Whether you want to get leaner, lose weight, keep in shape, or even increase your muscle mass and get stronger, working out with just your body is an awesome, simple, and effective option. Many people think that bodyweight exercises can only be effective for beginner because it’s difficult to make the exercises gradually more challenging. When we train with weights we can simply grab a heavier weight if we found the previous one too light. But if we use only our bodyweight as a resistance it becomes a little bit more difficult. In the beginning, we can just do more reps. But as we get stronger and stronger, we should perform hundred and hundred reps, but ain’t nobody got time for that!
Although you can’t make a push up more challenging in the same way you can make a bench press harder, but you can make it harder in other ways! You only have to understand how to manipulate body leverage and position to put yourself at a mechanical disadvantage, and thus increase the resistance that you have to overcome. When we are able to do it and we can apply progressive overload to bodyweight exercises, they can be as good as using weights. In some ways bodyweight exercises could even be better than training with weights because the movements are very natural and thus the risk of injury can be much lower.
Let’s see five of the best bodyweight exercises that will help you to train and tone your body from head to toe without barbells, dumbbells or any type of fancy equipment. You will find regressions (easier versions) and progressions (harder versions) for each exercise so you can find your starting point. As you progress, and your chosen variation becomes too easy to perform, you can easily move on to one of the more challenging variations.
Push-up is probably the most popular bodyweight exercises out there, working your chest, shoulders, triceps and core muscles in a single movement.
To perform a standard push up, place your hands at chest height on the ground, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Keep your fingers pointing forward, and position yourself either on your toes, with your spine and head in alignment with your legs. Lower your upper body to the floor while flexing the elbows, and then rise back to the start position. Keep your head still, and looking down. Be sure to keep your torso – including your lower back and abs -, in line with your upper body.
- Knee push-ups
- Hands-elevated push-ups
- Feet-elevated push-ups
- One-armed push-ups
The squat is definitely the most popular lower body exercises and hit just about every muscle in our lower-body including the glutes, hamstrings and quads, while help to develop balance, stabilization, coordination.
Stand with your feet a little wider than hip-width apart, your toes turned out slightly your arms resting at your sides, while keeping your chest up and your abdominals braced. Begin the movement by swinging your arms up towards your shoulders, and at the same time, bend at the knees and drive your hips back like you’re sitting in a chair. Once your upper thighs are parallel with the ground, reverse the motion until you return to the starting position.
- Assisted squat
- Half squat / Box squat
- Bulgarian split-squat
- Pistol squat / One-legged squat
To perform Bulgarian split-squat find yourself a chair, bench, bed or any other contraption that you can rest a foot on. It needs to be about 40 cm height. Simply, stand facing away from it, extend one of your legs back and place top of foot on bench. Your leading leg should be 50 cm or so in front of bench. Squat down until your front thigh is almost horizontal, keeping your knee in line with your foot. Return to starting position by extending hip and knee of forward leg. Repeat, and then continue with opposite leg.
CHIN-UPS AND PULL-UPS
These exercises are like squat for the upper body, that will help you build a strong back and arms, while secondarily train your core and shoulder muscles. The difference between chin-ups and pull-ups is the type of grip. When you perform chin-ups, your palms should be face towards you that will increase emphasis placed upon the biceps. While during pull-ups, your palms are facing away from you.
- Inverted rows
- Negative chin-ups / pull-ups
- Assisted chin-ups / pull-ups
- Mixed grip chin-ups
- One-handed chin-up
- One-arm chin-up
To perform inverted rows, find a thick wooden dowel or pipe, something strong enough to support your weight. Just lie it across two of your kitchen chairs. Or it is possible to do inverted rows using a table or a desk. (Just make sure that the table you’re using is strong enough to support you). Once your bar or desk is set up, lie on your back underneath with your chest lined up with the bar or the edge of the desk. Reach up and grab the bar or the edge of the desk with both hands, about shoulder-width apart. Keep your body as straight as possible, just like with the push-up, and pull yourself up until your chest touches the bar or the desk, then lower slowly. If you are beginner, having your feet flat on the ground with a bend in the knees will decrease the resistance and make the movement easier. For advanced trainees elevated-feet inverted row is a great form of progression.
KNEE RAISES / LEG RAISES
Knee or leg raise offers a great way to target hip flexors, and abdominal muscles. To perform the easiest variation (lying knee raise), lie on your back on a towel or on a gym mat with your arms by your sides, palms down, and feet extended out straight in front of you. Lift both of your knees up off of the floor and pull them towards your chest. Hold the position and squeeze your abs for 2-3 seconds, then return your knees back to the starting position, and repeat.
- Lying straight leg raises
- Lying knee / leg raise with hip lift or reverse crunch
- Hanging knee / leg raises
- Dragon flag
Bridging variations work more or less every muscle in your posterior chain, including your hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors. Its basic type is very easy that leads most people to skip bridges. Although, bridge is a highly underrated bodyweight exercise, it can build high levels of strength and flexibility, especially when you are able to perform full bridges.
To perform the basic variation (short bridges / glute bridges), lie on your back on a towel or on a gym mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Keep your arms at your side with your palms down. Lift your hips off the ground until your knees, hips and shoulders form a straight line. Squeeze your glutes hard and keep your abs drawn in. Hold your bridged position, squeeze tight for 2-3 seconds, then return to mat with control and repeat.
- Hip thrusts
- Single-leg glute bridges / hip thrusts
- Single-leg elevated glute bridges / hip thrusts
- Straight bridges
- Table top bridges
- Full bridges
The glute bridge and hip thrust are two very similar glute exercises. The glute bridge is done with your entire back is on the ground, and raising the hips off the floor. While a hip thrust is where your shoulders are elevated on something (chair, bench etc.), this it can give an extended range of motion, though I can’t tell you the muscle activation difference beyond that.