3/17/2020

home workout part1: bodyweight training

with this post i am going to start a short series of articles about working out at home, dedicated to people living in quarantined areas (like i am right now), hoping that the covid-19 emergency will cease soon and that soon we will all be free to workout outdoors, at the gym, in the park or wherever we prefer.
the first post will be focused on bodyweight training. with the term bodyweight training we intend all the moves and techniques that use the weight of our own body as resistance without the need of extra equipment. this means that by learning the basics of bodyweight training we will be able to tone up all our muscles without needing any external tool.
to get off with the right foot, three simple exercises are all we really need for a full body workout: pushups for the upper body, situps for abs and core and squats for the legs and glutes. pullups (which are universally considered as a bodyweight exercise) are extremely good too as they provide an excellent workout for our shoulders and upper back, but they require a bare minimum of equipment: something sturdy to grab onto. for few bucks we can buy a pullup bar that can be easily mounted on a door frame. when we will be free to go outdoors again we may look for a free solution as a tree with a solid branch at the right height or the swing at our nearest playground.
a good way to start a bodyweight routine is to make the three basic exercises in circuit: a set of pushups, a set of situps and a set of squats. how many repetitions per set? and how many sets per workout? someone will say to start with 10 reps and three sets of every exercise (this is usually called a 3x10)  and to work from there increasing progressively the number of reps. in my opinion, to get the most out of the workout the best option is to do the max reps per set, which means the highest number of reps we are able to do maintaining the correct technique of every exercise till exhaustion (be it 5 or 150 reps), with as little rest between sets as possible.
bodyweight training is great and offers lots of benefits but for total beginners there's a learning curve to consider: make sure that you're doing the exercises with the proper form before going into long and fast sets. 20 perfectly done reps with the proper form will lead to better results than 100 poorly done. if you're not sure of the proper form of the basic exercises, my advice is to use youtube: there are lots of videos on bodyweight training and learning the basics is quite simple (a good starting point is this one). once learned the simple form, all three exercises can be performed with variations, and each small variation will do a different work on different muscle groups. for example narrowing our hands during a set of pushups will engage more our pecs, keeping the upper position of the torso for some seconds during situps will engage more our lower abs and a small twist will do wonders on our lateral abs. for the most useful variations of bodyweight exercises you can also trust youtube as it's full of tutorials on this theme. you'll find also a lot of video of full bodyweight workouts, with tons of info about reps to do for each set and recovery times. my advice is to learn well the moves and then build your own routine, as recovery times and max reps are extremely different from person to person, according to their fitness level. just keep in mind that you'll get the most benefit from a workout by doing the max reps for every set with a recovery time as low as possible between sets.
bodyweight training does not mean just dynamic exercises, there's a category of static positions that will do wonders for strength-training. the most famous static pose is the plank: it works very good to strengthen the abs and core area but it needs to be perfectly performed. and as the basic moves, it has many variations that will activate other muscle groups: a low plank, for example, will lead to developing muscle strength not only in the abs area but also in all the upper body, while a side plank will work on our lateral abs. once again, have a look at the free tutorials on youtube for both the basic plank and its variations, most of them are great for learning the basics.
getting used to bodyweight workouts is a smart move for many reasons. first of all, it's free. a lot of fitness equipment is marketed as essential to build lean mass and to tone up muscles, but most of it does not offer anything that we can't achieve with a proper bodyweight workout. secondly, we can do it everywhere and in every moment. to stay healthy it's important to workout everyday in every condition, and if we depend on external gear to exercise we may miss some training sessions, especially when the gym is closed or if we find ourselves without our pieces of equipment. with bodyweight training we have all we need always at our disposal and we apply to our training sessions the same principles that serve us so well under many other circumstances: being as independent as possible from external sources.