The wonderful thing about bodyweight exercises, as a method of strength training, is they don’t require many pieces of equipment. Bodyweight exercise equipment can often be found in a play park or playground, where you will find monkey bars, dip bars, pull-up bars, vertical bars etc. I have even come across specialist outdoor workout areas, in Singapore and Tenerife, which had varying types of bar setup (but they are a scarcity, unfortunately).
It’s important to remember that securing the right equipment is vital, in order to perform the exercises properly and without injury. I’ve noticed a few people recommend household objects as a suitable substitute for bodyweight exercise equipment. This is a very bad idea! The last thing you want to do is injure yourself. Household objects are not designed to withstand the pressure of dips or pull ups or indeed any other bodyweight exercise.
As an additional sweetener, bodyweight exercise equipment is very cheap. Generally, the materials are robust, readily available and uncomplicated to construct. In contrast to the expensive treadmills, resistance machines and cross trainers you find in gyms.
Pull-Up Bar – For All Your ‘Pulling’ Needs
Perhaps the most important equipment for all the pulling exercises. Without a pull-up bar it may even be impossible to perform any pull exercises, because you need something to pull on. Not only can you utilise the pull-up bar for pulling, but you can also use it for pushing and core. That’s why I vote the pull-up bar to be the most cost effective exercise equipment ever.
If, you have no intention of joining a gym or indeed can’t locate one, then you have a number of alternatives to source a pull-up bar. The most obvious is buy one. There are plenty of portable pull-up bars you can buy, that are easy to use and small enough to carry around when you’re on the move. Or if you can’t afford one right now, anywhere that has a ledge above your head, you can grab, will work just fine; like a balcony or tree branch. Just make sure your weight can be supported; safety first.
Dip Bar – Maximise The Triceps
As you may have gathered dip bars are usually used for tricep dips, hence the name. But, they can also be used for other types of bodyweight exercise, such as handstands, front and back levers, muscle-ups and planche work.
Ideally, the longer the dip bars are the more variations of calisthenic bodyweight exercises you can do. Generally the ones you find in the gym tend to be quite short and therefore limiting.
Parallettes – A Traveller’s Dream
Parallettes are very similar to push-up bars and dip bars; somewhere in between. Two bars parallel to one another and a set distance apart. Basically a larger version of push-up bars. As you would expect they are built for pushing exercises, like handstands, push-ups or planche work etc. The wonderful thing about them is they are portable, small and easy to carry around with you (hence traveller’s dream).
I recommend bearing a few things in mind before rushing into buying a pair:
- Sturdiness is Key – As they will be supporting your full weight, you don’t want to hurt yourself if they break.
- Thickness of Bar – Needs to be comfortable for your hand size, plus you need to be able to grip the bar for all the exercises.
- Save Money, Build Your Own – There are multiple YouTube videos out there that can teach you how to build cheap, sturdy parallettes.
When positioning the parallettes it’s important that they are the right width apart; the best way to do this is by placing them shoulder width apart. This comes in handy when supporting yourself, as your arms act like vertical columns when performing handstands or planche. To keep things consistent try to measure the width using your forearm, from the tip of your finger to the elbow; in most cases this will be shoulder width.
Clothing – It’s Not All About Looking Good
This isn’t the most important equipment consideration, but there are a few factors to think about. When performing bodyweight exercises and calisthenic training you need a full range of motion; consider this when wearing fitness clothing. I tend to wear loose fitting shorts and a t-shirt, or if I’m somewhere exotic, like a beach in Thailand, I’ll go shirtless.
There is a huge benefit of going shirtless when performing calisthenic training; joint movement experiences less resistance and your body can regulate temperature more naturally. Another amazing benefit is you will be able to see your muscles working. Especially if you have a mirror or training partner to hand. Feedback on incorrect or correct movements is so important.
Chalk – Get A Grip
The majority of Calisthenic exercises require a secure and strong grip. It’s vital to ensure your grip isn’t damaged by sweat, causing you to slip. The best way to mitigate this risk is by using chalk. The chalk creates a more abrasive texture between your palm and the surface, producing friction and more grip. It also dries out sweat. You have two options:
- Powdered Chalk – Usually comes in a large block, which can be broken up and rubbed on your hands. There are a number of disadvantages: chalk dust can get into the air and you may breathe it in, tends to be quite messy, also if you’re travelling carrying around a block of anonymous white powder is going to look quite suspicious at the airport.
- Liquid Chalk – Will come in a small bottle, containing chalk dissolved in a liquid. When you pour it onto your hands the liquid evaporates and leaves a thin film of chalk on your hands. There are many upsides to liquid chalk: not as messy, no dust residue and doesn’t have to be reapplied that often.
Foam Roller – Fancy A Massage
Such a handy tool to have in your fitness arsenal. The perfect piece of equipment for the maintenance of muscle and tissue. The process of applying pressure on a muscle, rolling over it using your own weight is called foam rolling. This process helps relieve knots in the muscle fibre and aids to recovery.
You can purchase one of these rollers online or you will most likely find them in any gym. Be aware that they tend to differ in density. If, you are a beginner I suggest you use a softer one and increase in density as you become more comfortable with the rolling.
Training Partner – Life Is Better In Pairs
The final piece of the puzzle. This is a purely optional suggestion; not everyone will have the opportunity to train alongside someone. The benefit of having a training partner can be hugely beneficial, in regard to a healthy competition, pushing you past your plateau, plus they will be able to provide feedback on technique.
Not Much To It
There is very little equipment you need to perform calisthenic bodyweight exercises. The equipment is simple, easy to use, portable and cheap to purchase. If, you were to purchase everything I have suggested it would only cost you around £100. If, you are more of a savy shopper, you can build some equipment yourself and save money in the process.
As a backpacker the benefit of being able to carry around all of my equipment, everywhere I go, is hugely beneficial. No longer will I be stranded, without a gym and unable to maintain my strength training. If, you like the idea of using bodyweight exercises to develop your strength and physique, whilst on the move, this set of equipment is all you need.