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Who says you need a gym full of expensive equipment to get a killer workout? As much as I love bench pressing with a barbell or pair of the best dumbbells, I still regularly incorporate bodyweight exercises into my program to build strength and muscle. 

RELATED: At-Home Bodyweight Workout

The secret lies in performing these exercises correctly and with the right intensity. As a certified personal trainer (CPT) and longtime rugby player who’s done everything from bear crawls across the pitch to calisthenics and core exercises in the gym, I can vouch for the power of putting just your body to work.

In this article, I’ll unveil the 10 best bodyweight exercises to help you build muscle and strength. So, roll out that yoga mat and mount your pull-up bar because we’re about to unleash the full potential of your own body weight.

The 10 Best Bodyweight Exercises

From push-ups and pull-ups to lunges and planks, this list of the best bodyweight exercises targets your upper body, lower body, and core. It includes powerful compound movements that activate multiple muscle groups simultaneously, helping you build muscle, strength, and endurance anywhere, anytime.

  • Push-up
  • Pull-up
  • Dips
  • Plank
  • Burpee
  • Lunge
  • Mountain Climber
  • Bodyweight Squat
  • Glute Bridge 
  • Step-up

Push-Up

Why do it: Push-ups are a staple in any bodyweight workout routine. They target multiple muscle groups, including your chest, triceps, and shoulders, helping to build upper-body strength.

How to do it:

  1. Start in a plank position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lower your body until your chest nearly touches the floor, keeping a straight line from head to heels.
  3. Push back up to the starting position. 
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

RELATED: 100 Push-Ups a Day

push up demo gif

Pull-Up

Why do it: Pull-ups are excellent for building upper-body strength, particularly in your lats and upper back. They’re also useful for developing grip strength

How to do it:

  1. Grab a pull-up bar with your palms facing away from you, hands shoulder-width apart.
  2. Enter a dead hang with your arms fully extended.
  3. Pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar.
  4. Lower back down with control. 
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

RELATED: The Best Pull-Up Variations For All Skill Levels

pull-up gif

Dips

Why do it: Dips target your triceps, chest, and shoulders, making them great for developing a strong, muscular upper body. Changing your body angle will also allow you to target specific muscle groups. 

How to do it:

  1. Position yourself at the edge of a bench or parallel bars with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lower your body by bending your elbows to a 90-degree angle.
  3. Push back up to the starting position. 
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

RELATED: Dips Vs Pull-Ups

box dips

Plank

Why do it: Planks are one of the best bodyweight exercises for building core strength and stability. The standard version engages your abdominal muscles, lower back, and shoulders. 

How to do it:

  1. Start in a plank position with your forearms on the ground and your elbows directly under your shoulders.
  2. Keep your body in a straight line from head to heels.
  3. Hold the position for a set time or until failure while maintaining proper form.

RELATED: 13 Plank Exercises

woman doing a plank

Burpee

Why do it: Burpees are a full-body exercise that combines strength and cardio, boosting your heart rate and improving overall fitness.

How to do it:

  1. Start in a standing position.
  2. Drop into a squat position with your hands on the ground in front of you.
  3. Kick your feet back into a plank position.
  4. Perform a push-up.
  5. Jump your feet back to the squat position.
  6. Jump up explosively with your arms extended overhead. 
  7. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

RELATED: What Muscles Do Burpees Work?

Woman doing burpees

Lunge

Why do it: Lunges are excellent for lower-body strength, targeting your quads, hamstrings, and glutes. This fundamental movement pattern also improves balance and coordination.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Step forward with your left leg, lowering your hips until both knees are bent at a 90-degree angle.
  3. Push back up to the starting position. 
  4. Perform the desired number of reps, then repeat on the other leg. 

RELATED: The Seven Fundamental Movement Patterns

Woman doing bodyweight lunges

Mountain Climber

Why do it: Mountain climbers are a great cardio exercise that works your core, shoulders, triceps, and legs. A dynamic movement that’ll challenge your muscular strength and endurance, mountain climbers are an excellent way to level up your bodyweight HIIT workouts.

How to do it:

  1. Start in a plank position.
  2. Bring your right knee toward your chest.
  3. Quickly switch legs, bringing your left knee toward your chest while pushing your right leg back.
  4. Continue alternating legs rapidly for the desired number of reps or time.

RELATED: 12 Moves For The Perfect No-Equipment Beach Workout

Bodyweight Squat

Why do it: Squats target your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, building lower-body strength and enhancing functional movement. 

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes slightly pointed out.
  2. Lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the ground, keeping your back straight and knees over your toes.
  3. Push through your heels to return to the starting position. 
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

RELATED: 21 Best Squat Variations

Air Squat

Glute Bridge

Why do it: Glute bridges help strengthen your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back, improving hip stability and core strength. You can also make them more challenging by adding a resistance band. 

How to do it:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet hip-width apart.
  2. Lift your hips toward the ceiling, squeezing your glutes at the top of the movement.
  3. Lower back down with control. 
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

RELATED: 8 Gluteus Maximus Exercises

banded glute bridge demo gif

Step-Up

Why do it: Step-ups target your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, enhancing lower-body strength and coordination. Like a single-leg deadlift, this unilateral exercise can help address muscular imbalances.

How to do it:

  1. Stand in front of a sturdy bench or step.
  2. Step up with your right foot, then bring your left foot up to meet it.
  3. Step back down with your right foot, followed by your left. 
  4. Repeat for reps or duration.

RELATED: Unilateral Exercises

Sample Bodyweight Home Workouts

Ready to break a sweat and build muscle at home? I created these sample workouts so you can get started using nothing but your mind and body. The workouts are tailored to different fitness levels, allowing you to progress. 

Beginner Bodyweight Workout

If you’re just starting your fitness journey, this beginner-level workout should provide enough of a challenge to get your blood pumping. Start with three sets of each exercise, focusing on proper form and maintaining full control throughout each movement. As you get stronger and fitter, you can increase the difficulty by adding more reps or sets or changing the tempo. 

Trainer’s tip: Complete all three sets before moving on to the next exercise. Take about 60 to 90 seconds of rest between sets. 

ExerciseSetsReps
Push-up310-12
Squat312-15
Glute bridge312
Mountain climber312 (per leg)
Plank320-30 sec.

RELATED: Tempo Training

Intermediate Bodyweight Workout

This intermediate-level workout ramps up the volume by adding a fourth set. Plus, you’ll get to work on different exercises, as I swapped out bodyweight squats for lunges and penciled in burpees and pull-ups into this program. 

woman-performing-mountain-climbers

Trainer’s tip: Complete all four sets before moving on to the next exercise. Take about 60 seconds of rest between sets. 

ExerciseSetsReps
Close-grip push-up415
Pull-up48
Lunge412 (per leg)
Mountain climber412 (per leg)
Burpee410
Plank430-45 sec.

RELATED: 10 Best Lunge Alternatives

Advanced Bodyweight HIIT Workout

This advanced bodyweight workout tests your muscular endurance and mental fortitude by having you perform a circuit of all six exercises instead of completing one exercise at a time. Your goal should be to jump from one movement to the next with minimal rest time. 

Trainer’s tip: After completing a round, rest for about two to three minutes before repeating the circuit. 

ExerciseSetsReps
Weighted pull-up510
Dip510-15
Squat515-20
Burpee510
Step-up510 (per leg)
Plank (or side plank)530-45 sec.

RELATED: Stamina Vs Endurance

Tips To Make Bodyweight Workouts More Effective

These simple yet powerful tips can help you achieve superior results and prevent your bodyweight training sessions from getting stale. 

Increase the Intensity

To make your bodyweight workouts more effective, incorporate high-intensity interval training (HIIT). This involves performing exercises at maximum effort for short bursts followed by brief rest periods, boosting cardiovascular fitness and burning more calories. 

RELATED: Benefits of HIIT 

Focus on Proper Form

Proper form is crucial to maximizing the benefits of bodyweight exercises (and any exercise) and preventing injuries. Pay attention to your posture and technique, and consider using a mirror or recording yourself to ensure you’re performing each movement correctly. If you’re still unsure about your form, consider consulting a personal trainer at the gym or trying one of the best online personal trainers.

Add Variations

Introduce variations of basic exercises to target different muscle groups and prevent plateaus. For example, instead of regular push-ups, try decline push-ups, diamond push-ups, or plyometric push-ups to challenge your muscles in new ways.

woman-in-knee-push-up-position

RELATED: 17 Push-Up Variations

Incorporate Compound Movements

Compound exercises, which involve multiple muscle groups, can make your workouts more efficient and effective. Exercises like squats, mountain climbers, and lunges work several muscles simultaneously, providing a comprehensive workout in less time.

Use Progressive Overload

To continue making progress, gradually increase the difficulty of your workouts, Which you can do by increasing your number of repetitions, adding more sets, shortening rest periods, or incorporating advanced variations of exercises.

RELATED: What Is Progressive Overload?

Engage Your Core

Actively engaging your core muscles during all exercises can enhance stability and strength. Focus on maintaining a tight core during movements like squats, push-ups, and planks to improve overall effectiveness and develop a stronger midsection.

Benefits of Bodyweight Exercises

Whether you’re focused on weight loss or packing on muscle, you can utilize bodyweight exercises to accomplish your fitness goals. Here are the rewards you can reap by simply putting your body to work: 

Adaptable for All Fitness Levels

Whether you’re a beginner who needs to master the basics or an advanced athlete who wants a more balanced strength training routine, you can easily modify bodyweight exercises to suit any fitness level. By adjusting the intensity, duration, and incorporating exercise variations, you can continually challenge yourself and progress.

Can Increase Muscular Strength and Endurance

Exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, and dips require muscles to work against gravity, increasing their load-bearing capacity over time and improving strength. Meanwhile, squats and lunges put your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves (as well as your core muscles) under tension to induce a muscle- and strength-building stimulus.

a woman doing lunges on a beach

In addition to strength, bodyweight exercises can boost muscular endurance1 by requiring muscles to sustain prolonged activity. High-repetition sets challenge muscle fibers to maintain force over extended periods. 

RELATED: Muscular Endurance Exercises

Can Help Improve Cardiovascular Health

Bodyweight exercises offer significant cardiovascular health benefits by incorporating high-intensity movements that elevate your heart rate and improve your endurance. Exercises like burpees, mountain climbers, and jumping jacks engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously while increasing heart rate, which enhances blood circulation, strengthens the heart, and improves overall cardiorespiratory fitness2.

Can Enhance Your Flexibility, Balance, and Coordination

Bodyweight exercises often require a range of motion that promotes flexibility and balance. Movements such as lunges and step-ups improve coordination by challenging the body’s stability and proprioception.

Flexibility and balance training through bodyweight exercises can reduce the risk of injuries, enhance athletic performance, and improve daily functional movements.

cossack-squat-balance

RELATED: Balance Exercises

Cost-Effective

Since bodyweight exercises require little to no equipment, they are a cost-effective way to stay fit. You can achieve a full-body workout without spending money on gym memberships or expensive fitness gear.

Since bodyweight exercises require no financial investment, they’re accessible to a wider population and promote health and fitness without financial barriers.

Best Bodyweight Exercises: Final Thoughts 

While strength training with weights still reigns supreme3, don’t underestimate the power of no-equipment workouts. Bodyweight exercises offer distinct advantages, including accessibility and cost-effectiveness, making them an excellent addition to any fitness routine. Get creative with your workouts by varying sets, reps, tempo, and rest time to keep your sessions challenging and rewarding. 

Best Bodyweight Exercises: FAQs

What is a bodyweight workout?

A bodyweight workout is a fitness routine that uses your body weight as resistance to build strength, endurance, and flexibility without needing external weights or equipment.

What are the best bodyweight exercises?

The best bodyweight exercises include push-ups, pull-ups, triceps dips, planks, burpees, lunges, mountain climbers, bodyweight squats, glute bridges, and step-ups.

RELATED: 10 Best Bodyweight Chest Exercises

What is the most effective bodyweight workout?

The most effective bodyweight workout combines exercises that target multiple muscle groups, such as push-ups, pull-ups, squats, lunges, and planks, to provide a comprehensive full-body workout.

Is 20 minutes of bodyweight workout enough?

A 20-minute high-intensity bodyweight workout can improve fitness levels and burn calories if performed consistently. However, to make progress, it’s important to incorporate a variety of bodyweight moves and challenge yourself with different rep and set schemes.

RELATED: 20-Minute Upper-BodyCardio Workout

Can I get in shape with bodyweight exercises?

Bodyweight exercises can help you get in shape by improving your strength, endurance, flexibility, and cardiovascular health. You’ll also want to follow a protein-focused diet to achieve a lean, muscular physique. 

References

  1. Harvard Health. (2022, February 15). The advantages of body-weight exercise. https://www.health.harvard.edu/exercise-and-fitness/the-advantages-of-body-weight-exercise
  2. Archila, L. R., Bostad, W., Joyner, M. J., & Gibala, M. J. (2021). Simple Bodyweight Training Improves Cardiorespiratory Fitness with Minimal Time Commitment: A Contemporary Application of the 5BX Approach. International journal of exercise science, 14(3), 93–100.
  3. Ogawa M, Hashimoto Y, Mochizuki Y, Inoguchi T, Kouzuma A, Deguchi M, Saito M, Homma H, Kikuchi N, Okamoto T. Effects of free weight and body mass-based resistance training on thigh muscle size, strength and intramuscular fat in healthy young and middle-aged individuals. Exp Physiol. 2023 Jul;108(7):975-985. doi: 10.1113/EP090655. Epub 2023 May 3. PMID: 37133323; PMCID: PMC10988481.

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