“Why boast of this age of science and invention that has produced so many marvelous wonders when, in the final analysis, we find that man has, in the race for material progress and perfection, entirely overlooked the most complex and marvelous of all Creations—Man himself!”
Joseph Pilates, Your Health, 1934
In our modern times we use technology to address all of our problems, from simple boredom to complex health issues. Technology makes our lives comfortable by reducing the necessity of physical activity.
We have become the least physically fit population that has ever existed on Earth.
Many people struggle with everyday activities due to lack of physical fitness. Paradoxically, the technology-based comfort we have embraced has destroyed our ease of living.
In an effort to offset the negative consequences of the sedentary lifestyle, we have looked again to technology. Most exercise facilities are filled with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of machines designed to facilitate movement of the human body in countless ways.
Some believe that technology is necessary in our quest for improved fitness. All the clever exercise machines we have created have distracted us. We have overlooked the most remarkable machine we possess—the human body.
Most exercise machines make movement more comfortable. We no longer need to consciously control our own bodies. Physical exercise has become mindless exertion.
The decision is ours to make on whether or not to embrace this comfort or change our way of thinking. This article offers some simple exercises that require no equipment.
I believe exercises like these are superior to most of the machine-based exercises done in facilities today, because they require the coordinated use of machinery of the most extreme sophistication—the human mind and body.
1. One-Leg Deadlift
The one-leg deadlift exercise targets the entire backside of your body, primarily the often-neglected hamstring and glute muscles on the back of your hips and thighs. It also improves your balance, coordination and flexibility. You can get some of the best benefits of regular deadlifts while reducing the load on your spine. Because only one leg is performing the movement, little or no weight can be used while still achieving a good stimulation of the hamstrings and glutes.
To perform the one-leg deadlift, start by balancing on one foot. Feel the firm foundation of the planted foot while slightly bending your other leg. Hinge forward at the hip of your stance leg while lengthening the spine. Reach toward the floor while extending the foot of your floating leg backwards. Touch the floor if your flexibility allows, then slowly stand by lifting your torso and bringing your planted leg forward at the same time. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions, and switch legs.
2. Reverse Lunge
This exercise targets the quads, or front of the thighs, as well as the glutes, hamstrings and inner thighs. Pretty much every muscle between the hips and thighs gets some work from this exercise. Start out facing a wall with toes touching the wall. This automatically keeps the knee from going too far forward, sparing the knee joint from stress and shifting some stimulation to the muscle on the backside of the thigh.
Step back with one foot. Take a step long enough to allow the hips to sink to the level of the knee of the front leg. Keep the front knee from touching the wall and keep the back knee from touching the floor. After lowering your body to the point where the knee almost touches the floor, firmly push the heel of the front leg into the floor to come back up to a standing position while keeping the torso upright.
Hands can be placed on the wall for improved balance when first learning the exercise. Eventually hands should be taken away from the wall and placed anywhere but on top of the front thigh. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions, and switch legs.
This exercise provides a good stretch of your hamstrings, hip flexors and lumbar spine, and works many muscles in the upper body and abdomen. Placing your feet closer together stretches the hamstrings more and requires more flexibility. Spreading your feet farther apart eases the stretch on the hamstrings and requires less flexibility.
Start in a position with hands placed shoulder-width apart on the floor. Keep the fingers spread apart with the middle finger pointing forward and weight spread evenly into the palms and fingers to spare the wrists. The toes are on the floor, hip-width apart or wider, depending on flexibility. The more flexible person will be able to place the feet closer together. The hips are lifted as high as possible while the heels are allowed to drop to the floor.
Hang your head in a relaxed manner with your eyes looking toward the navel. Pull your shoulders away from the ears. Apply slight force with your hands in the direction the fingers point. This force brings the chest toward the thighs. This starting position is very similar to the “downward-facing dog” in yoga.
Glide slowly into what looks like the “upward-facing dog” in yoga. Inhale before beginning this movement. Exhale as you lower the hips toward the floor. The arms remain straight as the hips are dropped toward the floor. Contract your glutes to ease pressure on the spine. The chest is lifted, the eyes look up, the shoulders are pulled down and away from the ears, and the knees are kept off of the floor. Complete the movement by exhaling as you lift your hips back into the starting position. Complete the desired number of repetitions.
4. Hindu Pushup
The Hindu pushup is similar to the pump, except it works more of the upper body muscles and requires more energy. The start and finish positions are exactly the same as the pump. The difference is in how the movement is executed. When descending into the bottom position, the chest and head are lowered first by bending the elbows and keeping them tucked in close to the sides. After the head and chest are lowered, the hips are lowered as the head and chest move forward. Then, the arms are straightened as the head and chest are lifted and the hips move forward while the glutes are contracted. The knees never touch the ground. The lifting phase remains the same as with the pumps. Breathing remains the same as the pump, inhaling as the hips are lowered and exhaling as the hips are lifted.
5. Dive-Bomber Pushup
This exercise adds intensity to the Hindu pushup. It requires more upper body strength, especially in the shoulders. Everything is performed exactly as the Hindu pushup, except reversing the exact motion of the Hindu pushup lifts the hips. First, lower the chest and head by bending the arms. Then, lift up the hips by hinging as the arms are pushed overhead while keeping the palms firmly planted on the floor. Perform the desired number of repetitions.
6. Dynamic Prone Cobra
This exercise works almost every muscle on the backside of your body and creates great posture. It develops the hamstrings, glutes, lower and upper back, and rotator cuff muscles. It also serves as a great corrective exercise for those who sit at a desk for hours a day. By working the muscles that tend to get weak and stretching the muscles that tend to get tight, it provides just what a desk jockey needs to feel and perform better.
Start by lying face down with arms extended overhead in a Y-formation. The thumbs are pointing up toward the ceiling. Lift both legs slightly until the knees and lower thighs are off the floor. Lift both arms as high as possible while pulling the shoulder blades together, down and back. Keeping the legs and arms lifted, move the arms toward the rib cage as far as possible while keeping the thumbs pointing up. Move the arms back to the Y position. Breathe once with each repetition, inhaling as the arms move down, and exhaling as the arms move up. Do the desired number of repetitions and complete the set without lowering the legs and arms to the floor until all repetitions are complete.
This exercise is a classic for upper body conditioning and works the abdominals as well. All of the abdominals are really activated by holding the posture, while the chest shoulders and triceps are doing the work of moving your body up and down.
Start in a position face down on hands and toes. Place hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Place feet about hip-width apart. Be sure that shoulders, hips and knees are all pretty much in a straight line. Lower the chest to the floor while inhaling. Lift the body up while exhaling. Perform the desired number of repetitions.
8. Knee Pushups
Knee pushups are a good modification for those who lack the strength for regular standard pushups. Place hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, keeping your knees are on the floor. Maintain your knees, hips and shoulders in a straight line. Lower your chest to the floor, keeping alignment in your entire body. Then lift your body. Perform the desired number of repetitions.
This pushup modification is much more challenging than the standard pushup. It gets the oblique muscles on each side of the abdomen more involved in the movement. It is performed exactly as the standard pushup, except at the end of each rep. After completing the lifting portion of the exercise, the feet pivot to the side, the hips turn to the side, the shoulders turn and the arm is raised forming a sideways T-formation with the body. The next repletion is performed in the opposite direction. The same number of repetitions is performed on each side.
This exercise is great for overall conditioning. It works the muscles of your legs and hips. An adjustable step or chair is a good tool to use to achieve proper form. Although the squat is a basic human movement, many people struggle with good form because of limits in hip flexibility and core strength.
Each one of these bodyweight exercises is a great tool when used by itself, or when added to a routine that utilizes equipment. To really get the most conditioning benefit, try doing them in rapid succession without much rest between sets. This method is called a complex, or circuit. One favorite complex is as follows:
One-Leg Deadlift———-10 reps/leg
Reverse Lunge————-10 reps/leg
Dynamic Prone Cobra—-15 reps
Performing this complex three times without much rest is a great overall conditioning routine. More reps or fewer reps can be done for any of the exercises to adjust the difficulty level to the individual. It can be made more challenging by substituting Hindu pushups or dive-bomber pushups for the pumps, and T-pushups for standard pushups. It can also be made easier by substituting knee pushups for standard pushups.
Author: Nick Ortego is a health coach specializing in biohacking for runners. He integrates modern methods with the ancient wisdom of yoga to help runners get the most out of every aspect of life. He is the owner of N 2 Action, a wellness studio in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, offering personal training, health coaching, yoga, and fascial stretch therapy.