April 17, 2012

Bodyweight Exercise

It still amazes me that people will pay hundreds of dollars (sometimes thousands) for exercise equipment. Not only does it take up room in your house, but you can't transport it easily, and lets face it, eventually it ends up in the corner gathering dust. That is why I am so convinced that the only piece of equipment you need is your own body.

That's right, just the weight you already carry around can make you a stronger, healthier person. It doesn't take any extra space and it goes where ever you go. How cool is that. There are literally hundreds of websites that have instructions on bodyweight exercise: exercise websites, health and beauty websites, lifestyle websites, sports websites, and the list goes on and on.

The other great thing about bodyweight exercises is that usually they are dynamic, in that they are doing a lot more for you besides making you stronger - they improve balance and coordination too - all the while incorporating lots of muscle groups both large and small.

I've gone on the internet and found over a hundred different exercises that work all the parts of the body (some I didn't even know existed before). I cut and pasted the picture onto a playing card. Here is a sample:

I just copied the pictures and printed them out on 2x3 cards. There are a few 'commercial' decks out there if you don't want to make your own. Fitdeck is one. And there are a few iPhone/Android apps too, like FitnessBuilder.

Now, to get an even better workout, there are two things you can do:

1) Variety is the spice of life. Your body is very smart. Do the same exercise over and over and it learns how to be more efficient. But that also decreases the improvements you make over time (at first great improvement, then slowly, the improvements become smaller and smaller). To keep your body always guessing, you have got to put a lot of variety into your workouts.

The way I do that is I take all my cards and shuffle them like playing cards, and pick the top 5. And that's my excises for the today's workout. Couldn't be simpler than that.

2) We are all busy, and sometimes it's hard to squeeze in a workout. For that I use Tabata, which is a form of HIIT (high intensity interval training). The theory goes that you do high intensity exercises for a short time (20-50 seconds) with a very short rest (5-10 seconds) and then repeat. This way you can get the maximum benefit from the shortest time. 20 minutes is a great time to work up to. So, no need to spend hours in the gym either.

For a really easy way to use this system is with the Tabata Clock (either online or you can download it). Just set up your rest time and max reps time and how many rounds. Then hit "start". Again couldn't be easier.

And the great thing is that this is all very portable. Going on a business trip or vacation - just throw your bodyweight cards into your bag and use your computer as your Tabata clock.

So, what are you waiting for, a doctor's permission?