Simple and Effective Bodyweight Exercises

James Logie
Two woman do a squat jump onto a boxPhoto by Meghan Holmes on Unsplash

Bodyweight exercises are one of the best ways to get fit and strong. Just lifting and lowering your own bodyweight can produce tremendous results.

Look at a gymnast. They have some of the best physiques and muscle development in all of sport. And their strength goes without saying.

This is because a majority of their training involves lifting, lowering, and supporting their bodyweight.

No matter how good the equipment in a gym may be, you can still include some of these exercises.

There are many to choose from, but here — in no particular order — are some great bodyweight exercises to include in your routine.

1. Squat Jumps

Squat jumps are a great way to build explosive power, strength, and muscle. Since you are using your own bodyweight, you can go at your own pace and perform as many reps as you feel necessary.

If you want to make them more challenging, slow down the eccentric lower portion of the exercise.

Key Points:

  • Drive upwards, and push through your heels, but descend into the squat for at least a count of three.
  • Keep your head up during squat jumps, your chest up and out, and your core tight.
  • It helps to have your feet around shoulder-width apart and ideally not let your knees extend out past your feet.

2. Burpees

Burpees are brutal. But that’s what makes them so effective. Believe it or not, they were invented by a man named Royal H. Burpee.

He invented the burpee as a quick fitness test. The U.S. Armed Services quickly adopted the exercise, as they need to quickly assess the fitness of new recruits.

The burpee was perfect because it revealed strength, coordination, muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance, and agility in one movement.

It was also used to reveal how quickly a pumping heart returned to normal.

The burpee wasn’t intended to be used at a super high volume and they did the original test in just 20 seconds. Eight burpees in 20 seconds was considered poor, and 13 or more is considered excellent.

Fun fact: bringing your hands up only to head height as you jump upwards is not a full burpee. This is cheating yourself out of the exercise.

A legit burpee involves jumping upwards as high as you can while extending the arms up like you’re trying to touch the ceiling.

Don’t forget to breathe. Inhale through the nose as you lower down, and exhale as you begin to move upwards.

3. The Pushup

The tried-and-true exercise of them all may be the pushup. It’s a great way to develop upper body strength and uses the chest, shoulders, and triceps in one movement.

You can easily make pushups more or less challenging. To make them easier, perform knee pushups. To make them more challenging, play around with hand position.

Keeping your hands closer together will make them more difficult and also brings in more tricep engagement.

Lowering back down for at least a 3–4 to count will also make the pushup tougher. Focus on squeezing the chest and concentrate on that mind-muscle connection.

You can easily add more resistance to the upper body by placing your feet on a higher surface.

Key points:

  • Focus on keeping the arms and elbows closer to the body. They don’t need to be tucked right into your sides, but your upper body should look like an arrowhead with your elbows slightly out to the sides.
  • If the elbows flay out too far — or your hands are too wide — this may cause too much pressure on your shoulders and elbows.
  • Hand position is ideally just below the chest and within shoulder-width apart, but you need to find the most comfortable position for yourself.

4. Planks

A classic core strengthening exercise. The plank is great because you can hold them as long — or as short — as you’re able to. If you can hold it for 5 minutes: perfect. If you can only manage 30 seconds, that’s great too.

I love planks because you only need to do a little bit more each time to progress with them. It helps to keep a record of how long you hold them for, then just try to up it each time.

You don’t even have to do that much more — just a little. If you held your last plank for 43 seconds: try for 45 the next time.

When you slowly add a few seconds each time, you will build up a pretty great plank time without even realizing it.

Key points:

  • Keep your body as straight as an arrow. Don’t allow your head to lower down as it could lead to dizziness. I’ve seen some people blackout while doing this.
  • Your hands should be right below your shoulders.
  • Don’t let your glutes drops too low or extend upwards too high
  • Keep your abs pulled upward. Imagine sucking your belly button up into your spine.
  • Don’t forget to breathe slowly but steadily. Too many people hold their breath throughout an entire plank.

5. Lunges

Another great lower body exercise. Lunges are effective because the use of your own bodyweight allows you to slow down the movement and really focus on form.

Lunges are a great way to work your quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and adductors along with many smaller stabilizing muscles.

It’s also a good core exercise, as your upper body needs to be kept upright and stable through the movement.

You can always add in a pair of dumbbells to increase the intensity. Split squat jumps are another option to make them even more challenging.

Key Points:

  • Your feet should be about hip-width apart.
  • The distance between your front and back foot while in a lunge should be greater than your normal walking stride.
  • Keep the abs tight, head up, and chest up and out.
  • Keep your knees and feet pointing forward. It can get easy for them to shift outward when the lunges become more difficult.

6. Skater Hops

Skater hops are a terrific bodyweight exercise to build explosive power, coordination, and agility.

They’re not the most common exercise but can have a place in any training program. A skater hop is just a side-to-side hop and is another one of those full-body exercises that engage a majority of your muscles.

It’s also a great cardiovascular and endurance exercise, too. Here is a quick rundown on how to properly do a skater hop:

  1. Start in an athletic stance with your knees slightly bent, and head up
  2. Cross your right foot behind the left and drive off your left foot laterally, using your arms to begin the jumping movement to the side.
  3. Lower down slightly as you land on the right foot. You’re not going into a squat position, but a slight bend. Your left foot will naturally follow behind. Make sure your landing foot stays straight ahead.
  4. Drive off the right foot laterally and being a steady side-to-side hopping motion.

Key Points:

  • keep the head and chest up the entire time
  • Jump as far to the side as you feel comfortable with and avoid short jumps
  • Your arms help to drive the explosiveness of the move
  • Keep the core tight and don’t forget to breathe

Wrapping it Up

No matter where you go, there’s always a gym with you. By using your own bodyweight, you can always train within your limitations.

You can also always get a workout in no matter where you find yourself.

There are many more exercises to choose from, but these are some of the best. You can use a few of these during your regular workouts, or put together a bunch of bodyweight exercises to create your own circuits.

Bodyweight exercises will always be one of the best ways to build strength, muscles, fitness, and endurance.

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Personal trainer, podcaster, Amazon best-selling author. Writing about some health, a little marketing, and a whole lot of 1980s.


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