The Best Bodyweight Exercises You Can Do at Home
At this point in your social-distancing journey, at-home solo workouts have likely become your new sweat BFF. And for most people, that means bodyweight-only exercises have taken the place of studio classes and gym sessions that call for weights and other gear. While it might seem like a setback for some, it is a good thing—the best bodyweight exercises test your form and give you a chance to perfect it, require zero equipment and little space, and, paired together, can add up to a total-body strength training workout.
“It's understandable to think that a bodyweight workout might not be challenging enough for you, especially if you're used to lifting weights—but you might be surprised,” says Adam Rosante, CPT, CSCS, strength and nutrition coach and creator of Gym Class with Adam, a free online gym class for kids K-6. “From adjusting reps and sets, to tweaking the tempo of the moves, to creating timed challenges and changing the angle of your body, there are plenty of ways to ramp up the difficulty of bodyweight exercises—or dial it back if you're just starting.”
Whenever you’re trying a new workout, you want to first focus on nailing your form on each move, says Rosante. Performing bodyweight exercises allows you to tune into body alignment and what you should be feeling—so really pay attention to the muscle groups you're working as you go. Once you master each exercise, it's time to take them to the next level.
To get you started on a no-weight workout at home, Rosante breaks down the form on 12 of the best bodyweight exercises, plus how to regress and progress them, and the ideal way to turn them into a sweaty exercise session.
1. Air Squats
How to do it: Start standing, feet shoulder-width apart. Lower your hips down and back, like you’re sitting in a chair. Go as low as you can without losing the natural curve of your lower back. Drive through the feet to return to standing. Repeat.
Form tip: Think about pressing the floor away from you as you stand up, keeping your weight in your heels. Make sure your chest stays tall and your core stays tight. You should feel your entire lower body and abs working.
Turn it down: If you’re new to squats, try standing in front of your couch or a chair. Tap the chair with your butt at the bottom, then stand back up.
Turn it up: To make the move more challenging, increase the tempo. Make sure you maintain strong form as you go fast and still drop it low—don't cut the move short.
How to do it: Start in a plank position, shoulders over wrists, creating a straight line from shoulders to heels, core engaged. Bend elbows back 45 degrees and slowly lower toward the ground. Then, press yourself back up, maintaining strong plank form. Repeat.
Form tip: Make sure your elbows hit that 45-degree angle, and avoid sending them out to the sides like a goal post—that’s rough on the shoulders, says Rosante.
Turn it down: Perform the same movement, but with hands on a couch, chair, or the edge of a table to elevate your upper body.
Turn it up: Perform a regular push-up, but keep the lowering phase super slow. Aim to count to five or six before you touch the floor.
3. Bulgarian Split Squats
How to do it: Stand a little less than a leg’s length in front of a bench, chair, box, or your couch. Place the top of your right foot on the bench behind you. Keep weight in the heel of your left foot, on the floor. Bend left knee and lower down until your back knee touches the floor or the front knee bends 90 degrees. Drive through the front left foot to stand back up. Repeat.
Form tip: Make sure to engage your core throughout the entire move, and really press through the heel and big toe of your front foot to stand back up—like you’re driving the floor away from you. Those glutes and quads should be on fire by the last rep.
Turn it down: This move challenges the legs, glutes, and feet, and requires good balance, so if you need to keep it shallow, do so—go as low as you can, says Rosante.
Turn it up: Add a half rep by lowering all the way down, coming up halfway, then lowering back down, before you stand all the up to the top.
4. Superman Pull
How to do it: Lie face down on the floor with arms extended out in front of you. Squeeze the muscles of the upper back to raise your arms and chest off the floor. Lift your feet and engage your glutes. Holding this position, pull the elbows down by your sides to form a W with your upper body, engaging your lats. Then, punch arms back out in front of you. Repeat.
Form tip: This is the best bodyweight exercise to work your back—perfect for counteracting hunched-over posture. But to make sure it’s beneficial, engage your core, keep your shoulders down and away from your ears, and maintain a neutral spine by looking down and slightly forward. Also, make the mind-muscle connection by consciously squeezing and focusing on the back muscles.
Turn it down: Lower down after each W pull or leave the feet on the floor to focus on the upper body.
Turn it up: Hold the W for 20-30 seconds to increase the time under tension.
5. Bird Dog
How to do it: Start on all fours, shoulders directly over wrists and knees directly under hips. Extend your right arm and left leg straight out, in line with shoulder and hip. Hold for a few seconds and place back down to all-fours position. Then, extend left arm and right leg straight out. Hold for a few seconds and place back down. Continue alternating.
Form tip: Make sure shoulders and hips stay square to the ground. This is a core exercise, so engage your midsection and maintain a flat back. Also, flex your feet, pressing through your heel to extend the leg.
Turn it down: Extend one arm and one leg at a time, instead of an arm and a leg together.
Turn it up: Turn up the burn in your core by doing this same move, but from a plank position. You’ll lift opposite arm and leg, hold for 3-6 seconds, then place back down and switch sides.
6. Mountain Climbers
How to do it: Start in a plank position, shoulders over wrists, forming a straight line from shoulders to heels. Maintain strong form as you drive one knee in toward your chest, then immediately step it back to plank. Then, drive the other knee in toward your chest, and immediately step it back to plank. Continue alternating as fast as possible.
Form tip: Don't let your hips pike up or drop, and keep your shoulders over wrists to maintain a strong base of support as you push the floor away from you with your upper body. Elevate your heart rate by increasing the speed, but don't let your quickness wreck your form.
Turn it down: Keep it slow if you need to to maintain a strong plank.
Turn it up: Pick up the speed, like you're sprinting in plank position.
7. Pistol Squat
How to do it: Stand with feet about shoulder-width apart, toes pointing forward. Shift your weight to your right leg, flex your left foot and extend your left leg in front of you so your heel is a few inches off the floor. Brace your core and squeeze your quads, hips, glutes, and upper back. Sit back into a squat. As you lower, raise your arms in front of you for counterbalance and maintain a slight forward lean. Lower as far as you can, then, maintaining tension in your body, drive up through the right foot to stand all the way up. Repeat, then switch sides. You can always do the squat to a chair, bench, or your couch if you're working on the move (as shown).
Form tip: Focus on keeping your knee in line with the second toe (the one next to your big toe). Keep pressure in the heel of the standing leg, as well as the big toe and pinky toe. Think of your foot like a tripod, with three points of contact, says Rosante.
Turn it down: Haven’t quite mastered a two-legged squat yet? Keep the move on two legs. Or if you have that down, start by sitting on a tall chair, bench, box, or your couch, with one foot planted and the other extended in front of you, a few inches off the floor. Extend arms in front of you. Lean back and rock forward to create some momentum as you drive the arms down and planted foot into the floor to stand up. Just make sure not to send all your weight to the ball of the foot. Lower back to the seat and repeat. Remove the rocking when you’re ready for the next progression.
Turn it up: If you have your pistol squat down—and you can come back up—grab some weight, like dumbbells if you have them. You can also slow the move down and focus on control as you lower and stand.
8. Plank Up-Downs
How to do it: Start in a plank position, shoulders over wrists, forming a straight line from shoulders to heels. Lower one forearm to the ground, shoulder over elbow, and then the other. Then, place one palm back on the ground, arm extended, and then the other. Continue alternating.
Form tip: Keep your shoulders stacked over the wrists or elbows the entire time—your hands are just replacing the elbows and vice versa as you go. Also, keep your hips in line with your shoulders—don’t pike ‘em up or drop ‘em low. Both your abs and shoulders should be working overtime, but don't forget to squeeze your glutes and activate your legs, too.
Turn it down: Place your knees on the ground in a modified plank position to complete the move.
Turn it up: Increase the speed as much as you can without breaking form. You can also place a small pillow or yoga block on your back, making sure you don't let it fall, to test your stability.
9. Alternating Side Lunge
How to do it: Stand with feet hip-width apart, toes pointing forward. Step right foot out to the right, to the three o'clock position. Bend your right knee as you sit your butt back and lower down, keeping your left leg straight. Drive out of the right heel to return to standing. Repeat on the left side and continue alternating.
Form tip: Maintain a neutral spine and keep the weight mostly in your heel as you lower into the lunge. Think about sitting your butt back to a chair behind you—you want your hips to go straight back as you lower into the lunge. Avoid pushing your weight to the side, even though you’re stepping in that direction.
Turn it down: To make it a little more approachable, don’t go quite as low in the lunge.
Turn it up: Stick to one side at a time and add a hop at the top of the move, driving your knee toward your chest. Or try skaters, hoping from side to side, as you stay low in a lunge position.
How to do it: Lie face down on the floor with legs extended straight out and arms out in front of you, thumbs up. Contract the muscles in your upper back, legs, and glutes to raise your arms and legs a few inches off the floor. Hold, then lower. Repeat.
Form tip: Bring your chest and legs as far off the ground as you can, keeping your shoulders relaxed away from the ears and gaze toward the ground and slightly forward to keep your spine neutral. Make sure to engage the entire back of your body.
Turn it down: Raise your opposite arm and leg, hold for a few seconds, lower, and then switch sides. Continue alternating.
Turn it up: At the top of the move, sweep your arms around and behind your back, interlocking your fingers or clasping one hand over the opposite wrist. Squeeze your upper back, then return to the starting position. (This one requires some shoulder mobility).
How to do it: Lie face up on the floor, legs extended straight out and arms extended overhead. Lift your torso and legs up into a V as you lower arms down to finish parallel to the floor. Slowly lower back to the floor. Repeat.
Form tip: Try to come all the way up to your tailbone, like a boat pose in yoga. Sit nice and tall at the top. Control your movement as you lower back down to the floor to add more fire to your abs.
Turn it down: Instead of keeping the legs straight the entire time, bend your knees at the top, bringing them into a tabletop position.
Turn it up: Hold the top of the movement—the V shape—for 10 seconds and slowly lower back down before repeating.
How to do it: Start standing. Then, squat down and place your hands under your shoulders. Then jump your feet back to land in the top of a push-up position. Lower your body all the way to the floor, and then push back up. Immediately jump your feet back up to your hands. Drive up through your heels and jump straight up, clapping hands overhead. Land softly. Repeat.
Form tip: The key to a good burpee is not arching or rounding the back—keep your core tight and spine in a neutral position. This is a total-body move!
Turn it down: Eliminate the jumps. Step backward and forward in the burpee, and come to your toes at the top instead of a hop. You can also keep your chest off the floor, hitting a plank at the bottom of the move.
Turn it up: Go for speed, without wrecking form. You’ll test your strength, and even more so, your cardio capacity.
Turn these bodyweight exercises into a strength workout
These 12 moves make two separate workouts, which Rosante suggests alternating on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Warm up before you jump in, with active stretches. Perform each of the moves back to back for 30 seconds each, maintaining strong form and only resting when you need it. After the last exercise, rest for 45-60 seconds. Then repeat from the top for 3-4 rounds. Your plan will look like this:
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