Bodyweight replacements for standard barbell exercises?
November 8, 2012 8:59 PM   Subscribe

Thanks to Sandy, it'll be a couple of months before I have access to a gym. If I describe my usual barbell routine below the fold, can anyone recommend bodyweight exercises that target approximately the same muscles without any equipment?

The exercises I'd like to replace are deadlifts, squats, power cleans, bench press and lat pull-down. I feel pretty good replacing bench press with push-ups (I bench ~60% of my body weight), but I deadlift and squat more (~125%) and pull-down much less (35%?), so the obvious candidates (one-legged bodyweight squats, pull-ups) don't quite work. Unless there's some variant or progression that lets me adjust the difficulty by changing leverage or something? Any suggestions would be appreciated.

N.B. when I say "without any equipment" I literally mean I have a bed, a rickety plywood nightstand, four walls, and a door frame (that cannot support my weight). And a stack of junk mail, because apparently the USPS has been doing high-availability since before high-availability was a thing people did.
posted by d. z. wang to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Let me ups -- you may be able to use your bed, depending on the height.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:11 PM on November 8, 2012

If you could manage to get a sandbag, that would help open up some options. Otherwise could you do plyometrics to keep up your fitness level? Stuff like clapping push ups, jump squats, and burpees. Divebomber push ups would definitely target your back. Jump lunges are great for the hamstrings too. I think you will have to up the intensity since its only bodyweight. But ianatrainer.
posted by Attackpanda at 9:19 PM on November 8, 2012

Is buying a barbell, plates, and a couple of puzzle mat squares an option? If so, you can continue the deadlifts at home.

If not, there's a lot you can do with dumbbells, like the Magic 50, which will strengthen (and condition) your legs and lower back.

If you've got to go with pure bodyweight exercises, I can't think of ways to put as much resistance on your legs as deadlifts and squats. But maybe you can shift some focus to anaerobic endurance for a while? Burpees will build your strength some but will really build your anaerobic endurance.

Once you have a set of bodyweight exercises that you like, you'll find that they take a lot less out of you than the heavy lifts. So, instead of doing a set than resting, you may want to string them together in a circuit, sort of like this, and run through it continuously for X amount of minutes.
posted by ignignokt at 9:20 PM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

One legged squats going all the way to the floor is a pretty good leg workout. Beast skills has some good examples on progressions here. It's not exactly a squat or deadlift but it will improve strength and balance.
Sprints are a great leg exercise if you can go outside.

Given you can't install a pull-up bar, is there any table or anything you can grip and be under that you can do body weight rows on? Any nearby playgrounds or trees? You might be strong enough to start negative chins ups (where you lower yourself down after jumping up) and playgrounds/trees have bars/branches that are possible.
posted by eyeofthetiger at 1:00 AM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Convict Conditioning has some good progressions if you want to try to work up to a one-legged squat or pull-ups. The push-up progression is good too. If you're going to be subbing push-ups for bench, you don't just want to increase the number of reps you do; you'll be building endurance, not strength. You have to find a way to increase the resistance.
posted by zanni at 3:20 AM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Convict conditioning is a good place to start, given your current numbers. I know I've answered a question for you on Sommer's building the gymnastic body. That may be the route to go.
posted by bfranklin at 6:05 AM on November 9, 2012

Are pistol/one legged squats currently too difficult, or not difficult enough? If you've been following Starting Strength, which is an excellent resource, it might be a good opportunity to incporporate some unilateral/one legged training.

If find that a lot of clients who jump right into power lifts can develop a pretty wicked right/left imbalance.

Would seriously consider spending some time on bulgarian splits squats aka rear foot elevated split squats. Eventually you should work up to 60% of your back squat weight, but for the time being, even 20 lbs may be challenging. Hold some weights in either a suitcase or goblet style.

Also for deadlifts, get some practice with one legged romanian deadlifts. Another great opportunity to work on balance and mobility while you're away from a barbell.

Use the opportunity to work on your wall assisted handstand push ups. I didn't see overhead press on the list, do you have shoulder issues?

For pull ups, get a towel and sling it over a door, or tree branch, work on your grip. If the weight is too much, do a jump pull up with a long eccentric descent. As suggested above, inverted rows might be a good call if pull ups are too difficult. Again, towels are a good choice.

For power cleans, hoisting hoisting anything up to your shoulder could help. Suitcase jump squats, push presses, thrusters, anything involving power.

Do you have access to a backpack? A suitcase? Sandbags? An old keg? Plenty of options.

Good luck!
posted by Telf at 8:06 AM on November 9, 2012

Response by poster: Convict conditioning and beast skills looks very interesting, thanks!

Telf, my problem with one-legged squats is actually in holding my other leg off the ground. I must have tight hips or weak hip flexors or something, because if I try to raise my foot straight-legged I stop a good foot below parallel. If I let myself cross my other leg over the knee of the lifting leg (as though sitting half-lotus), one-legged squats aren't that hard. Do you have any suggestions for this?
posted by d. z. wang at 10:33 PM on November 9, 2012


It's not uncommon for people to pull a muscle when going into a pistol squat without doing some foam rolling or stretching.

Do you have any of the following: tennis ball, golf ball, baseball, rolling pin, pvc pipe, foam roller, possibly a small can for tomato paste etc?

I'd spend a few minutes doing self myofascial release along your legs. A lacrosse/baseball would be best.

Another issue could be ankle mobility. Try doing a one-legged squat with something wedge under your standing heel. A rolled up yoga mat, an extra shoe, a tuna can. See if that helps with depth.
posted by Telf at 9:36 PM on November 10, 2012

Try one-legged squats with your working leg on a box or a step and your extended leg in the negative space. That'll allow you full range of motion even though you don't (yet) have the flexibility/strength to keep your extended leg off the ground. If you cross your non-working leg over your working leg you're probably 1) not getting full depth (one-legged squats should be ass-to-ankle) and 2) getting assistance from the non-working leg.

If it's simply strength of the non-working leg, not flexibility, try holding it up with your hand.
posted by zanni at 3:25 AM on November 11, 2012

Response by poster: In case someone with a similar need discovers this thread later, I've been satisfied the last couple of weeks with a circuit of pushups, one-legged static lying hip extension, either dead bugs or holding hollow, side planks, one-legged squats, and static lying twists. Then I stretch a while. The whole thing takes about a half-hour and requires no equipment at all. I do it on the floor next to my bed before I go to sleep.

Incidentally, this circuit has really opened my eyes to how weak my abs are. I thought squatting and deadlifting raw would develop my "core" evenly, but it's clear now that my back was doing most of the work. During push-ups, I actually fail not because my arms are tired but because my abs are too weak to hold my hips up. Crazy!

And, yeah, nothing in this room that would support an inverted row, so I'm still looking for an upper-body pull.
posted by d. z. wang at 8:11 PM on November 22, 2012

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