These 12 Bodyweight Exercises Will Give You A Great Workout — No Gym Or Equipment Required
Getting to the gym on a regular basis can be inconvenient, time-consuming, and stressful.
But these downsides shouldn’t be reasons not to treat your body to an awesome workout. Nor should not having any weights or cardio machines in your home be an excuse to skip getting your heart rate up before or after work.
Here are 12 bodyweight exercises you can do anywhere — no equipment necessary — recommended by Rena Eleázar, Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Physical Therapy and founder of Match Fit Performance, and Despina Pavlou, personal trainer and founder of PCOS Oracle.
What it targets: chest, triceps, shoulders, core
How to do it: Start in a high plank with your hands under your shoulders. Brace your abs, squeeze your butt, and squeeze your legs and feet together. Bend your elbows while keeping them close to the sides of your body.
Lower yourself as far as you can, while maintaining control, before pushing yourself up. Aim for 8-12 repetitions.
Make it easier: If your hips sink or your shoulders shrug up to your ears, especially when you’re pushing yourself up, you may need to do fewer reps or modify your position. Place your knees on the floor (with feet raised) if the standard push-up position is too hard.
Make it harder: If this isn’t challenging enough for you, try placing your hands wider, placing your feet on a stable, elevated surface (like a chair or low coffee table), or pushing to lift your hands off the ground at the top of your pushup (this is known as a “plyo push up”).
What it targets: shoulders, triceps and biceps
How to do it: If you’re looking to specifically target your biceps — which can be challenging in the absence of weights or some type of pull-up mechanism — try a spin on the traditional push up.
Get into the push-up position and rotate your wrist and forearm so your fingers point backwards and your bicep is facing forwards. Move your torso forward so your hands are near your waist. Lower yourself down, just as you would a push up. Press yourself back up and you’ll feel your biceps working. Aim for 8-12 repetitions for this variation as well.
Make it easier: Come down onto your knees, do fewer reps or move your hands back up toward your shoulders.
Make it harder: The further you place your hands from the shoulder, the more your biceps will need to work.
Leg Bicep Curl
What it targets: biceps
How to do it: Place your left hand against a wall or table for balance. Bend forward slightly and grip your left hamstring in your right hand.
Engage your right bicep to use that left leg as a weight that you curl upward until your right bicep is fully flexed. Perform 10-15 repetitions and repeat on the other side (using your left bicep and hand to curl your right leg).
Make it easier: Reduce the number of repetitions you perform or give the lifting arm some lighter weight by engaging the hip flexor on the lifted leg slightly (so that the leg being lifted raises itself a bit).
Make it harder: Engage the hamstrings and glutes of the leg being lifted so that it presses into the hand doing the lifting, creating more resistance for the bicep of the lifting arm to contend with.
Bear Crawl Hold
What it targets: core, quadriceps, shoulders, triceps
How to do it: Start on your hands and knees with your hands under your shoulders, your knees under your hips and your heels in the same plane as your sit bones (aka “butt bones”).
Tuck your toes under. Brace your abs and press into the floor with your hands and feet as you raise your knees two inches above the ground. Hold this for 30-60 seconds — keeping your back steady, as if you’re balancing a glass of water on it.
Make it easier: If this exercise isn’t accessible to you, try holding a high plank (push up position with hands under the shoulders and a braced core that maintains a straight line from your head down to your heels) or forearm plank (same position, only you’re supporting yourself on your forearms instead of your hands) for 30-60 seconds.
Make it harder: Once you get into position, try walking yourself five “steps” to the left, five “steps” to the right, five forward and five back.
What it targets: lateralis (upper back)
How to do it: Lie down with your back on the floor. Bend your knees and feet off the ground, keeping your knees at a 90 degree angle.
Brace your core as you squeeze your shoulder blades together and drive your elbows into the floor. Make sure your head is steady and that your neck isn’t flexed or extended. Hold for one second, release down and repeat for 10-15 repetitions.
Make it easier: Extend your legs and feet on the ground.
Make it harder: On every third repetition, hold yourself for 10-15 seconds in the upright, flexed position by continuing to squeeze your lat muscles.
What it targets: gluteal muscles (your butt), quadriceps, hamstrings, core
How to do it: Lie down with your back on the floor. Bend your knees and place your feet beneath them, hip-width apart. Press the small of your back against the floor, curl your tailbone off the floor, then squeeze your butt and lift your hips.
Be mindful of your lower back. If you feel any pain, don’t raise your hips as high (or go no further than raising them to be in a straight, vertical line from your knees to you chest). Perform 10-15 repetitions.
Make it easier: Move your feet farther away from your hips, but still in line with your hips — without widening your stance.
Make it harder: Perform 10-15 repetitions on each leg, alone, with the unworking leg’s knee in line with the working leg’s knee. You can bend or straighten the non-working leg.
What it targets: gluteal muscles (your butt), hamstrings, quadriceps
How to do it: Place your feet between hip and shoulder width apart, feet parallel or slightly turned out. Bend your knees and hips at the same time as you lower yourself toward the floor. Keep your heels on the ground and be mindful of keeping your shoulders from rolling forward.
It’s OK for your knees to travel over your toes as long as your flexibility and strength allows it. Do 10-15 repetitions.
Make it easier: Keep a chair or bench beneath you so you squat down to touch something before pushing yourself back to stand.
Make it harder: Place your weight on one foot and lift the opposite leg out in front of you, either straight or with a bent knee. Squat here on one leg, lowering yourself to a chair or bench. If you’re able to, you can also lower yourself down on one leg with no support to sit on, trying to dip down as low as you can. Perform 10-15 repetitions and repeat on the opposite leg.
What it targets: quadriceps, gluteal muscles, hamstrings
How to do it: Start standing with your feet together. Step forward with one foot as you lower your back knee to the ground. If you’re unsure how far apart your feet should be, kneeling on the floor with the right knee on the ground, the left foot on the floor and the left knee bent, in line over that left foot.
You should be able to make all right angles with the front leg, and your back knee should be directly below your hips. Press into the floor with the front leg to assume the starting, standing position.
Perform one repetition, step back to stand and repeat 10-15 times — either on the same side, or alternating left, right, left right. If alternating, be sure to do 10-15 reps on each side.
Make it easier: Instead of stepping, which can be challenging for your balance and coordination, try split squats, where your feet remain in a staggered stance (one in front, one in back), and you bring your body weight up and down for 10-15 repetitions by bending both knees. Repeat 10-15 times on the opposite side (with the opposite foot forward).
Make it harder: Rather than stepping back and forth for each repetition, jump at the top of each lunge completion and switch out your front and back leg positioning — that is: if you start with your left foot forward and right leg behind you, jump and bring your right foot in front of you and your left leg behind you.
What it targets: abdominals and core, transverse abdominals.
How to do it: Lay down on your back with your legs bent at a 45-degree angle and link your hands together behind your neck. Raise both legs off the floor. Fully extend your left leg as you bend your right leg and cross your right knee to your left elbow over the midline of your body. Switch legs and repeat 15-30 times.
Make it easier: Let your shoulder blades touch the floor between repetitions.
Make it harder: Try keeping your shoulder blades off the ground for the duration of your reps.
What it targets: abdominals and core, transverse abdominals
How to do it: Sit on the ground with your legs bent. Lean back slightly so your upper body is at a 45-degree angle to the floor. Link your hands in front of you, lift your legs up and brace your core. Twist your torso to your right side, then to your left.
Make sure you keep your back straight throughout the motion. Do 15-30 repetitions.
Make it easier: Bring your knees closer to your chest.
Make it harder: Keep your feet pressing into the floor with your legs bent.
What it targets: transverse abdominals
How to do it: Lay down on your right side with your legs extended and stacked on top of each other. Position your elbow so it’s directly under your shoulder. Press into your forearm and right side of your foot as you lift yourself up (straight legs) so there is a straight line from your left shoulder to your left ankle. Hold this for 30-60 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Make it easier: Place your left hand on the floor in front of you for extra steadying, and to relieve your core of some weight.
Make it harder: Lift the leg that’s on top, keeping both feet parallel to one another.
What it targets: lower back and trunk muscles.
How to do it: Lie face down with your stomach on the floor. Reach your arms straight out over your head and point your toes. Brace your abs, squeeze your butt, and lift your head, chest, and legs off the floor so that only your stomach (and possibly part of your rib cage) is touching the floor. From here, lift your left arm and your right leg higher while slightly lowering your right arm and left leg (without touching the floor).
Repeat on the opposite side (right arm and left leg raised; left arm and right leg lowered). Perform 10-15 repetitions.
Make it easier: Do a similar exercise, called supermans: Instead of lifting your opposite arm and leg, lift both arms and both legs up, then down, for 10-15 repetitions.
Make it harder: Slow down the motion and/or add 10-15 reps of lifting and lowering both legs and arms at the same time without ever touching the ground.
You can challenge yourself to do some or all of these in any order you prefer. Be sure to stop if you feel pain or feel faint, and always consult with a doctor prior to beginning any exercise regimen. If you’d like to add some stretches to your routine, check out our other blog post, 10 Stretches All Desk Workers Should Do.
About the Author
Katherine Schreiber is a contributor to the Public Goods Blog, a publication about health, sustainability and people making an impact. Check it out for a wide range of topics: everything from the plastic straw ban and fair trade to zero waste and eco-friendly products.