Bodyweight exercises a great way to blast fat and shape up

PHOTO: Bodyweight exercises a great way to blast fat and shape up

Bodyweight exercises ranked among the top fitness trends in 2013, and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) predicts that the training style will continue to thrive in 2014.

Bodyweight training uses minimal equipment, and because you rely mostly on your own body for resistance, these exercises can be performed anytime, anywhere.

Research suggests that high-intensity, bodyweight-based exercises such as plyometrics, burpees and squats can produce cardiovascular benefits and strength gains to maintain good health.

Bodyweight exercises are also a great way to shape up, and are easily modified to challenge any fitness level. Adding extra repetitions, or performing the exercises faster or slower are some ways you can make a simple exercise more challenging.

In her book Lyn Kong's Guide to Fitness for Busy People, author, speaker and personal trainer Lyn Kong shares some simple and practical home bodyweight workouts for fitness novices to kickstart their journey towards a better lifestyle.

"Many people do not have time to go to the gym," says Kong, who is also a certified Kettlebell Level 1 and CrossFit Level 1 trainer.

Her guidebook provides step-by-step instructions on various exercises and bodyweight training programmes that can be done in the comfort of your home.

The following are the top five bodyweight exercises Kong recommends to help you get in tip-top shape.

Bodyweight squats

Muscles targeted: glutes, quads, hamstrings. It also increases hip, knee and ankle mobility.

1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart with your toes slightly turned outward.

2. Keep your core tight for stability while keeping your chest lifted and your chin parallel to the ground.

3. Bring your hips back and down, as if you're sitting on a chair, while keeping your weight on your heels.

4. Extend your arms in front of you for balance as you lower yourself until your thighs are slightly below parallel to the ground. While doing this, keep your back straight and do not let your knees come past your toes.

5. Lift your hips and torso back up at the same time to the starting position.

Aim for at least three sets of 12-15 repetitions.

Push-ups

Muscles targeted: chest, shoulders, arms and core.

1. Get into a plank position on the floor.

2. With your palms facing the ground, straighten your arms and keep your hands approximately shoulder-width apart.

3. Keep your core tight as you slowly bend your elbows, lowering your body towards the floor. Engage your glutes and quads to help maintain stability.

4. Try to lower yourself until your chest touches the floor. Your elbows should stay close to the sides of your body throughout the movement.

5. To complete the movement, press upward through your arms, straightening the elbows. Imagine pushing the floor away from you without letting your lower back sag or hips to hike upward.

"Modified" or "knee" push-ups are performed by supporting the lower body on the knees instead of the toes, which reduces the difficulty. This is useful for beginners who are not strong enough to do proper push-ups yet.

Aim for at least three sets of 10-12 repetitions.

Planks

Muscles targeted: abs, back. Planks improve core strength and posture.

1. Lie in a prone position with your elbows close to your sides and your palms on the ground.

2. Engage your core and quads as you slowly lift your torso and thighs off the floor.

3. Keep your torso and thighs rigid, without allowing your ribcage or lower-back to sag as you hold the plank position.

4. You should also avoid hiking your hips into the air or bending your knees. Shoulders should be directly over your elbows with your palms facing down throughout the entire exercise.

Try to hold this position for at least 30 seconds or more. Go for at least two to three sets.

Lower back stretches

Lower back stretches are a great way to relieve lower back tension that many of us get from long periods of inactivity or sitting down.

One effective way to do this is with the "cat stretch". This exercise is commonly used during warm-ups and cool-downs. Stretching helps prevent injury, and may also be effective as a rehabilitation exercise for people who have experienced lower back injury.

Muscles targeted: Lower back and core.

1. Come down onto the floor on all fours, making sure that your knees are under your hips with your legs placed firmly on the ground.

2. Look at your hands. They should be placed directly under your shoulders. Your fingers should be pointing forward.

3. Start by taking a deep breath. As you exhale, use your core muscles to push your belly towards your spine, curving your back toward the ceiling.

4. Hold the position for 10 seconds before relaxing and going back into the original position.

Repeat this movement two to three times for optimal results.

Chest stretches

Bad sitting posture or sitting for long periods of time can cause the chest muscles to tighten, leading to postural problems such as an excessively curved back in the upper region. Shoulders also tend to cave in.

Chest stretches help to relieve tension and open up the chest. You can do this using the "chest expansion stretch".

Muscles targeted: chest, shoulders and arms.

1. Sit or stand up tall and bring your arms behind you. Clasp one hand inside the other.

2. Lift your chest and raise your arms slightly. You should feel a mild stretch across your chest.

3. Try not to arch your lower back as you pull your arms upward, and try to keep your shoulders relaxed and down.

4. Don't force your arms to go higher than is comfortable.

You may combine three to five movements at one go, says Kong. Increase the reps as you get stronger.

However, it is important to maintain proper form while executing the movements to promote efficiency and to avoid injuries.

"Bodyweight exercises are ideal for people with a busy lifestyle. At the end of the day, it is about being efficient with what little time you have, and keeping healthy despite your busy schedule," says Kong.

'Lyn Kong's Guide to Fitness for Busy People' is now available at all major bookstores. Fiona Ho is a certified personal trainer and a fitness enthusiast with a penchant for lifting heavy objects.

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