Bodyweight workouts are good for more than just our most desperate times.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic shut down gyms and changed the ways just about everyone engaged with exercise and physical fitness, training without equipment became one of the most common activities for sweat-starved workout devotees. Dumbbells and kettlebells were scarce, let alone squat racks or machines, so an adjustment was needed. In response to this paradigm shift, we’ve done pushup challenges, followed month-long ab training calendars, and more, all without picking up a single weight for resistance. Simple to do, without the high barrier to entry that lots of gym-bound workouts demand—the only thing you need to bring is effort.
But gear-free training didn’t just appear due to this lack of access to facilities and scarcity of equipment. For many, minimalist training sessions are far from a last resort. Smart bodyweight workouts build strength, athleticism, and yes, even muscle, using nothing but oneself (and the tools around them like bars for pullups) as a gym. There were plenty of situations during the “Before Times” that required people to train without weights or machines—from minimalist hotel room routines to outdoor park calisthenics, bodyweight-only training was one of the most common forms of staying in shape.
Whether you choose to exercise without gear for necessity or convenience, the bodyweight exercises can be effective and engaging, offering a progressive challenges so long as you’re willing to get creative and experiment with different movements. You can scale up pushups and pullups, for instance, by emphasizing the eccentric portion of the movement, or adding half or quarter reps. That’s not to mention the number of variations at your disposal, if you have the patience to work up to them.
Bodyweight exercises have another benefit, too: They teach you to manage your weight in various ways, and sometimes, that’s more important (and useful) than moving the heaviest barbell in the gym. There are plenty of strength athletes out there who can bench heavy weight, for example, but can’t do, say, an archer pushup.
Functional strength is about developing a balance between an ability to generate raw force (as you would when bench pressing) and an ability to manipulate your body through space (as you would when doing, say, a typewriter pushup).
You should build both facets of strength, and these bodyweight moves and workouts can help.
This bodyweight staple can be a building block for your gear-free workouts. Unlike air squats, you’ll work unilaterally when you lunge—which can help to develop balance and stability as you ramp up the work.
Bodyweight exercises don’t get any more challenging than this move from fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S, which is essentially a one-arm pushup from a slightly more stable position.
Fundamentals! The classic pushup is a bodyweight exercise that you simply have to master, a foundational move. Know this about it too: You can level it up into much more once you learn it (and you’ll see that on this list too).
Once you have the basic pushup down, you can venture into more targeted territory. The close-grip pushup attacks your triceps with fury.
Typewriter Pushup Countup Hell
There are standard pushups, and then there’s this pushup variation from fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., which does something few pushups do, challenging you to build chest and shoulder strength in multiple planes. Most pushups have you pushing in the sagittal plane. This has you working in other ways, too.
Archer-Position Bodyweight Skullcrusher
Think you can’t isolate your triceps and move serious load with only bodyweight? Think again with this unique triceps exercise, which has you shouldering most of your bodyweight with a single arm on every rep.
Rocker Bodyweight Skullcrusher
The rare bodyweight exercise that places your triceps on stretch for a brief moment. Don’t expect to do oodles of reps here, but expect your triceps to be on fire nevertheless. Just 6-8 reps will, um, rock your arms.
Inverted Bodyweight Row
Sure, you need some gear (a bar, or even a table will work) to pull this off, but then it’s all about managing your bodyweight, which is inherent to all bodyweight moves. This is also a backbuilder, a critical brand of move you want to load up on in your training for physique balance and shoulder health.
The king of all bodyweight cardio exercises can leave you in a pile of mush after less than a minute of reps. But note this: The move is more advanced than some trainers make it. You should know how to squat, do pushups, and own a plank before you venture into burpee territory.
Towel Inverted Row Hold
Build grip strength and blast your back with this row variation. Your abs and glutes will be on fire too, if you do it right.
The Triple-Position-Switch Pushup Countup
Hit every part of your chest (and your triceps and shoulders too) with this series that also challenges you to mix explosive contractions with iso-holds too.
Master the hollow hold, because it’s the basis for a host of other ab moves. And yes, it’s more functional and challenging than a plank—which is precisely why you don’t see people randomly setting Guiness Records for hollow holds.
Gator Roll to Sprinter Situp Countup
Blast your whole core and work athletically too with this blend of hollow holds and gator rolls that’ll hit abs, obliques, and lower back muscles.
Dragon Flag Elevator Flutter Challenge
The dragon flag is one of the best (and most vicious) all-around ab moves out there. Here, you’ll have to manage that position while adding in flutter kick reps to build a well-rounded core.
Corkscrew Hollow Rock Challenge
Your abs are responsible for creating rotation, but can you own that rotation? You’ll be pushed to do that in this hollow body-based challenge.
The classic mountain climber will attack your abs, and it’ll do more than that, too, also training your running stride. The key: Doing it in disciplined fashion.
Situp Roll Burpee
This burpee variation combines a heart-rate inducing hit-the-ground-and-jump with a situp for abdominal activation.
Uneven Hollow Rock Gator Rolls
Train rotation and anti-rotation (two key core functions) with one move, and attack your glutes, obliques, and lower back muscles too.
This underrated core exercise flips the script on anyone who thinks that an ab session starts when they flop onto their back on a yoga mat.
The 60-Point Burpee Challenge
Blend burpees and pushups in this super-quick burner that has you racing the clock, mostly so you won’t have to do quite as many pushups.
Take It to 100
This simple routine has one no-nonsense ask: finish 100 reps. You won’t have to think hard, but you will have to work hard.
Archer Pushup Dropset Hell
Build stability with this super-difficult pushup routine by breaking out of just one plane.
David Freeman’s Hopping Bodyweight Burner
This quick 15-minute training session challenges you to ramp up your heart rate by adding hops to bodyweight staples like lunges.
The Bobby Maximus 10-to-1 Ladder
A full-body workout from trainer Bobby Maximus that gets easier (sort of) as you go on. This ones a mental challenge.
32-rep Triceps Mayhem
This triceps-focused burner hits your arms from multiple angles, but it’s still over in 10 to 15 minutes.
For more bodyweight exercises you can do at home, check out All Out Studio app.
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