Extremely minimal workout
September 29, 2007 8:15 PM   Subscribe

My question is pretty simple. Is it possible to get definition and tone using only push-ups and crunches? I cycle everyday for cardio (and practicality), but I'm looking to work my upper body more without investing in a gym membership or weights. Basically I'm looking for a good toning/muscle-building workout using nothing other than my own body. If this is possible, does anyone have some good routines to suggest?
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
There are many suggestions on the web and they're constantly appearing on yahoo and msn. I'd do a search in men's health online magazine for suggestions. There are some you can do laying on your back but if you get on a push up position, except on your elbows, it works your back and your abs. But there are a bunch of exercises you can do. I know that you need to have very little fat on your belly for it to be noticeable, however. You'd have to be fit overall as well. Can't be 20lbs overweight and have sixpacks...unless you've worked out your abs for years constantly that it shows thru the fat.
posted by icollectpurses at 8:20 PM on September 29, 2007

It kind of depends what part of your body you want to be toned / defined. Neither of the exercises you mentioned works your arms much at all (you get some tricep work out of pushups, but it's mostly pecs). At a minimum you should also do dips, pullups, and... well, dumbbell curls, dammit.

If you're not looking to add a lot of bulk, you probably only need one or two sets of dummbells, at weights that make a couple of exercises moderately challenging (of course eventually you'll become accustomed to the weight, but that means you're getting stronger, and as long as you're happy with tone instead of bulk, mission accomplished). And they can probably be had for $20-40 a set at a sporting equipment store near you.

I know that's not exactly free, but it facilitates so many more exercises for so many more muscles all over your arms, back, and shoulders that it seems it may be worth a one-time investment.
posted by rkent at 8:28 PM on September 29, 2007

Don't know if you're female. But a good book is Shrink Your Female Fat Zones by Denise Austin. Check out her website which is www.deniseaustin.com
posted by healthyliving at 8:33 PM on September 29, 2007

Best answer: 1 Do pushups up with feet up on a chair, and hands on floor. This will build upper chest. 2 Also regular pushups for overall chest 3. Put 2 chairs out and put feet up on one and arms on the other and do body dips between chairs...this will work triceps. 4. Open a door. Then, put a towel over the top of the door so it hangs down on each side...grab both sides and barely touching the floor, do lat pullups. 5. If you are strong enough, do a handstand up against a bare wall...lower yourself while keeping your body steady against the wall. (this is basically an upside down version of doing the military press with weights...it does take some strength depending on your body weight).

In all honestly, I would invest in some handweights, though. They will speed the tone and make your workouts efficient. Good luck.
posted by snap_dragon at 8:36 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's quite possible, but you need to do a good more than push-ups and crunches. Those will not work your entire body.

There are plenty of bodyweight workouts out there. For the simplest, use something like FitDeck to get a varied bodyweight workout, or check around SimpleFit (based on CrossFit, but very simple and bodyweight-based exercises.

Go to Train for Strength and Ross Training for other great, harder bodyweight workouts (TfS has some free ones, Ross Training's book however is EXTREMELY comprehensive and well worth the money). Or go to Combat Fitness for a comprehensive list of bodyweight exercises you can turn into your own workout.

FitDeck or SimpleFit are probably best for beginners.

Bodyweight exercises will not get you big as quickly as using weights will, but they will definitely get you stronger than any machine workout. Remember to eat plenty of protein to build muscle mass. And though building muscle is involved in looking "toned", probably 75% is diet--you need to eat a diet high in protein, relatively low in carbs, and restrict your carbs to low-glycemic ones (most vegetables, some fruits, no breads). Something like the Zone diet would be best. It is difficult but will get results.
posted by Anonymous at 8:39 PM on September 29, 2007

What these two guys said. When I got on a similar kick about a year ago I found that what I was looking for was bodyweight conditioning, which is what they call calisthenics nowadays.
posted by rhizome at 9:27 PM on September 29, 2007

Then, put a towel over the top of the door so it hangs down on each side...grab both sides and barely touching the floor, do lat pullups.

That's a really good way to tear the door off. Hinges on doors are not designed to handle that kind of stress on a repeating basis.

They're just held in with wood screws.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:35 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Schroedinger's right, if you want definition you have to work on diet. Exercise alone won't do it.
posted by futility closet at 1:58 AM on September 30, 2007

Yeah, "tone" is sort of a myth - it's just a combination of putting on muscle and losing fat. Bodyweight exercises work okay up to a certain point, but you'll find putting on muscle ten times easier if you just lift some weights. And that's free weights, not machines - you'll get a much more even and thorough workout from a set of squats / benches / deads than from a machine circuit.

If you're a woman, don't be afraid of "getting bulky", it's very easy to stop at a point that suits you. Lastly, seconding everyone else's advice to eat a lot of protein.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 2:24 AM on September 30, 2007

rkent is exactly right. Add dips, pullups, and dumbbell curls, and you're really there...pullups being the most important of the three.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 8:53 AM on September 30, 2007

Try Yoga. If you are still in Chicago, check out Michael Faith's classes. Otherwise, find a good Ashtanga class. You'll have to pay for a while, but once you get the hang of it you can do it on your own at home. Two times a week for three months and you will see a difference.
posted by Eringatang at 10:12 AM on September 30, 2007

I remember seeing a US military training routine linked somewhere here before (either in Ask or the front page). It used only the body, I think, and was also designed to be done in a small area - like maybe 5' x 5'? Maybe someone else remembers and can find it.
posted by peep at 10:37 AM on September 30, 2007

Check out bodyweightculture.com.

A couple of the vendors that have ads there might also be worth looking into.
posted by BigSky at 10:40 AM on September 30, 2007

Burpees combined with pushups will get you toned real quick.
posted by jasondigitized at 11:57 AM on September 30, 2007

Look into Yoga. You don't have to buy anything - you can get plenty of info on poses over the internet - though there's no end of things to buy should you feel the need. This will help you on the body mechanics side of things, showing you efficient ways to move.

Don't, for the love of all that is holy, look in Men's Health.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 4:20 PM on September 30, 2007

I remember seeing a US military training routine linked somewhere here before

Canadian, I think. 5bx. You can download a copy of the .pdf file here.
posted by tim_in_oz at 5:05 PM on September 30, 2007

At any rate, you could do worse than checking out Ross Enamait's book: "Never Gymless." It should be exactly what you're looking for, with no B.S. http://www.rosstraining.com/nevergymles.html
posted by bmosher at 5:50 PM on September 30, 2007

"Then, put a towel over the top of the door so it hangs down on each side...grab both sides and barely touching the floor, do lat pullups."

'That's a really good way to tear the door off. Hinges on doors are not designed to handle that kind of stress on a repeating basis.

They're just held in with wood screws.'

Then TEAR THAT DAMN DOOR OFF with those rippling muscles!!!!!!

Well, it has worked for me for 6 years but that admittedly does not necessarily defeat the logic of what Stephen said. Practice discernement in your exercising and best of luck, to you.
posted by snap_dragon at 6:17 PM on September 30, 2007

I know that you specified bodyweight only but I would like to suggest that you might want to invest in a kettlebell, which is an amazingly versatile little tool. A few years ago, kettlebells were pretty expensive because of limited supply and fitness hype driving up the demand. But the prices have become much more reasonable in the last year or so. The Apollo brand goes for about $1.20 a pound. That's the one I use and I've been extremely happy with the results.

Your profile says that you are male. Most men of normal strength and build start out with 35 pounders and eventually move on to the 53 pounders.

There's a gymnastics website called DrillsAndSkills which has a lot of fairly sophisticated bodyweight exercises using minimal equipment.

There's a lot of emphasis on bodyweight conditioning in the martial arts so that might be another good resource to check out as well.

CrossFit does a lot of bodyweight stuff. Here's their library of videos; I think you might like the ring push-ups video with Nicole, which is a little further down the page.

Anyhow, good luck with your workouts and have fun!
posted by jason's_planet at 9:24 AM on October 1, 2007

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