Goals: Strength, Conditioning
Bodyparts: Legs, Chest
Most hardcore gym devotees read the term "bodyweight exercise" and yawn dismissively. Bodyweight exercises don't build quality muscle, they say to themselves before heading to the squat rack. But remember -- building your best body requires a dedication to training in totality. You have to hit a variety of muscle fibers using different loads from multiple angles in order to maximize gains. And that's where bodyweight training can add variety to your existing, poundage-heavy routine. These moves not only help you recruit (and positively exhaust) more total muscle fiber but they also provide a welcome departure from your stagnant, go-to workout schedule. And by modifying already proven exercises, you're sure to feel it tomorrow.
Since the beginning of time, the push-up has been a staple exercise for everyone from Army enlistees to pre-teens hoping to woo the head cheerleader. Targeting the chest, front delts and triceps, this bodyweight move also works your core and serratus anterior, those fingerlike muscles just outside of and below your pecs.
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By exploding off of the floor (no clap necessary), you fire up more motor units and specifically target your fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are the ones most responsible for growth.
- Perform 2-3 sets of 4-6 reps after a general warm-up and prior to your existing chest routine to charge your muscles for the heavier work ahead.
Modification No. 2 | Push-Up Plank
The name is misleading since it's really just a plank held in the top of push-up position. When you perform a standard push-up, you should try to "pull" your hands toward each other at top of every rep in order to get an extra squeeze on the pecs. This peak contraction provides extra isometric tension on the pecs -- the same idea behind squeezing the handles together on a pec deck machine. But the plank position also strengthens your deep transverse abdominis and places constant tension on your serratus.
- Perform 3-4, 30-second push-up planks at the end of your existing chest routine to completely exhaust your muscles.
The traditional barbell squat works your glutes, quads and hamstrings primarily, with your lower back, calves and shoulders being engaged as supporters. But these bodyweight alternatives can boost your ability to move more weight and to reshape your leg musculature.
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Modification No. 1 | Jump Squat
As with the plyometric push-up, the jump squat relies primarily on growth-prone fast-twitch muscle fibers. By settling into a deep squat then exploding off the ground as high as you can, you also awaken your mind-muscle connection which can help you move more weight on the exercises that follow (see Pyramid Principle).
- Perform 2-3 sets of 4-6 reps after a general warm-up and before your normal leg routine to prime your body for greater poundages.
Modification No. 2 | Wall Squat
So your legs are "done," huh? We'll see about that. While the end of your leg routine is probably your favorite moment of the week, we'd challenge you to add this isometric move to your arsenal to achieve true and total failure. Place your back against a wall and settle into a deep squat. As you fail, feel free to move up -- the less angle at the knee, or the more straight up you are, the easier it gets. But your goal should be a full minute at or just below parallel to really turn your legs into jelly. This finishes off the quads and glutes, with authority. You can have someone wheelbarrow you out to your car after.
- Perform 3-4 sets of 60-second wall squats at the end of your normal leg routine. Adjust your squat depth as necessary to make it through the entire minute.