Men's Health Your Body is Your Barbell

16

Chapter

THE BODYWIGHT 8 CARDIO EXERCISES

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Metabolic training (MT) is the ultimate fusion of anaerobic strength training and aerobic cardio exercise. It’s the best style of training to get you shredded as fast as possible. The goal of this kind of workout is to create a massive metabolic disturbance to cause what’s known as excess postexercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC, which reflects an elevated metabolic rate that lasts for up to 48 hours after completing your workout. This way, you’re burning a bunch of calories both during your workout and long afterward during the recovery process. It’s important to note that this “afterburn” phenomenon does not occur with typical aerobic exercise, such as a long, slow, 45-minute jog around the park. To enjoy the afterburn benefit, your workout needs intensity (you need to work very hard) and density (you need to accomplish a lot of “work” in a given period of time).

There are two main types of metabolic training to use to cause the fat-burning full-body disturbance that triggers EPOC.

1. METABOLIC RESISTANCE TRAINING (MRT):This is a muscle-and-strength style of interval training. Select several resistance-training exercises that work your entire body and then alternate between those moves with little to no rest. Work periods are typically 30 to 60 seconds at a time, and rest periods are typically 30 seconds or fewer. The Bodyweight Burners workouts in Chapter 13 are good examples. They allow you to simultaneously burn fat and build muscle.

2. CARDIO INTERVAL TRAINING (CIT): This is often referred to as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and is classically performed by running outdoors or on a treadmill or by using a cardio machine like the recumbent bike or elliptical. An example of an HIIT running workout would be alternating between, say, 30 seconds of all-out sprinting and 1 minute of recovery while running at a moderate pace. For our purposes in this book, we’ll be using bodyweight cardio exercises instead of running or spinning. One option is to select a single bodyweight cardio exercise that works your whole body, like a Burpee, and alternate between periods of intense work and active recovery. You can also select two or more noncompetitive bodyweight cardio exercises, like Jumping Jacks and Mountain Climbers, and alternate between them from set to set to keep intensity high.

In this chapter, we’ll focus on the best cardio exercises you can do without equipment. There are eight of them, divided into two categories: four that primarily work your lower body and four that primarily work your upper body. I’ve grouped them for several reasons. One, this allows you to alternate between the upper- and lower-body cardio moves to keep intensity high, provide more exercise variety, and manage fatigue. Two, if you had a lower-body injury, you could use more of the upper-body cardio exercises, and vice versa. Three, most cardio exercises are skewed to work your legs instead of your arms. This leads to overuse injuries for the lower body and poor endurance for the upper body.

THE FOUR LOWER-BODY-INTENSIVE CARDIO MOVES

1. Jumping Jack

2. Skater Jump

3. Skier Swing

4. Sprinter

These are my selections, but keep in mind that you can use just about any Squat, Lunge, or Stepup variation that you can perform quickly to fit within the lower-body-intensive cardio category. Jump Squat variations also fit well if you’re ready for them. I would still urge you to perform Box Jump Squats as much as possible, since that move is safer and lower in impact.

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THE FOUR UPPER-BODY-INTENSIVE CARDIO MOVES

1. Mountain Climber

2. Donkey Kick

3. Break-Dancer

4. Chop

Here, too, you can use just about any upper-body pushing and pulling variation that you can perform quickly. Pushups and Rows, or Plyometric Pushups and Plyo Rows if you’re fit enough, tend to work best. Most people don’t have the strength, power, and conditioning needed to perform Pullups or Handstand Pushups quickly and for lots of reps. You could perform Jumping Pullups or Squat Pulls, if you’d like, as the lower-body assistance makes them doable.

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1. JUMPING JACK

This classic calisthenics cardio exercise is super simple to do, it works your whole body, and it’s relatively low impact compared to other explosive exercises.

Stand with your feet together and your arms at your sides. Simultaneously jump your feet out to the side and bring your arms overhead, or as far overhead as you can pain free, based on your shoulder mobility. When in doubt, do a SEAL Jack; just bring your arms straight out to your sides, as that’s plenty of motion without putting your shoulders in a tough position. Reverse the movement and repeat.

Focus more on turnover, getting out and back as quickly as you can, rather than jumping height, and stay on the balls of your feet throughout the movement. If you find this to be too difficult, modify the movement by stepping one foot out at a time to the same side with the same arm action to make it easier on your lower body. You can even eliminate the leg action altogether and just do the arm movement if you’ve suffered a lower-body injury.

Jumping Jacks can get boring. Here are three ways to juice your Jacks:

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Variations

1. Change Arm and/or Foot Position

Cross your arms in front of your body at chest level. This better engages and stretches your chest and rear shoulder muscles and tends to be the preferred option for people with a history of shoulder pain. You can also cross your feet (a). Another option is moving your arms and feet forward and backward like you’re cross-country skiing (b).

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Variations

2. Involve a Squat

Drop your hips into a squatting motion to fire up your thighs and increase the difficulty. You can either start with your feet wide and bring them close together as you drop into a Squat (pictured) or start with your feet close and move them out wide to the side as you drop into a Squat.

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• Keep your shins vertical.

Variations

3. Try a Pushup Jack

From the top of a Pushup position (or straight-arm Plank), jump your feet out and back without moving your hands.

MAKE IT HARDER: Get into a close-grip Pushup position with legs together as shown. Then jump both your hands and feet out and drop into the down position. Explosively push yourself airborne to bring your hands and feet back together in the top position.

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• HARDER

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• From here, push up explosively.

2. SKATER JUMP

Like sprinting, jumping variations train total-body power. Jumping side to side will activate your fast-twitch muscle fibers, crush calories, and boost your heart rate as well as bulletproof your knees. Simply jump laterally from one foot to the other. Start with small (6-inch) jumps and work up to lateral leaps of 2 feet or more. For all of the progressions you must:

Land with bends in your ankles, knees, and hips; get your butt back; and keep your back flat.

Swing your arms across your body in the same direction of your jump.

First stick each landing for 1 to 2 seconds before progressing to continuous jumps.

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• Keep your butt back.

• Keep your chest up.

• Bend your hips, knees, and ankles.

• Swipe your arms in the same direction as your jump.

Variations

1. Skater Step

Step to one side and cross your trailing leg behind your body so that the foot makes contact with the ground. This provides two points of contact and more support and stability when jumping from one foot to the other. Repeat in the opposite direction.

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• Touch the floor with your back foot toes for stability.

Variations

2. Rotational Skater Jump

This variation adds a rotational component in which you open up your hips and step back as you jump from one leg to the other. Then reverse the movement, switch sides, and repeat.

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• From standing, jump 90 degrees right, then back to the middle.

3. SKIER SWING

The Skier Swing offers the same benefit of a Kettlebell Swing without needing to swing a cannonball between your legs. It’s called a Skier Swing because your body resembles that of a downhill skier when you hinge at your hips and reach your arms back behind your body. The move has all of the same elements as a Vertical Jump except your feet never leave the ground as you extend your arms overhead. This makes it lower impact and an excellent choice for higher reps. Internally rotate your arms when reaching back, with the thumbs turned in and the palms facing up. This puts your shoulders in the most stable position when your arms are behind your body. The majority of the movement occurs through the hips, though a little bit of bending at the knees is cool. Just make sure not to round your spine in the bottom position or hyperextend your lower back in the top position.

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• Maintain a flat back.

• You are in hollow-body position here.

• Keep your knees out.

• Rise on your toes.

Variation

Staggered Skier Swing

You can switch up your stance from a parallel stance to a staggered stance with the toes of the trailing foot aligned with the heel of the leading leg. This shifts more of the work to the hip of your leading leg. Make it even harder by performing Skier Swings while on only one leg at a time. You’ll have to go a little slower because of the increased balance requirements.

To get the desired metabolism-boosting and calorie-burning effect, you’ll need to perform Skier Swings with lots of speed and intention to make up for the fact that you’re not holding on to any weights. Speed of movement is the great equalizer!

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• Your arm moves in opposition to the same-side leg.

• First, step back.

• Step forward with the same foot.

4. SPRINTER

Everyone knows that sprinting is a killer way to burn belly fat and get into crazy-good shape. But most people either aren’t in good enough shape to sprint or don’t have enough space to do so when at home or traveling. If you live in a northern climate, like I do in Milwaukee, then sprinting outdoors in winter just isn’t happening unless you play for the Green Bay Packers. This exercise is your answer.

From a standing position, step your right leg back, hinge at your hips, and reach your right hand to the instep of your left or leading foot. Your back should remain flat. Briefly pause, then explosively step forward. Instead of going back to a full stand, you just go back and forth between the backward step and forward step, with the foot of one leg never leaving the ground. Pause and hold each position briefly before exploding back and forward as fast as you can. This variation emphasizes the start and drive phase of a sprint from a Sprinter stance. It’s hip dominant and really targets the glutes and hamstrings. Perform all reps before switching legs.

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• Your arm moves in opposition to the same-side leg.

• First, step back.

• Step forward with the same foot.

Variation

Sprinter Lunge

This variation emphasizes the stride phase of a sprint as your torso is more upright and your legs form 90-degree angles with the ground. It involves greater bending at the knees so it works your thighs better. In essence, you are adding the opposite arm–leg running action to a Reverse Lunge. As you step back into the bottom of a Reverse Lunge with your trailing knee hovering just above the floor, the hand opposite your leading leg should drive forward. As you pull your hips forward to stand up, you will lift the knee of your back leg while driving the opposite arm forward. Hold this position briefly, then reverse the movement and repeat with the foot of your leading leg never leaving the floor. Perform all of your reps on the same side before switching. You can make it harder by adding a jump to the top of the movement so that your leading leg leaves the floor momentarily before returning in preparation for the next Reverse Lunge.

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• Add a hop at the top to make it harder!

• From a standing position, lunge back.

• Vertical shin

• Swing your back leg into a high knee.

• Vertical shin

• Drive your support leg into the floor.

• Your back should form a straight line from knee, through hips to shoulders.

5. MOUNTAIN CLIMBER

When most people do Mountain Climber, the butt is piked way up in the air, the nose is in the ground, and the legs are sprawling all over like a bad ’90s dance move.

The Mountain Climber is a great dynamic core-stability exercise, but you first need to master the static Pushup Hold or Plank position before you can do it with proper form. Keep your arms straight with your hands directly underneath your shoulders while also maintaining a straight-body position from head to toe. From this Plank starting position, drive your right knee toward your chest and touch that foot to the floor. As you straighten your right leg back, drive your left knee forward. Continue alternating legs in a climbing fashion as fast as you can with proper form. Done right, your hips move, not your lower back.

You can make Mountain Climbers easier by placing your hands on an elevated surface like a box, step, bench, chair, couch, or ottoman. Make them harder by adding a Pushup before every rep.

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• Start with a Plank.

• Screw your hands into the floor.

• Move at the hips, not the back.

• Keep as much weight on your hands as you can.

Variations

1. Spider Mountain Climber

Move one foot just outside the same-side hand, switch sides, and repeat.

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Variations

2. Cross-Body Mountain Climber

Rotate your hips and upper back as you move one knee to the opposite elbow, switch sides, and repeat.

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Variations

3. Side-to-Side Mountain Climber

Jump both feet from side to side and repeat.

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6. DONKEY KICK

Some of the most effective bodyweight exercises are primal, resembling animal movements. You’ve crab-walked and duck-walked before, so you know these moves involve your entire body and are incredibly metabolic. Well, one of the best is the Donkey Kick. There are two distinct ways to set up for this ass-kicker:

Toes on the Floor: Place your hands flat on the floor with your knees bent at 90-degree angles, your feet directly underneath your hips, and your heels raised. This position should resemble the start of a Bear Crawl.

Feet Flat on the Floor (pictured): Hinge back at your hips and squat to place your hands down to the floor. Your back should be flat and feet flat on the floor. This position should resemble part of a Burpee. This requires more hip and ankle mobility.

Whatever starting position you use, the finish is the same. Place as much weight on your hands as possible. Lift your feet off of the floor and explosively extend your hips and legs as you kick behind your body. After your feet reach full extension, quickly bring your feet back to the starting position. Pause and reset for a moment and then repeat. A quick warning: Make sure there is no one or nothing behind you!

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• Don’t round your back.

• Feet flat

• Extend your hips and legs back.

• Shift weight to your hands.

Other Animal-Inspired Moves

1. Bear Crawl

Place your hands on the ground under your shoulders, get on your toes, and bend your knees, keeping them off the ground. Quickly move forward, backward, or laterally by moving the same-side hand and foot and following with the opposite hand and foot as a bear moves.

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Other Animal-Inspired Moves

2. Crab Walk

You should be face up with your feet flat on the floor in front of you, your knees bent, and your hands on the floor under your shoulders. Crab walk forward, backward, or laterally, working the backside of your body.

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Other Animal-Inspired Moves

3. Crab Roll

This combines the Crab Walk and Bear Crawl into one exercise. Start in a Crab Walk position, pick up one hand and the opposite foot, and rotate your body to the Bear Crawl position. Reverse the movement, switch sides, and repeat.

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7. BREAK-DANCER

Breaking (or break-dancing) is an unreal test of bodyweight skills and conditioning. Like gymnastics, it takes years of dedicated practice and gradual progression to reach the levels of proficiency seen in real-deal breakers. It also takes some swagger.

But you can do it for exercise with no one looking. What I love about breaking is that it tests your upper-body and core strength and allows you to quickly move on your hands like you do on your feet. The key is to modify these movements so they can be safely performed in a state of serious fatigue. The best place to start is with a movement called the Lateral Kick-Through. Here’s how to do it.

Assume a Pushup position with your knees bent at 90-degree angles and directly underneath your hips. This position should resemble the start of a Bear Crawl.

Rotate your body to the right and keep your left hand on the floor. Your right hand will come up off the floor and your left leg will swing underneath your body as you fully extend it to the right side. Notice how you pivot from the toes to a flat foot position on the supporting leg. Reverse the movement to come back to all fours, then switch sides and repeat. From here, add the variations on the opposite page.

Lateral Kick-Through

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• Knees elevated

• Pivot to flat foot.

• After coming back to all fours, repeat to the left.

Variations

Front Kick Through

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Pistol Switch

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Breaker Planker 1

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Breaker Planker 2

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8. CHOP

Chopping has long been used to build core strength and improve cardio conditioning. It’s often done while holding on to a medicine ball, using a cable pulling system, or even hitting a tire with a sledgehammer. Oh yeah, you can also chop wood with an ax. Clearly, none of that is gonna fly in a book about bodyweight exercises, though you could easily use a basketball or volleyball to replace the med ball, if you’d like. In the absence of an external load, all you need to do is increase speed of movement or decrease stability to keep challenging yourself. This way you can still chop off the chub without equipment.

With all of the Chops, move your hips, not your lower back. When you’re chopping down, drop your hips instead of rounding your spine. For Rotational or Diagonal Chops, you must pivot at your feet and rotate your hips to prevent any unwanted twisting of your lower back.

Once you can perform these exercises with speed and full range of motion from a parallel stance, progress to a split or staggered stance to challenge your core, hips, and knee stabilizers more. You can also squat down lower while chopping to make your thighs work harder. For all of the unilateral variations, be sure to perform an equal number of reps/sets on each side.

Downward Chop

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• Clasp your hands and raise them above your head.

• Brace your core.

• Your feet should be shoulder-width apart.

• Hinge back as you swing down.

• Keep your chest up to avoid rounding your back.

Variations

Rotational Chop

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• Hold your arms parallel with the floor.

• Your back heel should rise.

• Pivot your feet and rotate your hips.

Diagonal Chop

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• Start with your hands outside your knee and swing up and across your body as you pivot.

THE ULTIMATE BODYWEIGHT CARDIO WORKOUT

This workout is based on research that discovered that 20 seconds of maximum effort followed by 10 seconds of rest for eight total rounds (4 total minutes) resulted in greater fat loss and fitness improvements than 60 minutes of low- to moderate-intensity steady-state cardio. This research is well known as the Tabata study, which was done using stationary cycles. However, I’ve modified the workout in several ways. One, we’re using functional bodyweight cardio exercises instead of a bike. Two, instead of doing the same exercise for all eight rounds, we’re alternating between two noncompetitive exercises to keep intensity high and manage fatigue. Three, the workout is 20 total minutes to provide a larger direct calorie burn. If your goal is rapid fat loss, perform this cardio workout on off days between your Bodyweight Burners workouts (or strength workouts). Here’s how it works.

There are four parts to this workout, each lasting 5 minutes.

In each part, you’ll alternate between two bodyweight cardio moves, one that is lower-body intensive and the other upper-body intensive.

Perform 20 seconds of work for exercise 1 and then rest for 10 seconds. Then perform 20 seconds of work for exercise 2 and rest for 10 seconds. Repeat three more times, then rest a minute—that’s 5 minutes. Then move to the next part of the workout.

If you’d prefer, you can perform all eight bodyweight cardio moves in one colossal cardio circuit; that is, you move from one exercise to the next after 1 set, and so on. Rest a minute after the eighth exercise and repeat up to three more times for a 20-minute workout.

ImagesJumping Jack @ 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest

ImagesMountain Climber @ 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest

ImagesSkater Jump @ 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest

ImagesDonkey Kick @ 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest

ImagesSkier Swing @ 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest

ImagesBreak-Dancer @ 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest

ImagesSprinter @ 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest

ImagesChop @ 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest

For all unilateral exercises, switch sides at the halfway 10-second mark or from set to set.

MAKE IT EASIER: Modify the interval timeline to 15 seconds on, 15 seconds off, or even 10 seconds on, 20 seconds off.

MAKE IT HARDER: Cut the 10-second rest periods and immediately switch back and forth between the two moves for 4 straight minutes. Then rest a minute, move on to the next exercise pairing, and repeat up to three times for a 20-minute workout.

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