Did you think that the best way to gain lean muscle was to lift weights? You would be surprised to know that body weight exercises are more effective than they are given credit for. Some experts argue that they are even better than free weights since they don’t stress your joints. The best thing about body weight exercises is that they don’t need expensive gym equipment and can be done anytime, anywhere.
Notice carefully the upper body of gymnasts. See how they are well packed with lean muscle? They don’t lift weights; they only workout is using their own body weight. These isometric or calisthenics exercises work wonders on your upper body, especially if you want a more ‘natural’ looking physique that isn’t too buffed up. They are great for people who are often traveling and cannot stick to gym routines, and they are also great for those who have previous stress injuries and want to refrain from using weights. The key, however, lies in progression and increasing resistance in order to keep your body challenged.
The biggest reason that most people prefer weight training over body weight training is that body weight training can get monotonous. The same range of motions, done again and again stop exciting or challenging the body. This is why it is most essential to try variations in the same exercise, since there is no dearth of variations when it comes to body weight exercises. Be innovative and you will see that you never have to feel bored with your workout.
Let us take a look at the five top body weight exercises targetting the muscles of the upper body.
1. Pull-Ups & Chin-Ups
Pull-ups and Chin-ups make you lift your body weight off the ground and are one of the best strength training exercises. They are not easy, but with regular practice it is not difficult to master these body weight exercises that help build upper body muscles.
You will need a pull-up bar installed. Keeping your arms straight, hang on the bar and pull yourself up till your chin has passed the bar. Ideally, both pull-ups and chin-ups are done in the same way. The only difference is that in chin-ups, your palm faces you as you grip the bar, and you use the strength of your biceps to lift your body weight off the ground. In pull-ups, your palms face away from you and you use the strength of your back muscles to lift yourself off the ground. Pull-ups are harder than chin-ups.
2. Decline Push-Ups
Decline push-ups work your triceps, shoulders, chest and abs muscles. Lean on the floor, with your legs elevated using a bench placed behind you. Place your palms on the floor, like in a traditional push-up and lower your upper body to the floor, descending in a straight plank position and push body weight back up.
3. The Wave
The Wave will work on your butt and hamstrings, but it is especially hard on your arms. It uses your biceps and triceps since you will need to support all your body weight on one arm alone.
Lie flat on the ground. Lift off the floor, supporting your body weight on one arm. Keep the palm at chest level to balance the upper body, and let your toes still be on the ground. Slowly raise the free arm and bring it 90 degrees to your body. Then rotate it upwards to make 90 degrees with the floor. All this time, your other arm and shoulder blade must not move at all. Hold the stretch and repeat five times by bringing arm back down to 90 degrees from body and moving it upwards to make 90 degrees with floor. Stop and rest; then repeat with the other arm.
The push-up is one of the best upper body exercises to build core strength using only body weight. Doing a push-up is not easy unless your arms have built sufficient endurance and strength to not only support your body weight, but also lowers and raises your body.
For beginners, it is best to do table top push-ups. These are done by resting your body on the floor, but on a table top or any elevated surface. Stand a few feet away from the table, and use the traditional push-up technique to lower your body by bringing elbows 90 degrees to the body, and then rising back up. Keep your abs muscles tight the whole time.
If you need more of a challenge, try the diamond push-ups. Here, you place your hands together and create a diamond shape with the index finger and thumb of both hands. Keeping the hands in the center of your chest, you do traditional push-ups.
When using your body weight for building muscles of the upper body, not all exercises have to be very hard. The stick-ups are a perfect example of a simple yet effective exercise.
They are very easy to do and are ideal for beginners. Simply stand straight, raise your hands above your head in a straight line and push as far as you can go. This simple exercise works your arms, shoulders and chest muscles. Since they are very easy, do 20 reps and if you are still not tired, aim for 50 repetitions. These are one of the best back exercises, helping you build more strength and endurance to do push-ups more effectively.