Why Bodyweight Exercises Are The Best Prep For An Adventure
Explorer Ash Dykes explains the benefits of opting for bodyweight over free weights
How do you prepare your body to walk the length of the Yangtze River? It’s a question that hardly any of us will ever have to consider the answer to, but it’s been at the forefront of adventurer Ash Dykes (opens in new tab)’ mind for some time because he starts his trek along the 6,380km-long river this June.
Dykes’s Yangtze expedition follows his treks across Madagascar in 2016 and Mongolia in 2014. He’s also cycled the length of Vietnam and Britain. A lot of epic stuff, in short, all of which requires Dykes to be in excellent shape. So does he load up the barbell? Or head for the gym machines? Neither – he turns to bodyweight exercises.
“Without a doubt bodyweight exercises are what leave me feeling the most agile and conditioned ahead of my expeditions,” says Dykes. "Not only do they help me work on my overall strength, but I also become more capable in terms of speed, reaction time, flexibility, balance, co-ordination, strength, power and endurance.”
Dykes’s trek along the Yangtze is scheduled to take a year, and his past expeditions in Madagascar and Mongolia lasted 155 days and 78 days respectively. On such long journeys, he has to carry a lot of kit with him to support the trek.
“I work really hard on my core because of the weight of the kit I carry on my expeditions,” says Dykes. “Before Mongolia, I knew the 120kg trailer I would be dragging would rip my hips from side to side if I didn’t strengthen up. And I needed to be agile and flexible in case of any sudden jolts walking over the mountains, but also durable in order to withstand the weight for such a long period of time.
“It was the same with my second expedition, across Madagascar. I was carrying a 25kg rucksack over 1,600 miles [2,575km] while summiting the eight highest mountains on the island. I found that bulking made me burn out a lot quicker, whereas bodyweight and endurance training makes me more agile and improves my stamina, which is very important when I’m doing these long challenges.”
As someone who – obviously – travels a lot, bodyweight workouts are great for Dykes because he can do them anywhere. Another advantage is that they’re easily adaptable to any level of fitness.
“I find the whole training process more enjoyable with bodyweight and anybody can do it – it’s easy to build yourself up from a basic routine to something more complex. It also works for me because I can train anywhere. I do a lot of travelling and some of the remote places I go to don’t have gym facilities. I’ll do crunches on the end of the bed, press-ups on the floor, squats wherever there’s space, and then go for a jog outside, making up my route as I go. Running is a great way to get to know new places.”
Ash Dykes’s Bodyweight Workout
This simple four-exercise workout hits muscles all over the body and can be done anywhere. Rattle through the four exercises below in a row without taking a break, then rest for 20 seconds before doing it all again. Dykes recommends doing five to ten rounds in total and has given his suggested reps for each exercise.
“It's really intense but you’ll see fast results,” says Dykes, “and of course sets and reps can be adjusted and built up to according to your fitness level. Train hard, conquer easy!”
Use an overhand grip with hands wider than shoulder-width apart and pull your body up until your chin is above the bar.
Get into the top of a press-up position with your arms extended and hands under your shoulders, your feet raised slightly off the ground on a bench or step, and your body forming a straight line from your shoulders through your hips to your heels. Lower your chest to the floor by bending at the elbows, making sure not to flare your elbows to the side too much, then push back up.
Put your hands on a bench behind you, shoulder-width apart with your arms extended. Lower your torso until your elbows are bent at a 90° angle, then push back up.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lower your torso until your thighs are parallel to the ground, then drive through your heels to return to the starting position.
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.