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Body weight exercises: introduction

Body weight exercises use your own weight as resistance instead of equipment that provides ‘external’ resistance, such as dumbbells. However, you can always add resistance to make these moves more challenging. In general, body weight exercises are effective, fun, require little to no fancy exercise equipment and can be tweaked to challenge beginner to advanced exercisers. You probably already are familiar with many classic body weight moves already: military-style push-ups, pull-ups, triceps dips, forward and backward lunges, squats, step ups and the like. However, there are endless variations to these standard exercises – probably more options than you can imagine.

Choosing Body Weight Exercises

What do you need to know, or keep in mind when choosing which body weight exercises to include in your strength training routine? Consider ‘compound’ exercises, or those that work multiple muscle groups versus those that isolate specific muscles, unless you have a lot of time to devote to exercise. Choose moves that work all major muscle groups, if possible (eight to twelve exercises).

Select moves that aid in stabilization (balance), strength (building muscle) and power (explosive movements such as jumps) for the ultimate challenge. Keep in mind that ‘power’ moves may be too advanced for novice exercisers. There are body weight exercises that are double-duty moves: they improve your balance AND enhance strength. Summertime is a great season to shake up your routine. Many body weight exercises for the upper, lower body and core can be done outdoors, allowing you to enjoy the weather and watch your kids while building a stronger body. If you have access to a playground, all the better. You need a platform, rack or bar to ‘pull’ towards and ‘push’ from. This is just an introduction to this series. In subsequent articles, you’ll learn unconventional, effective body weight exercises to add to your ‘library’ for different muscle groups.

NOTE: before initiating any exercise routine (especially on your own), get clearance from your doctor. This is a general, informational series. All exercises are NOT appropriate for all individuals. If you have back problems/knee pain or injuries, you should seek personal, professional advice on designing an appropriate routine with your specific needs in mind!

 

Core Strength Training: Core Exercises

This article is devoted to the second component of the four critical areas of exercise training for dedicated athletes. We’ve covered flexibility and are moving on to core strength training. As a reminder, the four physical training components designed to increase speed, size, and power in athletics and include (1) flexibility (2) core strength (3) explosive movements, and (4) the strengthening of the posterior kinetic chain. Combining these components with a sound upper body strength routine will give you an edge on the court, the field or the ice. Let’s discuss the importance of core strength training in athletic conditioning.

Core Strength Training – Significance

Engaging in regular, consistent core strength training movements offers many benefits: it helps an athlete avoid muscular-skeletal pain and injury (particularly of the neck, hips and back); improves body control and stability and tones muscles involved in flexibility and balance. The importance of training your whole core is catching on fast…adopting a sound core strength training workout means engaging all of the muscles encasing your torso, from your shoulders to your thighs. Many fitness experts believe that, on its own, core strength training should be a separate workout component, alongside flexibility, cardiovascular and general resistance training movements. The most misunderstood fact around core strength training is that performing a few sets of crunches (and ignoring the back) does the job. Though research studies connecting core strength training to enhanced performance is in its youth, if you participate in a well-structured core strength training routine twice weekly, don’t be surprised if, after a few weeks, you can shave a full mile-per-hour off your running time.

Exercises that strengthen core muscles involve stretching and balance routines. They are a foundation of the basic fitness principles of dance, yoga and Pilates. Unlike traditional resistance exercises, core strength training does not require large pieces of exercise equipment. Core strength training requires a mat, possibly a stability ball and/or Bosu trainer but these accessories are not required. It is much more important that you are able to focus and perform the movements slowly, to your tolerance, using care not to overload your back. You must concentrate on your muscles and maintaining your balance. Your mind cannot be ‘elsewhere.’

Core Strength Training – Considerations

Gym warriors that consider themselves ‘advanced’ exercisers should start basic. Having a strong upper body and breezing through daily runs doesn’t necessarily mean you have a taut core. Many traditional strength training exercises are ‘forward’ directed (such as lunges and bench presses). Overdoing on these contributes to imbalanced muscular development or underdeveloped back muscles (from shoulders to the buttocks). By balancing out your strength, you can improve your posture, correct imbalances and breeze through functional movements (everyday activities) with a level of comfort and ease you didn’t have before.

In addition to engaging in a series of core strength training movements (for your front and back torso), you can enhance core strength by tweaking traditional strength training exercises. For example, instead of using a bench for stability while working your upper body (chest press with dumbbells), use lighter dumbbells and perform them on a stability ball with the ball supporting your upper back and neck. Keep your body in a ‘bridge’ position with your knees bent at a right angle, feet flat on the floor and pelvis elevated to be even with your chest. The focus of this article is on explaining the importance of core strength training. In the future, look for a sample core strength training routine for beginners. Examples of core strength training movements include bird-dogs, lateral pillar bridges (side planks) and planks (with hands on the mat under your shoulders) with alternating arm extensions.

Push-ups workout for your best upper body

You might be surprised to learn just how effective body-weight exercises can be for muscle endurance and toning. Push-ups are in the ‘push and pull’ force category. Push-ups are excellent overall upper body toners, that require no external resistance. Body-weight exercises, such as push-ups are ‘functional’ exercises, or those that train your body to handle real-life situations.

Push-ups Muscular Emphasis

There are dozens of variations to the traditional wide-grip push-up. These push-up variations emphasize different muscle groups (target, synergists and stabilizer muscles); from your chest to your back to your shoulders to your upper arms. You can even do push-up drills (walk out push-up to a plyometric jump) which elevate your heart-rate and engage lower body muscles to burn more calories.

Push-ups: military-style

Modify push-ups to make them more appropriate for a beginner (on your knees) or an advanced exercisers (push-ups on toes, decline push-ups). The push-up we are all familiar with is the military-style, wide-grip push-up (on toes or on knees).

Diamond or close-grip push-ups

The ‘diamond’ or ‘close-grip’ push-up targets the triceps muscles more than any other push-up variation. For this push-up, instead of placing your hands shoulder or chest-width apart, place them together below your sternum, forming the shape of a diamond or triangle (hands may be touching at the index fingers and thumbs or slightly farther apart). As you push-down, toward the floor, your elbows should splay outward, slightly toward your lower body. Push-up to return to the beginning position, repeat. This one is tough, start on your knees and advance to your toes.

Stability ball push-ups

Adding a new dimension to a traditional push-up, such as controlled instability, offers multiple benefits. Performing push-ups on a stability ball (under your shins for a decline push-up or under your upper body in place of the ‘floor’ for an incline push-up) recruits additional muscle fibers, particularly core and stabilizer muscles, throughout the movement. Adding balance to this functional exercise also increases muscle fiber activation because you have to control the movement without the help of an exercise machine. Some experts consider the push-up to be more effective for muscular development than the chest press.