YHATC028: Fundamentals of Bodyweight Exercise

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For this podcast, I want to talk about what I will term as the fundamentals of bodyweight exercise.  When I say “bodyweight” exercise, I’m referring to exercise that uses only your body weight as resistance.  These exercises are also known as calisthenics.

Now, in case you don’t already know, I am a bodyweight fitness trainer.  I train folks exclusively with bodyweight exercises.  Do I not like weights?  No, I do like weights, but I like bodyweight exercises more.  I have two reasons for that:  One, because bodyweight exercises are much more accessible to everybody.  You don’t need a gym, and you typically don’t need a lot of special equipment.  You just need your body.  Two, because you can arguably get as good of results from bodyweight exercises as you can from weighted exercises.  This is debatable, of course, because it is easier to add weight to weighted exercises than it is for bodyweight exercises (which is necessary to progress in strength and muscle growth), but then again, there are many ways to adapt bodyweight exercises to make them continually challenging.

Anyway, I want to talk to you today about the fundamental bodyweight exercises.  These are the foundational exercises that you should learn first to start building your strength base, and they are generally adaptable to every fitness level.  If you’ve been following my Macon Telegraph articles lately, you’ll notice that I’ve been going in depth with these exercises, so keep on following that, too.

And let me go ahead and put in the disclaimer:  Don’t start anything new without checking with your doctor, first.  Don’t say that Shawn said that you could start cold turkey; we gotta be smart about this thing.

So first, let’s talk about push-ups.


Push-ups are probably the first bodyweight exercise that everybody thinks about when they think about bodyweight exercise.  They are pretty much described adequately by their name; you push your body up by your arms.  This primarily works the triceps (the back of your arms), the front deltoids (the front of your shoulders), and the pectorals (your chest).  Your core is also being worked decently since it is having to stabilize your body as you perform the move.

Let’s try to describe this move:  In the starting position, you are on the ground holding yourself up by your arms and the tips of your feet.  Your hands are a little wider than shoulder width apart, your body is as straight as a wooden plank and your eyes are looking forward.  Now, bending your arms, you slowly lower your body towards the ground, keeping your body straight and taut.  Lower yourself until your chest just touches the ground, then reverse the move by pushing your body back off of the ground into the starting position to complete one repetition.  I’ve demonstrated the push-up on my YouTube channel if you want to check that out.

Man, when I was in high school, my upper body strength was on #terrible.  I was absolutely terrible with push-ups.  In P.E., I failed more than once with push-up evaluations.  We had to do at least 5 to get like a 50 or a 60, and I couldn’t even do 5, man.

These days, I’m able to do more because I built up strength from lifting weights and stuff like that, but I wasn’t aware of variations of push-ups that I could use to build up my strength for the real ones.  If you struggle with them like me, let me fill you in on the variations.

Knee Push-ups

Some folks call knee push-ups “girl push-ups”, but I don’t like that because it implies 1) that they’re the only kind of push-ups that girls can do, and 2) that guys don’t do them.  Nah, man.  It don’t matter if you’re male or female; knee push-ups are a good variation to use depending on your fitness level, and if you’re looking to be able to do the regular ones one day, knee push-ups are a decent way to build up strength for that.

They work the same way as regular push-ups, except that instead of being on your toes, you’re on your knees.  You lower and push yourself the exact same way, and there’s less of a load on the muscles being worked being that you’ve taken out some of that body weight.  Make sure you still come down all the way.

Wall (or Desk) Push-ups

When it comes to push-up variations though, I admit I prefer wall (or desk) push-ups to knee push-ups, and the reason is because you hold the same body position as you do with the regular push-up, except that instead of your hands being on the ground, they’re on the wall, or on some sort of surface.  The higher your hands are placed, the easier your push-up is.  This means that you can start on the wall, then when that gets too easy, you can go to a high table, then to a lower table, then maybe a couple of stair steps, then finally on the ground.

Now watch this; once regular push-ups get too easy, you can start raising the height of your feet.  Instead of them being on the ground, you can have your feet on a stair or something.  The higher you raise your feet, the harder the push-up.  Depending on what your goal is, it’s going to be very important that you make sure that your exercises are difficult enough to help you progress.  Exercise mirrors life; generally, the more resistance, the more growth you experience.  The more consistently you stimulate your muscles with adequate resistance that allows no more than about 8 to 15 reps, the more muscle you grow and the more muscle strength that you experience.


Now these days, squats seem to be especially popular with ladies who are trying to build stronger and more aesthetic lower bodies, and that’s cool, but aside from the aesthetics, squats are a really good exercise to add to your routine.  Although the target muscles are lower body – thighs, calves (somewhat) and glutes, with stabilization from the core – squats use so much muscle in the body that they have a way of working your whole body.

Now, the squats I’m talking about are pure bodyweight squats, which are usually more than enough for the beginner.  Stand with your feet shoulder width apart.  Begin to lower your body, keeping your eyes forward.  Sit back as if you are about to sit in a chair, and at the same time, imagine that your heels are nailed to the ground.  This keeps you from putting your knees in the danger zone, which is when they venture past the front of your feet.  Lower yoursef preferably until the top of your thighs is parallel to the floor, then reverse the move to return to starting position.  Expect to have your heart beating and your breathing rate increasing.

A lot of folks, including myself, have to be careful with squats because of knee problems.  What I say to you is, first of all, make sure that your form is good.  Make sure those knees aren’t going past the front of your feet.  Then, you might not need to go as low with your squat.  Lower yourself until you start feeling discomfort.  Before you feel pain, stop going low and come on back up.  If this still doesn’t help, you might not need to have squats in your routine right now.  I personally do squats occasionally for this reason, and instead, I’m doing hill sprints, which are a great lower body workout, and they’re actually really good for the knees.  I’ll have to tell you guys about them sometime.

I have a couple more exercises I want to talk to you about, but I’ll save that for another podcast.  For now, remember that you can check out these moves on my YouTube page.  Just go to YourHealthAtTheCrossroads.com, find the podcast titled “Fundamentals of Bodyweight Exercise”, and you’ll see the links to the exercise videos.

And keep this in mind, too.  This exercise I’m telling you about isn’t merely something good to do.  Even if you’re not trying to be a bodybuilder or an athlete, it is very, very important that you maintain some form of exercise routine that stimulates your muscles.

And get this:  “Cardio only” isn’t going to work.  You need something that will use your muscles because of the fact that, if you don’t use them, you lose them.  Especially as you get older, your muscles get smaller.  Something called sarcopenia, which is age-related muscle loss, begins to occur.  As you age, your body gets rid of unused muscle faster, which makes you increasingly weaker, makes you hunched over, and starts to prevent you from being able to do stuff like get off of the floor.  But if you keep on using your muscles, your body is going to keep them.  Makes sense, right?

Have a question you want answered on the Your Health At The Crossroads show?  Interested in becoming a sponsor of the show?  Tweet your question to @ShawnB2BFitness, put it on the YHATC Facebook page, or call (478)216-8536 and leave a voicemail.  You can also send your question via e-mail  to shawn@yourhealthatthecrossroads.com.  Sponsorship inquiries can be sent via e-mail or by calling (478)216-8536.

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