I had a wild and crazy fantasy when I first started my fitness journey. I envisioned a fitness program that didn’t require a gym membership or fancy equipment. I dreamed of exercise that could be done anywhere at any time. My fantasy wasn’t just to find exercise methods that got me in shape, but also gave me the freedom to live a much less restrictive lifestyle. I didn’t want to feel like I had to rely on a gym or costly home fitness equipment.
My dream led me down many paths that included basic calisthenics exercises and dynamic tension exercises. During my junior year in college, I put these ideas to the test as I studied in Japan without access to any fitness facilities whatsoever. While I wouldn’t say my gym free program was a failure, I certainly couldn’t say it was much of a success.
When I got back to the states I threw in the towel and got heavily involved in using fitness equipment. I joined a number of gyms and I even sold my own bed to stuff my little apartment full of weights and cardio equipment. I simply figured that going gym free was okay, but if you really wanted results, you needed some serious gear.
While my use of equipment produced the fitness results I was looking for, I had to admit that it wasn’t the most efficient. It wasn’t always easy to take time on vacation to find and use a gym for an hour or two each day. It was a pain to move all of that equipment every time I changed residence. It was very frustrating when things broke down and had to be fixed. I loved the fitness I had, but still felt like my fitness was at the mercy of my equipment resources. I didn’t like feeling so vulnerable.
About 5 years ago, my dream of being gym free caught a second wind. The idea had fresh legs, not because I wanted the freedom, but because I was coming across new information. In a few months time, I stumbled upon a few choice books and websites that suggested that not only could bodyweight training bring great results, but even better results than the typical gym workout. This proposition piqued my curiosity. Was it possible? Could it really come to be?
It’s been 5 years of experimenting and learning to come to the conclusion that yes, Virginia, it is possible to get insanely fit through using your own body as a gym.
If you’re someone who harbors just such an ambition, I present you with the following lessons that helped me go gym free and build an even better body!
Lesson #1 – Study Progressive Calisthenics
Progressive calisthenics are the secret weapon of the best gym free bodies. There are 101 different ways you can progress a simple bodyweight technique. Some of the basics include changing hand and foot positions, altering speed or range of motion and shifting bodyweight more to one side of the body.
Be aware that stepping up to an advanced push up or squat variation can take weeks or even months before you start to feel like you’re getting the hang of the exercise. It personally took me about 3-4 years before I felt I could do a single leg squat with even a halfway decent technique. Progressive calisthenics require a ton of focus, discipline and body awareness to even begin practicing. However, for those who are willing to put in the effort they will build up your fitness in ways nothing else can match.
Lesson #2 – Suspension Training Offers Lots of Variety
Suspension straps, and even common gymnastics rings, can explode your bodyweight training in a thousand ways. They give you the ability to simulate almost any weight machine and free weight exercise in existence. Best of all, they train those so-called “stabilizer muscles” like nothing else. It’s almost comical to watch someone do push ups on gymnastics rings for the first time. There’s so much shaking they look like they are having a personal earthquake.
Lesson #3 – Hills and Staircases are The Ultimate Cardio Machines
Going gym free requires a good set of cardio options as well. Of course there’s running, biking and inline skating, but my personal bet is going up any sort of incline.
Cardio machines in the gym use artificially generated resistance to challenge your body. This is fine, but I really believe that nothing kicks your butt into shape like working against good old gravity. Climbing up hills, mountains and stair cases requires that you actively move your entire body against gravity thus offering a cardio challenge that’s second to none.
Lesson #4 – Technique is More Important Than Intensity
In previous articles, I’ve covered the 3 aspects of progression to consider when amping up your training to a new level. While frequency and intensity are important, it’s technique that ultimately brings you the goods. This is certainly the case with progressive calisthenics. The entire point of progressing your push up is to alter your technique slightly to further challenge your body.
Looking to technique as your primary means of progression means you don’t look towards equipment and gadgets to get a better workout. I used to think that the key to unlocking potential was with more, and better equipment, which meant I was always buying stuff. Now I know that you don’t get in better shape by doing an exercise with better equipment, but rather you get better results by doing the exercise itself better.
Lesson #5 – A Little Extra Weight Goes a Long Way
It’s inevitable that your bodyweight training might progress to the point where you would like to add some extra weight to an exercise. The cool thing about suspension training and progressive calisthenics, is that a little extra weight goes a long way. In most cases even adding an extra 20-30 pounds can be plenty.
This low weight requirement means you only have to buy a few weight plates or a cheap set of adjustable dumbbells that you can stash in a corner. You can even use heavy stuff you have lying around like a backpack full of books or even a good size rock.
Lesson #6 – Seek Out Playgrounds
Lastly, consider looking for playgrounds in your neighborhood. Many playgrounds, especially the ones at parks as opposed to schools, are literally built to be outdoor bodyweight gyms. They offer loads of variety, are open 24/7 and are free to use. Add in a set of suspension straps and maybe a few weight plates and you’ll have everything you’ll ever need to build the body of your dreams.
If you’re curious and looking for more information, I invite you to reach me through my email address or you can check out my webpage for more information.