Jack King's Gym

Natural bodybuilding & Olympic lifting resource


November 2009

Non-Apparatus Training Routine for Upper Body

I’m an advocate of non-apparatus training techniques in situations where you do not have the ability to use an apparatus. This may be due to an injury which prevents the range of motion necessary to perform certain apparatus-based movements or it may be that you simply don’t have access to the equipment necessary to perform apparatus-based exercises. Whatever the reason for using them, non-apparatus techniques can be a great way to achieve muscular development. However, I would not recommend replacing an apparatus-based routine with a completely non-apparatus training routine.

I’ve used a variety of non-apparatus training methods over the course of my career and I’ve been intrigued by the high level of interest that such methods receive from the general public. Given the high level of interest in these methods, I’ve outlined my top recommendations for a non-apparatus training routine. We’ll begin with an upper body routine in this post, and in the next post, I’ll share my lower body recommendations.

Upper Body


Alternate chin pull-ups with raised push-ups. You’ll want to do 3-4 total sets of each exercise while alternating between exercises for each consecutive set. Neither exercise will detract from your ability to perform the other because you’re working completely different muscle groups.

You can use a swing set, monkey bars, or other playground equipment for a chin pull-up bar.

It’s fairly easy to find a pull-up chin bar. It might be something you fashion from items around the house or you can find one on a school playground. When you do your pull-ups, you’ll want to bring your chin in front of and just over the bar. When you come down, don’t go all the way down into a complete hanging position. You’ll want to stop about 3-4 inches short of a complete hang and then begin to pull yourself up again. This is to keep your muscles under tension and you’ll learn across exercises that the time your muscles are under tension is extremely important for muscle growth. You’ll aim to complete whatever number of reps you can do and then repeat that number for each pull-up set.

For the push-ups, you’ll want your legs raised. You can prop your legs on a wall or stairs, whatever is convenient in your training area. For each push-up, your chest will nearly touch the ground. When you come up, you want to push until your arms are about 85-90% straight. Don’t lock your elbows. You’ll aim for as many as reps as you can get and sustain across each set. You don’t want to drops reps each set.

Leg Raises/Crunches

To target the abs, you’ll do leg raises using the pull-up bar. From a hanging position, you will contract your abs and raise your legs from a vertical position up to a horizontal position where they are extended straight out in front of you. You may also use traditional crunches to target the abs.

In the next blog post, I’ll share my lower body non-apparatus training recommendations.

Until then, keep training hard.

Jack King


Non-Apparatus Training: Dispelling a Myth about My Career

Jack King's trophy collection

Following a 1991 article published in Iron Man magazine, I received a ton of calls asking how it was that I was able to win the Masters Mr. America using the push-up alone for upper body development. The first problem is that I did not do only push-ups for upper body development. Unfortunately, the way the article was written led many to this false belief. I would be quick to set them straight. I did use push-ups, but used them along with other apparatus-based upper body exercises. Push-ups were a great addition to my routine when I was unable to do bench presses and other apparatus-based chest exercises due to an injury.

My conversations with people about the Iron Man article typically led to me sharing my repertoire of “non-apparatus training” techniques for the entire body. I believe in the power of non-apparatus training techniques when you cannot perform apparatus-based exercises due to injury, lack of equipment, or any other valid reason. However, you have to have to perform non-apparatus techniques at a level of intensity that would emulate what you would perform on an apparatus. You have to use appropriate set and rep counts to challenge your body in such a way as to create parallel gains to what you’d see using apparatus. I would not recommend replacing an apparatus-based training routine with a non-apparatus-based routine. Use non-apparatus training to supplement an apparatus-based routine, not replace it. The bottom line is that non-apparatus training is helpful when you don’t want to give up your training routine altogether due to circumstances which prevent you from using an appartus.

Now that we’ve set the fact straight, I would like to share my recommendations for a non-apparatus training routine should you ever find yourself in a situation where you would need to implement one. I’ll highlight some upper body techniques in my next post and lower body techniques in the following post.

Until next time, keep training hard.

Jack King

Introduction from Jack King- GJQ37SFPFDFZ

You can go to the About Me page to learn more about me and my career, but the gist of why I am doing this blog is to share training tips and offer words of encouragement and advice for bodybuilders, Olympic lifters, and physique competitors. I’m always willing to talk and share what I know. I love doing just that. Therefore, I’ve started this blog as a way to make sharing easier.

Stay tuned for future posts, the first of which will be about “non-apparatus training”. Until then, keep training hard.

Jack King


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