ESTELLE LOW shares her favourite basic yet very effective no-equipment exercises.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
ESTELLE LOW shares her favourite basic yet very effective no-equipment exercises.
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"Bodyweight exercises are becoming increasingly popular, thanks to a growing trend in highintensity interval training, yoga and pilates. They can be done anywhere, and don’t require anything but a willing mind and body, and just 2m by 1m of space. After attending a gazillion gym classes and working with trainers, I’ve learnt that these nine exercises are non-negotiable, because they are so good at burning and firming you in the right places. They may not look fancy, but the results are fantastic!"


You saw this coming. targeting the major muscles – glutes, quads, core – it’s no wonder that squats always get called for in gym class, big muscles, big burn! to start: Lower body and push hips back as if you’re sitting down. Shift body weight to heels and make sure tailbone is tucked. Knees should not go beyond ankles. Not feeling much? turn the squat into a full-body workout by adding bicep curls or overhead presses with a dumbbell. Or add cardio by doing squat jumps.


You’re familiar with crunches and sit-ups. Now do the banana, another treat for the core. Lying face up, lift legs off ground and keep them as low as you can possibly hold. Lift upper back and extend arms overhead. Keep neck and shoulders relaxed. hold for 10 to 30 seconds. to dial down the intensity, bend knees and lift legs higher.


Love or hate them, push-ups are a must for building upper body strength, giving you toned arms, chest and shoulders. plus, they fire up your whole body in a jiffy, and are the stepping stone to doing burpees. Start with knees on floor and graduate to man push-ups when you are stronger. always make sure hands are directly under shoulders, and eyes are looking about 30cm ahead. Keep elbows about 45 degrees back; not flared out or tight to your ribs. another way to train: start face down with chest touching floor, and then push up into plank position as smoothly as you can.


The mother of all core exercises, planks are so popular for good reason: they activate all parts of the body – arms, shoulders, back, butt, abs and legs – that you want to tone. to do the classic forearm plank, get onto forearms with body lifted in straight line, elbows should be directly under shoulders, and hips in neutral position (not lifted or sagging), all muscles from shoulders to toes should be activated. hold for 30 seconds to a minute.

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These are particularly good for toning obliques (the sides of your core), which are often neglected. in plank position, turn to face right by lifting right arm. Keep both legs straightened, feet on ground. Hold for 10 seconds and switch sides. too tough? Lower bottom knee to floor. if that feels easy, increase holding time until you feel your body quivering. When you get stronger, lift top leg to challenge your balance and work the core even more.

This is a great exercise to stretch your ab muscles, especially after contracting them repeatedly in crunches or sit-ups. at the same time, it builds strength in your lower back and glutes as you have to lift your chest, arms and legs off the ground, face down. exhale as you lift, and inhale when you return to resting position. Start by holding for 10 seconds, increasing the duration by 5 seconds with each rep.
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Besides sculpting your butt, thighs and calves – good for skinny jeans lovers – lunges are a great test of stability. They also switch on your ankle and core muscles. runners, keep this move in your strength training routine. to lunge, take a big step forward with one leg, both knees bent and hovering above ground. reverse move to return to starting position. Switch sides. Front knee should not go beyond toes.


These are similar to lunges, except that you step out to the sides instead of forward and backwards, and keep one leg straightened. besides working the glutes and hamstrings, side lunges also target the adductors (inner thigh muscles). if you play sports like tennis or badminton, you’ll find that doing such side-to-side movements helps to improve balance and agility.


This deceptively simple exercise requires significant strength in your glutes and hamstrings. Lying face up, squeeze butt and lift hips off ground as high as possible. While at it, contract pelvic floor muscles to strengthen them. hold for 10 seconds, increasing the duration if it feels too easy. Feel the burn in your butt!