Freehand exercises have a tonic effect on the muscles and internal organs. They tone up the circulatory system and are beneficial in safeguarding the general health of the body. Advanced freehand exercises shape and muscularize the body. While living overseas, particularly in Japan, I used freehand exercises so I could maintain my health and strength when a gym and resistance free-weight or machine exercises were inaccessible.
Freehand exercises consist of push-ups, dips between chairs, dips on a bench, rowing between chairs, rope climbs (if there is a gymnasium accessible!), pull-ups, knee bends, one-leg squats or stationary lunges, sprinting, race-walking, lying leg curls, one-leg and two-leg calf raises, and perhaps the most challenging: handstand push-ups. Most of these exercises can be done in your home or hotel room when you are out of town. There is never an excuse not to exercise or "tone up!"
Push-Ups - Chest, Shoulders, Triceps
This exercise is excellent for the chest, delts, and triceps. Place hands shoulder width apart. Keep the body perfectly aligned. Lower your body to the floor, allowing your chest (stomach for some of you!) to touch. Come back up but do not lock your elbows to maintain tension. Push steadily, like a piston. Do a total of 50-100 reps with as many sets as it takes you to do those total reps.
To emphasize the upper chest, elevate your feet on some furniture. You can do push-ups between chairs (three chairs) so long as you DO NOT go down too far to dangerously hyper extending the shoulder joint and suffer an injury as a consequence of moving beyond the proper and safe range-of-motion. To emphasize your triceps, place your hands narrower than shoulder width (with toes on floor, not elevated) keeping your elbows in tight against the body.
Dips Between Chairs Or On A Bench - Chest, Shoulders, Triceps
Take two chairs that are strong enough to hold your body weight and place them approximately shoulder width apart, back-to-back, and backs parallel. Take hold of the chairs, bend your legs at the knees, stabilize yourself, dip down to where the upper arms are parallel to the floor and then back up between the chairs. Like push-ups do not lockout your elbows. Leaning forward stresses both the deltoid and chest and remaining as straight as possible stress the triceps. Beginners and Intermediates do a total of 20-30. Advanced bodybuilders do 50 reps.
If dips between chairs is difficult, dips on a bench, chair, table or some piece of furniture would be suitable. Place both hands (palms) on the furniture with your fingers facing away and hanging over the edge. Place the feet of your heels on another piece of furniture so the whole body is elevated and legs parallel to floor.
Keep the upper body upright (vertical to the floor) and legs straight or slightly bent. Now dip down so your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Press up to start position but do not lockout. If this is too challenging, you can perform these with your heels on the floor and legs straight. If this is far too challenging, you can move your feet closer and place them flat on the floor while keeping your legs vertical and thighs parallel to the floor.
Handstand Push-Ups - Shoulders and Triceps
This is an advanced freehand exercise for those who have strong delts and triceps because you will be using the resistance of your own body weight and 100 percent gravity! I experimented with this one while overseas starting with half reps to three quarter reps, and finally full reps when I got stronger.
Place your hands about 3-5 inches from the wall and wider than shoulder width. You might experiment with hand placement, such as hands flat and fingers facing the wall, rotating the elbows out so the thumbs are facing the wall (fingers away from body), a clenched fist with knuckles on floor, etc. when positioning yourself to do a handstand against the wall to stabilize the wrist.
Balance and stabilize your body while upside down (head down and feet up) against the wall by keeping your back arched. Slowly lower yourself as far as you can and back up again. Do a maximum of 20 reps for a start by doing quarter reps, then half reps, then three quarter reps and finally full reps. And you thought pull-ups were tough!
Rowing Between Chairs - Back, Rear Shoulders, Biceps
This was my first foundation exercise I did for my back when I didn't have any weight equipment. Place two chairs about 5 feet apart and put a broomstick across the backs of the chairs. Lie on the floor in a prone position between the chairs and grip the broomstick with an underhand grip. Keep your heels on the floor and body straight like a stick. Pull yourself up and let yourself slowly down again. Hold your body absolutely straight when doing these, as with push-ups. Do 20-50 total reps.
If you don't have two chairs and a broomstick do some pull-ups on a bar elevated above the ground using either an overhand or underhand grip. If this is not accessible you can do these with an overhand grip on a concrete or stone wall underpass. This is what I used while in Israel for a few months in 1994! Now pull your body weight up! Rope climbs are excellent! If a gymnasium is near you and has a rope hanging from the ceiling (kids use them for physical education class or just to play around with) you can use it - without the help of your legs!
Squats - Thighs
Place your feet flat on the floor 12-15 inches apart. Place a chair in front of you. Take hold of the chair to maintain balance. Squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor, then raise yourself slowly up again pushing up off the heels, not your toes. Keep your body upright and back as straight as possible. Do at least 50 total reps.
You can also do stationary lunges. Place one leg forward and the other leg back using your toes for balance and stability. Place your hands on your hips. While keeping your body upright and back straight lunge forward until your forward leg is parallel to the floor. Push up off the heel (the one forward) keeping your body upright to start position.
Sprinting, Racewalking, Lying Leg Curls - Hamstrings
Sprinting is high-intensity short bursts of energy and stresses the hamstrings. When I lived in Japan a track and field was nearby so I did some sprinting for the hams at night after work. Simply run as fast as you can for a short distance! Get into the habit of timing yourself to make this exercise is challenging and progressive. The best alternative to sprinting but less intense is race-walking.
If both of these hamstring exercises are inaccessible for the outdoors then try weighted lying leg curls. Take a plastic bag, backpack or something and weight it down with books or other stuff. Lie face down on a table or bed and place the bag over your feet and press them together to hold the sack in place. Or you can hook the strap around your feet with the bag or backpack dangling. This is your resistance performing standard lying leg curls.
One Leg Calf Raises - Calves
You can do this exercise on stairs, a book, a coffee table or anything that elevates the foot off the floor. Use a chair, a wall or whatever to balance yourself while standing on one leg. Place one leg of your toes on the edge of the stairs, book or table. Keep this leg slightly bent. Lower the your heel by bending the toes to the floor slightly below parallel and then pop back up on your toes. This develops the whole calf muscle. Do at least 50 reps. Add resistance by placing a book or a weighty object in your other hand if you need to. Perform two-leg calf raises after your pre-exhausting reps with one-leg.
If you want to intensify this exercise with one leg do it very slowly. Push up, hold/squeeze for 20-30 seconds, lower slowly and then doing it again. You may get fewer reps but it does work the muscle intensely. Do at least 25 reps this way.
Copyright © Randy M. Herring