A No-Weight Workout
Why a 'No-Weight' Workout Works
Resistance is essential for making a muscle stronger. When a
muscle has to work against a load placed on it, it adapts to the stress by
creating new muscle fibers and making neurological changes that ultimately make
it stronger, says Ben Hurley, PhD, a strength-training researcher at the
University of Maryland. And while weights are handy resistance tools, they're
not the only effective ones. "Muscles respond to virtually anything that
offers resistance," says Cedric Bryant, PhD, an exercise physiologist at
StairMaster Sports. "They don't know the difference between a dumbbell, a
$2,000 piece of equipment, or your own body weight."
For the vast majority of people who simply want to be strong
enough for the tasks of daily living, strength training without weights is
sufficient, Bryant says. And if pure aesthetics is your goal, you're also in
luck. "If you strength train without weights, you're going to look more
toned and shapely," says Beth Rothenberg, a personal trainer who teaches at
the University of California at Los Angeles' fitness instructor program.
Training without weights has other pluses, too. For one thing,
it travels well. "You can drop anywhere and do 20 push-ups," says
Rothenberg. And since you don't have to worry as much about proper form when
training without weights, it's is a good place to start if you're a
Build Strength That You Can Actually Apply
It's also particularly appropriate if you're mostly just
interested in "functional strength" -- the kind of power you need not
to curl a dumbbell but to carry a bag of groceries. "Exercises like
push-ups help you with the real things you do, like pushing the sofa to the
other side of the room," says Rothenberg.
Admittedly, there are limitations to training without weights,
particularly if you're doing exercises that rely solely on your own bodyweight.
"You can't [easily] increase the weight so it's difficult to make the
muscles work harder than they're used to," says Hurley. "That limits
your strength gains. And since there haven't been any studies looking at the
effects of training without weights on bone density, we don't know if it works
as well to keep bones strong." In addition, if you've been training with
weights for some time and then switch to weightless training, you may lose some
of your initial gains in strength.
Still, if the choice -- as it seems to be for most people -- is
between doing nothing and strength training without weights, fitness experts
will advise the latter every time.
The Anywhere Workout
And your weightless workout need not bog down your mind either.
You need only to remember a few do-anywhere exercises:
- sit-ups for abdominal muscles
- push-ups for the arms, chest, and shoulders
- dips for the back of the arms
- squats for the muscles in the rear and front of the thighs
- calf raises for the lower portion of the leg.