Whether you don’t have access to a gym or want to spice up your training routine, consider bodyweight training. It might not seem like much compared to tossing a loaded barbell on your back, but training without equipment can make you a powerhouse. Lifting nothing but yourself is easier on your joints, teaches full-body control, and is a great way to bolster mobility and athleticism.
Because you aren’t lifting weights, you need to ensure you’re progressively overloading your training. In other words, three sets of 10 pull-ups will only spur muscle growth and strength building for so long. As your body adapts to training stimuli, your program will need to adapt to it. The bodyweight workouts below take your goals into account, and the sections on how to program and progressively overload bodyweight training will help get you where you want to be.
Best Bodyweight Workouts
Best Bodyweight Workout for Strength
It might be tempting to dismiss bodyweight training as not capable of making you stronger. But that would be a mistake. If you want to squat heavier, yes, you need to perform loaded squats — but you don’t always have to be under the barbell to get stronger. Strength is relative. To work up to a heavy one-rep max, you need to train with heavy weights. But if you want a more resilient and conditioned muscle — which is a form of strength — then you can absolutely achieve this with just your body weight.
If you’re supplementing your loaded training, you can stick to doing this workout once — max twice — a week. But if you’re looking to only train with your bodyweight for a microcycle, you can kick it up to three or four times a week. Repeat the circuit below three to four times. Rest as little as possible between the moves, but rest for a solid three to four minutes between the circuits.
- Reverse Snow Angel: 20 reps
- Bodyweight Squat: 50 reps
- Push-Up: 2 short of failure
- 1.5 Split Squat: 15 reps per side
- Close-Grip Spider Push-Up: 8 reps per side
- Wall Walk: 3 short of failure
- *Bonus if you have a pull-up bar: Pull-Up: 2 short of failure
Best Bodyweight Workout for Muscle
Yes, you can maintain — and even gain — muscle using just your body weight. It’ll involve a lot of mental discipline since you’ll be doing a lot of plyometric work combined with high volume work. The idea is to tax your muscles comparably to the strain you’d put them under with a loaded barbell to stimulate muscle growth.
Try performing this workout once a week if you’re integrating it into a lifting program. (You can consider twice if you’re very experienced and your recovery is on point.) If this training cycle is about bodyweight-only training, you can up the ante to three or four times a week. Rest as needed before and after plyometric exercises to avoid compromising your form and risking injury. Repeat the circuit three to four times, resting three to four minutes between rounds.
- Clapping Push-Up: 3 reps short of failure
- Reverse Lunge: 20 reps per side
- Archer Push-Up: 8 reps per side
- Jumping Lunge: 20 reps per side
- Bodyweight Skull Crusher: 10 reps
- Supermans: 15 reps
Best Bodyweight Workout for Beginners
You don’t have to be new to the gym to consider yourself a relative beginner at bodyweight exercises. Just because you’re an experienced lifter doesn’t mean you can skip right to one-arm push-ups when it’s time to bodyweight train. Bodyweight training can be humbling in the best ways, so if it’s not genuinely a part of your program, feel free to take it slow.
True beginners can try this one once a week, and when your body feels ready, amp it up to twice. If you’re a beginner to bodyweight training but not to lifting in general, you might try twice a week. Just make sure, whatever level you’re at, that your form is locked in at all times.
Rest for 45-90 seconds between each exercise and two to four minutes between circuits. Repeat the circuit three to four times, resting two to three minutes between rounds.
- World’s Greatest Stretch: 3 x 5 per side
- Push-Up: 10 reps (modify if needed)
- Bodyweight Squat: 20 reps
- Superman: 15 reps
- Reverse Lunge: 12 reps per side
- Inchworm With Push-Up: 8 reps
Best Bodyweight Workout for Fat Loss
When your goal is to change your body composition, bodyweight training can be a game-changer. You might be tempted to stick to only cardio to lose body fat, but combining strength and conditioning training can help you achieve your goals quicker. You might also find that adding bodyweight training to your fat loss routine gives you the variety you need to stick with it.
Perform this workout between two and four times a week, depending on your experience level and whether you’re also training with weights. Rest as needed before and after each explosive movement to maintain the quality of your reps. Repeat the circuit three to four times, resting two to three minutes between rounds.
- Superman: 15 reps
- Clapping Push-Up: 2 reps short of failure
- 1.5 Split Squat: 20 reps
- Spider Push-Up: 6 reps per side
- Jumping Lunge: 15 reps per side
- Bodyweight Squat: 60-second AMRAP (as many quality reps as possible)
Best Bodyweight Workout for Mobility
Bodyweight training with an emphasis on improving your mobility isn’t just about being able to move better — although that’s a fantastic goal in and of itself. It’s also about improving the quality of your lifts without adding loaded stress to your muscles and joints. You’ll be able to recover and get stronger when you get back to the barbell when you focus on mobility. So really, there’s no reason not to.
This is a great mobility-focused workout because you can do it pretty much any time. Yes, it will make you stronger, but it also won’t eat that much into your recovery needs — so you can perform it as part of your warmup or cool down three, four, or even five times a week.
Rest as needed between moves: there’s really no need to rush this one. For static movements, with each inhale, encourage your body to grow longer. With each exhale, sink deeper into whatever move you’re doing. For dynamic movements, move slowly and with the intention to a deep range of motion.
- Lateral Ankle Lunge: 3 x 10 per side
- Split Squat: 3 x 10 per side
- Lying Shoulder Press: 3 x 15
- Bear Crawl: 3 x 30 seconds forward, 30 seconds backward, 15 seconds lateral, 15 seconds other lateral direction
- Crab Reach to Reaching Ape: 3 x 10 reps per side
- Wall Walk: 3 x 5
Benefits Of Bodyweight Workouts
Whether you want to get stronger, keep or grow your muscles, become more mindful during training, or become a better athlete, bodyweight moves can help. They might not seem as glamorous as squatting three times your body weight, but it’s so important to lay a foundation of true strength underneath your loaded moves.
Increase Kinesthetic Awareness
When you’re working under heavy loads, you definitely have to be aware of your body. But calisthenic training takes your body awareness to a whole new level. Because you’re relying on only your bodyweight — and not the 225-pound bar on your back — suddenly everything from your foot placement to the way your fingers are splayed on the ground is noticeable.
You can quickly learn which precise push-up positions make your shoulders and elbows feel least compromised with bodyweight training. You’ll see which leg is lagging with your lunges, and you’ll realize that your upper back doesn’t actually have as much endurance as you thought it did. And when you notice these things, you can put a plan in place to fix them.
Reduce Weak Spots
Having trouble locking out your bench press? The close-grip push-up strengthen the triceps, which are instrumental in locking out the elbows. Or maybe your squat form gets more than a little funky when you’re lifting heavy. Integrating frog stretches into your program will prepare your hips to handle heavy loads at a deeper range of motion.
Bodyweight movements are so “back to basics” that they reveal when and where your body compensates for something it can’t do yet. Having trouble coming up with the same number of Bulgarian split squats on your left side as you can on your right? A surefire way to identify — and eliminate — asymmetries, strength imbalances, and other weak points.
Improve Mental Toughness
There’s nothing quite like convincing your brain that your body has got another couple of push-ups in the tank. Yes, deadlift and squat PRs are also intense, but there’s a difference between prepping for one to two reps and a high-volume PR. When you go to failure with your body weight, you’re burning out your muscles and your mind with a longer series of reps before you get to that breaking point.
Choosing to complete those last reps anyway is a true act of mental toughness. It’s also humbling in the best way. It’s not all that embarrassing to miss your last rep when the bar is fully loaded. But when it’s nothing but you and a pull-up bar, you really have to put your ego aside to train at a high intensity and risk missing a rep. That humility will serve your training well.
Yes, you can get stronger using only your body weight. The advantage of bodyweight work with building strength is that you have nothing to hide behind. You might have an impressive squat PR, but what happens when you try to drop and give yourself 30 push-ups?
When you’re left with nothing but your body weight, you’ll learn a lot about your true level of strength and mental focus.
It might be difficult to gain muscle without weights — especially if you’ve been lifting heavy loads for a while — but it’s not impossible. You can spur muscle growth by giving your body new stimuli to adapt to with just your body weight. Find creative ways to manipulate program variables like time under tension and your range of motion to train to failure. It might just give your muscles to boost they need to start growing.
How to Program Bodyweight Workouts
If you’re looking to integrate bodyweight workouts into your weight training routine, think about what your goals are in doing so. Are you looking to add volume to your program? Become more kinesthetically aware or improve your mental discipline?
If your goal is to supplement your loaded movements, make sure you’re prioritizing recovery from your weighted lifts. Incorporate bodyweight work as accessory exercises and avoid pushing toward failure on days before heavy lifts.
On the other hand, if you want to focus on calisthenics — or create a bodyweight-only program mostly — prioritize your bodyweight recovery. Program your weighted lifts around your weight-free goals, ensuring you’re recovering adequately from training to failure with your body weight.
Treat your bodyweight training and recovery like you do your weight training — pick a workout split and use it to reach your goals. The workouts listed above would best fit a full-body split that you could perform two to four times a week, depending on your experience.
How to Progress Your Bodyweight Workouts
It’s important to have consistency in your program. If you change up your regimen every week or even every other week, it’ll become all but impossible to measure your progress. On the other hand, your body will adapt quickly to doing the same thing over and over, and you’ll eventually tap out the benefits of a workout. Not to mention, you’ll become bored out of your mind.
So you can use the above workouts — just like you would use loaded training regimens — for a small microcycle. Keep track of your progress by measuring how long you feel like you need to rest between exercises or your rate of perceived exertion over time.
When it comes time to progress these bodyweight workouts, you don’t necessarily have to change up all the exercises — though you can. Instead, you can manipulate other variables. Add resistance bands to up the intensity of relevant exercises. Start performing 1.5 reps with moves that didn’t have them programmed before. Add tempo training to the mix by slowing your movements down (or significantly speeding them up).
As always with progressive overload, only change one variable at a time. Don’t start with resistance bands and tempo training at the same time. Add one first, let your body adjust over a couple of weeks, then see what other variables you’re ready to change.
How to Warm-Up For Bodyweight Workouts
Just because the workouts above are weight-free doesn’t mean you shouldn’t warm up. You’ll still need to increase your body temperature, get your blood pumping, and get your muscles and joints prepped for intense movement — even if there’s not a barbell in sight. Otherwise, you’ll be risking injury and overall not setting your workout up to be the most effective it can be.
Bodyweight Workout Warm-Up
- Cat-Cow: 3 x 10 breaths
- Bird Dog: 3 x 10 per side
- World’s Greatest Stretch: 3 x 5 per side
- Wall Slide: 3 x 10
- Lateral Lunge: 3 x 12 per side
- Jumping Lunge: 3 x 10 per side
Pretty much any goal you have in the gym can be advanced with some good old-fashioned bodyweight training. Even if you want to deadlift heavier, you can deploy calisthenics to help you pull that PR. Just make sure that you’re moving through bodyweight exercises with intention and focus. The more tuned in you are to your workout, the more effective your program will be.
Featured Image: Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock