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A No-Weight Workout

Easy Exercise

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 strength-training novice.

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.

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