Whether you’re a part-time fitness enthusiast, bodybuilder, gymnast or just a dog walker, the best bodyweight exercises will help you get in shape, feel great and achieve things you never thought possible.
Are you a person who doesn’t like:
- The idea of lifting weight to increase strength?
- Waiting for machines or benches to become available in the gym?
- How much gym memberships or home gym equipment cost you?
But want to gain some muscle mass and increase your fitness levels. Then all of the exercises we have in this article are for you.
Why Bodyweight Exercises?
For many years bodyweight exercises have gone under the radar, exercises such as swimming and running are really the only exceptions. Going to the gym, buying weights, are normally our first thoughts when wanting to add muscle mass or increase strength.
The majority of people believe it’s impossible to build muscle mass like you would with weight training. You’re wrong, it’s possible to train every single muscle group with body weight training.
Bodyweight exercises can be made more difficult or easier by a few simple variations, with countless different exercises to keep your muscle guessing and growing at the same time.
There’s nothing to hold you back from reaching your goals, for example, if push-ups are getting too easy for you then try to vary the sets with close hand push-ups, make them even harder by doing a couple of sets with your hands on balls, there are so many ways to keep the muscle fibres guessing.
Look at some of the other ways bodyweight training can be beneficial for your health:
- Body weight exercises are a type of strength training, by increasing your metabolic rate you are burning more calories, the added bonus of this is that strength training also boosts your resting metabolic rate (burning calories up to 36 hours after your workout)
- Body weight exercises help to keep you safe from joint problems that many weightlifters suffer.
- Increasing muscle mass is good for the heart, lungs and brain and helps lower blood pressure, studies have shown.
- Every decade our bodies lose around 5 pounds of muscle mass, to keep on top of this you need to do some kind of strength training and bodyweight exercises are a fantastic free, healthy way of doing this.
- Exercise helps fight depression, it releases the feel-good hormones (endorphins) in your body, not only does regular exercise help you sleep… It will improve your self-esteem, you will be losing fat, gaining muscle, feeling fitter, every workout you will be able to do a little more…your self-worth factor will rocket!!
The all-important exercises, some are more difficult than others, take it slow. Find the ones that suit you best and come to others later. A few may seem hard at first but once you’ve built up a little strength and feel more comfortable with the movements, you should slowly be able to increase your repetitions or difficulty level as you gain strength and confidence.
This exercise involves using your arms to push yourself up against gravity away from the floor, primarily strengthens the pectorals but also give the triceps and shoulders a workout too. There are a few variations of the push-up, one I particularly like is where you place your hands slightly closer together than shoulder width apart, changing the focus from the pectorals (Chest) to the triceps, great exercise to do even if you’re combining your weight lifting with a body weight workout.
Classic Push Up
- Place your hands directly below your shoulders.
- Push yourself off the ground.
- Keep your body in a straight line, from heel to neck your body should be in a straight line.
- Be careful don’t let your butt stick up at all.
- Keep your core tight (midsection)
- Lower your body until the elbows are at a 90-degree angle.
I wouldn’t expect everyone to be able to do a push up straight away. To make things a little easier you can work yourself up to the push up by placing your hands on an elevated surface. The higher the surface the easier it will be.
If you want to make the push up a little harder try putting your feet on a raised surface, this will put much more emphasis on the shoulders making it harder. This time the higher your feet are the harder the exercise.
Wide Grip Push Ups
Not much different to the classic, position your arms slightly wider than the shoulder..main muscles used the pectorals.
Staggered Hand Push Ups
Performed just like the classic with the exception of one hand slightly forward of the normal position and the other hand slightly back(staggered). Remembering to keep the body straight throughout the movement. When you have completed one set, reverse the positions and complete the next.
Deep Push Ups
I hadn’t tried this one before, it gave my pecs and triceps a really good pump, well worth a try! me thinks. Mark Lauren youareyourowngym.com explains best how to take on this exercise, Marks says ” Find two even surfaces to place your hands on books, footstools or full boxes. or you can use similar chairs one for your feet and one for each hand so you can drop your chest down as far as possible between them in the bottom portion of the movement.”
This really stretches the pectorals and deltoids. Mark goes on to say “Do a classic press up but lower your chest down until it is fully stretched”.
Close grip push ups
My fave out of all of them, great for working out the tricep, people forget the tricep is a larger muscle group than the bicep group, working out the tricep will really start to bring out the size of the arm. Same as the classic push up, apart from your hand being slightly less than shoulder-width apart. A lesson learnt, work just as hard on the tricep as you do your bicep.
Standing Knee Raises
With less pressure on the lower back than other abdominal exercises, standing knee raises are a good choice to improve your core strength, whilst strengthening the hip flexors.
- Stand straight, with your feet shoulder width apart or slightly closer.
- Hands out in front of you, palms facing down.
- Lift your left knee as high as possible towards your chest.
- Hold for 4 seconds – work up to 4 seconds if you can only hold your knee there for 1 or 2 seconds.
- Lower your leg slowly and repeat with the right leg.
Cross Body Crunches
Nice and basic, been around for years and a favourite of mine. Great exercise to increase core strength.
- Lie flat on your back knees bent, bring your knees up to about a 60-degree angle
- Make sure you are keeping your feet flat on the floor, with your hands placed behind your head.(starting position)
- Slowly curl your right shoulder towards your left knee, breathing out, contract your abs as your elbow comes close to your right knee.
- Now repeat with the left elbow and right knee.
If you have bent down on one knee to pick something up you are halfway there to knowing what a lunge is! Lunges are a very good bodyweight exercise for strengthening and building three muscle groups. The Quads (thighs) the gluteus (butt) and hamstrings. Because lunges imitate our walking pattern they are a somewhat natural exercise that will suit a beginner as there is not too much form to learn.
- Stand with your feet together, toes pointing forward.
- Take a large step forward with your left foot, bending your knees and lowering your hips until your trailing right knee almost touches the ground. Both knees should be bent to 90 degrees.
- Your front knee should be directly over your foot but not past your toes.
- Be sure to keep your head up and back straight throughout the exercise, push up with your left leg and step back to the starting position. Do not lock your knees.
- Repeat the movement with the other foot.
Also known as an air squat they’re easy to get the hang of, another natural movement mimicking stuff you do in everyday life. Squats are a compound movement, this means more than one joint is used, the squat uses the hip and knee joints.
A body weight squat uses almost every muscle group in the body, primarily working the legs, you’re also working the core, back, hips and arms, raising your metabolic rate too, I’m sure you will agree its an awesome movement to include in your workout.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, keep the whole of your body tight throughout the movement, your weight should be on the heels and balls of the feet.
- Eyes forward, no looking down or up, try and focus on something straight in front of you throughout the movement, keeping your hips back.
- Bend your knees until your butt is only a few inches from the floor, breathing in as you lower. Making sure your knees are in line with your feet.
- Keep your heels on the floor, push out through your heels, slowly standing again breathing out.
There are literally hundreds of different bodyweight exercises and variations, you don’t have to stop here! I hope my pick of the 5 best ones helped you to realise just how much we can do with our own bodyweight.