Bodyweight exercises are simple, effective ways to improve balance, flexibility, and strength without gym machines or equipment. You can do all these bodyweight exercises at home.
From legs and shoulders to chest and abs, we’ve covered every part of your body that can get stronger with body resistance alone.
We’ve also provided some basic bodyweight exercises for beginners and compared bodyweight workout results to those of weighted, gym, and cardio routines.
Lift yourself: What is a bodyweight workout?
Bodyweight workouts are exercise routines that use a person’s own bodyweight to create resistance and improve strength, flexibility, and endurance, as well as coordination.
You’ve probably done a push-up before — well done. You’ve already met bodyweight exercises. On occasion, you can use a wand or resistance band to support an exercise.
While there are bodyweight exercises you can do in a gym (pull-ups, anyone?), having a calisthenics or plyometrics routine means you can stay in shape without the need for a gym membership or expensive equipment.
Benefits of bodyweight exercises
You might be thinking, why not go to the gym? If you’re paying all that money, it must be better than simply using your own bodyweight.
But here’s why bodyweight exercises can make all the difference to your routine:
- They’re efficient. You can get impressive results from short workouts alone, and they can work alongside other types of exercises to boost performance.
- They’re both strength and cardio. Keep your heart pumping while building muscle and flexibility.
- They’re crazy good for burning fat. The burn continues looooong after the workout. For example, one study found that a 45-minute workout increases how fast your body burns fat for 14 hours.
- You can switch up with ease. No wiping down and changing machines, and no restrictions on how to exercise based on your ability level. You’re unlikely to get bored during a bodyweight workout — the challenge stays.
- You have zero excuses not to exercise. In the immortal words of Shakira: Whenever. Wherever. You don’t need to be in a gym — you just need enough space to move around a bit.
- They’re free. ‘Nuff said.
- The results. Bodyweight exercises may help you get results. They use compound movements that engage several joints and muscles with each move. This makes exercises like push-ups and lunges super effective for improved strength and performance.
Bodyweight exercises vs. gym
- You can do them anywhere, anytime, removing the “excuses” barrier from your workout routine.
- Bodyweight workouts are free, so they’re accessible to anyone.
- Some gym equipment reduces the resistance of certain motions, meaning that you might see less benefit when using a machine.
- In a post-COVID-19 world, there may be times when the use of a gym becomes unsafe or impossible — meaning that if you focus on bodyweight exercises, it’s guaranteed that you’ll be able to carry on your routine anywhere.
- While beginners can start with full-body exercise, the reduced resistance of some gym machines may be a simpler entry point.
- A gym’s pricing can be a barrier for some, but may still motivate others.
- You might benefit from the trainers and staff that a gym provides, as well as the communal feel of an exercise class or group training session. But many group sessions are also available for bodyweight exercises (although they might be limited because of the pandemic).
Bodyweight exercises vs. other workoutsWe compared bodyweight exercises to other modes of working out. They compared pretty favorably.
Bodyweight vs. cardio
- Bodyweight exercises continue the burn after a workout, enhancing the metabolic advantages of the exercise. With cardio, like running, you’re only burning while you’re working out.
- Bodyweight exercises give you cardio benefits while you’re working anyway, alongside the strength boost that comes from a hearty push- or pull-up.
- An intense circuit of bodyweight exercises will get your heart going as much as any run.
- Switching it up is important to get the widest range of benefits from exercise. So, go on a run from time to time, as research has shown that combining cardio and weight-based exercises is the best way to shift body mass for adults with overweight or obesity.
Bodyweight vs. free weights
- You don’t need access to a gym.
- While you still need to be careful, you can’t drop a weight on yourself if you’re not holding one.
- You can switch between moves more quickly because you’re not dealing with equipment. So, bodyweight exercises may be better for cardio.
- Bodyweight exercise are also better for flexibility as opposed to pure bulk.
- While there are some beginner bodyweight exercises, you can scale up the difficulty of free weights in a more controlled and gradual way than with bodyweight exercises.
Bodyweight moves for beginners
This is a powerful workout for your abs and thighs.
- Stand with your knees slightly bent, then jump up as high as possible — pretend Jeremy Lin is watching!
- Bring your knees in toward your chest while extending your arms straight out.
- Land with your knees slightly bent and quickly jump (on it) again!
- Stand up tall with your legs straight, making sure your knees aren’t locked.
- Slowly lower your torso toward the floor, then walk your hands forward.
- Once in a push-up position, start taking tiny steps so your feet meet your hands.
- Continue bugging out for 4—6 reps.
Do it for Channing!
- Find a step or bench.
- Place your right foot on the elevated surface.
- Step up until your right leg is straight.
- Return to the starting position.
- Repeat, aiming for 10—12 reps on each side.
One of the most effective full-body exercises around.
- This one starts in a low squat position with your hands on the floor.
- Next, kick your feet back to a push-up position.
- Complete one push-up, then immediately return your feet to the squat position.
- Leap up as high as possible before squatting and moving back into the push-up portion of the show.
Cross that bridge when you come to it.
- Lie faceup with your knees bent and your feet hip-width apart.
- Place your arms at your sides and lift your spine and hips. Only your head, feet, arms, and shoulders should be on the floor.
- Lift one leg, keeping your core tight.
- Slowly bring your leg back down, then lift back up.
- Try to do 10 reps per leg, then lower your spine back onto the floor.
One step forward, two back? We’ve got more advice on how to perfect your lunge.
- Stand with your hands on your hips and your feet hip-width apart.
- Step your right leg forward and slowly lower your body until your left (back) knee is close to or touching the floor and bent at least 90 degrees.
- Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
- For a variation, try stepping backward into the lunge.
Learn how to nail the squat.
- Stand with your feet parallel or turned out 15 degrees — whatever is most comfortable.
- Slowly start to crouch by bending your hips and knees until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor.
- Make sure your heels do not rise off the floor.
- Press through your heels to return to a standing position.
Nope, we’re (thankfully) not walking the plank, although it may feel that way sometimes during this notorious ab-builder.
- Lie facedown with your forearms on the floor and your hands clasped.
- Extend your legs behind you and rise up onto your toes.
- Keeping your back straight, tighten your core and hold the position for 30—60 seconds (or as long as you can hang).
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There’s a reason this one’s a stone-cold classic.
- With your hands shoulder-width apart, keep your feet flexed at hip distance and tighten your core.
- Bend your elbows until your chest reaches the floor, then push back up.
- Be sure to keep your elbows tucked close to your body.
Remember PE class?
- Stand with your arms extended by your sides, perpendicular to your torso.
- Slowly make clockwise circles about 1 foot in diameter for 20—30 seconds.
- Then reverse the movement, going counterclockwise.
Embrace that inner grizzly.
- Starting on your hands and knees, rise up onto your toes.
- Tighten your core, and slowly reach forward with your right arm and right knee, followed by your left side.
- Continue the crawl for 8—10 reps (or until you scare people off) (grrrrr!).
Next stop? Everest.
- Start on your hands and knees.
- Bring your left foot forward to directly under your chest while straightening your right leg.
- Keeping your hands on the floor and your core tight, jump and switch legs.
- Your left leg should now be extended behind you, with your right knee forward.
Ready to catch some air?
- Start on a well-padded surface and complete a traditional push-up.
- In an explosive motion, push up hard enough to come off the floor (and hang ten for a second!).
- Once back on solid ground, immediately head into the next repetition.
Stair climb with bicep curls
Turn those stairs into a cardio machine — no magic wand necessary.
- Grab some dumbbells (or heavy household objects).
- Briskly walk up and down the stairs while simultaneously doing bicep curls to work your whole body.
Start on all fours with your core engaged.
- Slowly walk your hands forward, staying on your toes but not moving them forward.
- Next, gradually walk your hands backward to the starting position, maintaining stability and balance.
- This dance comes next.
Plank to push-up
- Start in a plank position.
- Place one hand at a time on the floor to lift into a push-up position with your back straight and core engaged.
- Move one arm at a time back into the plank position (forearms on the floor).
- Repeat, alternating your arm that makes the first move.
Who needs a chair when there’s a wall?
- Slowly slide your back down a wall until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Make sure your knees are directly above your ankles and keep your back straight.
- Go for 60 seconds per set.
- Complete a traditional forward lunge, then take a big step to the right and lunge again.
- Finish off the semicircle with a backward lunge, then return to standing. And all that’s 1 rep! Phew.
- Aim for 10 reps, then switch legs.
Lunge to row
- Start by doing a normal lunge.
- Instead of bringing your forward leg back to the starting position, raise it off the floor while lifting your arms overhead.
- Your leg should remain bent at about 90 degrees.
- Add weights to really bring the heat.
- Stand holding your arms straight out in front of your body.
- Raise your right leg, flexing your right ankle and pushing your hips back.
- Lower your body while keeping your right leg raised.
- Hold, then return to standing.
- Stand with your feet together and lunge forward with your right foot.
- Jump straight up, propelling your arms forward while keeping your elbows bent.
- While in the air, switch legs and land in a lunge with your opposite leg forward.
- Repeat and continue switching legs.
Let’s show a little respect.
- When lunging, step your left leg back behind your right leg, bending your knees.
- Lower your hips until your right thigh is almost parallel to the floor.
- Remember to keep your torso upright and your hips square.
Deadlifts are the bomb.
- Start in a standing position with your feet together.
- Lift your right leg slightly.
- Lower your arms and torso while raising your right leg behind you.
- Keep your left knee slightly bent and reach your arms as close to the floor as possible.
- Raise your torso while lowering your right leg.
- Switch legs.
Squat reach and jump
Ready to add some pizzazz (and cardio!) to your squat?
- Perform a normal squat.
- Immediately jump up, reaching your arms straight overhead.
- Aim for 15 reps.
- Take a quick breather before the next set.
Chair Pose squat
A yoga derivative, this squat hits all the butt spots.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor while swinging your arms up.
- Straighten your legs, then lift your right knee while swinging your left arm outside your right knee.
- Return to a standing position and repeat on the other side.