No weighting. You are the resistance. Whether you weigh 150 or 300, you’re hauling those pounds around every day. What you’re probably not doing is using your body’s weight for a workout. However, you could, and maybe you should. With a minimum amount of stationary equipment—chinning bar, dipping bars—or no equipment at all, you can train your entire physique. But if you’re a member of a gym chockfull of dumbbells and barbells and all manner of machines, why would you want to train without all those tools? Maybe you’re traveling, stuck in a hotel room or a campsite. Maybe you’re too busy to get to the gym for a few days. Or maybe you just want to try something different to free yourself from the rut of those same old, metallic moves. And you don’t have to do a full-body workout sans weights. There are likely several bodyweight exercises that you can incorporate into your current routine. Let’s explore the best of them.
CHEST: BODYWEIGHT EXERCISES
DIPS focus on your lower pecs, as well as your front delts and triceps. Lean into each rep to work your pecs more and triceps less.
PUSHUPS done in the standard style are the equivalent of upside-down, light bench presses. But there are several variations. With your legs elevated, pushups focus more on the upper pecs. Conversely, with your torso elevated, the tension is greater on the lower pecs. Use pushup handles to expand the range of motion.
BACK: BODYWEIGHT EXERCISES
Like chest, back is another easy bodypart to hit without weights, though to some degree that depends on how strong you are in the pullup.
PULLUPS can be performed with a variety of grips (wide, moderate, close, overhand, underhand), each of which works your back in a slightly different way. If you can’t get eight reps on your own, use a band under your legs or the helping hands of a spotter to remove some stress. If you can get more than 15 reps on your own, use a chain or helping hands to add resistance.
The other key bodyweight back exercise is the INVERTED ROW. This is essentially a pullup with your heels on the floor and body held flat. Set a Smith machine bar or a barbell in a power rack at slightly higher than arms-length when you’re lying on the floor, and pull yourself up as if rowing upside-down.
SHOULDERS: BODYWEIGHT EXERCISES
You can approximate a shoulder press with your bodyweight. The HANDSTAND PUSHUP is done next to a wall, facing away, with your heels against the wall. Press yourself up and down. Your head will limit your range of motion.
If you’re not strong enough to knock out 10 handstand pushups, do the PUSHBACK PUSHUP. Each rep starts and ends like a the bottom position of a traditional pushup, but you push yourself back and up, straightening your arms out in front of you and bending your knees. So, at the top you’re in a crawl position. Pushbacks have the advantage of a longer range of motion than handstands. Each of these will target your front delts, as do, to a lesser degree, conventional dips and pushups.
Rear delts will get some work with pullups and inverted rows. If you want to do work them more, include WIDE-GRIP INVERTED ROWS in your bodyweight shoulder routine.
Medial delts can be worked with ISOMETRIC HOLDS. Hold your arms perfectly straight and parallel to the floor for as long as possible. Add resistance by having someone press down on your arms while you keep them parallel, or (cheating on our “bodyweight” definition) hold the sort of light items you can find most anywhere: drinking glasses, unopened soda cans, books, rocks, etc.
BICEPS: BODYWEIGHT EXERCISES
Do CHINUPS (a.k.a. underhand pullups) or UNDERHAND INVERTED ROWS and you’ll work your biceps more and your back less.
TRICEPS: BODYWEIGHT EXERCISES
BENCH DIPS, done with your hands slightly behind you and your legs straight out in front of you, target your triceps, especially the lateral and medial heads as we explored in this article. You can do these with two benches or chairs: one for your hands, the other for your feet.
UPRIGHT DIPS (keep your torso upright, don’t lean into reps) focus more on your triceps and less on your chest, as do NARROW PUSHUPS (pushups with the thumbs touching or within six inches of each other). The latter are often called diamond pushups when the thumbs and forefingers touch to form a sort of diamond.
QUADRICEPS: BODYWEIGHT EXERCISES
Don’t think you can escape squatting. You can do ONE-LEG SQUATS. The non-working leg is bent with that foot behind you and against a bench or chair.
You can also do FULL, BODYWEIGHT SQUATS for very high reps. And we mean full. Go glutes-to-ankles on every rep and just keep cranking out reps. You should be able to hit at least 30 reps. When you can get 200 or more, you won’t need a second set.
Isometric WALL SQUATS are another leg endurance test. Crouch with your thighs parallel to the floor and your back flat against the wall, as if sitting in an invisible chair. Stay in that position as long as you can. Wall squats are a great way to finish off a bodyweight leg workout, or you can do them immediately after another bodyweight lift, like lunges or one-leg squats, to thoroughly toast your legs without weights.
HAMSTRINGS/GLUTES: BODYWEIGHT EXERCISES
LUNGES work your entire lower body, but a study showed they target the hamstrings and glutes more than the quads. You can get a good workout doing walking lunges with your just your bodyweight if you go far enough and take deep strides. The trailing knee should touch or nearly touch the floor.
STAIR RUNNING is a bodyweight cardio exercise that does a great job of target the glutes.
CALVES: BODYWEIGHT EXERCISES
Without weights, you need to make the standing calf raise harder. Try ISOMETRIC HOLD CALF RAISES. Go barefoot on a flat floor and don’t hold anything to steady yourself. Then rise up very slowly, squeeze hard, and hold each contraction. Lower at a normal speed. It can be difficult to balance yourself, but once you get the hang of it this is a unique way of targeting calves. Note the superb calves of most ballerinas who spend a lot of time on their tiptoes.
ONE-LEG CALF RAISES are also an effective bodyweight lift. Raise and lower yourself with only one calf at a time, being sure to get a maximum stretch and contraction on each rep. You can do these on a staircase riser or block. Alternate legs or do all the reps for one calf and then the other.
ABDOMINALS: BODYWEIGHT EXERCISES
Some of the best ab exercises are done with only your bodyweight. In fact, as we explored in this article, the VERTICAL LEG RAISE, INCLINE CURL-UP, and BICYCLE CRUNCH are three of the four best ab exercises, according to scientific studies, and all use only your own body as resistance.
BODYWEIGHT TRAINING BASICS
✔️ Bodyweight workouts can be done almost anywhere, including a hotel room or park.
✔️ The easiest way to use virtually all of your bodyweight as resistance is to pull or push while suspended, as in a pullup or dip.
✔️ Because choices are limited, you may need to focus on a single exercise for eight or more sets.
✔️ Change your hand or foot placement to work different muscles or bodypart areas.
BODYWEIGHT TRAINING TIP SHEET
✔️ When you can do 15 reps of a bodyweight exercise, increase difficulty by reducing rest periods.
✔️ A training partner can add or reduce resistance. For example, he can hold you down a little or lift you up a little during pullups.
✔️ Bilateral leg exercises, like squats, usually require high reps and maximum ranges of motion.