Fitness Fundamentals: 5 Bodyweight Exercises You Need To Know

Learning how to exercise without equipment is essential. Whether you have access to a gym or not, using just your bodyweight allows you to workout anywhere when you can’t make it to your club! Eliminate your excuses with these five exercises!

Bodyweight can be deceiving. Sure, you carry it around every day, but when you begin to manipulate a few different variables, you’ll be surprised by how challenging a bodyweight workout can be.

Let’s explore three key variables to ensure you get the most out of a bodyweight workout:

1. Range Of Motion

How big you make the movement will enhance the benefit of any bodyweight exercise! Be sure to practice good form and concentrate on bracing through your core (pulling in on all sides around the navel). Then, look for ways to increase the range of motion.

2. Speed

Use a wide variety of tempos to maximize your workout and keep your muscles (and your mind) guessing. Slower movements allow you to explore range of motion and take momentum out of the exercise, this makes the move challenging. Try even tempos (same amount of time descending and ascending), lowering quick, and lifting slow or the reverse.

3. Repetition Management

You need to decide how many of each exercise you will do. You can use time or count your reps. But, with body weight exercise, every rep must count. Therefore, it’s even more important you have a clear picture of how many you will do.

With those variables in mind, here are the top 5 bodyweight exercises you can do anywhere!

The SQUAT

The squat is the perfect way to shape your backside. Begin with your feet a little wider than hip distance, with toes slightly turned out. Bend your knees and sit back as if you’re sitting into a chair. Be sure to keep weight in your heels and your chest lifted. To keep it interesting, you can try adding heel and toe lifts at the lowest point of the squat.

And, of course, it’s easy to increase the intensity by switching to a single leg squat. With the feet a bit closer together, shift weight into the right leg by popping the heel of the left foot, balancing on the tip of the toe or actually lifting the foot slightly off the floor. Performing the squat on one leg will challenge your balance, as well as your lower body strength!

The LUNGE

The lunge is an overall lower body shaper that also challenges balance. Begin with your feet hip distance apart, then step one leg back. Bend both knees to lower towards the ground while keeping your back as straight as you can (imagine a carousel horse motion). As the shin of your back leg and the thigh of your front leg become parallel to the ground, you should have two 90-degree angles at the knee joint. Much like the squat, weight should be in the heel of the front foot. As you return to the starting position, you can leave the back leg where you began, lift it off the ground (with leg straight) for an added glute squeeze, or step it together to meet the other foot.

When you’re ready for a challenge, find an open space and move your lunges by stepping forward into the lunge and switching legs when you come up.

The PUSH-UP

The push-up is a must for strengthening the chest, shoulders and triceps. Begin with your hands a bit wider than your shoulders, on your toes or your knees. Be certain your body is straight from head to toes (or knees) with your core engaged. Bend your elbows and lower your entire body down until you are a fist’s distance away from the floor. Then, return to the starting position. Avoid locking out your elbows at the top.

Up the ante with moving push-ups. Begin in the same starting position but with your legs slightly wider than hip distance. Lower down as described but as you come up, move your right hand and leg towards your left and then your left hand and leg out to assume the starting position. Repeat traveling back to your right on the next rep.

For a triceps push-up, shift the focus into the back of your arms, and move your hands underneath your shoulders. As you lower down, hug your elbows into your sides.

The PULL-UP

The pull-up builds upper body strength like no other body weight exercise. You will need to find something to pull yourself up on like monkey bars at a playground for this exercise. If you are just starting out, find a lower bar about waist high. Position your hands wider than shoulder distance in an overhand grip and walk under the bar until you are hanging with your front side looking up towards the sky. Your legs can be bent (easier) or straight out (harder). Pull your chest up to the bar by bending your elbows. Aim to keep your body as straight as you can, including your head and neck. Then, lower yourself to the starting position.

Experiment with the position of the hands – wider, narrower, overhand, underhand – to target different parts of the back. If you’re ready to progress, find a higher bar that you can hang from and follow the same guidelines for hand positioning and execution. Remember to keep your core tight and breathe!

The PLANK

The plank is the perfect core exercise to round out a bodyweight workout. To get started, assume the beginning position of a push-up but move your hands directly under your shoulders. Like a push-up, you can stay on your toes or perform the plank on your knees. Engage the core as you hold. Envision you’re trying to move to the next hole on your belt but you can’t change the position of your midsection as you ‘cinch’ your waist.

The goal is to hold this position from your ‘center’ and progress the length of the hold. You may also choose to perform the plank on your forearms (instead of arms extended).

For a challenge, experiment moving between these two positions. Start with arms extended then, gently and without swiveling too much in the hips, lower yourself down to your forearms one arm at a time. Then, return back to the full plank.

With these exercises you can have a full body workout, in the gym or out!

Which bodyweight exercise is your favorite?

Share in the comments below! Let’s see who wins.

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Shannon Fable, 2013 IDEA and 2006 ACE Instructor of the Year, is the founder of SFR, a consulting firm for aspiring fitness educators, manufacturers and managers, as well as the owner of Balletone® and GroupEx Pro®. Shannon is a 17 year fitness veteran, freelance writer, as well as an international presenter for Schwinn®, BOSU and ACE. She is a member of the ACE Board of Directors, has helped author portions of the ACE and ACSM Group Fitness manuals, and has starred in over 25 fitness videos. Shannon is a certified Book Yourself Solid® Business Coach interested in helping fitness professionals navigate the industry and find their place. She's busy improving the self-esteem of the world as the Director of Exercise Programming for the Anytime Fitness Franchise.

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