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Your body is a barbell in this workout

BACK TO BASICS: A bodyweight class at Equinox features movements inspired by the primal ones of man and beast. Equinox employee Lisa Wheeler said that such exercises return people to the way they move naturally.


    Oct 17, 2013

    Your body is a barbell in this workout

    MAN versus machines? In the realm of fitness, at least man seems to be winning.

    Some might own a gym filled with weight-lifting equipment. But fitness experts said the only thing people need to push, pull and lift is the weight of their own body.

    "If more people knew they could get a good physique using their body as a barbell, they could take matters into their own hands," said Mr Bret Contreras, author of Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy, a guide to bodyweight-only workouts aimed at everyone from the exercise-challenged to the personal trainer.

    Known as "the Glute Guy" - glutes are buttock muscles - Mr Contreras has been resistance training for 21 years. But, in high school, he could not do a push-up.

    "At 15, I was so skinny, people used to make jokes," the 37-year-old said. "I just got so tired of being made fun of that I decided to take charge."

    Often thought of as a stepping stone to weight training, bodyweight training can be a complete, whole-body workout in itself, Mr Contreras said.

    Once the person masters the simpler version of a push-up, squat or chin-up, a more advanced version can be tackled, often with a little help from living-room furniture.

    "Find things in the environment: a table to get underneath, hold on to the sides of and then pull the body upwards; a rafter for a pull-up," he said. "To work your glutes, all you need is a couch."

    Mr Contreras recommends the beginner start with 15 minutes a day and increase over time.

    "It doesn't have to be intimidating," he said. "You could do a 20-minute workout three times a week and have an incredible physique, so long as you push hard and keep challenging yourself."

    Ms Lisa Wheeler - national creative manager of group fitness at Equinox, the upscale chain of fitness centres in the United States - said that bodyweight exercises return people to the way they move naturally.

    "We squat, lunge, crawl, reach," she said, adding that a bodyweight class at Equinox is called Animal Flow because its crab crawls, lunges and swings were inspired by the primal movement patterns of man and beast.

    "Bodyweight training is great for mobility, stability and creating movement patterns," she said. "You want to build a strong foundation, be stable around the shoulders, hips and spine."

    Because the load does not change, progression is achieved by changing the centre of gravity of the exerciser or the complexity of the movement.

    Another challenge, she said, is getting enough pull to match the push of most bodyweight exercises.

    "Bodyweight training can make everything else better," she said. "Dancers, mums, we all live push-pull now."

    Ms Jessica Matthews, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise, said bodyweight training blends with the trend towards functional training, or training that mimics the way we move in everyday life, as opposed to the older bodybuilder model of targeting one muscle group at a time.

    "Our body is one kinetic chain; everything moves together. So most everyday exercises will move multiple muscle groups," she said.

    Ms Matthews said not only can bodyweight training be done any time, anywhere, but it also works easily into popular interval training, circuit and boot-camp workouts.

    "Using bodyweight exercises allows more of a cardiovascular component, because you can move rapidly from one exercise to the next," she said.

    So are machines a thing of the past?

    "I think there's a place for everything," she said. "For some people, a fixed path might be the way to go.

    "It boils down to having proper joint stability and a quality range of movements, then adding load. Form is imperative."