Body-weight training is appealing to a wide range of gym-goers. For beginners, the thought of doing a classic pushup-plank combo can be a lot less intimidating than those complex-looking machines. And for veteran gym-goers, body-weight training offers the opportunity to get a truly custom workout and take it to the next level.
But whether you’re a rookie or an expert, trainers see a ton of mistakes that can completely sabotage the effectiveness of your workout. Before you hit the mat for your next body-weight sweat session, check out these five common mistakes and how to avoid them.
The effectiveness of your body-weight training depends on your workout plan. For a beginner, coming up with a circuit off the top of your head can be tough. To help you get started, we talked to Noam Tamir, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and co-founder of T.S. Fitness in New York City, to get his go-to moves. He recommends starting with simple circuits of pushups or chin-ups, glute bridges and box jumps to work in some cardio. But the one move no body-weight circuit should be without? Bear or crab crawls.
“Crawling burns a lot of calories,” says Tamir. “It gets all the body parts turned on, and it gets pretty uncomfortable after about 30 seconds, which is why I love it.”
2. Using Tired Gym Routines
Even expert-approved plans have an expiration date. Doing the same moves over and over every time you go to the gym is a fast track to the dreaded plateau, so working variety into your workout plan is important.
“When we’re in the gym, we often think we have to do lateral and linear movements,” says Tamir, “but you can go outside the box to shake things up.”
He recommends moves that require cross-body movement (think: using your right arm and left leg simultaneously). And sometimes thinking outside the box can be as simple as a mindset shift.
“It’s easy to do a lot of push movements with body-weight exercises, but it’s important to balance that out with pulling motions as well,” he says.
So rather than focus on the push movement in a pushup, flip the way you focus your effort, and think about pulling your body down rather than letting gravity do the work.
3. Not Going Hard Enough
“One of the biggest mistakes I see with people doing body-weight training is that they’re just hanging out in a plank and not actually doing anything,” says Tamir. “They’re not squeezing anything.”
Body-weight movements tend to be deceptively simple: Doing a pushup is easy, but doing a pushup correctly is pretty difficult.
“With body-weight workouts, you have the ability to create tension in your body, and you have to do that to get a good workout,” says Tamir.
So instead of just hanging out in that plank, focus on squeezing your core, adjusting any sway in your spine and actively engaging your muscles as if you’re trying to push the floor away. Tamir recommends asking yourself if you could have gone two more sets. If the answer is yes, you should be upping your game.
4. Going Too Hard
Of course, you can always be going too hard, which is a fast track to injury. And when you’re working up a sweat, it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether you’re overexerting yourself or simply getting the most out of your workout.
“If you’re creating a lot of tension in your body, you feel that shakiness — and that shakiness is OK,” says Tamir. “That’s basically your body trying to stabilize itself.”
If you’re not sure how hard is too hard, Tamir recommends doing the talk test: “If you’re not able to talk during your workout, you’re probably going too hard.”
The dreaded plateau is the foe of any gym-goer, regardless of how long they’ve been training.
“Your body gets used to certain movements,” says Tamir. “You sort of create grooves in your body, and it’s when you go outside those grooves that you grow and build strength.”
Typically, when you start to encounter a slowing down or total lack of progress, you add more weight to your sets. But body-weight exercises don’t offer that option.
“It’s definitely a challenge to progress when you’re just using body weight,” says Tamir.
Without the benefit of adding weight to your reps as you get stronger, you’ll have to get a little creative. Tamir suggests playing with your tempo to up your body-weight training game. Rather than your regular pushup reps, try fast, explosive bursts on the way up and slow, controlled movement as you lower down.