May 08, 2021 10 min read

Building huge muscles doesn’t necessarily require tons of expensive equipment or frequent trips to the gym.

Using the right exercises that mimic the real-life range of motion of the body’s various muscle groups will help tone and build muscles along with functional strength. A huge number of these exercises can be done with little more than your own body weight and perhaps a resistance band or dumbbells.

As long as you can execute these exercises with the proper form, you can get a tough workout in no time without going near the gym. Read on to find out all about the best bodyweight exercises for your upper body, lower body, and core muscle groups.

guy doing jumping jacks in a field

Best Bodyweight Warm-Up Exercises

Prime your muscles and reduce the likelihood of strains and other injuries with a few of these warm-up stretches. You can also use them to cool down after the workout is finished or even use some of the more intense stretches to fill in the intervals of a bodyweight HIIT routine.

The best warm-up is a dynamic routine. Static stretches might be better than nothing, but they are less effective at preparing your muscles for the bodyweight workout to come. You can also introduce cardio during the warm-up phase to boost general wellness and burn more calories.

March In Place With Arm Circles

  • Get your body moving with simple walking steps and prepare your upper body with basic arm circles. While marching in place, extend both arms out to either side and spin them forward. Your right arm will spin counterclockwise while your left arm should go clockwise. Start making circles in the opposite direction after 10 spins.

  • You can further prime your shoulder joints and arm muscles by swinging your arms. Throw your right hand toward the left shoulder and the left hand toward the right shoulder and then let them fall behind your body before swinging them again.

    Jumping Jacks

    A classic exercise that is commonly used in all sorts of workout routines, jumping jacks are a great way to warm up your abs, obliques, quads, hip flexors, glutes, and deltoids. To perform jumping jacks, begin in a standing position with your feet about hip-width apart.

    Jump up and land with your feet more than shoulder-width apart and simultaneously move both hands in a circle and bring them together above your head. Jump again and return to the starting position to complete one jumping jack.

    Plank Pull-Through

    This is a great bodyweight alternative to lat pulldowns for times when you don’t have a resistance band available. Start in a high plank position while supporting yourself on your elbows. Place a towel or a dumbbell about a foot ahead of you where you’re able to reach it with your right hand. 

    Reach up with your right hand and pull the towel toward you. Then reverse walk so that the object is once again about a foot away and then reach out to pull it down with your left hand.

    If you want to work both arms at once and target your lats, lie face down in a superman plank position about a foot away from a towel. Reach up to place both palms on the towel and drag your body across the floor with pressure from your hands.

    Across the Chest Stretch With Lateral Step

    Stretch your shoulders and your lower body joints with this combination of two warm-up exercises. Stand with your legs in a wide stance and step sideways with your left leg and place it behind and slightly outside your right leg. Bring it back to the starting position and then repeat the same motion with your right leg.

    Meanwhile, hold your right arm across your chest so that your right hand is in front of your left shoulder. Hold your right elbow with your left hand for a few seconds and then repeat the same motion with your left arm across your chest.

    Calf Raises

    Stretch out your ankles with simple calf raises. You need a slightly raised platform like a curb or a platform, just high enough to get your ankles off the ground. Stand with the front of your feet on the platform and the heel out in the air.

    Push through the soles of your feet so that you’re on tip-toe and your ankles are lifted into the air. Return to the starting position and repeat 10 - 15 times total.

    Wall Sit

    An isometric workout for your core muscles, the wall sit may tire out your lower body muscles as well so it’s smart to limit the time spent on it during your warm-up routine. That being said, you can use it to push your core toward complete muscle exhaustion after the bulk of your bodyweight routine is finished.

    Best of all, wall sits are a great exercise for when you have no equipment available. Find a flat wall and stand with your back against it. Then sink down and bend your knees to a 90-degree angle as if you were sitting in a chair. Hold that position for as long as possible.

    man doing burpees outdoors

    The Ultimate List of Bodyweight Training Exercises

    Pair some of the full-body exercises in this list with more targeted moves to suit your particular fitness goals. Repeated use of these bodyweight training exercises will build tons of functional strength and killer toned muscles throughout your entire body.

    1. Burpees

    Burpees are a great exercise for full-body cardio and keeping your heart rate elevated, but it’s important to nail the right form. Focus on moving efficiently rather than running through the burpee exercise at top speed. This cardio-intensive bodyweight exercise combines a traditional push-up with explosive plyometric jumping.

    To perform burpees, start in a standing position. Crouch down and place your palms on the ground inside your feet, then kick your legs back to get into the traditional push-up position. Complete one regular push-up and then return to the standing position. Explode into the air and land softly to finish the first burpee.

    2. Jump Squats

    Another great full-body exercise that will add some cardio to your workout routine, jump squats incorporate your quads, hamstrings, and glutes. You can also hold weight in your hands to make the move more challenging and incorporate your upper body muscles more.

    Begin in a standing position with your knees slightly bent and your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees further and sink your butt back until you’re in a full bodyweight squat position with your thighs parallel to the floor.

    Push through your glutes, quads, and hamstrings to explode upward into a jump from the squat position. Land softly and then immediately sink down into the squat position to start the second jump squat.

    3. Handstand Push Up

    While the jump squat primarily works out your lower body, the handstand push-up is a great exercise for your core muscles and upper body. Getting the balance right is a challenge with this exercise. If you’re having trouble, get into the handstand position with your back to a wall.

    A cushion of some sort also makes things more comfortable for your head. To get into the position, place your hands about a foot apart and 6 - 12 inches away from a wall if you’re using one. Kick your feet up hard enough to get into an upside-down handstand position.

    Once you’re balanced, bend your elbows to lower your head to the floor. Next, push through your hands to raise back to the original handstand position. Repeat the push-up motion 10 - 15 times or as many as you’re able.

    4. Reverse Crunch

    If you want to build up a toned six-pack, the reverse crunch is the perfect exercise for you. It’s easier on your spine than a standard crunch and takes the strain off your neck as well. The reverse crunch also targets your external obliques.

    Lie on your back with your knees at a 90-degree angle and the soles of your feet flat on the floor. Brace your core muscles and then lift both legs until your thighs are vertical. Make sure you don’t lose the 90-degree angle in your knees.

    Get your knees as close to your face as possible without letting your middle or upper back leave the ground. Your hips and lower back will lift during this movement. Return to the starting position to complete one rep.

    5. Bicycle Crunch

    Another great core exercise, this variation on the standard sit-up requires a bit more leg movement than a reverse crunch and therefore gives your lower body muscles a better workout. You can also pump your arms to bring some upper body muscles into the mix. The starting position is the same as a regular crunch.

    Lie down on the ground with your head and shoulders off the ground. Place your hands on either side of your head and lift a single leg off the ground. Extend the raised leg fully before lifting the other leg and pulling one knee up to your chest.

    Twist your core to bring the opposite elbow toward the raised knee. Lower both the knee and the arm and repeat the same movement with the other knee and elbow.

    Closeup of strong athlete doing pull-up on horizontal bar

    6. Pull-Up/Chin-Up

    As long as you have some kind of horizontal pull-up bar available, you can use either one of these compound bodyweight exercises to build strength throughout your whole body. If you don’t have an official pull-up bar available, you can use a sturdy coffee table and do bodyweight rows instead.

    Stand beneath a horizontal bar and grab it with an overhand grip if you’re doing a pull-up and an underhand grip if you prefer to do chin-ups. Lift your feet off the ground to get into a dead hang position and then pull the bar down with your shoulder blades back until your chin clears the bar.

    Pause at the top of the move for the additional isometric benefit and then lower back into a dead hang to complete one rep.

    7. Single-Leg Bodyweight Deadlift

    If you have access to weights and a barbell, deadlifts are a great exercise for muscle groups in your whole body. But when you’re doing a home workout or don’t have access to weights, you can use this bodyweight version of the deadlift to get the same benefit. You can also make this single-leg deadlift more challenging by wrapping a long resistance band around your legs.

    This will keep tension on your muscles throughout the move. To perform this exercise, stand with your feet about hip-width apart. Hinge at the hips and lean your torso forward while lifting either your left or right leg out behind you. When your torso and lifted leg form a straight line parallel with the floor, reach your arms toward your feet.

    Hold this position for several seconds and then return to a standing position and repeat the same movement while balanced on the other leg.

    8. Bird Dog

    This bodyweight exercise is kind of like a kneeling version of the single-leg deadlift. It encourages a neutral spine, improves stability, and builds strength in your hips, core, and back muscles.Begin in a kneeling position and then lean forward and place both palms flat on the ground.

    Draw your shoulder blades together and then lift your right arm and left leg at the same time. Hold this position for a few seconds before returning to the starting position and repeating the exercise with your left arm and right leg.

    9. Side Plank

    Planking is a great exercise for your core, obliques, and glutes. It also helps build balance. By doing this side plank, you can focus the challenge on one side of your body and give your muscles an even greater workout. To do the side plank, get into a push-up position and then roll onto your left or right arm.

    You can support your body weight with the side of your foot. Raise your other arm into the air and keep your torso in a straight line. Hold this position for as long as possible, aiming for at least a minute if you’re just starting out.

    10. Tricep Dips

    Many people focus on bicep curls and push-ups when they work out. You can even out the routine with these simple tricep dips that require nothing more than a chair or a similarly elevated platform.

    If you’re using a chair, start by sitting in it with your hands on each side near the corners. Slide your butt forward until it and your torso are off the chair. Bend your elbows to lower yourself to the floor and then push up to raise yourself back to the starting position.

    11. Diamond Push-Ups

    Placing your hands in a diamond formation makes the traditional push-up even more effective at building strength in your triceps, pectoralis major, and deltoids. Get down into the standard push-up formation with your hands directly beneath your shoulders and your wrists stacked.

    Bend your elbows and lower to the ground until your chest is almost touching the floor, then push through your palms to raise back into the starting position.

    12. Mountain Climbers

    Bring your lower body into the traditional push-up with this variation. In the push-up position, lift your left knee up toward your left elbow and then return it to the starting position. Repeat the motion with your right leg and continue for as long as possible.

    Another variation of mountain climbers is called the Spiderman exercise. Rather than bringing your knees straight toward the elbow, you bring the knee outside the torso slightly while moving them forward.

    man doing bodyweight glute floor bridge

    13. Glute Bridge

    A resistance band will make this simple exercise even more effective. Glute bridges are a perfect way to cool down your core at the end of a challenging routine. Lie on your back with your hands out to each side and the soles of your feet flat on the floor.

    Engage your core and lift your hips so that your torso makes a straight line from your neck to your knees. Hold the position for 30 seconds before lowering back to the starting position.

    15. Forward Lunge

    Lunges are a great lower-body exercise with tons of variations. Start in a standing position with your legs hip-width apart and then take a large step forward with one leg. Bend your leading knee until it’s at a 90-degree angle. The knee of your rear leg should be just above the floor.

    You can push through your heel to get back to the starting position or you can move forward into the next lunge to perform a walking lunge. You can also go immediately into a reverse lunge to exercise the full range of motion of your legs and hips.

    Conclusion:

    You don’t need expensive equipment or a gym membership to get ripped. Many bodyweight exercises mimic similar benefits to strength training exercises for a fraction of the cost.

    If you can add resistance bands and the right supplements to the mix, you can build functional strength and power in muscle groups throughout your body without spending tons of time at the gym.


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