Like Erenstoft, you also might work some simple equipment into your regime. Both specially designed rubber bands and rubber tubing with handles can add resistance, as can simple household items. "To increase the resistance when you're doing squats, for example, you can do something as simple as hold soup cans or milk jugs filled with water," says Bryant.
What's more, two of the hottest exercises around, yoga and Pilates, also fit the "no weight" bill, says Rothenberg. Many of the poses in yoga require using one's own body weight to load the muscles. Take the "warrior" pose, for example. It's essentially a lunge, one that works the muscle in the front of the thigh. Pilates is a series of exercises that involve slow, precise moves -- either using your body weight or specially designed machines -- to work your muscles. You might work your abdominal and leg muscles, for example, by pushing against a bar on springs or by raising your legs when they're attached (by straps) to a pulley.
Whether you choose to use some equipment or forgo strength training tools altogether, what's most important is to find a routine that you can stick with -- exactly what Eric Erenstoft has done. "Why go to a gym and get angry at a set of metal plates?" he says. "I like what I'm doing now, and it's working just fine."
Originally published June 19, 2000
Updated Dec. 19, 2001
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.