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22 Essential Bodyweight Exercises You Can Do No Matter Where You Are

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We don’t need fancy equipment to get a great workout. Bodyweight exercises make it easy to squeeze in a workout, regardless of ability level, time limit, or location. Each of these exercises uses your own bodyweight as resistance and they are an effective way to add strength training to your fitness routine.

We’ve put together a few examples of bodyweight exercises, beginning with warm-ups and ending with some relaxing stretches at the end. These can be mixed and matched to suit your daily fitness needs. When a gym is not available, these moves can help keep you fit and strong.

Essential Bodyweight Exercises

High Knees

HighKnees

High knees are a great way to work your muscles and your lungs, as they become a cardio burst as well as a way to strengthen your hip flexors and glutes. Your hip flexors are part of the group of muscles that you lift your knee up. This muscle group is especially important to runners, as it helps to develop the quadriceps muscles as well as increasing stride length.

The motion itself is pretty simple and does require some balance. Start slow if necessary, lifting one leg at a time. If you’re feeling a little more advanced, pick up the pace and lift those knees with more speed, and the higher the better! You’ll not only work those all-important hip flexors and quadriceps, but you’re also hitting your calf and glute muscles. Add an arm swing to the motion to increase the benefits of high knees. Hip strength is important for all of us, as this muscle group helps keep us balanced.

Butt Kicks

ButtKicks

Butt kicks are a great way to warm up our major muscle groups and start burning calories. Whether you do these as a stationary move or across a short distance, adding butt kicks to your warm up is a great way to add cardio and strength to your workout.

Stand straight with arms at your side. Begin the movement by raising your heel, kicking it back until it hits your glutes. Bring that heel back to the ground and switch to the opposite leg. Stay on the balls of your feet, keep your abs tight and your back straight. Add arms for more cardio. This is a great way to strengthen your hamstrings and to get your heart rate up in preparation for your workout.

Squats

Squats

Squats are great for the obvious exercise benefits; they’re great as a warmup, increasing blood flow to these major muscle groups (glutes, quads, hamstrings) and they also, when done with proper form, can help strengthen the knees. Squats are also a functional movement; think of how often we are bending or squatting down – picking up toys or a dropped cell phone, helping a friend move, or (ahem!) even going to the bathroom. We squat far more often than we might realize, and doing it properly will have health benefits from increasing strength to preventing injury.

This move is simple and it comes with a number of variations, which we recommend as a part of a well-rounded routine. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, bend at the knee, pushing your buttocks back and lifting your hands to center. Go down as far as you can, placing the majority of your weight on the center and heel of your foot. Do not lean forward as this will put a strain on the knee. Pause briefly to hold the position then return to standing, tuck in your pelvis and squeeze your glutes tight as you come back to a standing position.

Forward Lunge

ForwardLunge

A lunge will work your abs, your back, hamstrings, quadriceps, and your hip flexors all in one movement. Not only is this a great movement to incorporate in your warm-up routine, as it helps to initiate and increase blood flow to our major muscle groups (glutes, hamstrings, quads) and stretches the hip flexor, a muscle that is often tight due to our increasingly sedentary lifestyles.

Lunges help to improve balance and increase strength in one of our most essential and basic movements that we do every day: walk. This exaggerated walking motion is a great one to master and is easily modified into something more challenging by adding weights to the movement. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Take a big step forward, making sure the knee stays above the ankle and at a 90-degree angle to the ground. If space allows, move forward, alternating legs. If not, push back against the bent leg to return to a standing position.

Side Lunge

SideLunge

Side lunges are a great exercise because they are a lateral movement. So often we’re moving in one direction: forward. To improve strength and balance, we also need to work on side-to-side motions. A side lunge will work your glutes, hamstrings, quads, inner thighs, and abs. This is a great bodyweight exercise that is a combination of a stretch and strengthening move.

Begin standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, hands to your side. As you step sideways into the lunge, bring your hands together in front of you as you bend your stationary leg at the knee and extend the other leg out to the side. Do not overstep here; this isn’t a super big movement. Keep your back straight and your glutes pushed out behind you. Repeat on one side then switch, or alternate from one side to the other.

Curtsy Lunge

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A curtsy isn’t just for royalty, it’s for royally working those glute muscles! In this surprisingly simple yet effective move, the star of the show is the gluteus but also your hips and inner thighs.

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Step back and across with one leg, bending the forward knee as well as the back knee. Bring your hands to center as you squat down. Your forward leg will push up out of the squat while the back leg returns to center. Repeat on the same side or alternate. You may not be meeting royalty soon, but you’ll certainly be prepared, should the occasion arise!

Planks

Planks Forearms

PlanksForearms

Improved posture and overall core strength are two huge benefits of the plank. For many of us plagued by back issues, this is one movement that will help strengthen your core and potentially help alleviate nagging back pain. Posture not only helps us look taller, but it also sets our back into alignment, and when we sit up straight, we are not squishing our internal organs, so good posture means improved digestion and breathing.

Planks can be done on your hands or forearms, with either move reaping the same benefit. If your wrists hurt, move down to your forearms. Modify your plank into other movements, such as a variation on the push up by alternating from straight arm to forearm while in plank position. We’ve seen many plank challenges in recent years, with individuals holding themselves in this position for an inordinate amount of time. Build up your endurance in this bodyweight exercise, holding for several seconds at a time but do not exceed more than 2 minutes in a single plank hold; 60 seconds is an optimal goal.

Planks Side Crunch

PlanksSideCrunchPlanks Side Twist

PlanksSideTwist

We’ve already shared with you the benefits of the static plank, but this move can be made dynamic by adding a twist. Work on your obliques by adding a rotating motion either with an extended arm or a modified crunch.

Planks are a great abdominal workout without the sometimes painful demands of a conventional sit up. Core abdominal muscles are engaged while adding a turning motion targets other key areas through lengthening and contracting of the muscles. Once you feel confident with the plank, start to add variations, such as the twist, to spice up a plank position.

Burpees

Burpees

Burpees are truly a total body workout that requires absolutely no equipment. It’s a combination of movements: a jump, a squat, a plank, and a push up all put together in a fluid motion that is the ultimate in both endurance and strength training.

Burpees can be modified for beginners, as good form is an important part of making this bodyweight exercise work. But burpees are the ultimate in terms of hitting just about every major area of the body: arms, abs, glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves. And it works the heart and lungs as well. Start with a squat, dropping your hands to the ground. Kick back both legs into a plank position, drop down into a pushup, then jump legs back toward your hands; stand and jump, then repeat. Work in small sets (5-10 to start) and add more as your strength and endurance improve.

Mountain Climbers

MountainClimbers

Mountain climbers, like burpees, are a great way to work out several major muscle groups in one exercise motion. This movement is a combination of strength and cardio and is a great way to warm up key muscle and joint groups.

Start in a plank position, with your shoulders and hands in line with each other. Bring one leg into a tuck towards your chest, then return to plank. Complete the same movement on the opposite side. Once you’re comfortable with the movement, start to increase your speed. With the increase in speed, a mountain climber now becomes a great cardio boost. Your heart, lungs, arms, shoulders, back, abs, quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves are all getting a great workout.

Push Ups

PushUps

Push ups are yet another great bodyweight exercise that works out more than just your arms. In this simple move, you’re also engaging your abs, back, and quads, which makes this a great total body movement.

Push ups are easy to modify as well. Then can be done on your knees or against a wall for those who are just getting started on a push-up challenge. As you gain strength, complete push-ups in the standard plank position, bending your elbows to bring your chest close to the floor, then push yourself back up. For more of a challenge, elevate your feet on a box or stair and complete the same movement. There are many ways to keep push-ups from getting boring, and they’re a great way to build up your chest, back, and arms.

Tricep Dips

TricepDips

Dips are a great toning and shaping exercise for the arms. To do this does require “equipment” in the form of a chair, stair, or elevated surface that will give you the right position to complete the motion. The benefit of this exercise is that the tricep muscle (the one on the back of your arm) will be engaged throughout the motion. Your back and core muscles are also engaged, making this a compound movement, as it works more than just the target muscle group.

Position your body in a seated position closest to the edge of the elevated surface; your butt will need to clear that edge in order to complete the dip. Place your hands on the edge of the surface and your legs straight out in front. Engage your arms by using them to lift your body up, then bend at the elbow and drop your bum towards the ground. Push yourself back up and repeat.

Flutter Kicks

FlutterKicks

Bodyweight exercises, like many of those featured here, all include some element of core work, engaging the abdominal muscles as a part of a total body exercise. Here we focus on the abs and flutter (or scissor) kicks are a great way to really target those abdominal muscles and build a stronger core.

Good form is important in this movement; we need to make sure that the lower back is properly positioned in order to avoid injury. Lay down on your mat and tighten the abdominal muscles to press your lower back against the floor; there should be no gap between your back and the ground. One way to protect the lower back is to place your hands underneath your hips. Next, lift your legs off of the ground and kick them in a fluttering motion while simultaneously lifting and lowering your legs.

Another option: instead of flutter Kicks, try crisscrossing your legs instead, with the same up and down motion.

Russian Twist

RussianTwist

Russian twists are a great way to workout your obliques, those muscles on side of our abs that help hold up our torso. It can be done with weights for added resistance and challenge. Russian twists can put some strain on your back, so be sure to keep your back straight as you complete the movement.

In a seated position on the floor, tilt your body back slightly, keeping your spine straight and shift your bodyweight to your butt. Lift your feet a couple inches off of the floor and place your hands together in front of you. Begin to twist your arms and torso to one side and your legs to the other, back and forth. This is also a fun partner exercise, where two people sit back to back and transfer a weighted ball by twisting side to side.

Single Leg V-Ups

V-Ups

Single leg V-ups are a variation of the V-Up, where arms and legs are simultaneously crunched into a V position. This is a fairly intense sit up and one that should be done only when sufficient abdominal strength has already been established. The single-leg version allows for a little less strain on your back and neck while still targeting those highly coveted abdominal muscles.

For single-leg v-ups, lay fully prone on the ground, with arms extended above the head. Tighten your abdominal muscles to close the gap between your lower back and the floor. Simultaneously lift your torso and right arm to meet with a raised left leg, creating a V-shape. Return arm and leg to the floor and switch sides. This can be done quickly or slowly. Always be mindful of keeping your back straight and your abdominal muscles tight. Breathe in when lowering your arms and legs and breathe out when crunching into the v-position.

Figure 4

Figure4

After a good workout, you’ll want to get in a good stretch. A Figure 4 is one of our favorites, as it helps stretch the hip and hip joint by stretching the lower back and glutes. Tension or tightness in these muscles can lead to back pain. Our hips are often a neglected body part and play a crucial role in our mobility.

This is a stretch that can be done standing up or laying down on the floor. It earned its name because the position of the legs looks like the number 4. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. If necessary, stand near a chair or wall for balance. Place your right ankle over your left knee and bend down into a squat position. Hold for 10-20 seconds, then put your right foot down and switch sides. To do this on the floor, lay with your back flat to the ground. Bend both knees and bring your right ankle over your left knee, then draw your left leg towards your chest, holding it in position with your hands placed behind the left knee. Complete the same movements on the opposite side.

Quads Stretch

QuadStretchHamstring Stretch

HamstringStretch

Two muscle groups that are deserving of attention post-workout are the quadriceps and hamstrings. A really simple stretch for the quads is to stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and if necessary, stand near a wall or chair for balance. Raise your right heel up towards your glutes and gently grasp the ankle or middle part of your foot – creating a stretch in the quads. Hold for 10 seconds or so and release, then switch and repeat on the opposite side.

Tight hamstrings and glutes often lead to lower back pain, so stretching those muscles can be a great way to alleviate tightness. The standing hamstring stretch is quite easy to do. Simply place your right foot in front of your left, with just a few inches between your feet, then bend forward at the hips, creating length in the right leg and stretching the hamstring. Hold for 10 seconds then switch legs and repeat on the left side.

Seated Back Twist

SeatedBackTwist

Another simple post-workout stretch is the seated twist. This is a great stretch to do any time you want to relieve lower back tension as well as stretching your hips and IT-band (iliotibial band). Your IT-band is a ligament that runs along the outside of your leg from your hip down to the top of the shin and is one that we often find to be tight or irritated. This seated twist will also stretch out your abdominal muscles, especially the obliques.

Sitting on the floor, with both legs stretched forward, take your right foot and cross it over your left, placing your right foot on the outside of your left knee. Place your left elbow on the outside of your right knee and twist gently to the right. Hold for 10 seconds then repeat on the opposite side.

Butterfly Stretch

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The butterfly stretch is a great one for improving flexibility and it really opens up your hips. It is important to only stretch as far as you are comfortable in order to prevent injury. This particular stretch will target your hips and inner thighs, as well as your lower back.

Sitting on the floor, bring your feet together and let your knees fall to the sides, bringing the bottoms of your feet together in front of you. Gently push down on your knees for more of a stretch. If you’re comfortable and able, gently lean forward, extending your arms out in front of you. Hold for 20-40 seconds then release. Repeat once more.

Always consult with your healthcare provider before beginning any exercise program. For these and other essential bodyweight exercises, check out our video!

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