First of all, I recommend that you join a gym if you possibly can. I’ve written this article, though, because I know a lot of people don’t live near gyms or cannot afford the membership fees. It’s also good to know a few exercises you can do without equipment if you ever go on holiday and find that the hotel you’re staying in has no gym. Obviously with the following exercises, you will not grow as fast as you would with more conventional bodybuilding exercises, but you will grow all the same. It’s a million times better to do these exercises than to do none at all.
Please note that I haven’t explained every exercise (e.g. crunches and hyperextensions) fully because descriptions of these exercises are freely available on the Internet. I would recommend doing these exercises 3-4 times per week. I would also recommend you warm up with 5 minutes light cardio beforehand (running on the spot, shadow boxing etc.)
You may associate press-ups (push-ups) with sadistic gym teachers and military punishments, but it’s time to expel that image from your mind. For a bodybuilder with no equipment, press-ups are his best friend! The secret to building mass with press ups is to do them slowly with low reps. Sure you can do sets of 200 press ups, but with that many reps you are just building muscle endurance. That’s no bad thing but you won’t get much bigger. I recommend doing these before any other arm work because I find that if I train my arms first, they tend to burn out before my chest. You should also try to vary the position of your hands from shoulder width apart to even wider apart and try putting your feet on a chair or a bed if you have one available to ensure that you hit your chest from every possible angle.
An example chest workout would be:
- Medium grip press ups – 3 sets
- Wide grip press ups – 3 sets
- Medium grip press ups (legs raised) – 2 sets
- Wide grip press ups (legs raised) – 2 sets
Your chest workout should hit you arms as well as your chest, but if there is still some life left in your triceps, you may want to try a few sets of close grip press ups. Go into the normal press up position and then overlap your hands to make a kind of “window” with your hands (it’s hard to explain but you must have seen movie directors doing it.)
There are a couple of exercises you can do for your back. For your upper back, you can do pull-ups from a tree branch or door frame. Use a wide overhand grip and make sure to go all the way up and all the way down. Your lower back is a little trickier but you must train it, especially if you are training your abs. Hyperextensions are the ones I would recommend except instead of using a hypertension bench, you use something (or someone) to hold down your legs. Try to do about 8-10 reps.
If you can find a door frame or a tree branch to hang off, these should be fairly straight forward. You basically just use a close underhand grip and pull yourself up so that your chin touches the tree/ door frame/ bar. Remember to extend your arms fully when you go down and try to do them really slowly for maximum contraction. Biceps can also be worked well with anything heavy with a handle (like a heavy school bag). Just hold the handle and lift it as you would with a dumbbell.
Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to build very much size on your legs without equipment. Obviously there is no easy way to do heavy squats without weights, but who says they have to be heavy? You can build some size and quite a lot of definition doing squats using whatever you have available to you (those big water bottles are great – one under each arm). You can even get quite a lot of definition and some size by doing them without anything. I even read about a bloke who used to have his mate jump on his back and then do them – you might look a little strange but if you’re into that kind of thing… Just make sure to slow them right down, go all the way down (now this sounds really dodgy). You will probably have to high reps but if you can, try to keep it to about 3 or 4 sets.
Abs are one of the few bodyparts which you can train almost as well without equipment as you can with. Obviously you can’t do any hanging exercises but these aren’t compulsory and many people prefer the lying exercises anyway. My ab workout goes something like this:
Lying leg raises – 3 sets
Twisting Crunches – 3 sets
Regular Crunches – 3 sets
Regular crunches will train the upper abs, twisting crunches will help to improve your obliques and lying leg raises will train your lower abs. I would try to keep the exercises in this order for the reason that all exercises will train your upper abs and you will not be able to complete the first 2 exercises efficiently if your upper abs are already tired. Reps should last 1 second except for regular crunches which should be held for 2 seconds for maximum contraction. Each set should consist of reps in the 15-30 range and you should try to only rest for 10-15 seconds between sets. Doubts have been raised about the safety of sit-ups and they do not work the abs primarily anyway, so that’s why I use crunches in my workouts.
There has been some debate about whether you should train your abs at the beginning of your workout or the end. In my opinion, it does not matter as long as you do train them. Another long standing argument is about the number of times per week you should train your abs. I train mine 3 times per week and this works well for me, but others say that training them every day works for them. Some people only train their abs once per week. Experiment and try to find which routine works best for you. Oh yeah -one last thing. If you do an ab workout, you MUST do hyperextensions (see back). If you don’t, horrible things will happen to your back!
Your shoulder muscles are probably the hardest ones to workout without equipment. The good news is that press-ups will hit them. The bad news is that not a lot else will unless you can find something heavy with a handle you could use to do lat raises. Not to worry though because press-ups are actually pretty good at building up your shoulders and the only muscles which you will not build through these are your traps. Traps can be worked by doing shrugs with just about anything heavy you can find.
Cardio without equipment seems simple enough, but in fact you have to be quite careful. The obvious thing to do would be to go running but this is actually a bad idea if you are trying to burn fat. For fitness, running is great, but for burning fat it’s actually a bit too intense and your body can end up burning your muscle instead of your fat. Instead, I recommend taking a brisk 40-minute walk before breakfast every morning. This way, there is nothing in your stomach for your body to burn as fuel so it will go straight into fat burning mode. You don’t have to walk – you can do anything just as long as you break into a light sweat while you are doing it. Good luck!