The most accessible form of working out. Utilizing the weight of your own body to act as resistance. No equipment required, except a mat perhaps. While a majority of people view body weight exercises as push-ups and sit-ups, this article will delve further to show you a world of fitness that may either compliment your gym routines or become your regular regime.
You can achieve a complete full-body workout without weights or fancy equipment. First start with stretching, warming-up is vital to any routine, and bodyweight training is no exception. Second begin with the lower-body (once you exhaust the larger muscles you will be able to target smaller muscle groups without relying on the bigger groups to filter part of the strain).
Whether at home or in a gym, you can focus on your legs without adding weight. After you stretch, start with a contained movement such as squats.
Squats: Remember to keep your knees at a 90 degree angle with your flat feet, never allow your knee to reach over your toes or even past a straight line with your ankle (you can hold on to something in front of you if you require balance to ensure that you do not overextend). Also you should never squat deeper than a 90 degree angle (think sitting in a chair, your glutes should not drop below your knee level). For each exercise, do 3-4 sets of 12 reps.
Elevated single leg dips: Moving on from squats, you can alter the movement to focus on your left and right legs individually with reverse lunges on a step box. This is a slightly altered movement, and we suggest not fully touching your backfoot to the ground. If you have an elevated surface around you, you can stand on the surface with one foot and lower yourself into a single-leg squat position while holding your other leg back at a 45 degree angle towards the ground. There is no need to lower yourself till the backfoot touches the ground, simply squat on the single leg until a 90 degree angle is formed then come back up. Again, 3-4 sets of 12 reps per leg.
Toe taps: Using the same elevated surface, doing 3 sets of quick-jumping toe-touches on the edge of the raised-surface. This can either be a set number of toe-taps (around 30 per set) or a high-intensity timed-interval.
Skater jumps: This movement can be altered based on your comfort, however the range exists from full jumping and landing, to a standing alternating of single leg dips. Again 3-4 sets of timed-intervals or designated number of reps (30, i.e. 15 per leg).
Glute bridges: This exercise is calm in comparison to the previously listed movements. First lie on your back and bring your knees to a bent position so that your feet rest flat on the floor. Then bring your hips and pelvic region up to form a straight-line from your knees to your torso – hold the bridge, then slowly release the position until your glutes hit the floor and then raise again. 3-4 sets of 15 raises. This exercise maintains the additional benefit of working your lower abdomen.
Calf raises: This can be done as single leg calf raises or both legs calf raises. Either way, stand straight with your feet at your shoulders width and elevate on the front of your foot, then slowly come down until the ball of your foot is nearly on the ground and then bring yourself back up. 3 sets of 12 raises per leg or 4 sets of 15 raises on both legs.
Resistance band side steps: In a squatting position with a resistance band around your ankles, side step to one direction until you run out of space then reverse the direction and lead the side-step with the other leg. Do this until the burn on the sides of your legs and glutes is too much, this movement requires practice and patience to grow accustomed to.
Core and Back
Core is simple, however targeting your back muscles is little more difficult and is greatly enhanced through simple equipment (no weights, just bands and cables). This section will address back exercises for both at home and in the gym (still bodyweight only).
Crunches: Start small. First lie on your back and either bring your knees to a bent position with your feet on the ground, or depending on your comfort, lift your legs in the air and hold them at a 90 degree angle to the ground (as if you were sitting). Place your arms at your sides or keep your hands on the back of your neck for mindfulness of the next step. Then proceed to curl/crunche your core in by slightly lifting your chest and head, avoid curling your chin to your chest (which is where keeping your hands on your neck comes into play). You can either move your chest and head straight up from the ground or you can move your head and chest up and towards your knees. This does not need to be a full movement to your knees to be effective, the most important aspect is controlling the movement so that it is only engaging your abdomen. 3-4 sets of 12 reps.
Bicycles: This movement comes directly after crunches because you do not need to change position to start. While lying on your back, place your hands to your sides and lift your legs to a 90 degree angle, and with your full torso and head on the ground, begin to cycle your legs in middle air as if you were peddling. The movement gets harder the further you extend your feet from your core. 3-4 sets of 20-30 cycles. You can also do a variation of bicycles that incorporate crunches (crunch from one side to the opposite knee – easier if you keep your hands on your neck and touch one elbow to the opposite side knee while moving your legs back and forth midair.
Russian twists: Sit upright on your glutes in a v-shape. Then bring your feet off the ground and your hands in the air while maintaining the v-shape. Then twist your abdomen to one side and back. This movement gets more difficult the more shallow you make the v-shape (the closer to 180 degrees while balancing on your glutes, the more difficult the twist and strain on your abdomen). Do 3-4 sets of 12-20 twists.
Toe touches: Elevate your legs and keep them straight – if you can hold them perpendicular to the ground that is best. Then with your arms outstretched above your chest, reach for your toes. Do 3-sets of 10-12 reaches/extensions.
Planks: Getting off your back, flip to a plank position with your elbows directly below your shoulders and your forearms firmly on the floor/mat. Then hold the position with your back straight (not arched or slumped) for 30 seconds to 1 minute and repeat 3-4 times.
Mountain climbers: To engage your core in a dynamic movement that involves cardio, try mountain climbers. From the push-up position run your legs up and down in a movement similar to toe-touches on the ground. As if you are scaling a steep cliff. Do 3-4 sets of 30 seconds to a minute each set.
Push-up leg holds: From the push-up position, bring the knee of one leg at a time to your hip/abdomen level while slightly twisting it in towards your body. Alternating legs you twist and move the knee and leg in and towards your body, for 3-4 sets of 20 reps (10 per leg). This same movement can be done while standing (it would look like knee-raises to your hip-level with a slight twisting to the hip).
Bodyweight back exercises are greatly enhanced with simple equipment (resistance bands and cables). If you have access to TRX suspension straps you can do rows and inverted rows, as well as controlled-movement Y-pulls. If you have resistance bands/cables, you can wrap them around a pole or sturdy surface and pull both arms at once. Start by sitting down with your feet pointed and touch the structure that the band is wrapped around, then from a lax position and a straight-back pull your arms into your sides so that your elbows align with your torso (do not move pull your elbows in behind your straight back). This movement looks like rowing a boat. But for the following exercises we will assume that you do not have access to any workout equipment.
The superman yoga pose: Lying flat on your stomach you lift your arms and legs while keeping them straight and outstretched (as if you were flying through the air). This pose should be held for a few deep breaths (2-6 breathes while in air) then released back to the ground as a single rep. Do 1-2 sets of 5-10 reps.
Plank with lateral arm raise: While in the pushup position, lift one arm out to your shoulder level (no higher), hold, then lower your hand back to on the ground and raise the other arm to shoulder height on your other side (at the apex of this movement you have one arm that is at a 90 degree angle to your planking body and the arm is parallel to the floor). Do 3-4 sets of 20 lifts (10 per arm).
Seated reverse fly: Sitting on a flat chair or surface, keep your legs at 90 degree angles at shoulder width, and your back/torso straight and at a 45 degree angle to the chair or surface you are sitting on. From this position straighten your arms to your sides with your fingers towards the ground, then while stationary, lift your arms out to your sides and to shoulder level (creating a 180 degree line), hold, then slowly bring your arms back down in-front of you and repeat. 3-4 sets of 12 reps.
Other exercises that will engage your back muscles include pull-ups, wide-form pushups, on all-fours limb raises, as well as planks and hip bridges that were previously discussed.
There are many ways to properly and effectively activate and sculpt your chest muscles at-home or in the gym with solely your bodyweight and a little ingenuity.
Push-ups: Everyone’s go-to workout and classic chest exercise. Push-ups come in different forms and difficulties from standard hands at shoulder width to wide-form deep pushups and triangle hands push-ups. You can play with the positions that create the best results for you and feel the most comfortable, however there are a few things to keep in mind while doing the quintessential bodyweight exercise. Do not drop your torso/back below a 90 degree angle with your elbows (there is no need or reason to touch your chest to the floor). Also, remember to think about your trapezius muscles that you will feel near your neck and upper back between the shoulders – do not let them engage or take over the strain of the workout. 3-4 sets, maxing out the amount of reps you can do at each set.
Incline or decline push-ups on an elevated surface: Either your hands go on the edge of the elevated surface with your feet on the ground, or your toes go on the elevated surface and your hands on the ground. And you do push-ups from either position. 3-4 sets, 10-50 reps per set depending on your comfort.
Resistance band curled arm pulls: If you have a resistance band you can grab either side with your hands in-front of your chest with your shoulder down and elbows out, then pull either side of the band and bring your elbows to your sides until the band it taught (never bring your elbows behind the line with your shoulders).
Other chest engaging exercises include planks, Y-pulls, and cable flys.
Working out your arms does not need to require heavy weights or machines. Bicep curls with a resistance band, and pullups would require some equipment, but we will assume that no equipment is available.
Bicep curls with other arm wrist resistance: Using one hand to force pressure on the other wrist while curling the arm against the applied pressure. You are basically creating your own resistance/weight, and if you focus on the active bicep and keep it flexed while doing this movement you will feel an adequate bicep burn. Do 3-4 sets of 12 reps per arm).
Angled leg curls: Sitting as you would in the russian twist core position, palace your hands on your hamstrings under your knees and curl your bicep toward you with your elbow flared out to the side. Simultaneously engaging your core and pulling your biceps. Do 3-4 sets of 12 reps per arm.
Dips: Using the elevated surface again, place your hands on the edge of the surface and at an angle to your body. Then lower your glutes down, thereby increasing the angle your arms are positioned at and push back up. Do 3-4 sets of 12-15 reps.
Tricep push-ups: with your hands straight-up and down on the floor at your shoulder width, tuck your elbows into your sides and do a push-up until your elbows are level with your descending waistline, then push back up. Do 3-4 sets of 12-15 reps.
Towel or resistance band tug-of-war: Using an object that has some stretch or give you hold the object in both hands in-front of your chest and in a small movement pull to either side using your triceps. Do this if you can target the feeling to your triceps and decide your sets and reps based on the efficacy of the movement. This can also be reversed to pressing your hands together in front of you, creating pressure in your triceps by pressing your hands into each other.
If you have a forearm squeeze ball or clamp you can use that, also a few of the other exercises mentioned in this article naturally engage the forearm.
Single hand claps/clamps: Simply open and close your hand quickly and exert as much force as you can. Clap your fingers to your palm repetitively – this stresses your forearm and works the muscles. Do 4 sets of timed-intervals of 20 seconds to 1 minute each, or just do the movement whenever you have time.
The exercises above range in movement and difficulty, however almost all of them can be done at home and without the need for equipment or extra weight. As always, stay safe and workout to your comfort level.