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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.

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."

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