In our previous article, we talked about classic push-up moves to help tone multiple upper-body muscle groups at once. You can slowly add more advanced positions to challenge other muscles by modifying the push up to make a great workout. One modification is the Nose-in-Triangle. By starting in the classic push-up position and moving the hands inwards and closer together, making a “triangle” with your hands, the push up motion will more fully target the triceps. Another modification is to spread your legs out to slightly wider than shoulder width apart when doing a push up. This helps to target core stabilizing muscles in your abdominals. To further challenge your workout, an advanced move for the push up is to elevate your feet on a step or chair, slightly inverting your upper body, to place more weight on your push-up during the exercise. As you get stronger, you can also work on other modifications to the push up, always being careful to work up gradually to new movements, and remembering to keep most movements within the frame of the body, to protect the shoulders.
Advanced Standing Squat
Modifications to the standing squat can really add to a great workout, and work multiple muscle groups together. These include one-legged squats, outward-turned toe squats, or squats against a wall using a balance ball. For advanced moves or to include cardio, add dynamic motions to the exercise, such as jumping as part of the upward motion of the squat. A squat-thrust is a great exercise to get the heart rate up. Start with your hands in the air, squat to the floor, place your hands in front of your feet, then thrust your feet backward, like you are going to do a push up, taking care to keep your back straight. Then, using your hands to balance again, bring your knees back to your chest, in the squat position, then stand up with a jump. This move is very aerobic, and will quickly raise your heart rate, so don’t start out doing too many, and add gradually over time. During these moves, be very careful to keep good form. It is easy to get lazy, break form, and strain your back. Again, this move will work the quadriceps, glutes, and will stretch the calves and Achilles.
Again, the key is to start small and gradually work your way up to bearing more of your own weight as you get stronger. Modifying the Pull-up is not difficult, and mostly involves changing grips or hand positions. To make it more difficult, you can grab a Pull-up bar over or underhand, and use a close, mid-, or wide-width grip on a bar to make the exercise more difficult and to work different muscle groups. For example, a regular Pull-up works mainly the back muscles. If you switch to an underhand grip and place your hands close together, however, your Pull-up will also work your biceps in addition to your back.
Standing Dead-lift with Weights
The Standing Dead-lift is good for working the lower back, glutes, and quadriceps muscle groups. It’s a bit more challenging to increase the difficulty of the Standing Dead-lift without adding additional resistance. So you can choose to add dumbbell weights, or for a more homemade solution, use two plastic gallon milk or orange juice jugs with handles. These jugs are good because they only cost you the price of milk or juice you may already buy, and you can fill them with any amount of water to customize your resistance. Start by filling them a quarter full, then move on to a half, then to three quarters full, and then to two filled jugs. Standing with feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, arms relaxed in front holding the jug weights, bend over at the waist, stopping at about 90 degrees. Then, slowly bend back up, returning to standing position, squeezing your glutes and legs as you reach standing position. This is one rep.
Remember that less is more with this workout, so be careful to not overdo the exercise at first. One set of 10 reps is enough to get a great workout, working up eventually to 3 sets of 10 reps each.
This modification can really make your abdominals burn. Leg lifts are good for targeting abs, and don’t have to put strain on your back like some other abdominal exercises. Sit on a chair halfway back (pillow under the butt or back optional) and grab the seat with your hands. Besides the basic move from 90 degrees, you can vary this exercise by extending your legs, then crunching your knees to your chest and back out, or by alternating lifting your legs, like a scissor move. All of these variations will work your abdominals, and your hip flexors, which will make for long, lean lines in your legs and core.
Do not do this if you have any back problems. The Superman exercise is performed face down on the floor, raising your arms and legs like you’re flying. A variation on this exercise is the Swimmer. Start off in the Superman position. Instead of raising both legs and arms off the floor together, raise the opposite leg and arm off of the floor together, then switch, kind of like you’re swimming Freestyle without water. Again, be careful not to perform too many repetitions.
Remember to start with our first article, Use Bodyweight For a Great Workout, Part I , to build up your muscle tone before attempting the advanced modifications listed here. Each of these exercises is a great workout at home or in the office, without minimal equipment, using mostly your body weight for resistance. Remember, always check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program to make sure it is right for you.
Julie Latterner is a freelance fitness and lifestyle writer.