Build Old School Muscle

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All the instruments of weight training have their place – no one’s claiming they don’t. But there’s a buzz to be had from ditching them for a while and, in their stead, using the oldest and greatest muscle-sculpting tool at your disposal: your own body.

What’s so good about a programme comprised exclusively of bodyweight exercises? Let’s count the ways.

Aesthetics. Get it out of your head that body-weight exercises are a soft option that won’t yield much by way of results. “Look at gymnasts,” says personal trainer Paul Haslam. “They never lift weights. They never do biceps curls or triceps push-downs. Yet they’ve got massive guns and the best bodies of any type of athlete bar none.” Haslam argues the human musculature responds better to real-world movements, like the kind our ancestors used to climb trees and carry pales of water back to camp, than to contrived exercises like lat pulldowns.

Variety. You’re not just swapping benching for push-ups. You’re swapping it for a combo of standard push-ups, push-ups with legs elevated on a chair, push-ups with clap and Rocky’s signature one-armed variation. It’s the same with chin-ups: vary your hand position and grip width to target every muscle in the back. “You don’t even need a chin bar,” says Haslam. “I’ve used garage beams, branches – anything you can get a grip on.”

Practicalities. With no need for equipment you can train in the park (or in your living room) while saying adios to gym fees, queuing for apparatus and fiddling with poundages. And don’t worry – that hot instructor will probably still be there when you go back. That’s if you go back: the purity of body-weight training, once experienced, is like the call of the siren.

Okay, we’ve already discussed garaging all your equipment. But you could go the other way and add a new item – and it needn’t be high-tech or expensive. In fact, the more basic the better. It’s like what Apollo Creed told a jaded Rocky in Rocky III about getting back the edge: “The way to get it back is to go back to the beginning.”
Brabon suggests hot footing it to your local hardware store for a bag of sand. “Think about it,” he says. “Some of the fittest guys you see walking down the street, what are they? They’re labourers. And what do they all day? Throw a friggin’ bag of cement over their shoulder and take it up a ladder.”

“The point is you’re needing to maneouver a dead weight that’s unwieldy, forcing you to recruit dormant muscles,” says Brabon.

More retro options: skipping rope, chest expander, kettle bell, monkey bars, punching bag, hand grippers, medicine ball. And sweat it out in a singlet for extra old school cred.

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