How to Get More From Your Bodyweight Workout

Steal the science-backed rules from the experts to get more effective workouts sans equipment.

December 6, 2017
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Adapted from The Women's Health Fitness Fix

Continually fit people know that even when you don’t have equipment, you can still get in a great workout. They know how to tailor bodyweight exercises to their own fitness level—and then adapt them when that level changes.

More: Your 20-Minute Weight-Loss Workout Plan

Steal their science-backed rules to get more effective workouts sans equipment.

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Rule #1: To get lean, be longer

As you increase the distance between the point of force (your target muscles) and the end of the object you’re trying to lift (your body), you decrease your mechanical advantage. Translation: The longer your body, the weaker you become and the more your muscles have to work. This is the major difference between “girly” pushups and regular ones. When you do pushups on your toes, your core muscles have to work a whole lot harder to support more of your body weight.

Apply it: Raise your hands above your head so your arms are straight and in line with your body during lunges, squats, crunches, and sit-ups. Too hard? Split the distance by putting your hands behind your head.

More: 7 Days to Slim: A Practical Guide to Feeling Lighter in a Week

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Rule #2: Take the spring out of your step

When you lower your body during any exercise, your muscles build up what’s known as elastic energy. It works like a coiled spring: The elasticity allows you to bounce back to the starting position and reduces the amount of work your muscles have to do.

Apply it: Take a 4-second pause at the bottom position of any exercise. That’s how long it takes to discharge all the elastic energy of a muscle. Without the bounce, you’ll force your body to recruit more muscle fibers to get you moving again.

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​Rule #3: Go the distance

Physics defines work as force (here, that’s how much you weigh) times distance. Since you can’t increase force beyond your own body weight without an external load (like a dumbbell), the only way to work more is to move farther during each rep.

Apply it: For bodyweight exercises— such as lunges, pushups, and sit-ups—your range of motion ends at the floor. The solution: Move the floor farther away. Try placing your front or back foot on a step when doing lunges, or position your hands or feet on a step when doing pushups.

More: 6 Science-Approved Stress-Busting Strategies

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Rule #4: Add a twist

Human movement happens on three geometric planes: the sagittal plane (front-back and up-down), the frontal plane (side to side), and the transverse plane (rotation). Many common bodyweight exercises—such as squats and side lunges—are performed on the first two planes. But we rarely train our bodies on the transverse plane, despite using it all the time in our everyday lives, such as when we walk.

Apply it: Simply rotate your torso to the right or left during exercises such as lunges, sit-ups, and pushups; you’ll fully engage your core in addition to the muscles those moves are intended to target.

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Rule #5: Get off the floor

The less of an object’s surface area (in this case, your body) that touches a solid base (the floor), the less stable that object is. Fortunately, we have a built-in stabilization system: our muscles. So knocking yourself a little off kilter makes you exercise harder and enlists more muscles.

Apply it: Hold one foot in the air during pushups, squats, and planks.

More: 7 Simple Ways to Lose Weight

For more ways to get fit fast, pick up a copy of The Women's Health Fitness Fix.

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