Meg Boggs doing a press up against a wall.

Bodyweight training: how to get comfortable strength training with your body

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How to master bodyweight training and nail a plank and press-up without modifications. 

Finally feeling comfortable lifting weights is a big step in many women’s fitness journey  reaching for the heavier dumbbell or adding an extra plate to the bar can be hugely empowering. While you might be able to barbell squat your own body weight, however, you might be less au fait with “just” using your own body as a form of resistance. Can you push yourself off the floor with a press-up? Do you trust your quads to hold out during a pistol squat? How about pulling your body over the bars in a pull up?

For some reason, bodyweight training doesn’t get quite the same respect as lifting, but these exercises are no mean feat. In fact, many people avoid doing them as they can feel so uncomfortable.

That was the experience of athlete and fitness influencer Meg Boggs. While she’s now known for posting impressive videos of herself doing bodyweight workouts, it took her a while to get to grips with this style of training. “It can be tricky for beginners or those who lack confidence because we’re not used to having that connection with ourselves. Manouvering your own body means paying attention to it and a lot of people don’t want to do that – they don’t want to get into a certain position with their body or feel certain parts of themsevles when they move. It’s a very personal thing,” says Meg. 

While mind-to-body connection is important when you are lifting weights, it can be easier to distract yourself from what your body may feel or look like. After all, you need to focus on where the dumbbell is going or not dropping the heavy weight you’re holding in your hand. 

Learning to master your bodyweight is hugely empowering though, says Meg. “I think that trying more bodyweight exercises and understanding what it feels like to be in my body was hugely important for my journey. That’s why I do all of these videos of really fun bodyweight challenges like planking and kicking my legs up – because I just want to show that it’s possible for somebody of my body size to do it. When we can’t see people like us doing these things, we assume that we can’t do them.”

How to train with your bodyweight

“The best thing that anyone can do to get comfortable with using their bodyweight is to start with plank-style moves,” says Meg. “Every time I used to workout, I’d start with a 10-second plank that eventually got longer and longer until I felt comfortable enough to try a press-up. It slowly allowed me to get underneath my bodyweight and build confidence.” 

Crucially, Meg decided not to drop to her knees. Instead she decided to dip her bodyweight a little bit at a time, until she got her chest to the floor in a full press-up.  “Of course I couldn’t do it the first time I tried – I went down by an inch. But I felt proud and wanted to keep continuing my progression.”

The reason Meg encourages people not to take the ‘easier’ form of exercise is because “we just stop believing that we are only ever good enough for the modification. Instead, I like to treat the moves as variations. Doing a press-up against the wall doesn’t mean you’re terrible at press-ups because you’re still doing a variation of the move,” she says. 

Plank and press-up variations

High plank 

  1. Start on your hands and knees with your wrists stacked under your shoulders. 
  2. Tense your core and push through your hands while keeping your shoulders rolled down away from your ears.
  3. Extend one leg behind you and place your toes on the floor. Follow with the other foot so you’re in a high plank position. 
  4. Keep your core and shoulders engaged, pushing the floor away from you and squeezing your glutes so you don’t arch through your back. 

Elevated press-up

  1. Place your hands on a raised surface – the wall, a bench, a box or the sofa will do – with your hands either side of your chest. The more upright you are, the easier the variation will be. 
  2. Keep your legs straight behind you as you hold the high plank position with your core, shoulders and glutes engaged. 
  3. Slowly bend your elbows to bring your chest closer to the surface. Don’t lose the tension in your core or glutes – the body should be in a straight line throughout. 
  4. When you can’t lower any further, push through your hands to come back to the starting point. 

Press-up

  1. From the high plank position, slowly bend your elbows to lower your chest to the floor.
  2. When you can’t lower any further, push through your hands to come back to the starting point.

Check out the Strong Women Training Club How To library for 100s of bodyweight moves that’ll strengthen and lengthen every muscle in your body.

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).

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