How to build muscle with bodyweight alone
August 30, 2012 1:01 PM   Subscribe

Looking for a bodyweight training program that doesn't involve chin-up bars or any equipment.

As I travel a lot for work, and when I'm at work, I work long hours, I want to start strength training again. However, finding a gym in a strange city, preferably a 24-hour one, is difficult, so I have been researching for bodyweight-only exercises that I can perform in my hotel room.

However, a lot of the programs and books I've found always seem to require a degree of available equipment that I'm going to be hard pressed to find and/or fit in suitcase. It seems all these programs require some form of chin-up bar (and I can understand why beause of the efficacy of the exercise). Carrying one of those door-frame ones around with me just isn't practical.

Is there any way at all I can build muscle and get fit again solely by bodyweight exercises alone (perhaps with the occasional use of a chair)?
posted by stenoboy to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
The Beginner Body Weight program outlined on Nerd Fitness might be a place to start. No pull-ups of any form involved. It's a pretty basic bodyweight circuit, while still being rigorous if you do it enough times. He prescribes a gallon milk jug to do rows, but other than that no equipment is involved, and even that can be replaced by a substitute that's heavy enough to be challenging. (If you travel a lot, I imagine you can figure out something creative just using your luggage.)

There's an advanced one too, for when the beginner gets too easy, but it does call for pull-ups/chin-ups.
posted by Kosh at 1:12 PM on August 30, 2012 [8 favorites]

The Traveling WOD
posted by carmel at 1:15 PM on August 30, 2012

I just kind of mix and match stuff off the top of my head, so this is not a "plan" or "program," but it may help you. I'm sure you can google for pics/videos if needed. You can also go to whatever the army/marines use for recruiting sites and find their fitness guides.

Pushups, wide-arm / shoulder-width / diamond
Park-bench half dips (ankles resting on ground, pushing yourself up with palms on bench behind you)
Between-two-chairs dips

Presses/cherry-pickers/elbow-shoulder-head touches

Flutter kicks
Leg lifts
Side leg lifts
Rocker/Rocky situps
Supine bicycle
posted by kavasa at 1:23 PM on August 30, 2012

The Nerd Fitness one Kosh mentioned is good, you could use an exercise band to replace the jug or weight. Just wrap the band underneath whatever you are leaning on (suitcase, bench, etc.). It might take a little practice, but you'll get the hang of it. That workout doesn't look super hard, but it will definitely target pretty much your whole body, and can be done in a fairly short period of time.
posted by markblasco at 1:27 PM on August 30, 2012

Try getting resistance bands. They could fit in your suitcase.

Also try You Are Your Own Gym, which is all about bodyweight exercises. However, the book disappoints if you want to use no equipment whatsoever--he often recommends you do things like use bookshelves for triceps dips, which may work fine if your bookshelf is public library quality; not such a good idea with the IKEA stuff in my apartment.

Also check out Bodyrock (they do a lot of product placement though) or Zuzka Light, who was the Bodyrock founder before she left and does not seem to be getting as many equipment comps. These are workouts with minimal equipment. Also search for Bob Harper's workout DVDs on Amazon; they have minimal equipment. By "minimal" I mean a couple of dumbbels. If you travel for work by driving, carrying them would not be a problem in your car; flying would obviously be harder.

In my experience strength training with NO equipment is next to impossible. Even "You Are Your Own Gym" is not truly NO equipment; it's fashioning rudimentary equipment from readily available things. And even that can be tricky; for your back he recommends grabbing a door and doing pull ups or "let me ins", which I will not do for fear of wrecking my cheap apartment doors.
posted by massysett at 1:47 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I have the regular doorway pull-up bar from Easy Effort, and it is rock solid. They also sell a portable version which breaks down and they say it fits in a suitcase; it's designed for just your situation. Unfortunately the link on their website for it does not seem to be working. But such things do exist.

Another thing people do for pull-ups is find a playground; most any playground will have something you can do pull-ups on. I live in the middle of the city where playgrounds are rare, but most suburban hotels would be close to something.
posted by massysett at 1:52 PM on August 30, 2012

I was also going to recommend Zuzka Light and Bodyrock. The more recent Bodyrock videos are not as good--they're extremely, pornily sexualized and rely on too much equipment. Luckily I discovered this website that has indexed all of the Zuzka-era Bodyrock videos and her new ones, and is also searchable by workout attribute. Here is a link to all of the workouts tagged "no equipment."
posted by apricot at 2:05 PM on August 30, 2012

To add to some leg work to kavasa's list...

Squats (find something heavy in your luggage or around the room if possible)
Lunges - walking, step back, step forward, pulse, side
Jumps - squat, scissor, tuck, high knee
posted by jshort at 2:29 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, You Are Your Own Gym is exactly what you're looking for. Specifically for pull-ups, his instructions are to do them on a door with a towel thrown over the top for grip comfort.

A good friend and I are doing this right now -- he just finished the basic program and is waaaay stronger and has lost a decent amount of weight. I (female) am closer to the beginning, but find the program very do-able, and have definitely noticed an increase in my general muscular strength. We were working out while on a 2 week road trip and found ways to do the exercises anywhere we stayed. Mark Lauren does a decent bit of traveling as well, and includes tips on doing certain exercises on the road.

Also the program includes 4 levels based on your current fitness level, and over 200 body weight exercises that you can pick and choose from if you'd rather design your own program. It's valuable just for that, regardless of whether you want to follow his program or not. Of course if you just want ideas of exercises, searching for "YAYOG" on youtube should give you a lot of ideas and demos. However the program is good for the progression it gives (pushing yourself enough without overtraining) and has a decent amount of trial and error / science behind it.
posted by DoubleLune at 3:13 PM on August 30, 2012

To help clarify...doing bodyweight exercises will make you fit, and you can advance into gymnastic movements to build even more awesome strength and flexibility, but you'll hit a limit for "strength" at some point.

Let's say you're doing pushups to build your arms & chest. You start out barely able to do 10. You build the strength to do 20, yay! What's next? Without additional weight, your only choice is to increase reps...and increasing reps will build muscular endurance, not strength. Soon you'll be able to do 100 pushups (still very impressive) but you're not suddenly going to have a 300lb benchpress just because you can do 100 pushups.

You have to train with more weight to get more strength.

OTOH, just having very strong bodyweight movements help a lot. And if you have a clean diet, you'll look good too. "Abs are made in the kitchen" is the rule - no matter how many situps you do you won't have a six-pack if you're eating crap.
posted by jpeacock at 3:21 PM on August 30, 2012

My favorite at home AND on the go workout is high intensity interval training. I generally use the Tabata protocol, which consists of 8 intervals of any exercise (at max output) for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds rest. I do a mixture of the following exercises, none of which need equipment, and all of which are very effective exercises that can be done as part of a routine or on their own:

Jump squats, suicides, jump lunges, box jumps, jumping jacks, pushups, supermans, high knees, pike planks, calf raises, airborne Heismans, burpees, mountain climbers, bicycles, situps, etc.

Burpees, pushups, and almost all jumping exercises can be intensified easily as need be... diamond pushups are significantly harder than regular (and there are MANY other variations); for box jumps, you can alter the height of the box, etc, etc. Happy to share more if you're interested!
posted by eenagy at 8:57 PM on August 30, 2012

Convict Conditioning has been recommended many times here on AskMe. It focuses on six exercises, four of which don't require a bar (push ups, squats, hand stand push ups, bridges) and two of which do (pull ups, hanging leg raises). In your position, I'd focus on the non-bar exercises on the road and catch up on the bar exercises at home. They all include progressions from extremely easy (push ups against a wall) to extremely hard (one-handed push ups), which means you can jump in whatever your level of fitness, and partly ameliorates jpeacock's contention that you have to train with weight.
posted by zanni at 4:41 AM on August 31, 2012

My husband and I did P90X with just resistance bands because pull-up bars do not fit over any of our doors (and we don't own, so can't modify) and we don't own weights. The bands are pretty tiny and fit in a very small bag. They would be no trouble to stow in a backpack or small overnight bag.
posted by Cygnet at 7:33 AM on August 31, 2012

I've been researching bodyweight exercises and trying different workouts/programs recently. The gist seems to be to focus on compound movements (using a number of muscles at the same time) for chest (push), back (pull), legs, and core. At it's simplest, this can mean push-ups, dumbbell rows (with a suitcase), squats, and planks.

Nthing "You Are Your Own Gym" for the variety of exercises described. However, I did manage to nearly break the lock mechanism on a door doing "Let Me In's", and the beginner workout left my arms useless for the next week.

Nthing I'm doing a variation of the beginner workout and having steady increases in strength and endurance, and not killing myself.

You might also look at Similar philosophy as nerdfitness, but even more minimalist.

Although, if you can take a sledge hammer, you might not need anything else.
posted by sazanka at 10:56 AM on August 31, 2012

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