Best Bodyweight Exercises
You don’t need a gym to get a ripped frame – all you need is some indoor or outdoor space, a little time and your own bodyweight. Using nothing more than your own body, you can push every single muscle through an awesome resistance workout that doesn’t need fancy equipment or money.
We’re not talking a few leg-raises here, but some tough, high tension exercises that burn fat, build muscle and boost your fitness. Oh, and they can improve your flexibility, strength and balance too. And the beauty is, they can be done any time.
So, settle back on your living room floor and start to do your warm up as we’ve got 20 of the best bodyweight exercises that are sure to become your on-the-go workout for serious muscle-building results.
Good for: legs and lower body
Squats are a staple of any bodyweight workout and are a powerhouse when it comes to building leg muscle, strengthening your lower back and boosting your glutes. Keep your core tight and you’ll work your abs too.
To perform the standard squat, stand with your feet shoulder-width part, knees centered over your feet. Bend your knees, hips and ankles and lower yourself until you reach a 90-degree angle. Hold then return to your starting position. You should feel the tension in your thighs, glutes and calves.
You can also shake things up by adding in plie squats (toes pointing outwards, you’ll feel this on your inner thighs) and squat jumps (leap tall and straight into the air as you come back to stand). For an advanced move, go hard with a pistol squat where you slowly raise one leg as you lower down. Or you can use a squat rack if you have one.
Reps: start with 15-20 squats for 2-3 sets
Good for: upper body, arms and abs
The classic bodyweight exercise, the humble press or push up has stood the test of time for one reason – it works! Done correctly, you’ll soon see results in your chest, back, triceps and abdominals but don’t expect the push up to be a pushover. For best results, lie with your hands flat on the mat, with your shoulders in line with your wrists and elbows tucked into your sides. Lower slowly and controlled – your aim is to get your chest and hips as close to floor as you can without touching. Now push back up until your arms are straight then repeat.
Max your press up by throwing in a few variations – clap press ups (where you put enough spring in your push to lift briefly off the floor and clap) or the one-armed push up to really impress.
Reps: 3 sets of 10, then build up
Good for: biceps and lats
If you have a pull up bar set up at home, this is an awesome exercise to build up your lats and biceps in no time. To start, try the parallel grip pull up as it’s kinder on the shoulders and elbows. For an effective pull-up, you need your palms facing away (facing towards you, and then it’s a chin up, working your biceps).
To complete an effective pull-up, grip the bar with your hands shoulder width apart and then pull yourself up so your feet are off the floor and your chin clears the bar. Hold, lower and repeat. Build up slowly and don’t snatch but keep the move smooth.
Reps: start with a target of 10
Good for: legs
Alongside the squat, the lunge should be your go-to for lean and mean quads, glutes and calves.
For the basic lunge, start with your feet together, then step forward with your right foot and lower until your front knee is at 90 degrees, ensuring your back knee doesn’t touch the floor. Hold then push back off your front foot until you are back to standing. Repeat with your left foot. A long lunge will really work your glutes, whereas a shorter, controlled lunge will test those thighs. Add to your lunge routine by using hand weights or build your technique by taking the lunge stretch to the side to add a lateral movement. Increase the challenge by adding into a leg lift at the end of the side lunge and you’ll feel your core kick in too.
Reps: Aim for 20 lunges per leg, for 2-3 sets
5. Bench dips
Good for: triceps
Blast your arms with this all-time favorite triceps move that’ll pump your guns in no time. You’ll need a workout bench but that’s all, other than sheer willpower.
Sit on the bench edge with your legs out in front of you and feet on the floor. Put your hands flat beside you then lift your bum off the bench, and then lower to the floor until your arms are at a right angle. Hold for a few seconds to feel the triceps kicking in, then push back up to the bench and repeat.
Reps: 8-12 per set
6. Straight-arm plank
Good for: core and back
Despite its simplicity, you really feel the burn with the plank. This makes it one of the top bodyweight exercises to help to chisel your core. Think of it as a press up that’s got stuck and you can’t really go wrong!
To perform an effective plank, assume the start of a press up and lift to the point where your arms are straight. Just make sure your elbows are aligned with your shoulders and your hips, heels and shoulders are in a straight line. Now hold for as long as you can, feeling those abs engaging to keep you in position, as you work your back, glutes and arms as well as your core. Lower for a quick breather, then return to the plank position for another go. If a full arm extension is uncomfortable, raise until you can rest on your forearms.
Reps: aim to hold for 15-20 seconds and build up to two minutes per plank
7. Hanging leg raise
Good for: abdominals
This does need a pull up bar, but it’s so good, we couldn’t leave it out. The hanging leg raise is an advanced move that isolates the abs for a core-crunching workout and you may need to work slowly up to it, but the time and effort will pay off.
Here’s how to do it: grab the bar above your head and pull up off the ground, swinging your legs forward and straight. You’ll feel your abs groaning as you hold your legs out in front of you. Alternatively, as you hang, bring your knees up to your waist and then straighten them out. Hold for a few moments and then return to the start.
Reps: gradually aim for 30
8. Back bridge
Good for: back muscles, glutes, core
The bridge is an awesome exercise to keep your spine in tip-top condition. You’ll need to take it nice and slow, and if you have a pre-existing back injury get advice first. With the back bridge you’ll work every muscle in the posterior chain down your spine and into your glutes. As an added bonus, it’s also great for your core.
Lie on your back with your hands by your sides, knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Keep your feet under your knees and engage your abs and buttocks. Now raise your hips to create a straight line from your knees to your shoulders and pull your belly button back towards your spine. Hold for 20 – 30 seconds, then relax.
Reps: two sets of 10
9. Double leg lift
Good for: the lower back
Now here’s a great lower abdominal exercise that can also help you to build a stronger back and protect against injury.
Lie on your back on the floor and then steadily lift both legs together until they are pointing at the ceiling. Breathe in and then as you breathe out, slowly lower both legs down, just stopping short of touching the floor. Hold for a few seconds, breathe in and raise your legs back up to repeat. Take it slowly and stop if you feel any pain. To make it easier, you can do this exercise with bent knees.
Reps: 15 – 25 reps at a time.
10. Single leg dead-lift
Good for: legs and lower back
For the single leg dead-lift you will need a couple of hand weights but that is as much you need to really put your glutes, hamstrings and the muscles in your lower back through their paces. Plus, it really helps to work on your strength and balance.
Start by balancing on one leg and hold a hand dumbbell on the same side. Lower the weight to the ground and lift the alternative leg straight behind you. Hold and then push back to your starting position and change sides. If you want to up your single leg deadlift game, gradually increase the weight of the dumbbell or you can hold a weight in both hands.
Reps: 6-8 per leg, for three sets
11. Single leg hip thrust
Good for: hips and glutes
While squats are the go-to for a total lower body workout, it’s also a good idea to throw in a move or two to keep your hips flexible and strong. Which is where the single leg hip thrust comes in.
You’ll need two workout benches, with your upper back on one bench with your arms outstretched to the side for support. Bend your knees and put your right foot on the bench in front of you, with your left foot next to it, in the air. Smoothly push your hips and torso upwards with your right foot and your left foot should follow. Complete your reps then switch the routine to your left foot and off you go again.
Reps: 8-12 reps per set.
12. Bear crawl
Good for: core, back and arms
The bear crawl is a great exercise for total body strength. You’ll need a bit of space for this one as you’ll be moving but that’s all you need. And you’ll get a top workout for your core, back and arm muscles for your efforts.
To start, lower yourself on to your hands and knees to assume a crawl position, then lift your knees off the ground. Look forward and engage your abs as you move your left hand forward in time with bringing forward your right leg. Now switch and alternate as you move around the room. You may look a little odd, but you will feel those muscles working as well as the heart pumping!
Reps: aim for 10 – 15 minutes, adding in sprint bursts if you can
Good for: core
Here’s a quick one that is a total power monster for your core as it has to work hard to keep you in place.
Lie on your back on a non-slip mat or workout bench and when you are ready slowly lift both your legs up and then your hips so most of your bodyweight is on your shoulders. Keep your legs straight and strong and you will feel the burn in your core as your abs go into overdrive to keep you in position. Hold for few seconds and then lower your legs carefully back to the floor. Repeat. Don’t push this, if you feel any strain in your back, adjust the angle of your legs until you can hold position.
Reps: aim for five per set and gradually increase
14. Crunch or sit ups
Good for: core
The sit up and crunch are some of the hardest bodyweight exercises but with all the tough ones, it’s worth all the pain for those chiseled abs.
Sit ups are awesome but do require you to get all the way up without using your arms or legs, so the crunch is the kinder solution (you crunch and hold your abs halfway up) if you are only just starting your bodyweight exercise regime.
Make sure you perform both correctly, so you protect your neck and back. Keep your routine fresh with a few variations too – try a reverse crunch or bicycle crunch – and you’ll have abs to be proud of.
Reps: start with three to five sets of 12 (but make each one count!)
15. Handstand push up
Good for: shoulders and core
Now this is a tough cookie exercise to work up to, but once perfected it’s impressive to watch and gives great results.
To do this, you need to be confident to do a handstand against a wall. Once in position with your arms comfortably outstretched, slowly lower yourself down until your elbows are bent, hold, take a breath then slowly extend your arms so you push yourself back up the wall. This move requires balance and a ton of upper body strength so it’s not for the faint-hearted but if you can get to 10 push-ups, then GH is seriously impressed!
Reps: master the handstand, then start low and increase slowly
Good for: all round strength and fitness
Make like a jumping bean and get a fab cardio workout that’ll put color in your cheeks. Plus, jumps are great for building bone density and also boosts your speed and agility.
The basic jumping jack is simple but effective: from a straight standing position with arms by your side, jump as you extend your arms overhead before landing, making sure your knees remain soft. Up the ante by adding in tuck jumps – bringing your knees up to your chest and tucked in with your arms before you land – or frog jumps where you jump up and forward, sinking down into a squat position as you land, and then spring back up into a jump again. Make sure you have knee sleeves on, to prevent any injury.
Reps: work in 10 minute jump bursts into your routine
17. Mountain climbers
Good for: core
Starting with the plank and then upping the difficulty, the mountain climber is one of the best exercises you can do for a rock-solid core.
Get yourself into the basic plank position, with your arms fully extended, hands under your shoulders and your body in a nice straight line. Lift your left foot off the ground and slowly raise your left knee to your chest, keeping your torso strong and straight. Return to the starting position and then repeat with your right. Alternative left and right leg for 30 second bursts, pushing yourself as hard as you can.
Reps: Start off with 3-5 sets of 30 second bursts
Good for: a total body workout
Time to go old school, with the burpee which offers a full body workout that combines cardio and strength training in one. The burpee will work your upper and lower body as well as putting your core through its paces. Also known as a squat thrust, you’ll feel this one, but in a great, muscle-pumping way.
Start in a standing position, with feet shoulder width apart. Now lower your body down into a squatting position with your hands on the floor in front of you. As you reach the squat position kick your feet back, so you are in a push-up position and then lower your chest to complete the press up move. Finally, kick your feet back into the squat position and power yourself up to the standing position to start all over again. If you’re feeling energetic you could even pop in a tuck jump at the end.
Reps: 15 burpees per set.
19. Single leg box squat
Good for: quads, hamstrings, glutes and core
This is one of the most challenging balancing exercises you can add to your routine, but the results speak for themselves, boosting your legs as well as your core, meaning the more you do, the better your balance gets.
To do it, you’ll need a workout bench to use (or something of a similar height and stability). Start by standing on the bench and balance on one leg. Bring the opposite foot in front of you and without placing the foot down, bend your standing leg and slowly lower down into a squat, using your arms in front of you for balance if needed. Hold this position briefly then return.
Reps: Try 2-3 sets of five squats per leg and build from there
20. Wall sit
Good for: thighs
Ok, we are going to finish with total thigh burn with the simple but deceptively effective wall sit.
The name says it all and it’s superb for isolating all the muscles in your thighs, including your quadriceps, abductors and hamstrings – just be prepared for some serious thigh wobble as your muscles are put to the test!
All you need is a wall – lean against it with your back nice and flat against the surface and then slowly slide down until your legs are at a right angle. Now hold…. for as long as you can! This is one exercise to quite literally shake up your leg exercise routine.
Reps: start with 3 -5 sets of 60 seconds