Build Muscle With "Early Bird" Bodyweight Exercises

December 20, 2012 | Jim Carpentier

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It's easy to translate the popular saying, "the early bird catches the worm," into your training. Going the extra mile will definitely put you ahead of the competition. But during the season, with a heavy schedule of classes, it's hard to perform workouts after school to maintain and/or build muscle. That's why you need to give yourself an edge with these brief, 15- to 30-minute, full-body morning home workouts. While your opponents are sleeping in, you'll be working out, enhancing your lean muscle growth and boosting your fat-burning metabolism all day. Also, early morning workouts release endorphins that promote energy, so you'll be mentally and physically alert for the school day.

Before starting, however, follow these guidelines:

  • Prepare for morning exercise by getting at least seven to nine hours of sleep for optimal energy.
  • Since overnight sleep is dehydrating, immediately drink a few glasses of water when you wake up.
  • Have a small meal pre-workout—e.g., a handful of carbohydrate-rich raisins and a spoonful of yogurt for protein to maintain energy during the workout.
  • Do a dynamic upper- and lower-body warm-up for a few minutes to improve blood flow to joints and muscles, which are stiffer in the morning than later in the day.
  • Finish with cool-down upper/lower body stretches for greater flexibility.
  • Immediately (within 15-30 minutes after exercise) have a high carbohydrate/moderate-protein breakfast.

Perform either of the following workouts on non-consecutive days each week.

Morning Workout 1

Sets/Reps: 3x10 (rest 30 seconds between sets, 60 seconds between exercises and hydrate).

Elevated Push-Ups

Target chest, shoulders, triceps, upper and middle back and core muscles for more power/explosiveness.

  • Assume push-up position with both feet on chair or bench.
  • Keep back straight and stomach tight at all times and prevent lower back from sagging.
  • Slowly lower for three seconds and pause one second before explosively pressing up.

Single-Leg Squats immediately followed by Jump Squats with both legs

Strengthen/build quadriceps, hamstrings and glute muscles, and improves balance and lower-body power (explosiveness).

  • With arms laterally extended at shoulder level, perform 10 Single-Leg Squats on each leg.
  • Immediately follow with 10 Jump Squats, going as high as possible.

Elevated Prone and Side Planks

  • Assume prone position with forearms on floor at shoulder-width and feet elevated on chair or bench.
  • Keep back straight and stomach tight; avoiding letting lower back droop.
  • Hold 45 to 60 seconds.
  • Without rest, rotate torso to right side with right forearm on floor, hips raised and left arm extended overhead for 30 seconds.
  • Immediately rotate to left side with hips raised, left forearm on floor and right arm extended overhead for 30 seconds.
  • Rest 30 seconds and repeat prone/side plank sequence twice more.

Morning Workout 2

Sets/Reps: 3x10 (rest 30 seconds between sets, 60 seconds between exercises and hydrate).

Step-Ups and Wall Squat Holds 

Step-Ups are terrific lower body endurance/strength builders, and Wall Squat Holds thicken quads, hamstrings and glutes.

  • Place right foot on chair or bench and explosively push off, extending leg, lifting left foot off floor and raising left knee high toward hip for 10 reps (right foot stays on bench/chair for all reps).
  • Without rest, repeat with left foot on chair/bench while lifting right foot/right knee for 10 reps.
  • Immediately place back against wall and squat, holding the position with arms extended overhead 45-60 seconds.
  • Rest 30 seconds and repeat Step-Ups/Wall Squat Hold combo twice more.

Parallel Bar Dips Superset with Pull-Ups

Dips build chest, triceps and deltoids, while Pull-Ups add size to back, shoulders and biceps.

  • Place hands on parallel bar handles.
  • Lean slightly forward and slowly lower for three seconds with arms slightly bent (descending too low puts excess strain on shoulder joints).
  • Pause for a second then explosively press up for 10 reps.
  • Without resting, perform 10 pull-ups, explosively pulling up in one second, pausing at top and lowering for three seconds.
  • Rest 30 seconds and repeat sequence twice more.

How this exercise combo can be done at home: Dips can be performed with each hand on a sturdy chair, with chairs spaced shoulder-width apart. Lower and raise yourself. Pull-Ups can be done by holding each side of a doorknob. Straddle the door with your feet and bend your knees into a squat position. Pull your body up and allow your legs to straighten.

Elevated Seated Plate or Book Twists

A good core strengthening movement, particularly targeting oblique and lower abdominal muscles.

  • Sit on floor with feet off floor, balancing on hips while holding a moderately heavy plate (if performed in the weight room) or heavy object (when performed at home).
  • Holding weight at chest level with arms slightly bent, quickly rotate upper torso from side to side for 45-60 seconds. Rest 30 seconds and repeat twice more.
Jim Carpentier
- Jim Carpentier, CSCS, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, New Jersey-licensed massage therapist, and a health/fitness writer. He currently serves as Associate Health and...
Jim Carpentier
- Jim Carpentier, CSCS, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, New Jersey-licensed massage therapist, and a health/fitness writer. He currently serves as Associate Health and...

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