Have you been wanting to start an exercise routine, but haven’t been able to start? Bodyweight exercises could be the key to starting your exercise routine. Body weight exercises use the resistance of gravity on your body to provide the resistance training aspect. The best bodyweight exercises allow you to practice basic movement patterns and generate benefits in overall strength, endurance, coordination, and balance. Not only do they provide health benefits, but they are extremely convenient. Body weight exercises can be done nearly anywhere, with minimal equipment, even at home! It is important to perform basic movement patterns while doing bodyweight exercises.
There are a handful of basic exercises or movements that a person can do for high quality multi-joint movements. These movements include:
- Push (Upper Body)
- Pull (Upper Body)
- Hip Hinge
Pushing, pulling and squats are obvious types of movements and will be covered more below. A hip hinge would be bending forward at the waist and keeping your back straight which would include a deadlift or kettlebell swing. Although, it is a little harder to do with bodyweight movement, unless you have a glute-ham developer machine. Gait is anything moving from place to place to include walking, running, skipping and even crawling. Posture would include holding yourself in place and can include things like holding stances or certain yoga poses as well as improving posture by pulling your shoulders back. These exercises can be combined in a multitude of ways to achieve a full body workout, build strength and improve conditioning.
10 of the best bodyweight exercises are listed below.
12 Best Bodyweight Exercises
Pull-ups are a one of the best bodyweight pull exercises. It is one of the few exercises on this list that needs equipment but a pull-up bar is a piece of equipment that you should invest in. I am not a fan of the safety of temporary pull-up bars as demonstrated by multiple YouTube videos, so I recommend something a bit more permanent. I have a Rogue Jammer Pull-up Bar in my home office and I try to hang and do pull-ups when I’m spending any time in there. You can hang other things off it like rings or a TRX Suspension system off it too.
As for the pull-up itself, it does wonderful things to build your grip as well as the muscles of the back. People that cannot do a pull-up can work their way up to doing it by using assistance from a band or partner or with active hangs, top holds and negatives. Many people with start with a chin-up first (palms facing you on bar) and then switch to a normal pull-up (palms away on the bar).
- Active hangs are where you hang from the bar and try to pull your body towards the bar (or pull the shoulder joints to the floor) without bending your arms.
- Top Holds are where you get up to the top with your chin over the bar and try to hold yourself there without assistance for time (3, 5, 8 or 10 seconds). Typically, you would use a step of some kind or assistance from a partner to get to the top of the bar. Bands don’t really work for this type of exercise.
- Negatives are where you use help to get to the top of the bar and slowly lower yourself down without assistance until your arms are straight. You would use assistance, like a step to get back to the top and start again. Bands don’t really work for this type of exercise either.
Once you get there, you might not be able to do a full pull-up so many people will do variations with a quarter, half and three-quarter pull-up where they only go part way down. Once you can do a full pull-up, you can make it harder by working on dead-hang or tactical pull-ups where you wait for a second at the bottom before pulling down. The you can progress to Archer pull-ups, where you pull-up to touch your chest to one hand and then slide across to the other hand without dropping down. Maybe you could eventually even progress to one-handed pull-ups.
Push-ups are a basic push exercise but they are one of the best bodyweight exercises. Modifications to push-up can be made to make it easier for those who have a hard time doing this bodyweight exercise.
- Wall Push-Up
- Table/Counter/Bench Push-Up
- Push-Up on Knees
- Push-Up Negatives
- Half-Way Down Push-ups
This is also an exercise that can be made harder as well.
- Diamond Push-Up: put index fingers and thumbs together in a push-up that works on the triceps
- Feet Elevated Push-Up: on bench or stability ball
- Dive Bomber Push-Up: Start in a pike with your butt in the air and come down head and shoulders first almost scraping your chest across the ground as you move into upward dog. Reverse the movement to end in the pike.
- Archer Push-Up: go down to one side and touch your chest to your hand and then slide from one hand to the other without coming back up while keeping back level.
Squats are an excellent bodyweight exercise as they work both the front and back of the thigh.
Slowly sit into a squat position with feet about shoulder width apart, knees and feet in line, chest up and core tight. Squats are very effective due to their practical use in everyday life and use of large muscle groups.
Variations of squats include, but are not limited to: wall sits, potty squat, pause squat, air squat, overhead squat, Cossack squat and single leg squat. The single leg squat can be made progressively difficult by doing the levitation squat and the pistol squat.
The burpee is one of the best bodyweight exercises there is and it also is probably the most hated. People feel strongly about it as it is either their favorite or they have a burning hatred for it.
The basic burpee involves standing with your feet about hip-width apart and then squatting down to put your hands on the floor in front of your feet. You kick your legs back to high plank (or push-up position) and then do a push-up. Jump back to the low squat and then explode straight up jumping off the ground with you hand over head.
The burpee can be modified though in a few ways. One is to modify the push-up portion. Some skip the push-up completely and I used to call those squat thrusts. Up-Downs are another name that some will call a modified burpee without the push-up but in football up-downs were when you would run in place and throw yourself to the ground and pop back up at your coaches whistle.
The jumping up in the air can get difficult as you get more tired so some places (like CrossFit boxes) will have you jump up to touch a pull-up bar or jump over a barbell for your rep to count.
Lunges are basically a variation of the single leg squat but they are still one of the best bodyweight exercises. There are similar practical benefits as squats, but incorporate coordination and balance to a greater degree. An ideal lunge in all its variations should end with one hip bent at 90 degrees with the other straight down and both knees bent to 90 degrees.
Variations include, but are not limited to:
- Split-Squat: Your feet don’t move and you do the same side repeatedly.
- Walking Lunge: Do a lunge and your steps. Take a step forward into a lunge. Bring the rear foot up to the forward foot into a standing position
- Reverse Lunge: This is when you do a lunge by stepping backwards into the lunge. From the lunge, you step back to a full standing position.
- Bulgarian Split-Squat: This is a split-squat with the back foot elevated on a bench at about knee height.
- Jumping or Plyo Lunge: This lunge is where you jump back and forth from a lunge with one leg forward to a lunge with the other leg forward.
Gluteal amnesia is an issue for a significant percentage of the population and it is important to do glute activation exercises in order to re-establish strength and coordination of the posterior chain.
To do a proper hip bridge, start while laying on your back on the floor with knees up, and both feet on the ground. The exercise is designed to engage the entire posterior chain (back/core, glutes and posterior leg muscles), but it does preferentially activate the gluteus maximus muscle. From the start position, squeeze the glutes and then raise the hips. With a slight deliberate pause at the top, be sure keep your core tight and continue to squeeze the glutes.
For those who have difficulty with this exercise, practicing just squeezing the glutes while in a supine position can get you started
The exercises can be made harder by holding for longer at the top. Eventually, holding the position at the top while lifting your legs and marching or straightening the knees can add a challenge. Being on one leg obviously adds the challenge of weight but also makes you resist the rotation that gravity will try to impart. Eventually you might be able to do this with your body or even your feet on a gym ball.
Planking engages the core while the body is in a push-up position or on the elbows. The goal of the plank is to isometrically hold the position in which the core is engaged. Great for core strength and spine health. There are several variations of planks depending on equipment and strength level. Examples include: Push-up position plank, body saws, star plank.
Similar to the normal plank but done with two points of contact, typically the elbow and foot. The core is engaged and the body is rotated 90 degrees to that it is perpendicular to the ground. It is crucial to practice side planks along with the regular plank as they target slightly different musculature.
Handstand push-ups are an excellent way to build shoulder strength
Find a wall and do a handstand with feet touching wall for balance. Slowly lower body so that head does not hit the ground, then extend arms fully with feet on wall.
Birddog is the spine healthy replacement of the superman exercise. Start on hands and knees in quadruped position. Fully extend one leg directly out so it remains level with the back. Slowly lift the other hand off of the ground and extend the shoulder so that it is also level with the back. Bring back to quadruped and repeat on other side.
Jumping Jacks are a simple way to incorporate a cardio aspect to your exercise routine. Continuous Jumps bringing hands together above the head while also spreading the feet apart. Hands return to starting position down at your sides. Variations to jumping jacks include: Seal Jacks, Burpees, and Squat Jacks
Body Weight Isometrics:
Isometrics are a great way to improve strength and add variation to an exercise bout. Isometrics are characterized by a pause during the exercise, which is held or a certain period of time, increasing repetitions or time as endurance builds. You can perform isometric exercise on almost every muscle in the body, but here are a few common examples: Wall sit, Wall push, plank, and glute bridges. Other things would be holding low stances that are common in martial arts like horse stance, crane stance, forward bow stance, box stance or dragon stance.
Any version of abdominal training. Variations include: crunches, V-ups, full body crunch, bicycles, world holds, leg raises, flutter kicks, Russian twists, and more.