There are many obstacles to building a better body. There’s the fact it’s damn difficult, all that sweating and grunting, only to spend the next day struggling to walk down stairs. There’s how long it takes, months of calloused hands and clean eating. But mostly, it’s because you have to hand over your hard-earned to spend an uncomfortable hour surrounded by strangers, all of whom look just as unhappy as you are.
But a gym membership isn’t a prerequisite to getting in shape. Put simply, your body is probably heavier than your bench press PB. And if you lift it in your living room, you can torch fat just as efficiently as if you’d spent an hour in the gym. Without inhaling anyone else’s perspiration.
You should, however, get a taste of of your own. When you’re working with your body weight, compound exercises provide the biggest burn. “‘Compound exercise’ means you are using more than one muscle group,” says Leo Savage, personal trainer at luxury London gym chain The Third Space. “This stimulates an increased hormonal response in the body, raising the potential for muscle growth.” Translation: better results, in less time.
Unlike the guys in the gym who spend an hour on bicep curls, you don’t need any equipment to hit all your body’s biggest muscle groups. “You just need to be performing the exercises correctly, at the correct tempo,” says Savage. Tension stimulates growth; by slowing down your reps, your muscles spend more time under tension, which means they get bigger quicker.
“So don’t rush through the movement with the aim of getting as many reps done as possible.” Using less weight, but perfect form, means better results than cheating with the biggest weight plates. It’s also handy for avoiding A&E.
Savage’s circuit might look simple, but after your fourth round, you’ll understand how appropriate his name is. That fire in your lats and thighs means it’s working. If nothing’s burning, you’re moving too fast.
“Take four seconds to go down, hold at the bottom of the rep for two seconds, then back up over one second,” he says. “Use the same tempo for each rep of each exercise.” And when you’re crumpled up on your carpet between rounds, just be thankful that no one’s trying to cut in.
Leo Savage’s Bodyweight Muscle Circuit
Perform 10 reps of each exercise, then move straight onto the next without rest. Perform each rep with a 4-2-1-0 tempo; four seconds to lower, two seconds pause at the bottom, then lift over one second. After the squat jumps, go straight back to the pull-ups, without rest, and repeat for four rounds total.
Overhand Grip Pull Up
Muscles Worked: Lats and biceps
Grab a pull-up bar (or the top of a door frame, if you don’t have one) with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Hang so your arms are completely straight, then pull yourself up until your chin is above your hands. Pause, then slowly lower until you’re in a dead hang again. Repeat.
If you can’t perform all the reps, use a chair to step up into the finishing position, then lower yourself as slowly as possible.
“This is the go to bodyweight exercise if you want to grow a back that others envy,” says Savage. “It requires the largest group of muscles on your back, the lats, to raise yourself up, with the secondary muscles of the biceps getting involved too.”
Muscles Worked: Chest and triceps
Support yourself face-down on your toes and hands, palms flat and shoulder-width apart. Tense your abs and glutes so your body forms a straight line between your head and heels. Slowly lower yourself until your chest almost touches the floor, pause, then push back up explosively.
“When you think bodyweight and growing your chest, the first thing that should come to mind is the press up,” says Savage. “This exercise targets your chest, deltoids and triceps in one, leaving you with a burn that forces your muscles to grow.”
Muscles Worked: Core
Lie flat on your back, palms on the floor by your hips. Your feet should be flat, knees bent to 90 degrees. Contract your abs to lift your feet off the floor, bringing your knees up and over your body. Your back should stay flat as your pelvis rises. Pause, then slowly return to the starting position and repeat.
“When you want to stimulate growth in your abdominals, the reverse crunch does just that,” says Savage. “Aim to bring your knees all the way to your face, raising your pelvis off the floor in the process. When you are lowering your legs back to the floor, this is the most important part of the exercise. Count to four on the way down; this will instantly remind you that you have abs.”
Muscles Worked: Legs
Stand with your feet around shoulder-width apart. Slowly squat down, keeping your weight on your heels and pushing your hips back, as if sitting in a chair. Once your thighs are parallel to the floor, push back up explosively to jump as high as possible off the floor. Land, and sink straight back into a squat, then repeat.
“You need all the main muscle groups in your lower body – quads, hamstrings and glutes – to execute squats properly. Adding the jump in requires you to generate that extra bit of force on the upward phase, to put your muscles through that extra bit of stress.”