How to get in shape without being in the gym with bodyweight training

By Lauren Taylor. Published 2020-06-22
We still do not know when we can return to the gym so personal trainer Adam Wright gives TheBoldAge the lowdown.

You know the feeling. It’s Monday morning, whether you were working or had more time for yourself you would have been in the gym sweating on the cross trainer an hour ago but its lockdown and there is no gym and we still don't have a restart date.

Never mind, you will have a detox tea today, eat your granola and promise yourself to stay away from the alcohol for the umpteenth time since the beginning of lockdown.

And repeat.

But what if you could get fit without actually leaving your bedroom? Well according to personal trainer Adam Wright you can. And, in fact, people have been doing just that for decades (although sadly there are no options which actually allow you to stay in bed).

In an age of fitness fads and fashions Wright says people often forget to do the basics. You can get fit, he said, using nothing but your body – and a bit of get up and go – with bodyweight training.

A retired Royal Marine, he says the beauty of bodyweight training is that it’s “available to anyone with a body, first of all”. No excuses then.

Bodyweight training is a method of strength training which uses, you guessed it, the weight of your body to provide resistance and build muscle.

“There’s no equipment required,” Wright says. “All you need is a bit of space. For people who are time poor or financially poor you can put yourself through a very decent work out in a very short space of time.”

You’re probably more familiar with bodyweight training than you think, as press-ups, sit-ups and squats are all basic bodyweight exercises.

Anyone who has set foot in a gym for the first time will know well the fear of flying off the treadmill or becoming trapped in a leg press. But with bodyweight training there are no scary weights involved making it perfect for fitness first-timers and the Boldies amongst us.

Wright says people become fixated on lifting a certain weight or looking a certain way, and sneer at the idea of using bodyweight training to get there. But he said often the fittest people struggle when it is stripped back to basics.

“People get very hung up on the six pack and the big set of arms, but I defy anyone to get through 20 burpees without getting out of breath – and that’s bodyweight,” he said.

A common misconception is that you can’t build muscle through bodyweight training, but Wright said this isn’t true. Keep at it a few times a week and you will feel stronger in a couple of weeks and see a physical change within a month.

“Things like pull-ups and press-ups are all fantastic for building muscle, if coupled with eating right and looking after yourself,” he said.

“If you do a circuit of burpees, star jumps and squat jumps you are going to be breathing heavily and sweating. If you’re working hard enough you’re going to be stripping body fat and making your muscles stronger.” Ideal for us of a Bold Age.

When it comes to going it alone he says it’s best to start slow – at ground level – and make sure form is correct before attempting gymnastic feats on disp lay in Rio.

“Then you can progress quite quickly,” he said. “Once you have nailed some press-ups and dips you can start to make things more interesting by changing the angle or intensity.

“When it comes to squats you can keep it very simple and then over a period of time add some weight and there are always forward and backward lunges.

“You stop thinking ‘how much weight have I lost’ and start thinking ‘well last week I only managed 10 press-ups but this this week I did 12’. That’s progression.”

Here are Wright’s tips for getting started with three simple exercises.

Press-ups

Press-ups are a good all-round strength builder and can be made easier or harder with some minor adjustments.

Find a mat or some comfy carpet and start in a stable position with your hands on the floor about shoulder width apart. Place your knees together on the floor, with your body in a nice straight line from your head to your shoulders to your knees.

Watch your bum – if it’s sticking up in the air you are taking the weight off your chest muscles and putting more stress and strain on your shoulders. Then lower yourself down as far as is comfortable, and push back up. It’s as simple as that.

There are different ways to build up and you can increase repetitions to make sure you’re always pushing yourself. For example try five sets of five a day, and then the next week aim to do five sets of six.

To make it easier still you can start with your hands on a bench or a wall, which takes some of the pressure off your upper body. Or to make it harder you can put your feet on a seat or a bench so you have more weight pressing forward onto your shoulders.

Squats

seniors squatting

Start standing up, feet shoulder width apart. Make sure your head stays up, your chest is facing forwards and then lower your backside down towards your heels.

You want to aim as if you were lowering your backside to a low wall, a bench or seat. If you are a bit nervous try it with something behind you and aim to sit down.

Go as far as you can until your thighs are parallel with the floor and then straighten back up. All the while keep your head up, chest forward and back nice and straight.

Make sure your knees stay behind your toes. Squats aren’t just for your thighs, it’s really important to build up strength in your glutes and your hamstrings and the more forward you are the more strain you will put on your knees.

If you can’t go all the way down no problem. Just go halfway, and over time you should be able to get a fuller range of movement.

Plank

senior doing a plank

This exercise is relatively simple. Some people believe it’s only good for being strong in the plank position, but as an absolute basic it’s a good measure of where you are. Start with 30 seconds, and then you can build up to a minute and beyond.

Get down onto a mat or carpet. Place your forearms on the floor so your elbows are directly under your shoulders no more than shoulder width apart, with your hands on the floor in front of you.

Your toes should also be on the floor, with your knees and hips raised off the ground. Aim for that straight body position so your head, shoulders, hips knees and feet are all in a line. And then hold that position.

Keep your core nice and tight so you are almost pulling your belly button up towards your spine, contract your stomach muscles, and hold that for anything between 10 seconds and a minute to start with. You can build that up in sets until you can do three sets of 30 seconds – then a couple of days later try to do 45 seconds.

Combining all three exercises is a great, simple circuit.