Getting fit and building muscle is hard work, especially in Hong Kong, where finding time for yourself is a challenge in itself. No one knows this better than Mike Dacuno, a junior trainer at Versus Performance and professional Muay Thai fighter who won at Kunlun Fight 34 in Shenzhen last week.
"Most students are constantly at school or doing extra-curricular activities," says Dacuno, a graduate of Delia Memorial School (Hip Wo). "Knowing how to exercise at home saves time, and it gives you a chance to train whenever."
Training without equipment - known as bodyweight training - is great for fitness newbies who don't have the time or money to hit the gym regularly. And the exercises Dacuno, 21, recommends don't take up a lot of space either.
"In bodyweight exercises, you're using your own body weight," Dacuno explains. "It's an ideal alternative to weight training if you don't have access to equipment. These exercises are very basic and they work major muscle groups like your arms, legs, and core."
Even though the moves are basic, it's still very important to get your posture right. "Good posture helps you build a solid foundation for your training," he says. "If you develop bad positions, that's just going to lead to muscle imbalances and, later on, injury."
Dacuno, who studied sports science, explains that while bodyweight exercises help develop major muscle groups. It is common for people to injure their joints due to bad posture. Shoulders and elbows are particularly prone to injury, especially during push-ups.
The benefits far outweigh the potential disadvantages though, because bodyweight exercises are a convenient way to improve your body. For example, the pike push-up builds back muscles, which "are important because they help you keep good posture. We sit so much every day - at school, in front of the computer, studying - training your back keeps you from falling into bad posture."
"One disadvantage of bodyweight training at home is that it can get boring," Dacuno admits. "You may not like it, you may be alone, and you lack the community aspect of group sports." The key is finding a way to fit these exercises into your lifestyle.
If you train for a sport at school, you can add these bodyweight exercises into your warm-up or cool-down routine. If you include friends, you can make it fun and competitive (who can plank the longest?) and you'll have people to check your posture is correct. If you're a morning person, fit a few sets in before breakfast to kick-start your day. What's important is finding a time that works for you and then sticking to it.
"One thing to remember is that progress takes time," Dacuno says. "It's never a straight line up, and you need to be patient, and not get disappointed and give up. You're not going to see progress in a week!"
He also warns that you will hit a wall, and when that happens, you need to switch things up a bit. Ask yourself: are you eating enough? (Go to our website to find our article on how to eat right.) Are you exercising enough? Can you handle more? If you can, maybe add one more set or slow down your movements.
"It's not so much about how many repetitions you can handle, but the time under tension you have on your muscles, which stimulates growth," Dacuno says. The slower each exercise, the longer your muscles are targeted.
For Dacuno, who originally started training because he "would always fail the health checks at school", it took about a month and a half of training before he saw results. He encourages teens to start doing these bodyweight exercises four times a week,
8-12 reps for each exercise, and three sets once a day. You should aim to train up to six times a week.
"If you really want to see results, you have to push yourself," he says.
Dacuno gives his top five tips:
- There's no "ideal" age for teenagers to start bodyweight training; what's important is dedication.
- A major factor keeping people (especially students) from getting fit is a lack of sleep. "Sleep is very important," Dacuno says. "You can't gain muscle or lose fat if you don't sleep enough."
- People, particularly beginners, underestimate themselves when doing bodyweight exercises, which sometimes prevents them gaining significant improvements.
- All professionals push their limits constantly.
- When trying to build muscle, don't overdo the cardio. Don't run like a marathon runner; complement your bodyweight exercises by switching between long distances and sprinting.
YP cadet Eric Yang
Check out Mike's tutorial on seven bodyweight exercises you can start doing at home.