Fitness Programs | Lift your Body Weight to Get in the Shape of Your Life

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Lift your Body Weight to Get in the Shape of Your Life

If the recent Olympic coverage has inspired you to get in shape, deciding which infomercial fitness equipment will buy you Dara Torres’ six-pack abs or Nastia Liukin’s shapely legs is easy: The answer is “none.”

Ok, that hurt—Perhaps a reminder that Olympians are rare specimens of physical perfection, genetics and talent helps ease the pain of this harsh reality check.

Still, many people overestimate the power of fancy fitness gym equipment, not realizing that using one’s own body weight is an excellent way to gain strength, flexibility and a more shapely physique. It doesn’t cost you a dime and can be done anywhere and at any time.

This article looks at some highly effective exercises using merely body weight and offers recommendations for equipment-free exercise DVDs from reputable fitness professionals.

To help assess the pros and cons of a body-weight workout, we have consulted two ACE-certified fitness Pros—Shannon Fable, 2006 ACE Group Fitness Instructor of the Year and founder and chief executive officer of Sunshine Fitness Resources and owner of Balletone; and Angel Chelik, ACE-certified Group Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer who works at the Fit Athletic health club in San Diego—to help you determine which type of workout is right for you.

Squats | detailed squats instruction

SquatSquats rank high on Fable’s favorite exercise list for two reasons: Almost everyone can do a squat and variations are plenty. If you’ve never done a squat, you may want to practice by sitting down in a chair and standing back up.

The correct way to start a squat is to stand erect with a neutral spine and feet shoulder-width apart. Slowly lower your body with the hips moving back as if you’re sitting in a chair and maintain the weight directly over the heels or mid-foot. Lower to about 90 degrees of knee flexion or when your thighs are almost parallel to the ground, pause, and slowly return to the starting position. Squats will work your glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps, a sure way to strengthen and tone the butt and legs.

For variation, shift your body from side to side as you’re performing the squat or lift one knee up at the end of the squat to achieve a one-legged balance. To raise the level of difficulty, Fable adds a small towel, which is rolled up tightly and held length-wise in front of the body in an open chest position. Raising your arms above your head without losing the tension in the towel adds even more difficulty while engaging the upper body in the workout. For more variations, visit the ACE exercise library at

Lunges | detailed lunges instruction

LungeAdding some front, back, side, diagonal and walking lunges to the squats will give you a complete lower-body workout.

For the front lunge, assume the same starting position as with the squat. Take a long step forward, landing on the ball of the foot and lower the rear knee to just short of touching the ground. Lower the front knee to about 90 degrees of knee flexion, pause, and return to the starting position. Repeat with the other leg. Always keep your front knee in line with your foot and ankle, chest lifted over the top of the hips, while looking straight head with the neck in a neutral position.

For a more challenging workout, perform a side lunge while holding a towel in both hands in front of the thighs; then step out into a lunge while reaching the end of the towel past the lunging leg. Push up from the side lunge into a side lift and balance as the arms circle toward the stationary leg to finish overhead. For more variations, visit the ACE exercise library at

Push-Ups | detailed push-ups instruction

Push-UpsPush-ups will help you develop your chest, shoulders, and upper arms.

Begin on the floor with the hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Place your toes (for more advanced exercisers) or knees (for beginners) on the floor, keeping the back straight and torso supported by engaging the abdominals throughout the exercise. Press your body upward without locking the elbows, pause, and then lower until the elbows are at about a 90-degree angle. If this is too difficult, start by pushing up against a wall and then work your way to the floor.

Abdominal Curl | detailed abdominal curl instruction

Ab CurlIf you want a firm tummy, abdominal curls will help you get there: Lie on your back with one knee bent keeping the foot flat on the floor while the other leg is extended. Cross your arms over the chest or place them, unclasped, behind the head with elbows out to the side maintaining a neutral spine. Then engage your abs by raising the shoulders and upper back off the floor toward the pelvis, and then return to the starting position. A good way to check for correct position is to picture yourself with an orange tucked between the chin and neck while curling up and down. And, don’t forget to breathe throughout the exercise movement.

Pilates and Yoga

If you prefer working out with an instructor, but don’t want to drive to the gym, exercise DVDs can be an effective way to adhere to an exercise program. Yoga, Pilates or Fable’s Balletone exercise DVDs are all great ways to firm up and strengthen your body without the extra cost of buying equipment. To ensure you’re not buying DVDs that are out-of-date or created by an unsafe and uncertified instructor or a celebrity who may look the part, but doesn’t have the education to provide safe instruction, Chelik and Fable offer the following tips:

DVD Buying Tips

  • Confirm that the instructor is certified by an NCCA-accredited fitness organization such as ACE and has completed relevant continuing education
  • Watch the DVD first to familiarize yourself with the content and practice. For learning proper technique, you may consider a book that describes individual Pilates and Yoga exercises in detail and offers modifications for beginning, intermediate and advanced exercise levels.
  • When purchasing DVDs in a retail store, read up on the instructor’s level of certification and experience on the back cover. Never purchase a DVD based on the physical appearance of the instructor or celebrity status when their certification is missing or education isn’t up to par.
  • Consider the following outlets: If you like variety or are looking for sport-specific stretching and flexibility exercises, look online at iTunes yoga or Pilates podcasts in the Apple iTunes Store or turn to the Amazon store.
  • Netflix is better known for renting movies, but the online store rents fitness DVDs as well. Look for qualified instructors before clicking to rent.
  • offers trial yoga on demand: It’s an online yoga studio with streaming video and audio exercises from experienced yoga instructors. Members can practice anytime 24-7, according to their Website.
  • For Pilates DVDs, Chelik recommends and online stores.
  • Fable’s Balletone DVDs, which fuses techniques drawn from dance, Pilates and fitness, can be found online at

As always, if you’re unsure about proper and safe exercise techniques and are looking for individualized and professional guidance on exercise programming, ACE recommends consulting with an ACE-certified fitness professional. To locate an ACE-certified professional in your area, visit

Marion Webb is the managing editor for the American Council on Exercise and an ACE-certified Personal Trainer. For specific fitness-related story ideas or comments, please e-mail her directly at