While free weights and machines can
certainly make you stronger, don’t dismiss the effectiveness of body weight exercises. As you master your own weight, you will not only
look better; you will also learn how to train three-dimensional movement,
acquire a greater kinesthetic awareness and become empowered as you perform
tasks with your body. Moreover, body-weight exercises make your workouts
portable, an added benefit if you travel a lot or have trouble motivating
yourself to go to the gym. Many of these “old school” body-weight exercises are still used
as tests of muscular strength and endurance.

To make sure you do body-weight exercises correctly, use the
following guidelines on body position and efficient, safe execution from Jason
R. Karp, PhD, director and coach of REVO2LT
Running Team, a freelance
writer and a competitive runner.

Body-Weight Exercise #1: Chin-Ups

You can build strength in your biceps,
forearms and upper back by doing chin-ups, as lifting your body a vertical
distance of about 2 feet is no small task. To do a chin-up correctly: grab
horizontal chin-up bar or handles of jungle gym with palms facing body and with
hands shoulder width apart. From hanging position with legs straight or knees
bent, pull body up until chin reaches above bar. Lower body until arms are
fully extended. To do pull-ups instead of chin-ups, grab bar with palms facing
away from body. If you cannot do chin-ups with your body weight, use a
weight-assisted machine like the Gravitron, which uses a counterweight to
reduce the amount of weight lifted.

Body-Weight Exercise #2: Push-Ups

Push-ups target the pectoralis major and
triceps muscles, but many people perform them incorrectly. Here’s how to use
proper form: kneel on floor with hands slightly less than shoulder width apart
and palms on floor, legs lifted off floor, and back straight and parallel to floor.
If you lack strength to do a standard push-up, you can modify this position by
placing knees on floor, flexed to 90 degrees with ankles crossed. Keeping back
parallel to floor, lower body down until chest touches floor. Push back up
until arms are straight. Placing hands on a stability ball will also work abs.

Body Weight Exercise #3: Squats

The squat is among the most effective
lower-body exercises, as it incorporates most of the leg muscles working
through the kinetic chain. Stand with feet greater than shoulder width apart,
contract abdominal muscles, bend knees and squat down while keeping back
straight, as if you’re attempting to sit in a chair, until thighs are slightly
past being parallel to the floor. Straighten legs and stand up to return to the
starting position.

SIDEBAR: Abdominal Crunches

With many people
on a never-ending quest for a flat stomach or six-pack abs, exercise equipment
manufacturers have created many products to help people achieve that goal. But
before you reach for a piece of equipment, remember that sometimes the
old-fashioned way is the best way. There has been enough research comparing
abdominal muscle activity from using commercial abdominal equipment versus
doing traditional crunches to conclude that crunches are just as effective or

To do crunches
correctly, lie on back on floor, bend knees and keep feet flat on floor. Place
hands behind head, elbows out to sides. Contract abdominal muscles and lift
shoulder blades and upper back off floor. Do not raise middle and low back.
Slowly lower head, neck and shoulders to floor. In addition to traditional
crunches, you can use variations. Try twist crunches (twisting to one side
while lifting torso) or reverse crunches (raising legs and buttocks instead of

© 2008 by IDEA Fitness Journal. Reprint permission is granted to IDEA members by the copyright owner, IDEA Health & Fitness Inc., (800) 999-4332.