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The Fit Five: Body-Weight Exercises for Muscle-Building

Our expert explains the secrets to building muscle with body-weight exercises.

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Fitness enthusiasts around the world have always advocated for body-weight exercises, but to the beginner and even some seasoned lifters these exercises may seem trivial. In order to dispel this myth, we asked Andrew Sakhrani, C.S.C.S., a Montreal-based strength coach explains the importance of weight-free exercise.

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Q1: What's the best way to warm up my shoulders without weights or cables?

“Start off with some foam rolling; myofascial release helps to remove some of the minor knots and wakes up the muscle groups you roll on. Then go over to the wall and do some wall slides by having your elbows bent 90 degrees against the wall and trying to slide your arms as high as possible without letting the elbows leave the wall. Finally, take a long dowel and hold it farther than shoulder-width apart and perform shoulder rotations by lifting the dowel over your head and behind your back.”

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Q2: My gym is filled with huge guys who all bench 400-plus pounds. Can I substitute a pushup for the bench press? How should I program it to keep getting bigger and stronger?

“Most guys use the bench press just for show. Pushups, dumbbell presses, and incline dumbbell presses are in many ways better than a flat barbell bench press. You can progress the exercise by adding resistance to the pushups with a weighted vest, a plate on your back, or a resistance band and progress the dumbbell presses by doing them alternating, one side at a time, or on a physio ball.”

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Q3: What exercise can I use in place of the squat when no weights are available?

“As much as squats are a beneficial exercise to use when it comes to hitting the glutes and legs hard, there are many other choices that are available to replace them. Instead of doing squats, I have many athletes do stepups, Bulgarian split squats, and other variations of split squats which will hit the glutes and quads just as hard as the squat. All of these exercises are all great if done correctly, and they serve as good substitutes for the squat.”

Q4: I'm six feet tall. How high should the box be that I'm doing stepups on to achieve the best results?

“Some of the most important factors to take into account are height and leg length. When doing stepups, a starting knee angle of more than 90 degrees ensures glute activation, as long as you drive through your heel.“

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Q5: How effective are suspension trainers (e.g., TRX, gymnastics rings, etc.) in increasing size and strength?

“Suspension trainers can be effective if used correctly. The most effective way to use a suspension trainer to apply more force is to adjust the angle to increase the degree of difficulty of an exercise. Ever watch the Olympics? The gymnasts compete on a suspension trainer: the rings. These are some of the strongest athletes around. Suspension trainers are more effective for developing strength than size, but will serve both purposes effectively.”

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