BODYWEIGHT TRAINING MIGHT sometimes be your last resort when you don’t have access to equipment, but you can build a brutally effective solo workout on those days the gym isn’t an option. The biggest issue most guys have with these types of routines is that they feel like they need to bang out hundreds of reps to make the most of their training. Bodyweight becomes synonymous with boring—and that’s never going to be an incentive to get moving.
Thankfully, that doesn’t have to be the case. You might think you have limited options, but there are plenty of exercises and tweaks to turn a basic bodyweight routine into big body gains without putting yourself to sleep.
Doing this requires more than just a list of exercises, according to Men’s Health fitness director
Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. It means staying tactical with your training while avoiding some common bodyweight mistakes we’ve probably all made in our workout history.
“It does not need to be boring,” Samuel says about bodyweight training. “And it does not need to just be a fallback way that you train when you can’t get to the gym. The truth is you can make a ton of gains, you can have very effective workouts, and you can reach all of your goals with bodyweight training.”
Put Samuel’s advice into practice and avoid these common mistakes when you train without equipment.
4 Bodyweight Workout Mistakes to Avoid
You Skip Out on Progressive Overload
Knocking out rep after rep after rep of standard pushups is not only dull—you’ll also miss out on other opportunities for progressive overload, which is how you make muscle and strength gains. Reps matter when it comes to bodyweight training, but volume is not the only factor you can change when you’re working with a fixed weight (your body).
Instead, consider these two options:
Change Levels and Angles
If you can knock out 25 pushups on the floor, then it’s time to change the angle to increase the difficulty level. Elevating your feet on a bench, couch, or some other raised platform is going to increase the challenge by changing the range of motion.
Add Unilateral Movements
Take archer pushups for example: If you’re doing 25 reps on your standard pushups, switching to archer pushups—in which you’re targeting one arm at a time—will challenge you in a different way, biasing one side of your chest. This becomes a more effective method of progressively overloading than just piling on the reps.
You’re Using Momentum
Bodyweight movements can be more challenging than we give them credit. Think of how tough it can be to do strict pullup reps. Sometimes it becomes convenient to allow momentum to dominate our reps in order to complete each set—again, think pullups.
Samuel suggests adding pauses to your reps at certain range of motion points—think of turning pushups or pullups into a two-step movement—as one way to get more out of your workout by adding additional time under tension.
You Ignore Your Back Muscles
Pushups and core movements are go-to exercises for bodyweight workouts. They’re great—but you should work to avoid falling into the training trap of overworking the muscles on the front (anterior) side of your body while neglecting those posterior muscles, especially in your back. This will not only be an issue for functional symmetry; you’re also not gaining the needed back strength for a well-balanced physique. Pullups, inverted rows, and Superman holds are all viable bodyweight back training options that should be done at least twice a week. Look at this way: matching anterior and posterior exercises set for set will help keep you injury free.
You Don’t Use Explosive Exercises Properly
Congrats, you’re one of the rare class of people who enjoy doing burpees—but doing too many explosive movements makes for muscle imbalances. Or maybe you only do pushups and pullups when you exercise without equipment, and you’re missing an important component of overall fitness.
Instead, pick three explosive movements for your bodyweight training workouts. Two rounds of 20 seconds on/40 seconds off is all the conditioning you’re going to need—it takes just six minutes—to elevate your heart rate, build some explosiveness, and fine-tune your physique.
Jeff Tomko is a freelance fitness writer who has written for Muscle and Fitness, Men’s Fitness, and Men’s Health.
Brett Williams, a fitness editor at Men’s Health, is a NASM-CPT certified trainer and former pro football player and tech reporter who splits his workout time between strength and conditioning training, martial arts, and running. You can find his work elsewhere at Mashable, Thrillist, and other outlets.