You don't need an expensive gym membership or a $100-per-hour personal trainer to get a kick-butt workout. In fact, you don't even need to leave your house. The right bodyweight exercise circuit can work your muscles just as well as the weights and machines at a health club. But to work your entire body at home, there is one piece of gear you're going to need: A Pull-Up bar.
A Pull-Up bar, which hangs from your door, can usually can be purchased at a price that's more affordable than a monthly gym membership. Having one in your home allows you to target regions in your upper back that many other bodyweight exercises miss. In fact, armed with a Pull-Up bar, you can get a full-body workout by performing just two moves.
Exercise #1: Pull-Ups
I know what you're thinking: Oh, Pull-Ups on a Pull-Up Bar? Duh, you don't say. But although you surely know how to perform a Pull-Up, you might not know how many different types of Pull-Ups you can perform—or how the various types stimulate your muscles differently. The trick lies in varying your grip. For example, you can try:
- Overhand grip (palms facing away): Pull-Ups with an overhand grip primarily develop the latissimus dorsi (the large muscles in the middle and on the sides of your back that pull your shoulders back and down) and the teres major (a large tendon that lies behind the latissimus dorsi). When your shoulder blades come together at the top of the movement, the rhomboids and middle and lower trapezius have to work. The overhand grip Pull-Up also requires effort from the major muscles of the arms—the biceps brachii, brachialis and brachioradialis. Focus on gripping the bar as hard as you can to generate more power and develop more forearm strength.
- Reverse grip (palms facing you): This variation offers a more intense arm workout and also works the pectoral (chest) muscle.
- Other grips include a parallel grip (if your bar has handles) and a mixed grip (one hand overhand, the other reversed), each of which works the back and arm muscles in a slightly different manner.
Exercise #2: Hanging Leg Raises
Here's a less "duh" way to use a Pull-Up bar. Hanging leg exercises require you to grip the bar with both hands, inhale while raising your knees as high as possible, then exhale as you lower them to complete the movement. This movement works your iliopsoas (deep abdominal muscles), rectus femoris (a quadriceps muscle) and tensor fasciae latae (in your thighs). The result: core and leg-lifting work done all at once.
Most removable Pull-Up bars can be used for other exercises, like Dips and Incline Push-Ups. Perform those with Pull-Ups and Hanging Leg Raises, throw in some Bodyweight Squats and voila! You've worked every muscle from head to toe, and you didn't have to leave your apartment (or pay somebody for the pleasure of sweating in their gym).
Keep in mind that Pull-Ups can be challenging for even the strongest athletes. Like any skill, the only way to master it is to practice frequently. Place your Pull-Up bar in a doorway that you walk through often and crank out a few reps every time you walk past it.
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