If you’re looking for a full-body workout that can be done anywhere, anytime, and requires no setup or equipment, you’re in luck.
We asked three fitness experts to share their tips on how to create a bodyweight workout plan that fits your schedule.
What is a bodyweight workout?
Before we get into the details about why you should be doing these awesome workouts, let’s define what a bodyweight workout is.
Bodyweight workouts consist of strength training moves that do not require equipment, such as dumbbells or machines. The moves can involve multiple muscle groups (squats) or isolate one or two smaller muscle groups (tricep dips).
A bodyweight workout can be aerobic, anaerobic, or both. It just depends on how you structure your routine (more on that later).
When should you do bodyweight workouts?
Typically, a bodyweight workout is done at a quicker pace than a workout done with weights. Plus, some bodyweight workouts have cardio bursts added to them to increase the intensity and calorie burn.
Like other forms of exercise, bodyweight workouts do stress your muscles. “So you will want proper rest for the muscle groups you work, as your muscle building actually happens during the rest period,” explains American College of Sports Medicine-certified personal trainer Jessica Hagestedt. Consider using this form of exercise three days per week (every other day) to start.
National Strength and Conditioning Association-certified strength and conditioning specialist Melody Schoenfeld says you can do bodyweight workouts any way that makes sense for your goals and abilities.
Bodyweight workouts can be done as a stand-alone workout or as part of a larger exercise routine. You can focus on specific muscle groups with certain movements, such as incorporating push-ups for an upper-body bodyweight routine, or you can stick to doing a full-body bodyweight routine as your main exercise for the day.
The amazing thing about bodyweight workouts, says Dempsey Marks, fitness expert and creator of the PreGame Fit fitness program, is that they can fit into nearly any fitness routine—and you’ll still be yielding benefits. “If you’re short on time, traveling, or don’t have access to a gym, bodyweight workouts alone are great for producing results,” she says.
“And if you’re looking to build a bit more muscle, I’d recommend a complete high-intensity bodyweight workout after some more traditional weightlifting at the gym. If you’re a runner, or simply just like your cardio, bodyweight workouts can be done before or after cardiovascular training,” says Marks.
What are the benefits of doing bodyweight exercises?
The list of benefits is endless, but our three experts agree that there are some that rise to the top.
- Bodyweight workouts are portable—you can do them just about anywhere.
- Bodyweight workouts are cost-effective (can be done for little or no cost).
- Bodyweight workouts can incorporate plyometrics, strength training, and agility drills, which gives you both a strength and a cardiovascular workout.
- Bodyweight workouts can include short cardio bursts to up the intensity.
- Bodyweight workouts can incorporate circuit training, which is a series of exercises performed back to back with little to no rest in between for a higher calorie burn.
Create Your Own Bodyweight Workout
Creating a bodyweight workout is a lot easier than you might think. Schoenfeld says a bodyweight workout, just like any other workout, should be based on your current abilities, goals, and attention to form. If your goal is fat loss, she recommends using total body exercises (squats, lunges, push-ups, pull-ups, etc.) to have the greatest effect.
“For a total-body workout every time, make sure to include at least one pushing exercise, one pulling exercise, one squat- or lunge-type exercise, and one hip dominant exercise (one-legged or two-legged hip thrusts, for instance),” she explains.
Marks uses this simple formula with her clients: Create a circuit with one lower body exercise, one upper body exercise, one core exercise, and either a compound exercise or a plyometric explosive exercise (to get your heart rate up).
Once you decide on the format of your workout, Hagestedt recommends the following guidelines:
- Make sure you warm up properly before any exercise.
- Find a safe space to work in that has a sturdy object (like a wall) nearby for balance assistance.
- Know what the exercise should look like before performing it; it’s helpful to do it in front of a mirror to make sure you are matching proper form and movement.
- Start with a full-body routine with exercises that use major muscle groups, and write them down. It’s amazing how easy it is to forget the next exercise once you start to tire out.
- Perform around 15 repetitions of each exercise and plan for 1 to 3 sets.
- Base your initial workout on how you’re feeling or your rate of perceived exertion (REP).
- Once your workout is complete, make sure you cool down, get your heart rate back to normal, and stretch each muscle group.
Bodyweight Workout for Beginners
This sample workout includes exercises for both the upper body and lower body. Follow the repetition and set guidelines above to determine the number of exercises to complete. If the exercise is for time, the amount to perform is at the end of the description.
Upper Body Circuit
Lie facedown on the floor. Push yourself up into a push-up position with your hands about two to three inches wider than shoulder-width apart. Fully extend your elbows, pause at the top, and lower your body down to the starting position. Repeat.
Triceps Bench Dip (Using Bench or Chair)
Sit on a bench or a sturdy chair and place your hands on either side of the hips so that the palms are resting on the bench and your fingers are hanging over the edge. Keep your feet together and your knees bent while you carefully move your buttocks off the bench—at this point, you will be supporting most of your bodyweight with your arms with your back facing the chair. Lower the hips toward the floor by bending the elbows until your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Push back up using your arms rather than your legs and repeat. To make it more challenging, perform the dip with the legs fully extended with no bend in the knees. Repeat.
Perform a push-up but extend one leg off of the ground so that it’s parallel with the floor. This adds some extra instability and recruits your abs for extra balance. Repeat.
Get into a push-up position. With your hands in place, bring your right leg up and in (think of running in place but in a push-up position). Extend your right leg back and do the same movement with your left leg. As soon as you have the movement down, pick up the pace and repeat, alternating with both legs for 20 to 30 seconds.
Lie flat on the floor and place your hands behind your head. Bring your knees up to a tabletop position. This is your starting position. Bring your right knee into your body and angle toward your left elbow (you can touch your knee to elbow). Then straighten out the right leg, square your shoulders, and do the same thing for the left leg (left knee to right elbow).
Once you feel comfortable with this movement, pick up the pace, alternating between your right and left leg.
Get into a push-up position. Now bend your elbows and rest your forearms on the floor. This is your starting position. Your feet should be flexed with your toes on the floor. Your body should be a few inches off the floor in a straight line. Make sure to contract your abdominals and lower back muscles while holding the exercise.
Lower Body Circuit
When performing squats, it is essential to have proper form to avoid injury and reap maximum results. Remember to keep your heels anchored and not to let your knees go past your toes.
Narrow Stance Squat Jumps Superset With Wide Stance Squat Jumps
Assume a squat position, with your legs shoulder-width apart. Now, bend your knees and lower yourself into a squat position. Explode up, raising your feet off the floor a few inches. Your arms can be out in front of you or at your sides. As you come back down, make sure to land softly into a squat position. You can keep repeating the movement this way or alternate between a narrow stance (a little less than shoulder width) and a wide stance (slightly wider than shoulder width). Repeat.
Get in a squat position. Step each leg out until you’re in a wide stance with your toes turned out. If you’re not using weight, your hands can be on your hips. If you decide to use weight, you can hold a kettlebell with both hands or a dumbbell in each hand (close together) in front of your body while squatting down. Pause at the bottom and stand back up. Repeat.
Find an area that has a long stretch of floor (a hallway works great). Stand with your feet together and hands on your hips. Starting with your right foot, step forward into a lunge position. Now, bring your left foot forward and step into a lunge position. Alternate legs and walk for the desired amount of time or number of reps per leg.
Lie faceup on the floor with your knees bent and your heels on the floor. Raise your hips so your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Hold this position for three to five seconds and return to the starting position. Repeat.
Stand facing away from a wall with feet positioned 6 to 12 inches away from the wall. While keeping your back against the wall, bend the knees and lower the body until thighs are parallel to the floor. Hold this position for up to 30 seconds. Return to the starting position by pushing the heels into the floor and sliding the back up against the wall.
How can you make bodyweight exercises more difficult?
If you stop feeling challenged by your bodyweight workout, it’s time to up the intensity. There are several ways to do this. Hagestedt recommends adding more complicated exercises, increasing your workout repetitions and/or sets, or adding resistance bands and/or dynamic plyometrics for an increased cardiovascular twist.
One example of a simple bodyweight move you can make more challenging is the push-up. “If you’ve mastered the push-up, you might try plyometric push-ups, which can be done in place (push hard off the floor so that you’re essentially ‘jumping’ with your hands) or onto a higher surface (so aiming to land your hands on a step after ‘jumping’ off the ground),” says Schoenfeld.
Marks says a simple option to make workouts and exercises harder is to eliminate rest. “Create a circuit, set a timer for seven minutes, and complete the circuit as many times as possible with little to no rest in between over the course of seven minutes,” she says.
“Plyometrics (like jump squats, jump lunges, speed skaters) are challenging and a wonderful way to get your heart rate up so that you’re burning extra calories during your workout. If you’d like to make the exercises themselves harder, utilize resistance bands or some light dumbbells (or even soup cans!) to really strengthen your muscles,” adds Marks.