and need to climb an alley fence to escape? Pull-ups would come in handy.
If you’re looking for bulging biceps, doing lots of pull-ups will serve you better than hundreds of curls. If not, being able to do a few pull-ups could still save your life.
How to do it: Find a horizontal bar above your head but within reach. Grasp it with your palms facing away from you and let yourself hang. Now, tighten your abs and shoulders and pull the bar to you. Try to get it under your chin without craning your neck.
Learning it: If you cannot do a pull-up, start with jumping pullups. Set up as above but use a small hop to get your chin over the bar. Now, lower yourself as slowly as possible. Once you can lower yourself over 10 seconds, try a chin-up, an easier version of a pull-up with your palms facing you.
Too easy? Bring your hands closer together. Grip the bar with only one hand and hold on with the other at the wrist of the gripping hand.
A version of pushups that develops explosive power (especially useful for martial artists) is the clapping pushup.
How to do it: Do a regular pushup, but push off as hard as you can from the bottom. The goal is to catch enough air to clap your hands before coming back down. Make sure to keep your body straight; no bucking your hips to give yourself a boost. Too easy? Try to clap behind your back. If you can do that, try clapping behind your back and then in front.
The Squat Jump
Jumping is arguably more useful than being able to stand up with a lot of weight on your back, and training jumps will build powerful, resilient leg muscles. It will also teach you to safely absorb a fall, which will be useful after you get to the top of that alley fence.
How to do it: Squat down to bring your hips below your knees. Now, explode up and jump as high as you can. Tuck your knees to your chest. Land as softly and quietly as possible, squatting all the way down to absorb your landing.
Too easy? Jump onto and off of things. Limit yourself to no more than 20 per workout.
The Pistol Squat
If you think the prisoner squat is the most difficult thing you can do without a barbell on your back, the single-leg squat, or pistol as it is affectionately called, will quickly set you straight.
How to do it: While standing, raise one leg out in front of you. Push your hips back as you lower yourself on the standing leg, keeping your heel down and your shin vertical. Bend over and reach for the extended leg to maintain balance. Lower all the way to the ground. Stand up. Holding a small counterweight in front can help with balance.
Learning it: On a smooth floor, stand with one foot on a towel. Squat down on the other leg, sliding the towel out to the side. When you can do 10 of these, try sliding the towel out in front.