Bodyweight Exercises

By Craig Stovall


Burpees - I understand that these are favored among convicts in the California penal system due to the fact that one can get a total body workout with a minimum of space. Currently I don't do them, but these were my favorite exercise about 3 to 4 years ago. Start in a standing position with feet close together. Now, squat down and put the plams of your hands outside and slightly forward of your feet. With your weight supported by your hands, thrust your feet backward so that you are in the traditional "up position" for a standard pushup. Do a pushup and return to the up position. Immediately after the pushup, pull your feet up to your hands in one movement, and stand back up to the original position. This is one "rep". These will flat wear you out in short order, and are a good overall body conditioner. This exercise is great in that it challenges the lungs, coordination, balance, and muscular endurance. Breathing is the key, and you have to find your personal rhythm for this in order to progress with this movement. Try to do anywhere from 20 to 30 in the beginning. I used to do a "Twenty-up" workout with these for grins. Basically, you do a one rep set, then a two rep set, then three, then four, until you get to a twenty rep set for a total of 210 burpees. Sometimes it's easier to start with twenty and work your way down. Just keep the rests between sets to a minimum. Sweat city.

Bear crawls - Find yourself some space. Now get down on all fours and walk around like a bear. Sounds easy, right? Do this for three to five minutes and see what you get out of it. Works the entire body. Good for a warm-up, too. Yes, you'll look like that kid from 'The Jungle Book', but this movement should not be overlooked.

Crab walk - You're on all fours, but this time you're facing upwards. Very awkward, and much more of a challenge to your coordination than the bear crawls. Builds strength and endurance.

Crocodile walk - You're face down again. This time the object is to crawl along the floor with your torso as close to the floor as possible without touching. It's hard to describe the leg/foot and arm/hand positioning. Just plop down and figure out what works for you. Helps body control, and develops strength. With all of the crawling movements, just go until you feel fatigued. Track your progress by what distance you can cover. For instance, how many laps can you crawl around the mat or dojang? Set ever-increasing goals.

Lemon Squeezers - This used to be my favorite ab/torso strengthener, and I need to get back on them myself. Lie flat on your back with legs straight and arms extended above your head. Now, "jack knife" your body by raising your legs straight up, and crunching your stomach until your toes and fingers meet straight above your body. Legs and arms are straight thoughout the movement. Imagine that you're squeezing a giant lemon with your body.

Neck nods - Here's an old boxer's trick to help build neck strength and endurance. The old-timers swear this will help you take a punch..give it a try. Lie flat on your back with legs straight, and hands at your side. Now "nod" your head until your chin touches your upper chest. Return your head to the mat, and repeat continously. Try to do 50 of these and see how you feel. For a harder challenge, nod for 50 reps, and then hold your head in the "up position" and begin turning your head from left to right at a slow but steady rate. Do these for 50. When you can nod for 100 you're getting some strength.

Lunges - Stand with feet close together. Now step forward with one leg into a deep lunge, and keep the other leg straight. Push yourself back up and repeat with the other leg. Be careful not to let your knee go farther than your toes on the leg that lunges forward. Lunges and hindu squats comprise my core movements for lower body strength and endurance. Don't overdo the lunges in the beginning unless your significant other doesn't mind helping you get off of the toilet (you think I'm joking...ha ha). Keep it to 10 each leg, and try to work yourself up to 20 to 30. I used to do 30 on each leg (total set of 60) with a 35 pound plate held at my chest. I need to get back there. Dumbbells are also good to add resistance when you start getting used to these.

Bootstrappers - Get yourself in a standard pushup position. Now walk your hands back until they are about 2 and a half feet in front of your toes (adjust accordingly for your body size). You are now in a "jack knife" position with legs straight. Now bend your knees until your butt touches your heels, arms are still straight. Straighten your legs and repeat continously. This is another good warm-up exercise for the legs, but also really helps strengthen the knees.

Exploding Star Jumps - Don't do these until your muscles and joints are warmed up pretty good. I recommend wearing athletic shoes and exercising on a somewhat soft surface (carpet or a mat). Slowly lower yourself into a full squatting position. Now explode upward and forward as high, hard and fast as you can. As your body reaches it's apex...extend your arms and legs into a "star" shape. Cushion your landing by flexing your knees, don't land with stiff legs. Jumping and extending not only develops power, but also challenges your coordination and body control. Go for quality, not quantity on these. Five to ten is plenty.

Stomping grapes - Ok, time to get serious. Folks, this is hands down the single most important exercise I have come across for developing kicks. When I'm tending to these exercises properly, I can kick head height in street clothes, anytime of day or night, completely cold, no warm-up required. I don't say this to be bragging...I just want to let people know the benefits. There are two variations to this movement, and you need both to get the entire benefit. First movement...stand with your legs together, and bring your knee as high as possible. Make sure you stand completely straight...the goal is to raise your knee and touch your chest. Alternate legs, repeatedly. Raise your leg with CONTROL, don't jerk it up and try your best to touch your chest at the top. Second movement...clasp your hands above your head as if you were being frisked by a cop. Now, raise your knee straight up to the side with the goal of touching your knee to the underside of the arm. Keep your body completely erect, and don't jerk the leg. If you are facing North, your knees and toes should be pointing due East/West when you do this movement. Try to attain/maintain this alignment and really explore the range of motion on this second version. In the beginning, 20 to 25 reps each leg is good for both variations. Try to work up to a minimum of 50 each leg. This sounds (and looks) like the dumbest exercise in the world...I cannot begin to express the benefits my hips have attained in terms of strength, flexibility, and endurance. Give it a try, and see what you can get out of it.

The Deck of Cards - There's a million different names and versions of this "game". If you do it right it's anything BUT a game. Here's how I play...step up to the table. Get yourself a deck of shuffled cards. Very equals equals squats. Face cards are worth 10, the Ace is 1, and all other cards are face value. Turn over a's the 9 of 9 pushups. Immediately turn over the next's the Queen of 10 squats. Keep going until you finish the deck. Do whatever exercises you feel like...but just pick an "upper" and "lower" body movement. I like pushups and hindu squats when I play. By my math, you end up doing 170 pushups, and 170 squats...340 movements in all. The goal is to finish the deck in 12 to 15 minutes. I know some sadists who keep the jokers in the deck, and assign a value of 50 to them!!! Nowadays, when I play I keep the jokers out but give the face cards a value of fifteen. This ups the ante to 200 pushups and squats...400 total movements. Again, sounds dumb, but I absolutely love doing this. It's a new workout everytime...unless you don't shuffle the deck...duh! That's just a few that I've used over the years, and I continue to use them to this day. As I always say...give them a try, and see what you can take from them. If this was of benefit, please let me know, and I'll post some additional information if you like. There's plenty of other movements besides these plus there's little variations you can do to alleviate boredom and add variety (counting games like "twenty-up", pyramiding, etc.) I can flesh some of that stuff out a little later. "Can you describe a hindu squat and a hindu pushup?" Sure. Keep in mind that these two movements are the staple exercises of Indian wrestlers, and are even diagramed in Draeger's 'Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts'...specifically in the chapter covering Indian fighting arts and wrestlers. The hindu squats are the "bathaiks", and the pushups are the "dands" (cat stretches). Karl Gotch has stated in an interview that he learned these movements from an Indian that he met in London years ago, and recently taught these movements to Furey.

Here's a description of the squat with text taken directly from Furey's website:

"1. Begin with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing straight ahead.

2. Keep you back straight and lower your buttocks until your thighs are parallel to the floor.

3. As you lower your buttocks your hands are BEHIND your legs, and they follow you toward the ground.

4. As you hit the parallel-to-the-ground position, you simultaneously raise your heels from the floor.

5. Push off your toes, raising your body to a standing position.

6. As you raise your body, your hands come IN FRONT of your body. They continue to rise until they are level with your chest.

7. Once you have reached the up-position, you pull your arms in toward your chest as if you are rowing a boat. Make tight fists with your hands and pull. Your elbows will be close to your body as you pull.

8. Inhale as you pull your arms in, exhale as you lower yourself.

9. Repeat without stopping for as many reps as possible. In the beginning, depending on your condition, you will be able to do 25-50. When you can do 100 without stopping, your conditioning level is improving.

10. When you can do 500-straight Hindu squats, you're making great progress."

Now, having provided all that...I'm going to give some warnings. This type of squatting cannot be taken lightly, and I don't recommend it for everybody. The footing for these squats presents a challenge to one's balance, so there's a real danger of tweaking a knee or an ankle if you become unstable. Consider foregoing the "rowing" movements of the arms, and do these squats with one hand on a chair or table for safety. Personally, I do it the "traditional" way, but others should make adjustments as they see fit. A few more points...most kinesiologists will tell you that letting the knees go farther than the toes when squatting is a no-no. The hindu squats definitely break this general rule, so keep in mind that you'll be going against the grain of conventional wisdom. However, from my personal experience, I have been doing these squats for many months, and my knees are stronger and feel better than when I was 18. I use to have nagging pain when climbing stairs, but that pain has totally gone away since starting these on a regular basis. As I said in an earlier post, my legs and hips are much more flexible, stronger, and have greater endurance. My advice for doing these is very simple...start slow and always control your descent.


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