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