There have been a few times where I was left feeling utterly physically destroyed. One was definitely the day after my first rugby tournament, one was the first time I tried to run a mile as fast as I could, and one was the first week after starting You Are Your Own Gym.
I didn’t expect to feel so thoroughly destroyed when I started this program, but that’s what I got for underestimating how tough bodyweight workouts could be. You Are Your Own Gym (YAYOG because that’s a lot to keep typing) is a bodyweight training program developed by Mark Lauren. Lauren is a former soldier and trainer for special operations forces, as well as an accomplished bodybuilder and martial artist, and he takes his knowledge and distills it into a bodyweight program designed for everyone from beginners to elite athletes. YAYOG is both a book and a smartphone app; I borrowed the book from my local library, and found it interesting, if a little bit dry at times, but have found the app to be wholly invaluable in getting into shape!
The YAYOG program has four preset program options: Beginner, 1st Class (Intermediate), Master Class (Advanced), and Chief Class (Elite). Beginner is for any healthy adult, while there are specific standards for the higher levels. I started at Beginner, and for a moment thought “I hope this isn’t too easy for me.” Karma caught up with me when I couldn’t walk or lift my arms without pain a few days later!
YAYOG is available on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone, and I’ve been exclusively using the Android version. It’s been stable and easy to use, which is key for any workout app. There’s a few ways to set up a workout, from one-off workouts to build your own to the preset programs. Every exercise is shown with a short video demo, as well as a written description of how to properly execute it. There’s a database of all the exercises, and the app tracks your history as well, so you can gauge your own progress over time. My only quibble with the app is that it doesn’t do notifications or run in the background; if you’re in a rest period and exit to check your email, it actually pauses the whole workout, and there’s no way to have it remind/alert you on days you want to work out. Otherwise, it’s great, and in many ways simpler than just consulting the book, especially if you plan on following the specific premade plans.
On to the workout programs themselves! YAYOG breaks each one down into a 10 week cycle, and uses periodization to work on both endurance and strength. It starts with Ladders, which are 1 rep, pause, 2 reps, pause, 3 reps, pause, etc until you hit 7.5 minutes or muscle failure, whichever comes first. If you hit muscle failure, on your next rep you go down one until you reach 1 rep again, at which point you start back “up the Ladder” until the 7.5 minutes is up. Sounds simple, right? I didn’t think it would be so hard, but the volume catches up with you quickly. My first day I did 36 push-ups with my hands at knee height, 66 “Let Me Ins” (sort of like vertical rows), 66 seated dips, and 40 “Let Me Ups” (horizontal rows under the dining room table). The whole workout took 36 minutes, and I was a puddle of sweat and pain at the end. Later blocks included intervals, then supersets (a short but hard set, then a longer set of a more attainable exercise), tabatas (high-intensity intervals), and “stappers” (20-minute circuit of nonstop rotation between three different exercises). None of the workouts require more equipment than a chair or two, a dining room table (or equivalent surface you can pull yourself up under), a towel and a sturdy door. You can do these workouts just about anywhere, from a playground to a hotel room! As I said in my Jungle Gym XT review, I’ve been incorporating suspension straps in my workouts, but they aren’t necessary, and you can certainly get an excellent workout without them.
I just finished the 10-week Beginner’s program, and it’s taken me 12 weeks, not 10 (I had two bad colds that threw off my training). In that time I’ve gone from barely doing knee-high pushups to comfortably doing 3 sets of 12 full floor pushups, I’ve gone from struggling to pull myself up from under the dining room table to doing so with ease, and I can bang out a series of squats, dips, and lunges above and beyond what I ever expected. Of course, I still have a lot more work to do (close grip floor push-ups are EVIL), but my overall fitness and energy levels have skyrocketed. I’ve also seen a huge difference in everyday life as well. A few weeks ago I went out and raked all the leaves in our front and back yard, which meant filling a 12×12 tarp with leaves four times, dumping said leaves on the other side of our fence (for erosion control), then one final lawn cleanup with the lawnmower. Basically, it was 3 hours of constant work, and while I was tired at the end, I wasn’t really sore, and I went back to my YAYOG workouts the next day without an issue. There’s no way I could have done that much work with no break, and certainly not without being sore for a week, so I credit YAYOG and my increased strength and endurance for that! I also noticed little things, like when I bought the dog’s food and noticed it felt way lighter than usual.
So what’s next when I finish the Beginner’s program? The standard for 1st Class is 10 floor push-ups with pauses at the top and bottom, 10 “Let Me Ups” with straight legs (and pausing at the top and bottom again), 15 back lunges, and a 1 minute plank, and I feel confident I could handle those, so I’m excited to move onto the next level soon. I’m also excited to build further on the improvements I’ve made to my health. There’s a definite difference in my body composition, and obviously my strength has increased immensely. Best of all, I’ve lost 15 pounds and one pants size since I started YAYOG. To be fair, I’ve been carefully logging what I eat in MyFitnessPal, which is likely a very large piece of that loss (and I was losing weight before I started YAYOG), but keeping active with strength training means I’m burning more fat than muscle. Also, when I flex in the mirror I have defined biceps. It’s the little things in life.
‘You Are Your Own Gym’ has been the best app buy I’ve made in years. It’s only $3.99 on iTunes and Google Play, and you essentially have a personal trainer in your pocket with it. It’s worth reading the book first, since Lauren goes into far more detail about diet, mental toughness, and the specific mechanics of the workouts; as I said, I borrowed it from the library, but I will probably pick up a hard copy (or ebook for my Kindle) for reference in the future. If you can commit 20-40 minutes a few times a week, you can follow this program, and do it just about anywhere. Not many workout plans can claim that, and I think the ease of use and flexibility in location has made it simpler for me to follow it consistently. I can get a workout in after my son goes to bed at night, or I can get up at 6am with him, give him breakfast, make some coffee, and still fit a workout in before my wife and the dog are even awake. If you’re looking to change-up your gym routine, or you need a workout plan that calls for minimal equipment and no gym membership needed, check out You Are Your Own Gym…you won’t be sorry (can’t say the same for your muscles at first)!
Source: Personal purchase of the app; borrowed the book from my local library
What I Like: Programs are designed to slowly increase endurance, strength and level of skill needed; options for every fitness level; flexibility in how to construct your own programming; videos and step by step walkthroughs make it easy to learn the exercises; truly a full body program; minimal equipment necessary.
What Needs Improvement: A reminder/alarm setting for daily workouts; ability to run the app in the background.